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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Heatwaves, fires, floods, reef pollution and wildlife deaths affecting Australia

In an earlier blog, I have described the prolonged extreme heat that affected Australia in January.  It was followed by devastating bush fires.  In February, unprecedented floods hit Northern Queensland as double the annual rainfall fell in just 12 days, causing rivers and creeks to burst their banks.  500,000 cattle were drowned as well as much of the state’s native wildlife.  Cattle that did survive were in a poor state after being stranded in deep water and mud for days.

cattle

Queensland cattle drowned by the flood waters

Following the floods, a massive plume of polluted floodwater has hit the Great Barrier Reef, sparking a fresh threat to its fragile ecosystem. The muddy plume, which likely included nitrogen and pesticide chemicals, spread 60 kms to the outer reefs and was so large it could be seen from space. The satellite image below from the recent Queensland floods shows how far polluted runoff can reach into Reef waters.

gbrfloodpollution

Satellite image showing river flood pollution along the Australian coast south of Townsville, Queensland

Sediment and fertiliser runoff from farms is a major threat to inshore coral reefs and seagrass meadows of the Great Barrier Reef. This pollution can lead to devastating impacts to corals and seagrass ecosystems, critical habitats for threatened dugongs, turtles and many juvenile commercial fish species.

The Reef life is also being weakened by sediment and chemical pollution – right when it needs to be strong in the face of rapidly heating oceans. Its corals are still recovering from the devastating back to back bleaching events that occurred from rising ocean temperatures in 2016 and 2017. Improving the quality of water flowing from the Reef coast into the sea is critical to reduce the pressure and support its recovery.

Nutrients from fertiliser runoff are driving massive outbreaks of coral-eating Crown-of-Thorns Starfish. These starfish devour vast amounts of coral on the Reef, threatening the recovery of bleached corals.  So, the Great Barrier Reef is at risk from a number of sources.

One of the corollaries to climate change is extreme weather events and Australia has had its fair share of them this year (2019).



And, from the Times, 4th March 2019, the following:

“Residents in part of the outback have been ordered to limit their showers to three minutes a day and banned from using a washing machine more than twice a week amid the worst drought since 1900.

The seven-year lack of rain has prompted convoys of lorries to take bottled water to small towns across far-western New South Wales. Their water supply, from stagnant ponds in drying rivers, has become undrinkable.

“There’s an acute water shortage in a substantial amount of western New South Wales,” James McTavish, the state’s town water supply co-ordinator, said.”



Guardian 7th March 2019:

Ringtail possums in Victoria are dying of heat stress.  Rescuers found 127 of them at Somers Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, dying or already dead.  It is thought that the possums had become so dehydrated and desperate they had left an area of scrub and come down to the beach and attempted to drink salt water.  Some had fallen out of trees.

possums

Story at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/07/falling-out-of-trees-dozens-of-dead-possums-blamed-on-extreme-heat-stress?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwMzA4&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email



April 15th 2019

A Nature study reported on CNN website found that successive ocean heat waves are not only damaging Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, they are compromising its ability to recover, raising the risk of “widespread ecological collapse”.

The 2,300-kilometer-long (1,500 mile) reef has endured multiple large-scale “bleaching” events caused by above-average water temperatures in the last two decades, including back-to-back occurrences in 2016 and 2017.
The new study, released in the journal Nature, examined the number of adult corals which survived these two events and how many new corals they created to replenish the reef in 2018.
The answer was as bleak as it was stark: “Dead corals don’t make babies,” the study’s lead author, Terry Hughes, said in a press release.
Scientists working on the study found the loss in adult corals caused a “crash in coral replenishment” on the reef, as heat stresses brought about by warming ocean temperatures impacted the ability of coral to heal.
Coral
“The number of new corals settling on the Great Barrier Reef declined by 89% following the unprecedented loss of adult corals from global warming in 2016 and 2017,” said Hughes.
Scientists have long warned of the impact on global warming on the reef, the world’s largest reef system and the only living organism that can be seen from space. The reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, supports thousands of species — fish, turtles, sharks and marine mammals.
In the introduction to the report, the authors note that environmental changes caused by climate change, “are increasingly challenging the capacity of ecosystems to absorb recurrent shocks and reassemble afterwards, escalating the risk of widespread ecological collapse of (the) current ecosystem.”
The study found that one of the most dominant species of coral, Acropora, which provides “most of the three-dimensional coral habitat that support thousands of other species,” according to co-author Andrew Baird, had suffered a 93% drop in replenishment following the back-to-back bleaching events of 2016 and 2017.


May 2019:

Australia re-elects the climate change denier, Scott Morrison.

Battered by extended droughts, damaging floods, and more bushfires, Australian voters had been expected to hand a mandate to the Labour party to pursue its ambitious targets for renewable energy and carbon emissions cuts.

Instead, they rejected the opposition’s plans for tax reform and climate action, re-electing a Liberal-led center-right coalition headed by Morrison. The same coalition government last year scrapped a bipartisan national energy plan and dumped then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull because he was viewed as anti-coal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brandished a lump of coal in parliament, crying, “This is coal – don’t be afraid!”

It would appear that the Australian voting public were enticed to vote this way in order to reduce energy prices.



July 31st 2019:

Another report from Nature gives the alarming news that the climate crisis is already causing deaths and childhood stunting. The Nature report from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, is reviewed in The Guardian and msn.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/climate-crisis-already-causing-deaths-and-childhood-stunting-report-reveals/ar-AAF76ZS?ocid=spartandhp

The report “From Townsville to Tuvalu” pulled together scientific research from roughly 120 peer-reviewed journal articles to paint a picture of the health-related impacts of the climate emergency in Australia and the Pacific region. It stated, “Climate change is “absolutely” already causing deaths” and also predicts climate-related stunting, malnutrition and lower IQ in children within the coming decades.

It pointed to a 2018 report from the World Health Organisation, which predicted that between 2030 and 2050, global warming would cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. But Misha Coleman, one of the report’s authors, stressed that deaths were already occurring:

“During the Black Saturday fires (in Victoria in 2009) for example, we know that people were directly killed by the fires, but there were nearly 400 additional deaths in those hot days from heat stress and heatstroke.”

The report found that, as well as deaths caused directly by severe weather events such as hurricanes, flooding and fires, the “more deep and insidious impact” came from the secondary impacts of climate change.

The report warned that rising global temperatures would expand the habitat of mosquitos, exposing more people to diseases including dengue, chikungunya and zika, and would cause other diseases to spread into Australia, including Nipah virus, which is spread by bats, and Q fever, which is already prevalent around Townsville.

John Thwaites, Chair of the Sustainable Development Institute of Monash University. said:

“Q fever is something that is carried by a lot of wild and domesticated animals. “As climate change degrades their habitat through fires and drought, these animals go looking for green grass and fresh water [and] they find themselves on golf courses and on retirees’ two-acre blocks.”

Coleman said the problem comes when infected animals defecate on lawns and the poo is then run over by humans with lawnmowers. “It becomes airborne and a highly transmissible toxin, that’s why it’s being described, even by the Lancet medical journal, as a bioweapon in our own backyard.”

Climate change is expected to pose particularly stark issues for childhood development, with the report citing research that shows children born to women who were pregnant while they experienced floods in Brisbane in 2011 had lower cognitive capacity (equivalent to at least 14 points on an IQ scale), smaller vocabularies and less imaginative play at the age of two.

The decreased nutritional value of staple crops as a result of higher CO2 concentration was also expected to cause stunting, anaemia and malnutrition in children, within 10 to 20 years.

See also:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/31/climate-crisis-already-causing-deaths-and-childhood-stunting-report-reveals

https://www.nature.com/nclimate/articles?type=news-and-views

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)32610-2/fulltext

https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-change-affecting-australia

The final article in the link above describes specifically the reality of climate change effects for Australia. It is worth reading. It shows, by means of a graph, the consequences of an upward shift in average temperature for the region:

heatw3



December 2019:

Extensive bush fires have hit Australia earlier this year, affecting much of Queensland and especially New South Wales, where the fires have been burning out of control, destroying property, as well as wildlife.  Smoke pollution has also hung over Sydney for days on end.

One big concern in all of this is the loss of many of the native koalas, killed in the fires.  Concern was already being expressed about the future viability of this species, due to habitat loss.  Now, heartbreaking film of burnt and dying koalas is being shared globally.

koala2

Reports state that:

Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing Australia’s iconic marsupial, while the fire danger accelerated on Saturday in the country’s east as temperatures soared.

The mid-north coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas, but wildfires in the area in recent months have significantly reduced their population.

Koalas are native to Australia and are one of the country’s most beloved animals, but they have been under threat due to a loss of habitat.

Environment minister Sussan Ley said: “Up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.

“We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”

Images shared of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days.

koala

Ms Ley said: “I get mail from all around the world from people absolutely moved and amazed by our wildlife volunteer response and also by the habits of these curious creatures.”

About 12.35 million acres of land have burned nationwide during the current wildfire crisis, with nine people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

Fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to severe on Saturday, as high temperatures built up over the region.

Sydney’s western suburbs reached 41C, while the inner city is expected to hit 31C on Sunday before reaching 35C on Tuesday.”



 


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An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change

An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change.

A number of progressive economists have been pointing out the facts relating to this statement for the last few years.  Yet, political leaders across the world still seem to be deaf to their words and obsessed with a need to find ways to fuel economic growth through a market economy and promoting austerity, and then praise themselves for doing it, even though their austerity measures affect the poorest in society and damage the environment.  It is part of an adherence to a competitive world, in which one’s own country must come out on top.  This blinkered approach encourages the manufacturing industry, much of which uses fossil fuels, and trading across the globe, in order to balance the difference between imports and exports – what is termed ” a balanced economy”.  I deal with the issue in Chapter 7 of my book, which can be found elsewhere on this website.

fioramonti

In the UK, this approach was perhaps pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and her crony in the US, Ronald Reagan.  But it was later picked up with enthusiasm by Tony Blair and developed further, until it became an obsession with economists.  According to George Monbiot, they are using the wrong mathematics and this approach is both outdated and harmful to the environment. See:

George Monbiot (2015) Guardian 24th November 2015.  “Consume more, conserve more: Sorry but we just can’t do both.”

A number of progressive economists have been saying a similar thing for a number of years.  Perhaps the late Richard Douthwaite was the first to say this in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999) but there have been others too:  Molly Scott Cato MEP (“Green Economics”), Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics and also “Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us” Guardian 6th April 2017), Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”), Paul Krugman  (“How did economists get it so wrong?” in the New York Times), Pat Conaty and the New Economics Foundation among others (full details of each in my references section on this website).

The current UK Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also wrote a booklet about this in June 2007, whilst a member of Tony Blair’s “market economy party”.  It is entitled “Another World is Possible” and shows amazing foresight about the consequences of market economy politics, which we are living with now. He was courageous to write this, at a time when Blair was pursuing another path.

AWIP

“Another World is Possible”  (2007) is published by the Labour representation Committee, PO Box 2378, London E5 9QU.  ISBN 978-0-9555771-0-9.

This excellent booklet includes a section entitled “A Planet Plundered for Profit” in which McDonnell states that “we cannot tackle climate change unless we address the system which has caused it…….the wasteful consumption of the wealthier nations has brought environmental impacts, which…. disproportionately affect the poorest countries….The UK has a wealth of natural resources that lend themselves to renewable energy production which, once set up, are low cost to run and cause no pollution… a programme of investment in renewable would not only create thousands of jobs in engineering and manufacturing sectors that have declined in recent years….”

According to Kate Raworth in her Guardian article, “Things are not going well in the world’s richest economies. Most OECD countries are facing their highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, while generating ecological footprints of a size that would require four, five or six planet Earths if every country were to follow suit. These economies have, in essence, become divisive and degenerative by default. Mainstream economic theory long promised that the solution starts with growth – but why does that theory seem so ill-equipped to deal with the social and ecological fallout of its own prescriptions?”

In May 2017, Lorenzo Fioramonti*, Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria, wrote an article for The Conversation, republished in Quartz. He opens: “GDP as a measure of growth fails to account for damages caused to the environment by industrial activity”. In his new book “Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth” he points out that the “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies”.  He asks the question, “What exactly is growth” and further expounds the idea that it is not a silver bullet to success.  Further details of this concept in his book are summarised in:

https://britain2020.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/fioramonti-growth-is-dying-as-the-silver-bullet-for-success-this-may-be-good-thing/

Kate Raworth has also circulated her latest blog, which contains a video, which tries to explain the issue in easily understandable terms, using puppets.  She hopes that this will be used in secondary schools and in teaching economics undergraduates that the GDP/growth model does not work:

Economic Man vs. Humanity: a puppet rap battle

by Kate Raworth

An economist, a songwriter, and a puppet-maker walked into a recording studio. What do you think came out?. . . An economics puppet rap battle, of course.

One of the most dangerous stories at the heart of 20th century economics is the depiction of humanity as rational economic man. In my book Doughnut Economics I decided he needed a portrait so I drew him, standing alone, with money in his hand, ego in his heart, a calculator in his head and nature at his feet. He hates work, he loves luxury and he knows the price of everything.

Now here’s the most fascinating (and unnerving) thing I discovered while researching the history and influence of this character. The more that economics students learn about him – from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3 of their studies – the more they say they value traits such as self-interest and competition over traits such as altruism and collaboration.

The implication? Who we tell ourselves we are shapes who we become.

Over the past year I have been contacted by many economics teachers around the world – especially those in secondary schools – who want to encourage their students to critique this text-book model and offer them a far more nuanced understanding of human behaviour.

So that got me thinking…

I teamed up with the brilliant puppet designer Emma Powell and the ingenious musician Simon Panrucker and, with funding from the Network for Social Change (big thanks, folks!), we created this video – Economic Man vs Humanity: a puppet rap battle.

We’d love to see it in use in classrooms, conferences, reading groups, community groups, and shared widely on social media, on web platforms, on teaching resource sites.

If you are a teacher, please do use it to start a debate in your classroom (the video ends with a question for that very reason). Download the complete lyrics of the rap, and if your students want to dive further into the back story and future possibilities of Rational Economic Man, then I recommend Chapter 3 of Doughnut Economics, which was the basis for the whole project.

If you are a student, please do share the video with your fellow future economists, get your teacher involved, and help kick off a much-needed discussion.

And if you host a web discussion, a new economics resource site, a community network, or a teachers’ forum, you are very welcome to feature the film on your site – we’d love to hear what you do with it.

So sit back and enjoy the Puppet Rap Battle – sing along, pass it on, and let’s say farewell to Rational Economic Man. Today’s students know that it’s time to create a better portrait of who we are for 21st century economics.”

Kate Raworth | 5 September 2018 at 10:14 | URL: https://wp.me/p3sUHn-Bb

 

And yet, despite all of these highly knowledgeable progressive economists writing at length about it, the old way of seeking “growth, growth and more growth” still persists. The present conservative government in the UK has used this maxim extensively over the last 10 years, and even used it as a hammer to batter the opposition with – that they are weak on the economy – a deceitful myth that a gullible public unwittingly believed, when voting at the ballot box – until June 2017, that is.  And the present Chancellor constantly brings statistical data to parliament, in an attempt to show that their economic austerity policies are working.  What he does not say is that they are contributing to climate change, as well as making many marginalised people much worse off.  Indeed, they seem to have abandoned any pretence of working towards attaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.  George Monbiot has slated their 25-year environment plan, as “A Grand Plan to do Nothing”. See: http://www.monbiot.com

This last year, we have seen some of the extreme consequences of climate change:

  • excessive heatwaves this summer;
  • a prolonged unusual freeze-up last winter;
  • last year having the most violent and numerous hurricanes;
  • island nations losing some of their territory due to sea level rise;
  • the last few years, global temperatures being the hottest ever on record.

Some of these issues have been described in more detail in other recent blogs on this website.

Just recently, I have read an article by Alan Cottey, a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility: “Environment change, economy change and reducing conflict at source”, just published in AI & Society, where he sets out alternatives.  Here is an extract from the Abstract:

At a time when fossil fuel burning, nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other retrograde steps are being promoted, the prospects for world peace and environmental systems stability may appear dim. Exactly because of this is it the more important to continue to examine the sources of conflict. A major obstacle to general progress is the currently dominant economic practice and theory, which is here called the economy-as-usual, or economics-as-usual, as appropriate. A special obstacle to constructive change is the language in which economic matters are usually discussed. This language is narrow, conservative, technical and often obscure. The rapid changes in the environment (physical and living) are largely kept in a separate compartment. If, however, the partition is removed, economics-as-usual, with its dependence on growth and its widening inequality, is seen to be unsustainable. Radical economic change, for better or worse, is to be expected. Such change is here called economy change. The change could be for the better if it involved an expansion of the concept of economics itself, along the lines of oikonomia, a modern revival of a classical Greek term for management or household. In such an expanded view, not everything of economic value can be measured. It is argued that economics-as-usual is the source of much strife. Some features are indicated of a less conflictual economy—more just, cooperative and peaceful. These features include a dignified life available to all people as of right, the word ‘wealth’ being reconnected with weal, well and well-being, and ‘work’ being understood as including all useful activity.”

The whole article can be found at:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00146-018-0816-x


I think that many of us have stood on the sidelines of this issue for long enough now.  It is time for the progressive economists I have named above, and those cited in Cottey’s article, to come together, in formulating together a new economic theory, with a clear structure, that takes care of the environment, does not increase the gap between rich and poor, and which reduces conflict and competition between nations.  They have written separately for too long.  Now, we are looking for a new partnership, a new structure – a really new economics, based on compassion and equality, not austerity, which will also work towards reducing the damaging effects of climate change.