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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Calling for an Economy of Life in a Time of Pandemic

15th May 2020

The following statement has been issued jointly by the World Council of Churches; the World Communion of Reformed Churches; the Lutheran World Federation; and the Council for World Mission:

“The current Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives in a world already plagued with immense human suffering. In response, our organizations – the World Council of Churches  (WCC),  the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and the Council for World Mission (CWM) – through the joint New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA) initiative convened an e-conference under the theme, “Economy of Life in a time of Pandemic”, on 17 and 24 April 2020.

A panel of experts who have been part of the NIFEA process contributed socio-economic analyses, theological-ethical reflections and practical recommendations with a view to systemic transformation as called for in the Sao Paulo Statement: International Financial Transformation for an Economy of Life which initiated the NIFEA process.[1]

The crises of the Covid-19 pandemic are rooted in human and systemic sickness. They stem from oppressive and exploitative economic systems that are based on the logic of profit-making, socio-economic inequalities, ecological indifference, political self-interest, and colonial legacies. This joint message aims not only to voice our deep concern, but also to call upon the Christian community, governments, and international financial institutions to responsible action that addresses the root causes of the crises that are now exposed before the world.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Exposes Interconnected Economic and Ecological Crises

The Covid-19 pandemic is both the product of and the spur to the current economic catastrophe. The public health emergency is symptomatic of a deeper economic crisis that undergirds it.  Decades of austerity – in the global South, as part of harsh debt conditionalities, and in the global North, as a consequence of the 2008 global financial crash – have rendered many countries utterly defenceless in the face of this threat. Moreover, ineffective and corrupt governance at national levels has exacerbated the inability of governments to support those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic.

The ecological crisis facing the world today – a direct consequence of extractive economic systems and where humanity behaves and believes as if the earth is an unlimited resource for relentless exploitation – is closely related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Scientists monitoring biodiversity and the health of our ecosystems remind us that “[r]ampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spill over of diseases”. Furthermore, the exponential spread of the coronavirus due to urbanization and global air travel exposes “the human hand in pandemic emergence” in which “[Covid-19] may be only the beginning”.[2]

Unprecedented economic shutdowns and border closures to contain the spread of Covid-19 are prompting a sudden fall in climate change-causing emissions while simultaneously triggering a truly global economic crisis, leading in turn to spiralling unemployment and increasing inequality. Measures to address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic have been merely palliative and have been mainly directed to bailing out corporations rather than people. In some places, economies are already being restarted at risk of mounting deaths, problematizing the perceived trade-off between rescuing the economy and saving lives.

As in many if not all crises, the already vulnerable, including low-wage and informal workers, the poor, women, people of colour, migrants and refugees are bearing the brunt in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods.

The present situation impacts human rights, emboldening authoritarianism. Covid-19 is being used to stir xenophobic and racist aggression, further endangering marginalized groups and human rights defenders. The lockdown has also meant many are unable to escape from domestic violence.

This crisis highlights the immense value of healthcare, the care economy, and women’s intensified care work burden. While the care economy is now being valorised, care work in the current context of capitalism has often meant further oppression of women and migrant workers. The privatization of the health sector and the profit orientation of the pharmaceutical industry and patent system have exposed the inability of the present economic framework to take care of and uphold the dignity of people.

Even as capitalism supplants the impulses to love, care, and share with the urge to compete, the crisis has seen communities all over the world mobilizing deep reserves of compassion, kindness, and generosity, particularly where markets have failed. This underscores the potential of an economy based on care of the most vulnerable, each other and the earth.

Living through the Revelation of Covid-19 into a Renewed Creation

We are living in apocalyptic times and are reminded that the term ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil or uncover. In moments such as this, Covid-19 is not the great ‘leveller’; it is the great ‘revealer’.  In its light we see anew and afresh the distorted realities and inequalities powerful interests have passed off as ‘normal’ and unquestionable.  Covid-19 could become the great leveller if we harness its revelation for a transformation which raises up those who have been cast down by exploitive and supremacist systems. This is a call to conversion, where we are called to listen to the groaning of all creation and its hope of redemption (Romans 8: 22,23).

In the midst of harmful ideologies that distort reality and disempower the most vulnerable, we speak truthfully from theological-ethical perspectives committed to the following:

Realizing our hubris. Covid-19 offers humanity a new humility which could give us new commitment to living in ways which do not profit at the earth’s or others’ expense, nor inflict pain-fuelled systems which demand sacrifice from vulnerable people and communities.  We are realizing anew and again the sin of economic systems governed by supremacist anthropocentricism.

Nurturing our communities. Loving, caring, and connectedness are key elements for resilience in the face of Covid-19.  Physical distancing has needed to be counterbalanced by familial and social solidarity.  As we nurture community, it is possible that new  models and values for our economies could flourish rooted not in competition but in care for each other and the earth; that new conceptions of family beyond the restrictions of patriarchy and kinship relations and led by the visions of the most vulnerable would form the foundation of  our communities; that borders would fall, racism be dismantled and xenophobia be replaced by radical hospitality.

Countering vested interest.  Even in the deep crisis spurred by Covid-19, there are strong vested interests which profit from, or control how the crisis is managed and experienced.  We are in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.  The powers must still be confronted in this crisis and the death and debt from which they profit exposed.

Transforming systems.  Covid-19 is overshadowing many with fear, overturning their security and even undermining their faith. In this moment of crisis, we need a liberative theology coupled with a redemptive economy. The human causes and systemic roots of this pandemic point to the exigency of systemic change if we are to be converted by the revelation Covid-19 is offering us, even as, like some latter day Shepherd David, it brings some of those giant systems to their knees. We must build back better, to ensure an Economy of Life that is founded on justice and dignity for all.

This is a prophetic moment. As churches we can see here a path towards the new creation.  This struggle could bear the fruit of the earth’s redemption from wanton exploitation.  This is eschatological hope rooted not in the end of days, but in the fall of sinful systems. All shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51) if the truth is told, the old idolatries of empire and economy cast down, and the care of the Creator reflected in a creation not exploited endlessly but blessed deeply.

An Urgent Call to Action

Holding to the promise of a new creation, we make the following calls:

As a matter of urgency, in the immediate term:

  • We renew our call for international banks and financial institutions to cancel the external debts of low- and middle-income countries (which were at damaging levels even before the pandemic).  In the restorative and liberative spirit of Jubilee, countries, especially in the global South, need empowerment in confronting the challenges posed by the Covid-19 crisis, particularly in assuring funding for building the resilience and livelihoods of people and communities.
  • We call upon governments to allocate the necessary resources towards public health and social protection for the hundreds of millions of people whose livelihoods have been decimated because of the lockdowns. This includes ensuring widespread testing, provision of protective and other equipment for healthcare, essential workers and hospitals; healthcare coverage for all and the vulnerable expressly; the search for an effective but also accessible and affordable vaccine or cure; basic income grants, unemployment assistance, and wage subsidy schemes; as well as support for small businesses.
  • We reiterate our call for the implementation of the Zacchaeus Tax proposals: the initiation of a progressive wealth tax, financial transaction tax and carbon tax at national and global levels; the reintroduction of capital gains and inheritance taxes; measures to curb tax evasion and avoidance; and reparations for slavery and other social and ecological debts including through debt cancellation. Furthermore, a Covid-19 surcharge must be levied on the super-wealthy, equity and hedge funds, and multinational, e-commerce and digital corporations that are reaping even greater returns from the current crisis to resource the critical response to the pandemic.

On a medium- and longer-term trajectory:

  • We call upon the United Nations (UN) to convene an UN Economic, Social and Ecological Security Council (building on the 2009 Stiglitz Commission proposal for a Global Economic Coordination Council) to provide leadership in addressing interconnected economic, social and ecological crises that require coordinated international action. No country is an island. The current juncture and the burgeoning climate disaster demand coherence, collaboration, innovation, and transformation on a global scale.
  • We call upon governments to reclaim and safeguard public goods and the ecological commons from neoliberal processes of privatization and commodification; guarantee living wages for all; and privilege such life-affirming areas as health, education, water and sanitation, agro-ecology, and renewable energy in both Covid-19 recovery and longer-term plans. Our societies must foster and invest deeply in what the crisis has unveiled as essential: community-based systems of health, care and resilience  as well as the protection and sustenance of ecosystems in which our economies are embedded.
  • We call upon the United Nations (UN) to convene an UN Economic, Social and Ecological Security Council (building on the 2009 Stiglitz Commission proposal for a Global Economic Coordination Council) to provide leadership in addressing interconnected economic, social and ecological crises that require coordinated international action. No country is an island. The current juncture and the burgeoning climate disaster demand coherence, collaboration, innovation, and transformation on a global scale.

Finally, we call upon our own Christian communities to recommit to pursuing a New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA), to model an Economy of Life in our work and lives, and to join with faith-rooted and social movements in amplifying advocacy for the aforementioned emergency measures and systemic changes.

Shared Commitment: Caring for Our Common Home Together

The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the fact that we live together in a common economic, social, and ecological home. Our response to this global health crisis and the more colossal, longer-standing economic and ecological emergency must recognize our intrinsic interdependence and hold together economic, social, and ecological objectives. This calls for cooperation and solidarity within and across countries embodied in networks of faith communities, civil society, and social movements as well as fresh systems of global governance rooted in justice, care, and sustainability.  Through such action and in that spirit, ways can be found, if we are bold, to root our systems, powers and hearts not in the old order, but in the new creation.

Download : CallingForAnEconomyOfLifeInATime_final.pdf


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Climate change and COVID-19

Air pollution and Coronavirus

There is increasing evidence that the lockdown in multiple countries, in an effort to  reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in short-term reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, especially in cities and focusing on nitrogen dioxide. Indeed, scans from space have been published, showing huge decreases in this polluting gas:

china_trop_2020056

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146362/airborne-nitrogen-dioxide-plummets-over-china

A new study published by Yaron Ogen in Science of the Total Environment suggests that long-term exposure to the pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), may be one of the most important contributors to 78% of fatalities caused by the COVID-19 virus in 66 administrative regions in Italy, Spain, France and Germany and maybe across the whole world. The image below is from the paper.

NO2

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720321215  and

Science of The Total Environment, Volume 726, 15 July 2020, 138605
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138605

A similar study was published on April 22nd 2020:

In another analysis of trends in COVID-19 deaths, research  reported by the Guardian has shown that deaths are highest in the cities which are very polluted, suggesting that people living in such cities already have lung pathology caused by the pollution before catching the coronavirus.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/air-pollution-may-be-key-contributor-to-covid-19-deaths-study?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNDIy&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight

It suggests that 80% of deaths from coronavirus across four countries were in the most polluted areas.

However, a contradictory report from the UK, suggests that death rates have been higher in rural areas, though this may be linked to the greater number of elderly people living in such areas. There is still much to be learnt about this new virus.

But, is this reduction in pollution going to be enough to make a difference, indeed, of reversing the unrelenting march of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, causing global warming and climate change?

Sadly, I think not, though it might become a wake-up call.  Scientists are already saying that, whilst there may be reductions in air pollution over major cities, and a temporary drop in carbon emissions, the overall trend is upwards, as there is already carbon, previously emitted, that is trapped in the upper atmosphere, that will take global warming beyond 3° unless we take serious action to follow the Paris agreement targets.

The problem as I see it is that panic has been caused by the effects of the lockdown on national and local economies. People are desperate for a return to “business as usual”.  And one can understand that many people have been forced into poverty by the loss of their incomes due to social distancing measures and lockdown.  And, in some cases, the people who have been affected by it probably thought that their future income would be relatively stable and secure. This must be taken into account when planning for the future, once the pandemic and the lockdowns are over.

road

A UK motorway devoid of traffic during the coronavirus lockdown

Although there has been a demonstrated drop in nitrogen dioxide levels, carbon dioxide levels have continued unrelentingly.  Global carbon dioxide levels have hit a record high despite reports of localised improvements in air quality due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to reports.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released data showing that CO2 levels have risen steeply.

According to the US agency the monthly average CO2 concentrations, recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, were 416.21 parts per million (ppm) this year compared to 413.33ppm in April 2019.  Its the highest concentration since records began in 1958.

 



There are an increasing number of people who are hoping that the end of the pandemic will give an opportunity to rethink the economy, with a view to coming up with measures that do not damage the environment and put our world at risk. This subject has been tackled in Guardian articles and letters, published on 24th March 2020 by Colin Hines, Rosemund Aubrey and Carl Gardner:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/how-fresh-economics-can-tackle-coronavirus-and-climate-change

Another group who propound a circular economy – or doughnut economics – have circulated a long email, with plans for making Amsterdam the place to demonstrate that such ideas work.  Their email is copied in its entirety below (I apologise that some of the images are too small to be legible but this is their size in the original email). By clicking on the links provided, larger images can be seen by downloading the original documents.

 



Introducing the Amsterdam City Doughnut

from Kate Raworth (8.4.2020)

Today is the launch of the Amsterdam City Doughnut, which takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action in the city of Amsterdam. It’s also the first public presentation of the holistic approach to ‘downscaling the Doughnut’ that an international team of us have been developing for more than a year. We never imagined that we would be launching it in a context of crisis such as this, but we believe that the need for such a transformative tool could hardly be greater right now, and its use in Amsterdam has the chance to inspire many more places – from neighbourhoods and villages to towns and cities to nations and regions – to take such a holistic approach as they begin to reimagine and remake their own futures.

The Doughnut was first published in 2012, proposing a social foundation and ecological ceiling for the whole world. Ever since then people have asked: can we downscale the Doughnut so that we can apply it here – in our town, our country, our region? Over the past eight years there have been many innovative initiatives exploring different approaches to doing just that – including for the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South Africa, Wales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.

Today sees the launch of a new and holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut, and we are confident that it has huge potential at multiple scales – from neighbourhood to nation – as a tool for transformative action. Amsterdam is a great place for launching this tool because this city has already placed the Doughnut at the heart of its long-term vision and policymaking, and is home to the Amsterdam Donut Coalition, a network of inspiring change-makers who are already putting the Doughnut into practice in their city.

When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry

This new holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut started out as a playful conceptual collaboration between the biomimicry thinker Janine Benyus and me, as we sought to combine the essence of our contrasting ways of thinking about people and place. It then became a collaborative initiative, led by Doughnut Economics Action Lab (we are so new we don’t have a website yet – but watch this space!) working very closely with fantastic colleagues at Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy and C40 Cities, all collaborating as part of the Thriving Cities Initiative.

The result is a holistic approach that embraces social and ecological perspectives, both locally and globally. Applied at the scale of a city, it starts by asking this very 21st century question:

It’s a question that combines local aspiration – to be thriving people in a thriving place – with a global responsibility to live in ways that respect all people and the whole planet. As Janine put it in her characteristically poetic way, ‘when a bird builds a nest in a tree, it takes care not to destroy the surrounding forest in the process’. How can humanity also learn to create settlements big and small that promote the wellbeing of their inhabitants, while respecting the wider living communities in which they are embedded?

To dive into these issues, we explore four interdependent questions, applied in this case to Amsterdam:

These questions turn into the four ‘lenses’ of the City Doughnut, producing a new ‘portrait’ of the city from four inter-connected perspectives. Drawing on the city’s current targets for the local lenses, as well as on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries for the global lenses, we compared desired outcomes for the city against statistical snapshots of its current performance (see the published tool for full details).

To be clear, this city portrait is not a report and assessment of Amsterdam: it is a tool and starting point, ideal for using in workshops to open up new insights and bring about transformative action. The current coronavirus lockdown means that such workshops are on hold at the moment, but changemakers in the city are already finding creative ways to sustain momentum, including through many of the 8 ways that set out below.

Our team at the Thriving Cities Initiative has also worked with city staff to create city portraits for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Portland, Oregon (these are not yet published) and the initial workshops that have been held to date in all three cities have brought together policymakers and change-makers in dynamic and thought-provoking discussions.

Workshops for city officials and community representatives in Philadelphia, Portland and Amsterdam, 2019

And here’s what we think is the real opportunity. The City Portraits that our team has made are what we call public portraits of the cities – made using publicly available targets and data. What if a city were to turn this into its own self portrait, gathering together residents’ lived experiences, their values, hopes and fears, their ideas and initiatives, their own understanding of their deep interconnections with the rest of world? The process of creating such City Self Portraits is, we believe, what will make this tool really take off.

From Public Portrait to City Selfie Imagining Amsterdam’s City Selfie…

The likelihood of this happening in Amsterdam is high, thanks to the newly launched Amsterdam Donut Coalition: a network of over 30 organisations – including community groups, commons-based organisations, SMEs, businesses, academia and local government – that are already putting Doughnut Economics into practice in their work. Working together they are becoming a catalyst for transformative change, generating inspiration and action within Amsterdam and far beyond.

The Amsterdam Donut Coalition, founding meeting, December 2019

If you are interested in applying this tool for downscaling the Doughnut to your own place – your neighbourhood, village, town, city, region, nation – please do let us know by filling in this short form. Doughnut Economics Action Lab is already working on creating version 2.0 of the methodology and, once ready, we plan to share it on our forthcoming platform, which will make working collaboratively like this far easier and more effective. Our newly created team at DEAL is currently focused on setting up this platform, so please be a little patient, and by the end of May we will get in touch with our plans for taking this downscaling work forward.

Everyone is likewise welcome to leave responses and suggestions about Amsterdam’s City Doughnut, and the City Doughnut tool. I am currently focused on working with DEAL’s fast-growing team, as well as homeschooling my two children, and looking out for my local community – so please do understand that I may not be able to reply personally, but you are of course welcome to comment and discuss with each other.

As we all start thinking about how we will emerge from this crisis, let us seek to be holistic in how we reimagine and recreate the local-to-global futures of the places we live. I believe this newly downscaled Doughnut tool has a great deal to offer and I look forward to seeing it turned into transformative action, in Amsterdam and far beyond.

There is also a report in The Guardian about this initiative:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/amsterdam-doughnut-model-mend-post-coronavirus-economy?fbclid=IwAR1jAAhLG-r0DvvJ4hLqyOxHWaJcJ15J-OBDVc8LkXNHvIqAYKm7RgApjnQ



Other groups, such as the World Economic Forum, believe that:

  • The coronavirus pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us on a global scale.
  • Well-resourced healthcare systems are essential to protect us from health security threats, including climate change.
  • The support to resuscitate the economy after the pandemic should promote health, equity, and environmental protection.

We live in an age in which intersecting crises are being lifted to a global scale, with unseen levels of inequality, environmental degradation and climate destabilization, as well as new surges in populism, conflict, economic uncertainty, and mounting public health threats. All are crises that are slowly tipping the balance, questioning our business-as-usual economic model of the past decades, and requiring us to rethink our next steps.

See: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/climate-change-coronavirus-linked/



Carbon Brief has provided data to show the drop in carbon emissions that has occurred during lockdown, though they admit that it is early days to provide accurate data:

Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions

With dozens more countries enforcing lockdowns in response to the pandemic, a wide range of indicators show how transport useelectricity demand and industrial activity are being cut. Yet there have been few attempts, thus far, to quantify the consequences for global CO2 emissions.

To date, most global estimates have been based on informed speculation, or on forecasts of reduced GDP growth. Many have also warned that emissions will quickly rebound, unless the response to the pandemic can create lasting, structural changes towards net-zero emissions.

Here, Carbon Brief gathers the latest evidence on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting energy use and CO2 emissions around the world, as a way to sense-check the GDP-based estimates.

Five key datasets and projections are identified, covering roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, including the entire output of China and the US, the EU carbon market, the Indian power sector and the global oil sector.

Carbon Brief analysis of this data suggests the pandemic could cause emissions cuts this year in the region of 1,600m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). Although this number is necessarily uncertain, countries and sectors not yet included in the analysis can be expected to add to the total.

Nevertheless, this tentative estimate is equivalent to more than 4% of the global total in 2019. As a result, the coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

Even this would not come close to bringing the 1.5C global temperature limit within reach. Global emissions would need to fall by more than 6% every year this decade – more than 2,200MtCO2 annually – in order to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.

To put it another way, atmospheric carbon levels are expected to increase again this year, even if CO2 emissions cuts are greater still. Rising CO2 concentrations – and related global warming – will only stabilise once annual emissions reach net-zero.

Emissions data challenges

It is important to stress before explaining Carbon Brief’s analysis that there are many challenges when it comes to estimating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global emissions in 2020.

The most significant of these are timely data availability, attribution of any changes to coronavirus, and the huge uncertainty over the path and duration of the crisis.

For example, UK data on demand for petroleum products is published monthly, but the figures for January were only released at the end of March. Similarly, the 20 March release of UK tax data – including fuel duty receipts reflecting road-traffic volumes – only covers the month of February.

Estimates of annual global CO2 emissions are usually first published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) in November or December of the year in question, but more definitive figures only arrive the following spring. Official emissions inventories can take years to be finalised.

The US Energy Information Administration (US EIA) publishes national energy data and emissions estimates only a few weeks in arrears. Yet in its 8 April weekly report on oil markets, it notes that, on a global basis, “real-time data remain limited”.

Robbie Andrew, senior researcher in climate economics at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway and a contributor to the GCP, tells Carbon Brief:

“We get frequently updated economic stats, but environmental stats are just occasional. How would it change the way we think if, every time economic stats were published, there were environmental stats updated alongside?”

In terms of attributing any changes to the on-going pandemic, a long list of confounding factors cloud the picture. This means it is hard to attribute a changing indicator solely to coronavirus, given multiple reasons why fossil-fuel demand in March 2020 might have fallen, relative to the same month in previous years.

The mild winter across Europe and North America has cut demand for heating in the first quarter of the year, for example, making it cheaper to burn gas for power and industry. Temperatures also affect electricity demand. Adjustments to account for this are possible, but add complexity.

Renewable capacity was already rising, eating into the market share of fossil fuels, while sunny and windy weather has boosted the output of existing windfarms and solar parks relative to last year.

These trends, combined with low gas prices that were also unrelated to coronavirus, mean coal-fired electricity was already plummeting in many countries – and was expected to continue doing so.

As a practical example, German electricity got much cleaner in the first quarter of 2020cutting emissions by 20m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). But only a quarter of this (5MtCO2) was due to the pandemic, according to analysis from the thinktank Agora Energiewende.

Second-order effects add to this already complicated situation. The drop in oil demand due to the pandemic is being compounded by a price war, in which Saudi Arabia and Russia have raised their output. This means oil prices are tumbling, as are those for gas, because of oil-linked contracts.

Finally, the unprecedented nature of the current crisis makes all forecasts and predictions even more than usually susceptible to being wrong. The duration of the crisis and the timing of lockdowns being lifted are particularly uncertain.

In its latest short-term projections, the US EIA says that it expects the biggest hit to oil demand in the second quarter of 2020, but that the reduction will only “gradually dissipat[e] over the course of the next 18 months”. Its outlook notes:

“Although all market outlooks are subject to many risks, the April edition of EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook is subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because the impacts of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on energy markets are still evolving.”

Marcus Ferdinand, head of European carbon and power analytics for data provider ICIS, published one early analysis on 24 March, looking at how coronavirus would affect the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). This covers EU emissions from electricity generation, industry and aviation.

Ferdinand told Carbon Brief on 3 April that while electricity sector data is “relatively good” and despite reasonable proxies being available for transport, there was still a lot of “guesswork” involved at this stage, particularly around the unknown depth and duration of the crisis.

His analysis started by looking at the effect of the 2008-9 global financial crisis, then drew on a mixture of hard data and news reporting of planned measures to extrapolate onto the current situation. He described the effort as a “first impact assessment” that would need to be refined as more data became available. Ferdinand told Carbon Brief on 3 April:

“I’m humble enough to know that I’m wrong. And I think every forecast, in this case, is wrong – unless there is pure luck – because there’s so many unknowns. So I think what we painted here is one potential scenario of what could happen, if the circumstances were as we described them. If the circumstances are different – which we will find out when we get more and more data – then we will need to adjust our analysis.”

Despite all of these challenges, there is plenty of data to draw on that points to significant – though uncertain – changes in CO2 emissions, as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Estimated impact on global emissions

In order to start building up a global picture of how the pandemic is affecting energy use and emissions, Carbon Brief has been gathering evidence from a wide range of sources.

The information includes direct data, proxy indicators, news reports and third-party forecasts. It covers road-transport demand, aviation, industrial activity, economic output, electricity demand, air pollution, atmospheric carbon and other relevant markers.

In some countries and sectors, notably international aviation, the impact of the current crisis is so severe and dramatic that there can be little doubt it is due to other factors. Even so, a number of assumptions are needed to translate flight cancellations into tonnes of CO2.

 

Ferdinand tells Carbon Brief the index “has a strong correlation with German industry production”, meaning it can provide “some early hints” regarding how economic activity will develop.

So far, five sets of data and existing analysis stand out as offering strong, timely and quantifiable evidence of the coronavirus crisis cutting global CO2 emissions in 2020. These cover the global oil sector, the EU ETS, India’s electricity sector and the entire economies of the US and China.

More detail on all of the pieces of evidence gathered so far will be added to this article over time, with a particular focus on the key countries and sectors highlighted here. (Details of the estimate for China are contained in previously published Carbon Brief analysis; the EU ETS analysis is explained in detail in a report by ICIS analyst Marcus Ferdinand.)

Together, these five areas account for the large majority of annual global CO2 emissions, some three-quarters (76%) of the total in 2018, according to Carbon Brief analysis of data from ICIS and the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2019.

The chart below shows the combined estimated impacts for these five areas in red, alongside an illustrative range (grey bars) showing what a 1, 3 or 5% drop in annual emissions would look like in 2020. Below the dotted line, in blue, are the five largest annual falls ever recorded prior to this year.

The five largest falls in annual global CO2 emissions ever recorded are shown in blue bars, in millions of tonnes of CO2. The grey bars illustrate how far emissions would fall in 2020 under a 1%, 3% or 5% reduction compared to 2019 levels. The red bars show estimated emissions impacts of the coronavirus crisis in 2020 on the global oil sector, the EU carbon market, China, the US and India, with the latter only accounting for changes in the power sector. Where possible, estimates are shown relative to pre-crisis forecasts. Geographical estimates exclude oil. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of emissions data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC) and the Global Carbon Project; analysis of assessments from ICIS and the US Energy Information Administration; analysis of daily data from India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO). Chart by Carbon Brief.

As if to emphasise the fast-moving and uncertain nature of the current situation, consultancy Rystad Energy published a significantly updated estimate of the impact on global oil markets on 8 April, after Carbon Brief’s analysis in the chart, above, had already been finalised.

Whereas the firm had earlier been aligned with the latest US EIA outlook of a roughly 5% decline in oil demand this year, it now expects a much larger 9.4% reduction for the year. This would increase the global oil sector component of CO2 emissions cuts this year from 816MtCO2 to 1,283MtCO2.

Carbon Brief’s estimated coronavirus impact on emissions in 2020 is uncertain and incomplete, but amounts to some 1,600MtCO2 this year. This is already more than 4% of global emissions in 2019. (The Rystad forecast for oil would increase this to nearly 6% of 2019 emissions and 2,000MtCO2.)

 

The full report can be found by clicking on the weblink at the beginning of this section.



On a lighter note, it has been encouraging to see how it has not taken long for wildlife across the globe to come and take over our towns, helping themselves to greenery in our gardens and parks, maybe reclaiming the habitats we have stolen from them. The photographs below give examples of where this is happening in the UK.

goats

Wild mountain goats in Llandudno

 

deerDeer in an east London suburb

sheeponround

Sheep on a roundabout in a deserted children’s playground

Perhaps this gives a moment of cheer after the devastating images we have seen earlier this year, coming from Australia with the widespread bush fires there, destroying the lives of their unique fauna.

Another source of encouragement is the recent Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK, which has shown increases in the house sparrow, which was in decline, as well as other bird species.

The National Trust has reported some species which are thriving in lockdown: buzzards, orcas and cuckoos. Peregrine falcons are reported to be nesting in Corfe Castle, Dorset; partridges wandering in an empty Cambridge car park and Little Owls have been spotted at Ham House in London. Other species which have been reclaiming empty gardens and streets are otters, stoats, weasels, hares and insects.

And there are reports from Thailand, that the threatened species Dugongs are returning to the sea grass meadows around the tourist islands of Thailand, which are now quiet due to the pandemic. Other species of shark have also been seen in the area more readily.

Another report in the Guardian describes how reduced shipping in the oceans has made life better for marine creatures, such as whales:

In cities, human lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have offered some respite to the natural world, with clear skies and the return of wildlife to waterways. Now evidence of a drop in underwater noise pollution has led experts to predict the crisis may also be good news for whales and other sea mammals.

Researchers examining real-time underwater sound signals from seabed observatories run by Ocean Networks Canada near the port of Vancouver found a significant drop in low-frequency sound associated with ships.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/27/silence-is-golden-for-whales-as-lockdown-reduces-ocean-noise-coronavirus

Unfortunately, this optimistic note is not replicated across the globe, as the BBC reports that it has led to increased poaching:

“How the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening Africa’s wildlife

A wildlife catastrophe is unfolding in Africa, according to park rangers and conservation experts.

They say the closure of safari tourism, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is decimating the industry, and leading to an increase in poaching.

The African tourism industry is worth almost $30 billion a year and employs almost four million people.

Experts and rangers on the ground say they are seeing a surge in poaching as thousands of unemployed people dependent on the industry turn to wild animals for food.

They also fear an upsurge in more organised poaching of endangered species.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-52564615/how-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-threatening-africa-s-wildlife



Natasha Chassange has given an optimistic note in her piece for The Conversation, entitled “Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about climate change“:

Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the coronavirus. The global economy has slowed, people have retreated to their homes and thousands have died or become seriously ill.

At this frightening stage of the crisis, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. But as the International Agency has said, the effects of coronavirus are likely to be temporary but the other global emergency – climate change – is not.

Stopping the spread of coronavirus is paramount, but climate action must also continue. And we can draw many lessons and opportunities from the current health crisis when tackling planetary warming.

A ‘degrowing’ economy

S&P Global Ratings this week said measures to contain COVID-19 have pushed the global economy into recession.

Economic analyst Lauri Myllyvirta estimates the pandemic may have reduced global emissions by 200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide to date, as air travel grinds to a halt, factories close down and energy demand falls.

In the first four weeks of the pandemic, coal consumption in China alone fell by 36%, and oil refining capacity reduced by 34%.

In many ways, what we’re seeing now is a rapid and unplanned version of economic “degrowth” – the transition some academics and activists have for decades said is necessary to address climate change, and leave a habitable planet for future generations.

Degrowth is a proposed slowing of growth in sectors that damage the environment, such as fossil fuel industries, until the economy operates within Earth’s limits. It is a voluntary, planned and equitable transition in developed nations which necessarily involves an increased focus on the environment, human well-being, and capabilities (good health, decent work, education, and a safe and healthy environment).

Such a transformation would be profound, and so far no nation has shown the will to implement it. It would require global economies to “decouple” from carbon to prevent climate-related crises. But the current unintended economic slowdown opens the door to such a transition, which would bring myriad benefits to the climate.

The idea of sustainable degrowth is very different to a recession. It involves scaling back environmentally damaging sectors of the economy, and strengthening others.

A tale of two emergencies

Climate change has been declared a global emergency, yet to date the world has largely failed to address it. In contrast, the global policy response to the coronavirus emergency has been fast and furious.

There are several reasons for this dramatic difference. Climate change is a relatively slow-moving crisis, whereas coronavirus visibly escalates over days, even hours, increasing our perception of the risks involved. One thing that history teaches us about politics and the human condition in times of peril, we often take a “crisis management” approach to dealing with serious threats.

As others have observed, the slow increase in global temperatures means humans can psychologically adjust as the situation worsens, making the problem seem less urgent and meaning people are less willing to accept drastic policy measures.

Key lessons from coronavirus

The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns, to protect the well-being of all.

Specifically, there are practical lessons and opportunities we can take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change:

Act early: The coronavirus pandemic shows the crucial importance of early action to prevent catastrophic consequences. Governments in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore acted quickly to implement quarantine and screening measures, and have seen relatively small numbers of infections. Italy, on the other hand, whose government waited too long to act, is now the epicentre of the virus.

Go slow, go local: Coronavirus has forced an immediate scale-down of how we travel and live. People are forging local connections, shopping locally, working from home and limiting consumption to what they need.

Researchers have identified that fears about personal well-being represent a major barrier to political support for the degrowth movement to date. However with social distancing expected to be in place for months, our scaled-down lives may become the “new normal”. Many people may realise that consumption and personal well-being are not inextricably linked.

Stimulus spending should be directed to clean energy. EPA

New economic thinking is needed. A transition to sustainable degrowth can help. We need to shift global attention from GDP as an indicator of well-being, towards other measures that put people and the environment first, such as New Zealand’s well-being budgetBhutan’s gross national happiness index, or Ecuador’s social philosophy of buen vivir (good living).

Spend on clean energy: The International Energy Agency (IEA) says clean energy should be “at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”.

The IEA has called on governments to launch sustainable stimulus packages focused on clean energy technologies. It says hydrogen and carbon-capture also need major investment to bring them to scale, which could be helped by the current low interest rates.

Governments could also use coronavirus stimulus packages to reskill workers to service the new “green” economy, and address challenges in healthcare, sanitation, aged care, food security and education.

More people are shopping locally during the pandemic. AAP/STEFAN POSTLES

Looking ahead

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said this month:

What really matters is the same for all of us. It’s the health and safety of our friends, our family, our loved ones, our communities, our cities and our country. That’s what the coronavirus threatens, and that’s exactly what climate change does, too.

The coronavirus crisis is devastating, but failing to tackle climate change because of the pandemic only compounds the tragedy. Instead, we must draw on the lessons of coronavirus to address the climate challenge.



And in another Guardian article the suggestion is made that the oil industry will never recover, even after the pandemic has ended.  Written by Damian Carrington, Jillian Ambrose and Matthew Taylor on 1st April 2020, and begins:

“The plunging demand for oil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic combined with a savage price war has left the fossil fuel industry broken and in survival mode, according to analysts. It faces the gravest challenge in its 100-year history, they say, one that will permanently alter the industry. With some calling the scene a “hellscape”, the least lurid description is “unprecedented”.

A key question is whether this will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Many experts think it might well do so, pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, and allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.

The boldest say peak fossil fuel demand may have been dragged into the here and now, and that 2019 will go down in history as the peak year for carbon emissions. But some take an opposing view: the fossil fuel industry will bounce back as it always has, and bargain basement oil prices will slow the much-needed transition to green energy.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/01/the-fossil-fuel-industry-is-broken-will-a-cleaner-climate-be-the-result



There have also been people who have linked the emergence of new deadly viruses and other diseases to deforestation.

https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/covid-19-bulletin-7-climate-change-and-new-pathogens-linked-to-deforestation/

For example:

Deforestation can also remove the habitat of insects and animals. In addition to 1990s information given to the writer by an Indian scientist, about the relationship between deforestation and malaria carried by mosquitos and monkeys in India, a 2019 study found that in Brazil a resurgence of malaria in recent decades paralleled rapid deforestation and settlement in the Amazon basin.

Pathogens are breaking through species boundaries because we are exploiting natural resources with unforeseen consequences – for instance:

  • overfishing in the coastal waters of many African countries by foreign fleets leads local populations to turn to bushmeat, increasing the likelihood (as with Ebola) that pathogens will be transmitted to humans.
  • Markets that trade wild animals are ideal locations for pathogens to cross boundaries. Some virologists attributed the Sars outbreak of 2002/2003 to contact with the civet cat eaten as a delicacy in some parts of China.
  • There are indications that the current coronavirus outbreak also spread to humans at a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.”

The writer of this article also draws attention to the organisation CHE – CO2 Human Emissions, which was set up for a short term to investigate the effects of human activity on carbon emissions, and is due to release a final report this year:

https://www.che-project.eu/news/main-sources-carbon-dioxide-emissions

and:

https://www.che-project.eu/news/che-starting-its-final-year-first-set-recommendation-reports

On their home page is this statement:

“There are both natural and human sources of carbon dioxide emissions. Natural sources include decomposition, ocean release and respiration. Human sources come from activities like cement production, deforestation as well as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Due to human activities, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising extensively since the Industrial Revolution and has now reached dangerous levels not seen in the last 3 million years.1 2 3 Human sources of carbon dioxide emissions are much smaller than natural emissions but they have upset the natural balance that existed for many thousands of years before the influence of humans.

This is because natural sinks remove around the same quantity of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than are produced by natural sources.4 This had kept carbon dioxide levels balanced and in a safe range. But human sources of emissions have upset the natural balance by adding extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere without removing any

Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Human Sources

Since the Industrial Revolution, human sources of carbon dioxide emissions have been growing. Human activities such as the burning of oil, coal and gas, as well as deforestation are the primary cause of the increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

87 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. The remainder results from the clearing of forests and other land use changes (9%), as well as some industrial processes such as cement manufacturing (4%).”

Planned reports:

With the start of 2020 the CO2 Human Emission (CHE) project has entered its final 12 months of coordinated developments across its 22 partners institutes. The work has reached several important milestones that prepare “the baton” for the run into the next phase of development in 2021-2023, guided by the European Commission’s CO2 Task Force strategy (see the CO2 reports) that will move us closer to operational monitoring targets.

A review and assessment of the CHE observational capabilities from existing networks and platforms has been prepared (D5.1 report) for CO2 and non-CO2 satellite observational components (e.g. CO, NO2) as well as for ground-based remote sensing and in-situ observations defining a clear set of recommendations.

The capacity building efforts for global, regional and local modelling have been studied and grouped in two areas, namely offline and online approaches. These research areas are explored and well delineated in the implementation strategy for the multi-scale modelling and data assimilation capabilities (D5.3 report and D5.5 report respectively) achievable within CHE and its follow-on. These reports are detailing the state- of-the-art modelling components (e.g. atmospheric transport, biogenic fluxes, anthropogenic emissions, biomass burning, ocean fluxes, and atmospheric chemistry) and data assimilation methodologies (e.g. 4DVAR, EnKF, Hybrid EnVar), highlighting a key set of recommendation and research priorities.”



And factory farming of pigs (eg) has been linked to pandemics (Tracy Worcester email):
Factory farms, like wet markets, provide the ideal conditions for diseases such as the Covid-19 coronavirus to mutate, multiply and spread. A number of different coronaviruses have decimated pig populations in recent years, and it has been shown that some of these viruses could have (or have already) made the jump to humans (see below). This is deeply concerning, particularly amidst this global pandemic we are currently facing.

In March, the campaign group Pause the System took to the streets in front of Downing Street urging the UK government to ban factory farming amongst a set of measures to prevent any future pandemic outbreaks. Since then, many newspapers, journalists and writers have been speaking out about the links between public health, epidemics, pandemics and factory farming. We have a responsibility to put a halt to all the broken systems that contribute to viral pathogens, to reduce the possibility of this happening again. We need to ban factory farming. However, last month we were met with the devastating news that, in the UK, pig and chicken factory farming is actually continuing to rise.

Please read and share widely our blog article that discusses the link between factory farming and viruses. We can all help bring factory farming to an end by only buying high welfare pork from small scale high welfare farms. Look for high welfare labels like RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all, Organic – Or go direct to your farmer via farmers markets, box schemes and online.



 


The Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), Dr Phil Webber, has written a piece about the pandemic and its implications for policies related to health, social justice, science, economics, environmental protection and security.  Entitled “Covid-19: time for a paradigm shift?”, it can be found at:

https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/covid-19-time-paradigm-shift

PhilWebber

Dr Philip Webber

The whole article is well worth reading but I copy below the last two sections, as they particularly apply to climate change and international co-operation:

Acting on climate change would be easier than tackling Covid-19

Clearly governments could have already acted to deal with a range of other very serious international challenges. An obvious one, which had been rapidly climbing the international political agenda before Covid-19, was the need for urgent action to move the global economy to zero-carbon emissions within a few decades. Most experts agree that insufficient action has been taken. The political arguments instead – rather pointlessly – have focused on what the target year for zero emissions should be rather than actually allocating sufficient resources to bring down emissions by at least 7% per year for ten years or more.  

But actions to combat climate change and to move to a zero-carbon economy would often pay for themselves. For example, a recent detailed study of home insulation and renewable energy technology installation across the UK found that spending of £90bn up to 2035 would result in benefits slightly exceeding that amount. This was the case even while sticking to the Government’s own financial guidelines.

In any case, the economic, human and ecological impacts of not taking action to combat climate change including major sea level rises, extreme weather, crop failures, in the longer term (2050 – 2100) cannot easily be converted into £ or $ ‘cost’ terms. But even narrow economic estimates suggest a cost range of 5-20% of GDP, far exceeding the ‘cost’ of allocating large resources now to transition to a zero-carbon economy of around 2% of GDP/ year over the next decade.
 

International cooperation and action

The early impacts of the Covid-19 virus have made it very clear that worldwide action is needed to minimise deaths and economic disruption.

The virus threat will have been dealt with – hopefully – within 18 months once a vaccine is found, although the risk will remain of the virus mutating and causing successive rounds of infection. The other huge threats to the safety of our world and our health remain. Dealing with dangerous climate heating requires a huge financial effort comparable to that needed to deal with coronavirus, lasting at least ten years. Eliminating the risk of nuclear annihilation requires the political will to cooperate to reduce and dismantle thousands of nuclear weapons capable of killing hundreds of millions of people within hours and potentially billions within in years.

Covid-19 has shown us how we can cooperate, or at least act together independently, unilaterally, towards a common goal. It shows how we must act to protect, ‘sanitise’, our everyday lives with well-funded, strong health systems. In the same way we need well-funded climate protection programmes – like a public health programme only for the climate – which would create large numbers of worthwhile jobs, get the economy moving again sustainably and improve health and reduce poverty. This would be popular too. A recent survey found that the public by a large margin want governments to respond “with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19”.

To deal with nuclear weapons we need international political agreements to avoid nuclear catastrophe by mistake, equipment failure, cyber-attack or a foolish or warlike leader. As a result, 122 nations have developed a new approach – the UN nuclear ban treaty – to gradually sanitise the globe of the nuclear danger.

SGR urges the nations of the world to learn the lessons of Covid-19 and to act positively to protect us all against the coming disaster of climate heating – including huge sea level rises and violent weather – and the pent up unimaginable risk posed by 14,000 nuclear weapons with 1,800 currently ready to fire within minutes – which would effectively end human civilisation. We need many more nations – not least the UK – to step up and show leadership against disaster.”
 

Dr Philip Webber is Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).

Thanks to Stuart Parkinson for editorial input.



Another Guardian article entitled “Halt destruction of nature or suffer even worse pandemics, say world’s top scientists” starts by saying:

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted, the world’s leading biodiversity experts have warned.

“There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us,” they said. “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”

Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio led the most comprehensive planetary health check ever undertaken, which was published in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/halt-destruction-nature-worse-pandemics-top-scientists



 


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How a Green New Deal will benefit us all

Taken from the Labour Party’s manifesto and written by Paul Halas, with acknowledgements also to:

https://watershed2015.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/how-a-green-new-deal-will-benefit-us-all-paul-halas/


There’s been a lot of excitement about Labour’s Green New Deal, but what does it involve and how will it affect us?

Burning up carbon deposits – in the form of oil, coal and gas – which were laid down over hundreds of millions of years, is pushing us to the brink of extinction. To avoid this we need to take some pretty drastic action and we’ll have to be prepared for major changes in the way we live, work, travel and even eat.

As part of its Green New Deal, Labour has undertaken to make the UK carbon neutral by 2030. This is how –

Some of the biggest changes will have to take place at the top, starting with the major international corporations – which carry the biggest responsibility for carbon emissions. They produce and sell both the fossil fuels and the machines and gadgets that cause climate change. By increasing tax on products and services that release more carbon, and reducing it on ones that cause less damage, big business can be made to do the right thing.

Greener energy will be a priority. Renewable energy sources now account for half our electricity, but to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 green energy must still be increased vastly. Labour plans to double offshore wind-powered generation, and will encourage local energy production – whether it’s from sun, wind or water, or a combination of them.

Transport and travel are major contributors to climate change. The Green New Deal will encourage greener ways of travelling, more sustainable technologies and better ways of making use of the resources we have. While they’re only a partial solution, the development and ownership of cars running on electricity from renewable sources will be helped, public transport will be improved and bus and rail networks widened. In the areas still not well served by public transport, vehicle-sharing schemes will be created.

Energy saving begins at home, and the Green New Deal proposes both a massive scheme of building new, energy-efficient homes and finding ways of improving existing buildings. There will be a major drive to insulate homes better, and the Conservatives’ tax increases on solar heating will be reversed.

Over time we’ll have to adapt our eating habits. Clearly, flying in foodstuffs from the four corners of the globe produces an unacceptable carbon footprint; equally, industrial-scale meat production releases an incredible amount of methane, another greenhouse gas. Producing more of our food closer to home will reduce our carbon output and help our economy, and a more plant-based diet will be less wasteful and in the end healthier.

Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. Much of our economy depends on technology and services that are no longer sustainable and will have no place in our greener future. Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. This will inevitably mean that some jobs disappear, but an expanding green economy will mean that more and better jobs will be created, and training will be provided for those who fill them. The green technological revolution will be funded by a £250 billion national investment scheme.

As well as a greener future, Labour’s Green New Deal aims to bring about a more equal future too. The excesses of the super-rich corporations will be curbed; tax avoidance will at last be tackled. The multimillionaire class have taken more and more, while the rest of us – the many – have been left with less and less. One way to tackle the problem is through taxation, and another is through localism – also known as Community Wealth Building. Many communities throughout the world are already benefiting from these schemes, and an increasing number of towns and cities in the UK are adopting them.

The idea is that communities and councils always give priority to local suppliers and services. For instance when building a new school, or hospital, or sports complex, etc, local firms will always be preferred to the big players to carry out the work. The same goes for services. Under the Labour Green New Deal local energy suppliers will be encouraged, especially if they are publicly-owned, or run by people’s co-operatives. Local credit unions will be created, house-building schemes, housing associations, food co-operatives – all manner of local enterprises – all creating fairly-paid, unionised jobs. That way money earned in the locality stays in the locality and benefits local people. It cuts down our carbon output by reducing transport of both people and goods, and encourages green technologies. It also creates a greater degree of equality and reduces our dependence on the big corporations. What’s not to like?

To prevent catastrophic climate change we’re all going to have to adapt to major changes. But they needn’t be daunting. We’re not going to go back to a pre-industrial age. We won’t have to cycle everywhere unless we want to, and we won’t have to live on a diet of turnips and pottage.

 

Many of the changes will be beneficial and will bring about a more equitable and contented society. They should be embraced.

These policies were mentioned in Jeremy Corbyn’s address to the 2019 Labour Party Conference and the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group is campaigning on the Green New Deal as part of the Campaign against Climate Change which set up the One Million Climate Jobs campaign.



 


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Revoke legislation which obligates maximising economic recovery of UK oil & gas: petition to government

The UK Infrastructure Act 2015 makes it a legal obligation to “maximise economic recovery of UK petroleum” – committing this and future governments to maximise emissions from UK fossil fuels.

At the same time, they have legal obligations to minimise them: essential because of the climate crisis.


The Infrastructure Act was passed in 2015. 

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/7/section/41/enacted

The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008.
It is legally-binding national legislation to address climate change. UK also signed the Paris Agreement.

More on UK legal duties on climate change:
https://www.theccc.org.uk/tackling-climate-change/the-legal-landscape/

Prof. James Hansen on the planetary emergency:
https://planb.earth/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Hansen-letter-to-general-public.pdf

Both Acts appear to contradict one another and the Infrastructure Act operates against the need to be reducing (or stopping altogether) the use of fossil fuels.

Please read all the links and the letter above and sign the petition.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/259116

At 10,000 signatures…

At 10,000 signatures, the UK government will respond to the petition

At 100,000 signatures…

At 100,000 signatures, the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament



 


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Recent Events and how they affect climate change

I finished writing the book that is featured on this website in May 2016 and the EU referendum had not yet occurred.  Since then, there have been some momentous political events, many of which will have an effect on climate change.  Quite clearly, at the time of writing the last pages of the book, there was huge media attention on the referendum, most of which was attempting to influence people on the way they voted.  Much of what was written in the papers was lies.  At the time, I felt that all of this media attention was a distraction from the big issues facing the world and society as a whole.  In the book, I wrote that, in the light of the major issue of climate change, whether we stayed in or went out of Europe was neither here nor there.  It was not the biggest issue that required media attention.  Climate change was.

And yet, the media clamour over the whole issue has continued, distracting attention more and more away from the urgent issue of doing something about climate change.  It took a few months to get the book published and into print and I was able to write an addendum, which started to address these issues.  I now wish to build on them.

Firstly, there has been something of a panic in certain quarters about how leaving the EU will affect Britain’s economy.  This is mainly because favourable trading arrangements with EU countries may well be lost, leading to a reduction in the sales of British goods overseas and subsequent effects on the balance of payments. As a result, the new Prime Minister has been dashing hither and thither across the world, trying to establish new trading links with non-EU countries. Establishing trading links further afield will have an adverse effect on climate change because of the longer journeys that will need to be made to take British goods to these far-flung countries, leading to the burning of more fossil fuels on the way. What is now needed is a new radical approach, in which our thinking about the economy is completely rethought and overhauled.  I started to write about this in chapters 4 and 7 of my book but there are others, with much greater knowledge of economics than me, who have taken this further and who are writing about a new way forward.  One of these writers in Colin Hines in his book “Progressive Protectionism”.

Secondly, there has been a new president in the United States of America, Donald Trump. A man who is both ultra-racist and a misogynist.  A man with a big business background who has been a climate change denier for years.  He is placing in his team, other men from the big corporations, who also deny the existence of climate change, one of them being the former CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest corporation in the world, whose anti-climate actions are described in chapter 4 of my book. ExxonMobil leaders knew about fossil fuels and global warming as long ago as the 70’s yet, instead of spearheading research into finding new sources of renewable energy, they put their money into setting up a body which would publish false information about the effects of fossil fuels on global warming and climate change. They are the ones who are responsible for the danger that our planet is in at the moment – all of them climate-change-deniers.  It is also likely that Trump will revoke all of the progressive pro-climate measures that were introduced by the former President, Barack Obama.  Donald Trump also supports the concept of protectionism but in a regressive way, rather than a progressive way. In chapter 4 of my book, I indicate some of the ways in which each country can trade in order to protect both the environment and local economies.

Thirdly, there seems to be a global swing towards supporting populist extreme-right politicians and in discrediting “experts” opinions on a number of issues, including climate change.  I have posted a Media Lens article on this website, which gives more details on this.  As a scientist myself, it is important to me to have well-researched evidence to look at, when taking decisions about the stance I will take on particular decisions.  It would appear that the populist hoards have no such respect for expert opinion, especially if it does not support their own emotion-led and biased opinions on a number of issues, including climate change.

Fourthly, in chapter 6 of my book, I discuss the carbon footprint of war, including nuclear war.  In recent weeks there has been media reporting on a “failed” practice test of a British Trident warhead, which veered off course and had to be destroyed.  Fortunately, it contained no nuclear material but the incident has stimulated a discussion among scientists, who are part of the body, Scientists for Global Responsibility.  It would appear that this was not the first time a firing had gone wrong – there have been several before it – and it would appear that the whole system is outdated and dangerous.  And yet, Theresa May’s government have just approved a further renewal of the Trident missile, at a cost of billions of pounds. And only this week, there has been a report from Japan, that the Fukushima nuclear power station, which was destroyed in 2011 by a tsunami, is still emitting radioactivity that is way above the safe level for humans.  All of the evidence of the danger of nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear power is being ignored by politicians.

These are worrying times.


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Trading Systems, Deficits and the Concept of Growth

CHAPTER 4

International trade has become so much a part of our lives that there is a tendency to take it for granted, as a normal and essential part of modern society and that of the countries of the world with which we trade.  Politicians particularly focus on it, as it is seen as a means of balancing the economy; they particularly encourage the export of British goods and turn a blind eye to all the stuff that we import.

The industrial revolution and its continuum and the development of trading systems

Historically though, trading systems as we know them today were first developed alongside the Industrial Revolution. And again, the UK was a forerunner in developing these new trading systems, as they sold the goods produced in their factories to other countries across the world, particularly to members of the British Empire, such as through the East India Company in India.  This change from the local exchange of goods to the export of goods across continents and the world has had such a great impact that its influence now affects, and influences, the whole world’s economy. The nations of the world have become so inter-connected through trade that, if one country goes through economic difficulties, then all the others are affected by it too. Because of the strong link between trading and the industrial revolution and its continuum, I have to consider it, and its effects, as one of the major interconnections that has led us globally to the situation in which the future of our planet is at risk.  Indeed, I believe that free trade is at the centre of it all.

The Industrial Revolution ended more than a century ago but the effects of it, the trading systems that were developed alongside it and the IR Continuum, still have a  growing global impact.

The effect of the IR Continuum on global trading systems has seen the rise of multi-national companies (mostly of American origin), not only trading with other countries but also setting up business abroad, in order to cut costs, employ cheaper labour and to avoid national tax tariffs.  It is not unusual now to see MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Monsanto and other multi-national outlets in most capitals of the world.  This is sad because the setting up of food and clothing outlets selling goods that promote the American way of life has the effect of damaging indigenous cultures and their traditions.

We also see locally produced goods transported across oceans and continents in order to trade with partner countries many thousands of miles away.  In the UK, for example, we import apples from New Zealand and Chile, fruit from South Africa, fish from Japan and Argentina, clothing and digital goods from the Far East, vehicles from Europe and so on.  The invention of the refrigerator has played its part in preventing perishable goods from decomposing whilst in transit.

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Fig. 34  A multi-national outlet for the USA in Japan (from: blog.getchee.com)

Changes in trading patterns across the world since the industrial revolution can also be contentious.  For example, when I lived in Australia during the early 60s, the UK was considering whether it would join the European Common Market (now the EU).  This was very unpopular with Australians, as they had a special trading relationship with the UK, as part of the British Commonwealth.  However, Britain did join the EU and so Australia had to develop other markets, closer to home, and were able to survive this change.  But the resentment it caused in some Australians towards the EU, and the British, is still present today, as seen by the anti-EU stories constantly being peddled to the UK population, through the Australian-owned media magnates.

There has been a big change in Britain’s trading patterns as, during the 1940s-50s, about 40% of our trade was with Commonwealth countries but this is now down to 10%, as the EU has become our major market.

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

The largest company in the world, ExxonMobil, produces oil and gas and a recent article by Shannon Hall, in Scientific American32 reports that this company was aware of climate change as early as 1977, before it became a public issue.  The company then spent decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoted climate misinformation.  Hall likens this approach to the lies spread by the tobacco industry regarding the health risks of smoking.  Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion and helped create a Global Climate Coalition to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change.  It also lobbied to prevent the USA from signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 (to control greenhouse gases), also influencing other countries, such as China and India, not to sign as well.  It has spent $30 million on think tanks that promote climate denial, according to Greenpeace. Hall’s article provides data that suggests that half of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have been released since 1988.  If ExxonMobil had been upfront about the issue in those early years, there could have been so much more progress on climate change than there has been.  The company obviously had vested interests in opposing the scientific evidence but they now have a lot to answer for. And there are now rumours that Shell is under investigation for doing a similar thing.

It has recently been reported that one of the major American charitable foundations (Rockefeller Family Fund) has announced that it will cease to invest its funds in fossil fuels and, in doing so, made the following statement: “We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil”.33

Table 3 shows that there are three energy companies amongst the 10 largest companies in the world and the top British company, BP, is the 17th largest in the world.  Energy companies obviously have much to lose once the issue of carbon emissions is properly dealt with by global agreements to reduce them.  ExxonMobil would have better spent their $30 million researching into new forms of renewable energy; it is currently worth more than $300 billion.

Table 3: Largest 25 companies in the world (from google images and http://bespokeinvest.typepad.com/bespoke/2009/04/largest-companies-in-the-world.html)

25biggest

Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

90 carbon majors have been identified as being the major emitters of the greenhouse gases that are primary drivers of climate change.  Since 1751, they have produced 65% of the world’s total industrial carbon dioxide emissions according to a study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute34.  The 90 majors include 50 private companies, 31 state-owned companies and 9 nations. Twenty-one are based in the US, 17 in Europe (five in the UK), six in Canada, two in Russia and one each in Australia, Japan, Mexico and South Africa. Of the state-owned companies, Saudi Aramco has the highest emissions, followed by Gazprom (Russia), National Iranian Oil Company, Pemex (Mexico) and British Coal. The top 10 carbon majors are:

Chevron USA, ExxonMobil USA, Saudi Aramco Saudi Arabia, British Petroleum (BP) UK, Gazprom Russian Federation, Royal Dutch Shell, National Iranian Oil Company Iran, Pemex Mexico, British Coal Corporation UK and ConocoPhilips USA  For full details of these companies, and where they rank, are given by Greenpeace35.

Last September Greenpeace Philippines were so concerned about the devastation caused in their country by a major typhoon, that they filed a human rights complaint to the Commission of Human Rights, against the 50 largest multi-national private companies36.

The Volkswagen deception

ExxonMobil has not been the only large corporation to deceive the public on the issue of carbon emissions.  Just recently, it has come to light that the large German car-manufacturing company, Volkswagen, has tried to avoid green regulations and tests by fitting its cars with devices to cheat the emissions tests carried out on vehicles. The scandal has resulted in Volkswagen shares falling by 40%.  This deception is akin to the deception propagated by ExxonMobil, described earlier, where large and successful companies have used their trading links to make money for themselves at the expense of the health of the planet.  One wonders how many more companies will come to light which are carrying out similar deceptions for selfish reasons.

Earlier this year, a new independent organisation was set up in London (InfluenceMap.org), to map, analyse and score the extent to which corporations are influencing climate change policy. An article in ExaroNews37 published in 2015, reported that research from InfluenceMap has demonstrated that car manufacturers (especially those in Germany) have been lobbying strongly against climate-change policy, especially those who have made little progress in complying with future standards for emissions of CO2 in the EU and US.  The InfluenceMap article ranks car makers according to their compliance with the 2020 standard on emissions, with Nissan coming top, followed by Honda, Renault and Peugeot.  According to the report, the world’s 12 biggest car manufacturers would be facing fines of $35.7 billion if the 2020 rules on emissions were to be applied now, with Volkswagen paying more than any of them, at $9.5 billion. Car manufacturer Mercedez-Benz has admitted that meeting the 2020 emission standards poses a technological strain (also reported in ExaroNews).  One wonders why none of them have acted sooner to develop greener cars, as some of the Japanese manufacturers have done.

Trade and Competition 1

The problem is that trading evokes a competitive spirit, even in the largest and most affluent companies, and the temptation to cheat can be persuasive.  As well as the deceptions already mentioned, there has been the development of parallel economies, in which companies try to evade taxes and tariffs by investing their profits in offshore accounts.  There are many people throughout the world who try to avoid national taxes by setting up their own parallel economies.  They contribute to an underground economy or “black market”, which is a market consisting of all commerce on which applicable taxes and/or regulations of trade are being avoided.  It includes many multi-national businesses, as well as those involved in the growing and selling of illegal drugs.

Because trading has become an endemic part of the global economy, embargos on goods are often used as powerful political weapons to bring other countries “into line”.  Examples of this are the embargos on South African goods during the apartheid era and that currently being imposed on Russia because of its occupation of the Crimean region of the Ukraine.

The competition for markets associated with trade has far-reaching effects across the globe.  Politicians talk about it as being a vital part of the economy and in so doing, they encourage this competitive spirit.  Its linkages into the economy and how trade-associated competition is making global warming and climate change worse, will be discussed later in this chapter and in chapter 7.

The whole trading scenario reaches into many aspects of life and plays just as important a role in the development of climate change, as the industrial revolution has done.

OIL

Oil has also come to dominate global trading systems, with prices being hiked by the oil-producing countries, with non-oil-producing countries being held to ransom.  Most governments fear that having no access to oil will impair their ability to manufacture and to trade, and thus impact on their national economies. The fear of losing access to oil has had a huge impact on national decision-making and the willingness to go to war to wipe out regimes who have large oil resources and who are not friendly to the western world.  All of these fears, and the actions associated with them, are futile really because, if we are to save the planet, we need to stop using oil and other fossil fuels, by leaving them in the ground, and to replace them with renewable forms of energy.  Perhaps ExxonMobil and BP and other oil producing companies still need to learn this.

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Fig. 35  An oil well

Further details about the movement of oil around the world (in terms of imports and exports) are shown on the Carbon Brief website38, which appears to show that exports of oil were still increasing in 2014, compared with 2004.

At present, oil-producing countries have the upper hand but I do not see this as lasting, as there is a move to using non-carbon-emitting forms of energy, such as solar panels and wind, tidal and water-based energy.  This could completely change the whole dynamic of global trading.  If they seize the opportunity, some African countries in Saharan and sub-Saharan regions, could move from being poverty-bound regions, to replacing the oil-producing countries in the pecking order, by becoming leaders in producing and supplying cleaner forms of energy, such as solar power.  Chile has already made a start by building a “farm” of solar panels in a desert area; this already supplies enough energy for one of their largest cities.

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Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

 The trend towards renewable forms of energy has put some of the multi-national energy companies into a panic, as they search frenetically for oil and/or gas in more and more remote places, such as the Arctic.

There is a saddening history of how oil has damaged the environment and some animal and bird species, through oil slicks and spillages, yet the competitive urge to find new places to drill for oil and other gases continues unabated.  The following three photographs show some of the consequences of oil spillage.

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Fig. 37  

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Fig. 38

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Fig.39

Another area of concern is the new practice of fracking where licences have already been obtained to carry out this practice, which releases natural gas from under the ground in areas very close people’s homes.  Further information and an interactive map of the areas of the UK and Ireland affected by this can be found at the website:
http://frack-off.org.uk/extreme-energy-fullscreen/.

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes.

 Market Economies

The major change in trading systems across the world, since before the industrial revolution, has impacted substantially on the way of life and the economies of most nations of the world, so that whole economies are now based on trading patterns, potential markets and import/export ratios.  Indeed, the description of a market economy is considered by some to be a progressive form of government.  It is based on the concept of demand and supply, where governments encourage those companies in their trade who are meeting an overseas demand for their goods.  The income they receive from overseas is seen to help the balance of payments and to bring about economic growth.

What a market economy fails to do is to analyse, and meet the needs of, its own people, especially those who are in poverty, with no goods to sell. The excuse for failing to help those in most poverty is that there will be a trickle-down effect; in reality this rarely happens.

What does happen is that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

Market economies are based on the encouragement of free trade, which is thought by 93% of economists to be a good thing (Ian Fletcher (2010)39 but, as argued by Fletcher, it has led to a situation where some developed nations have huge trade gaps, or deficits, Britain being one of them. This has occurred mainly because some of the developing nations pay much lower wages to their industrial workers and can therefore produce and sell their goods at more competitive prices than those of the developed nations. In 2014 the trade deficit of the U.S.A. was $508,324 billion.  Fletcher makes a case for rethinking and reforming current trade policies, by debunking some of the cherished assumptions held by mainstream economists. In the UK, the trade deficit for manufactured goods is higher than that of most other European countries but, in the past, politicians have worked to reduce the deficit by implementing austerity measures, rather than by rethinking our trade policies altogether, introducing localisation policies and making the reduction of carbon emissions a priority.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides data which shows that the balance of trade in goods in the UK has shown a deficit in all but six years since 1900.  They recorded net surpluses in the years 1980 to 1982, largely as a result of growth in exports of North Sea oil. Since then, however, the trade in goods account has remained in deficit (see Figure 40).

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Fig.40

The trade deficit in the UK – from the Office of National Statistics

Figure 41 shows that Britain’s trade in services is doing much better than its trade in goods.

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Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

The trade deficit also impacts on crops and foodstuffs produced by our farmers.  In 2002, Dr Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP, wrote a report40 entitled “Stopping the Great Food Swap: Relocalising Europe’s Food Supply”. It was based on background research and support provided by Andy Jones and Vicki Hird of Sustain and from Colin Hines, author of “Localisation: a Global Manifesto, published in 200041.

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

  • The UK imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands and, in the same year, exports 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands;
  • The UK imports 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb;
  • In the UK in 1997, 125 million litres of milk was imported and 270 million litres exported;
  • In 1996, the UK imported 434,000 tonnes of apples, 202,000 tonnes of which came from outside the EU. Over 60% of UK apple orchards have been lost since 1970.

Thus, we are importing more agricultural goods than we actually export, and importing goods which we produce ourselves, yet our own farmers struggle to make an income. I have also come across figures which show that 46% of the food we eat is imported.

The report stated that trade-related transportation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore significant in terms of climate change.

 In 2011, Rianne ten Veen, of GreenCreation, updated the Lucas report, providing more recent data, with three case studies on meat, milk and fruit, for the Counting the Costs series of reports42.

 The EU Common Agricultural Policy has been accused of creating a situation in which damage is caused to the environment and to rural livelihoods, by encouraging larger, more intensive farms at the expense of smaller, more sustainable ones and leading to the inhumane treatment of farm animals.  There is evidence that the transport of livestock and meat across Europe has led to diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease and BSE being passed from one country to another. The system has led to an absurd situation, which rewards a few, very wealthy farmers, the supermarkets and multinational food companies at the expense of small and medium-scale farmers. It makes no economic sense.

Further data is available in the report, which concludes that this destructive globalisation needs to be replaced with a localisation that protects and rebuilds local economies across the world.

The organisation, Local Futures, has recently released a 16-page action paper, entitled Climate Change or System Change?43 which argues that globalisation (the deregulation of trade and finance through an ongoing series of “free trade” treaties) is the driving force behind climate change.  The document makes the case for an international move towards localisation and provides a list of the pro’s and con’s for both systems, showing that the advantages of localisation far outweigh the advantages of globalisation.  It provides evidence to demonstrate that globalisation:

  • Promotes unnecessary transport;
  • Promotes rampant consumerism;
  • Is making the food system a major climate-changer;
  • Replaces human labour with energy-intensive technologies;
  • Promotes energy-intensive urbanisation.

A recent book by Colin Tudge44 proposes a complete rethink of our approaches to farming, through “enlightened agriculture”, without wrecking the rest of the world.

Economic Growth

Economic growth is defined as an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another.  It is the long-term expansion of the productive potential of an economy.  The problem with this is that this type of growth (as with so-called progress) is dependent upon relying on producing more and more manufactured goods and finding overseas markets to sell them.  It all feeds into the IR Continuum, thus adding to further carbon emissions.

Growth is seen as a good thing by economists and politicians but, as with “progress”, it can’t be good if it is adding to carbon emissions and the destruction of the planet.  At present, success in national economies is measured using an index called the GDP (gross domestic product).  At the time of writing the growth in the GDP in the UK was 0.5% and, in the USA it was 1.5%.

In his book, “The Growth Illusion: how economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many, and endangered the planet” (1999), Richard Douthwaite5,45 sets out how a capitalist system can be redirected to fulfil society’s hopes by restructuring economies to be based on local rather than global imperatives.  Some of his ideas will be looked at further in a later chapter.

Social Businesses

The Nobel laureate, Muhamad Yunus has promoted the concept of social businesses, which are businesses with social objectives (Creating a world without poverty: by Muhammad Yunus, 2007)46. He believes that we need to recognize the real human being and his or her multi­faceted desires. In order to do that, we need a new type of business that pursues goals other than making personal profit – a business that is totally dedicated to solving social and environmental problems.  He gives three examples of social businesses:

  • One that manufactures and sells high-quality, nutritious food products at very low prices to a targeted market of poor and underfed children;
  • A social business that develops renewable-energy systems and sells them at reasonable prices to rural communities that otherwise can’t afford access to energy;
  • A social business that recycles garbage, sewage, and other waste products that would otherwise generate pollution in poor or politically powerless neighborhoods.

It may be owned by one or more individuals, either as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, or by one or more investors, who pool their money to fund the social business and hire professional managers to run it.

A social business might be defined as a non-loss, non-dividend business. Rather than being passed on to investors, the surplus gener­ated by the social business is reinvested in the business. Ultimately, it is passed on to the target group of beneficiaries in such forms as lower prices, better service, and greater accessibility. Not only does the investor get his money back, he still remains an owner of the company and decides its future course of action.

It is not known whether a social business feeds into the IR continuum as much as traditional businesses do but, because there are social and/or environmental objectives, one suspects that the carbon footprint will be much reduced because those who run the business are not there to make profit for themselves but to improve society.  The Fair Trade movement also has social objectives.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

oecd

The OECD is a forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development.

In recent years there has been an OECD move to start measuring economies according to their green growth.  In June 2009, ministers from these 34 countries with market economies signed a Green Growth Declaration47, declaring that they will: “Strengthen their efforts to pursue green growth strategies as part of their responses to the crisis and beyond, acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand.” They endorsed a mandate for the OECD to develop a Green Growth Strategy, bringing together economic, environmental, social, technological, and development aspects into a comprehensive framework. The Strategy was published in 2011 and formed part of the OECD contributions to the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.

The strategy identified the following as being the most polluting industries with the greatest CO2 emissions:

  • Air transport;
  • Water transport;
  • Electricity, gas and water;
  • Coke, refined petrol and nuclear fuel;
  • Land transport;
  • Basic metals;
  • Non-metallic mineral products.

The document outlines ways to achieve international co-operation on the strategy and ways to monitor green progress.  It is a significant document47.

I would support the introduction of a new measure – a green GDP – which assesses only productivity associated with products which do not add to the total global emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.  Thus countries’ outputs could be compared using both metrics:

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

The OECD suggestion of monitoring the green GDP would give incentives to nations to lower their carbon emissions and to focus on developing products which run on clean energy or which can be manufactured with minimal emissions.

 Another form of trading of the last few decades is in world currencies and commodities.  National currencies vary from day-to-day, according to the world economic situation, and some people speculate in buying and selling currencies, like a kind of international casino.  It is a form of risk that titillates the human need for excitement and intellectual entertainment, as does speculation on stock markets and commodities. But it can also help an individual to make money at the expense of some countries with fragile economies.

National Self-Sufficiency

So, what the industrial revolution and its continuum has done, is to set into place trading systems, and a merchant culture, that it will be difficult to reverse.  The most stable system would be for each nation to provide for itself – to become self-sufficient, only buying from overseas those products which cannot be sourced at home – but we are a long way from that ever becoming a reality. It is said that the UK at the moment can only produce goods that meet 60% of its needs.  Is self-sufficiency a realistic target to aspire to?  Could it be reached within the three generations that we have left?

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Fig.42

A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

As with the Industrial Revolution, Britain is again responsible for setting into play an international trading system that now runs out of control, feeding the IR continuum, and contributing to increasing levels of carbon emissions.  Britain started it off but, because it is a small country with limited resources, it has long been left behind by the larger countries with vast resources of mineral and fossil-fuel wealth.  Britain tries to keep pace with the larger, resource-rich countries but is really fighting a losing battle.  It would be much better placed in leading the world in finding ways of becoming self-sufficient, supporting its own farmers and reducing carbon emissions.  And by modifying its economy to support those in most need and in developing green products.

Recently in the news has been the collapse of the UK Steel industry, due to cheap imports from China.  Rather than trying to shore up outdated plants, which use fossil fuels to make steel, Britain would be better off using governmental investment to lead the world in developing a carbon-free steel.

Trading and Competition 2

I mentioned earlier in this chapter the competitive spirit that trade engenders.  I admit that Britain started trading in this way in the nineteenth century, by making use of its empire links, because it wanted to get a competitive edge over other nations.  Other countries, who have followed suit and come to dominate trading systems, have also done so for competitive reasons.  Indeed, it is almost impossible to separate the concept of a market economy from the concept of competition and rivalry.  But, unless, the nations of the whole world stop competing with their neighbours and reinforcing the IR Continuum, then we will no longer be here to compete against each other.

Global co-operation is what is needed at the moment, not competition; Britain needs to join forces with its neighbours to save the planet.

In a recent TEDx speech,”Why We Need to rethink Capitalism”, Paul Tudor Jones II48, formerly from big business himself, talked about a profit-led emphasis (to the exclusion of all else) that has led to a situation in which the concept of humanity has been removed from the corporate world.  He said that profit margins, at 12.5%, are currently at a 40-year high and that higher profit margins exacerbate income inequality, with the US having the greatest levels of inequality in the world. He demonstrated a strong link between income inequality and a series of social health metrics. He described a new way of corporate behaviour (The Just Index), in which the public are given a voice.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the US and the EU.  It is a bi-lateral trade agreement and is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business and includes things like: food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.  The Independent49 lists six reasons why we should oppose TTIP:

The British NHS, as a public institution, is at risk, as one of the aims is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies, which could mean the privatisation of the NHS;

  • Food and Environmental Safety: the TTIP’s agenda is to seek to bring European standards on food and the environment, closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much more lenient, with 70% of processed food sold in US supermarket containing ingredients that have been genetically modified. The US also has very lax laws about the use of pesticides and the feeding of growth hormone to cattle;
  • Banking Regulations: it is feared that TTIP will remove current restrictions on banks imposed after the 2009 financial crisis;
  • Privacy: after a huge public backlash, the European parliament did not agree to an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA), which would have allowed internet service providers to monitor people’s on-line activities. It is possible that TTIP may bring this back.
  • Jobs: the EU has admitted that TTIP may bring in unemployment, as US has weaker labour standards and trades union rights.
  • Democracy; this is the greatest threat that would be brought in with TTIP, as it will allow companies to sue governments, if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits.

It would appear that TTIP will allow the big US corporations, already responsible for huge emissions of CO2, to be given a free reign to wreak havoc in Europe as well.

 The Merchant Culture

In the End Piece to my first book and the introduction to this book, I stated that the world had been taken over by merchants – people who trade in all kinds of goods for their own benefit – and how this was destroying the world.  I still hold this opinion, 22 years after first making the observation.  The world is still controlled by merchants, as well as the greed and acquisitiveness that often accompanies this merchant culture. Unless this is addressed, many of the measures described in this chapter and elsewhere in this book, will make no difference to the domino effect this merchant culture is having on the stability and sustainability of the planet.

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

A recent joint publication from the Centre for Economic Policy and Research and The Robert Schuman Centre for Research Studies50 suggests that there is currently a global trade slow down.  The document contains 20 properly scrutinised research papers, which all come to the conclusion that there is a downturn in global trading patterns. Various conclusions are drawn from this; for example, a rise in protectionism, another impending collapse of global markets etc.  Economists are obviously worried about this, as they think it will impede economic growth.  However, it may herald a worldwide trend in consumers realising there is a climate change crisis and subsequently reducing their consumption of imported goods, deciding not to adhere any more to a throw-away culture.

According to the World Bank, a brief review of the evidence suggests that both cyclical and structural factors have been important in explaining the recent slowdown in global trade51. With high-income countries accounting for some 65 percent of global imports, the lingering weakness of their economies five years into the recovery suggests that weak demand is still impacting the recovery in global trade. But they feel that weak demand is not the only reason as trade had become much less responsive to income growth, even prior to the crisis. There is some evidence to suggest that part of the explanation may lie in shifts in the structure of value chains, in particular between China and the United States, with a higher proportion of the value of final goods being added domestically—that is, with less border crossing for intermediate goods. In addition, the post-crisis composition of demand has shifted from capital equipment to less import-intensive spending, such as consumption and government services.

I personally do not think that the downturn in global trade is a disaster; indeed, it may herald a new way forward, which has a glimmer of hope of saving the planet.

This whole issue is discussed further in chapters 5 and 7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Our Beautiful World in Harmony

CHAPTER 1

Our beautiful world in harmony

One October, when I was about 6 years old, my mother took me out for a treat. My older siblings were involved in other things and this was a rare opportunity for me to have my mother’s undivided attention. We walked to a local park, Scotch Common, which had a variety of trees, beginning to show their autumn colours: coppers, browns, golds, ochres and reds. We identified some of the trees as horse chestnut, oak and sycamore and then searched beneath them to collect their seeds: shiny brown conkers with a varnish-like sheen, green and brown acorns, some separated from their craggy cups, and the winged sycamore paired seeds, which would spiral slowly down to the ground if you threw them into the air.  Mum suggested I take a selection to school to put on the nature table.

I don’t know why this incident sticks in my mind but I believe that it may have been the beginning of a growing love of nature in me, which is still a significant part of my identity.  Though I am now 73 years old, each autumn I still collect conkers and acorns and sycamore seeds for my own nature table at home. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do this, as the seasons are changing so much. Already the conker crop last year seemed smaller and autumn was extended with a mild spell, with golden leaves on the trees until well into November, and winter still not started by Christmas. Are we in danger of losing some of these great trees and their fruit and their annual cycles related to the seasons?  Why is it that we have summer flowers still in blossom in December and reports that in some parts of the UK, the spring flowers (daffodils etc) are already in blossom in December?

Yes, I love nature but my love of animals far surpasses that of the plant kingdom.  We share this world with some wonderful creatures: the large wild carnivores and herbivores of Africa and Asia; the strange marsupials of Australasia; the prairie animals; the domesticated pets who share our homes with us; the birds who visit our gardens and who migrate across great oceans every year; the creatures and fish of the seas; the inhabitants of the polar ice caps and the smaller secretive wild mammals who live in burrows.

I believe that I am not the only person in this world who loves nature in this way and who respects and enjoys the splendour of our world. We live on a magnificent planet and share it with some spectacular creatures.

I am writing this book because I believe that we are in danger of losing it all. And the magnitude of this loss is greater, and the need for action more urgent, than many believe.

How everything fits together in harmony

It has been known for more than 50 years, and certainly since I was at school during the 50s and 60s, that the process of photosynthesis in plants is closely linked to the process of respiration in animals. Indeed, one could almost describe the relationship between plants and animals as symbiotic, one being dependent upon the other to maintain its life.  The plant life on the planet absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and, through chemical reactions, changes them into glucose and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air and breathed in by the animal life (including ourselves). In animals, oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is released through the process of respiration.  Thus, plants provide oxygen for animals to breathe and animals exhale carbon dioxide, which is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis.

This photosynthetic cycle has been analysed and shown to be a series of chemical reactions, all initially triggered by light energy from the sun.  Chloroplasts in plants (in the green chlorophyll) trap the sunlight, which provides the energy for the photosynthetic cycle (Fig.1).

Fig 1. The relationship between photosynthesis in plants and respiration in animals

the process of photosynthesis

From: http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/nature/how-photosynthesis-works-zw0z1406zwea.aspx                                          with permission

This process happens throughout nature, from the very smallest algae and plankton to the giant trees in our forests and from the smallest amoebae and zooplankton in water to the largest of our land and sea mammals (elephants and whales) – an interchange of gases and chemical products between plants and animals which is important to sustain life.

But the photosynthetic and respiratory cycles do not stand alone.  They are inter-linked with other kinds of cycles, the chemical processes of which have been carefully studied by scientists.  For example, plants store another product of photosynthesis (glucose or starch) and this is consumed by herbivorous and omnivorous animals and provides them with the energy they need for growth and development. Thus, there is a transfer of energy from the sun to plants and then on to animals, this energy is needed to sustain life.  And none of this could begin without the presence of the sun itself – at exactly the right strength.

Fig 2 THE CARBON CYCLE

Illustration by LizzardBrandInc, with permission from UCAR

There are other cycles in nature too: the nitrogen cycle, the Krebs cycle (to process and release energy) and the carbon cycle (Fig 2), which is closely linked to the respiratory cycle of animals.  The carbon cycle involves the decomposition of dead and decaying matter into fossil fuels (see later for the significance of this).

Following the discovery of interactive cycles in nature, it was not long before the whole concept of food chains was proposed, with the lowest forms of life being consumed by the next species up the food chain, from herbivores (plant eaters) to omnivores (plant and meat eaters), with the carnivores (big cats, birds of prey etc) at the top of the food chain.  Thus, the sun’s energy is transferred first through plants to animals and then up through the food chain, simplified diagrams of which are in Figure 3.

Fig 3.  Simple Food chains

From: www.k8schoollessons.com/food-chains-and-food-webs/ (with permission)

 The diagrams in Fig.3 show simplified food chains but, in fact, things are rarely as simple as this and the concept of a “food web” is much closer to reality. Figure 4 shows a woodland food web, which can be seen to be much more complex than a simple chain, with various species being inter-dependent.

Image result for woodland food web

Figure 4:  A Woodland Food Web from www.docbrown.info, (with permission)

 A recent programme on BBC TV, “Secrets of our Living Planet”, also available on DVD9, gave examples of some fascinating food webs throughout the world, from tropical rain forests, to savannahs and in the oceans, and demonstrated that if one member of the web disappeared, then others wouldn’t survive.  The most compelling example of this was the brazil nut tree, which relied on a small rodent, the agouti (Fig. 5), to crack and disperse its seeds, as well as an orchid, which grew on its trunk and attracted a particular species of bee, to pollinate both tree and orchid, the male bee pollinating one and the female bee pollinating the other, with the bees reliant on the nectar in the flowers for their survival.

Fig 5 – the Brazilian agouti (from www.hidephotography.com with permission)

So we can see from this that, not only is there an interaction and inter-dependency between plants and animals, but that inter-dependency continues throughout the animal kingdom, in a complex web.  Thus, if one species disappears, or becomes extinct, this may also affect other species, which are dependent on it as a food source or pollinator. This whole interaction between members of the plant and animal species is called an ecosystem.

I feel that the interaction of all the cycles and ecosystems is close to being miraculous.  Our world has been regulated in an astounding way.  It is as if everything on this planet has been put in place in ecosystems, or has evolved, to work harmoniously, so that all life on this planet remains in balance, in a wonderful connectedness and interdependency that maintains life.

I love to wander through parts of our green land, with rolling hills and tranquil forests, just taking in the beauty of it. I also love to visit beaches to hear the sea and breathe in the clean, salty ocean air. It is not surprising therefore that I have been  excited by the hypothesis proposed by the scientist, James Lovelock, in 197910, which states that the earth itself is a self-regulating body;  that the earth is like one big organism with the ability to regulate critical systems to meet its own needs and to sustain life. It is called the Gaia Hypothesis.

Image result for gaia hypothesis

Fig.6 Gaia Hypothesis (from http://www.google.com)

The regulatory mechanisms which have been keeping all life in balance and harmony for thousands of years are now being undermined and put out of harmony by the hand of man.   Let’s have a look at what we have been doing to place all this at risk and what we need to do to make things right again.

Our beautiful world no longer in harmony

Fossil fuels, produced as part of the carbon cycle, have been used by humans for centuries, but especially since the industrial revolution, to produce other forms of energy for humans to heat their homes, run their vehicles, power up vast factories and to develop more and more complex gadgets and life-enhancing commodities.  The downside of this practice is, of course, that carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere as a by-product of their use, resulting in global warming.

Global warming is the rise in average global surface temperature caused primarily by the build-up of human-produced greenhouses gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution it was not realised that the plant life on earth could not cope with absorbing all the extra carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from manufacturing and the problem was made worse by the felling of many of the great trees in the mighty rainforests of the earth, in order to clear land for agriculture and to sell the wood.  Figure 7 shows the dramatic increase in fossil fuel emissions since 1870. This is comprised mainly of carbon dioxide.

 Fig.7  Fossil fuel emissions since 1751

Projection of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, 1751 to 2006 (CDIAC data)

From: http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/00/ecolonomics-20091013.shtml

GteC refers to Giga-tonnes of carbon

 Human activity has been bringing all the ecosystems on the planet into an imbalance and a resulting effect of this has been the loss of numerous species, as well as changes to the climate and global temperatures.

Another way in which plant life and animal life (insects and birds) have interactive cycles is the way in which bees depend on flowers for nectar and, in visiting plants to feed on nectar, they inadvertently brush against the pollen in the flower stamens.  They then carry this pollen on their bodies to other flowers and become the means by which pollination occurs in plants (part of the reproductive cycle of plants).  Recently, vast decreases in the numbers of bees have been noticed and this is thought to be caused by the use of pesticides on plants.  If the bees were to disappear altogether, pollination might not occur and this could reduce some of the food sources available to us.  Vegetables and fruit known to be pollinated by bees are okra, kiwifruit, onion, celery, cashew nuts, strawberries, papaya, custard apples, turnips, beet, brazil nuts, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, water melon, coconut, tangerine, cucumber, quince, fig, apple, walnuts, mangos, avocados, peach, nectarine, pear, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, cocoa, passion fruit and many others.

Thus, the loss of bees might result in the loss of most of the vegetables and fruits that the human race, and other species, rely upon for their food.

Fig 8:  Bees in the process of pollinating flowers

Image result for diagram of cycle of bees pollinating flowers

Originally from: http://www.kidsgardening.org/node/99559 but no longer at this link, so try: https://www.shutterstock.com/search/pollination for alternatives.

See also: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bees+pollinating+flowers&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CTpuYoMW5ZSSIjgW8_1txAk4IgYpc3e5d-4HgQpGItS4O9xelkTjXySTGVqkykrdJPwSAU6iebYFVLH47ms-8vG_1ppyoSCRbz-3ECTgiBEZYLUJ0fGq3lKhIJilzd7l37geARifWWnCmf-egqEglCkYi1Lg73FxGuZrGBofnZ2ioSCaWRONfJJMZWEbc4FklQt4jCKhIJqTKSt0k_1BIAR_1zn7c-hvXs8qEglTqJ5tgVUsfhFwlTLIh3C8eSoSCTuaz7y8b-mnERK4BV0iiMEp&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK4Ln6zd3cAhXCC8AKHZn9DQwQ9C96BAgBEBs&biw=1262&bih=610&dpr=1#imgrc=kfKkyM_dHzHk1M:

or:

http://ib.bioninja.com.au/higher-level/topic-9-plant-biology/untitled-3/plant-reproduction.html

There have been vast changes in the way that farmers have carried out their agricultural activities in recent years; they have copied some processes from the manufacturing industry to become more “productive”, using intensive farming methods, removing hedgerows and maximising the use of their fields.  Over this same period, certain species of birds have been disappearing because the insects in hedgerows that they feed on are no longer there, or have been killed off with pesticides.

Wikipedia lists 190 species of birds which have become extinct since 1500 and a further 321 are currently endangered, including the cuckoo and several of our garden species.

A recent report from American scientists, Ceballos and colleagues11, suggests that human activity has already triggered the beginnings of another mass extinction, thereby threatening our own future. According to this group, there have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s past (the extinction of dinosaurs being the most well-known) and that this latest threat to the planet would be its sixth mass extinction. They state that, in the last century, vertebrates (animals with backbones) have been disappearing at a rate 114 times greater than would normally be expected, without the destructive activity of humans.  They pointed out that, since 1900, over 400 more vertebrates than expected had vanished; this included 69 mammals, 80 birds, 24 reptiles, 146 amphibians and 158 fish species.  They warn that species loss will have a significant effect on human populations in as little as three generations.  The researchers concluded that this destruction of species is accelerating and initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.

This report has triggered significant discussion within the scientific community, and some have ventured to include humans (also vertebrates) as part of this extinction.  They are confident that bees will definitely be extinct by then and perhaps many of the large carnivores, such as lions. Whether humans also become extinct depends, one supposes, on whether those creatures and plants which we rely on for food, have disappeared in this mass extinction.  It is estimated that 2,000 sheep and 100 cattle were drowned in the recent floods engulfing the north of England, so the loss of our food sources due to climate change is a possibility.  So, with bees gone and the vegetables that they pollinate and the loss of some of our meat sources, things look bleak for humans in the future too. A number of organisations are predicting crop failures due to climate change by 2030, particularly in the poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

There are also concerns about the effects of climate change on human health12. This 43-page significant publication by Antony Costello and others gives evidence of grave concern to human health.

Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health said: “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health — and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come”. And Hugh Montgomery who co-chaired the Commission said, “Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now”.

Also, in its 2010 report “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change”13 the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences gives a list of the health consequences of increased greenhouse gases and climate change. The list includes about twelve major health risks.  The human population would therefore seem to be as much at risk as the creatures with whom we share this planet.

And yet, humans don’t seem to be able to stop tinkering with the natural order of things in the ecosystems of the world.  One vivid example comes from Australia where, in 1935, a toad from South America was introduced to Queensland, with the aim of using it to consume cane beetles, which were damaging sugar cane crops.  This toad did not eat the beetle and instead multiplied in huge numbers, because it had no natural predators, so that the cane toad is now a national pest.  It is also poisonous to other species and is now being blamed for a massive reduction in the number of dwarf crocodiles in Australia.

Fig. 9: Cane Toad

Image result for cane toad

To go back to farming practices:  Fields are no longer left to lie fallow and so do not have a chance to replenish the nutrients found in soil that are essential to plant life, so that they become less productive.  However, some farmers are now introducing permaculture, with good results and organic farming is also on the increase.

During the 1990’s the condition of “mad cow disease” (BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy) appeared in the UK and it was eventually discovered that foodstuffs fed to cattle at that time had been processed from animal sources and so cows, who are herbivores, were being fed foodstuffs which turned them into not only carnivores but also cannibals.  This violation of the natural food chains had far reaching consequencies, as it would appear that it could be passed on to humans who consumed meat from cattle with BSE, the human form of the disease being named CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease).  Another example of human activity which had devastating effects on the life of the planet.

In a recent “Springwatch” programme on BBC TV, we were made aware of another dangerous practice:  the production of exfoliation products for washing our faces; these soap-based products contain tiny particles of plastic (which do the exfoliation); these are washed down sinks and eventually get down via rivers into the sea.  They are absorbed by microplankton, which are subsequently eaten by fish – and thus find their way into the food chain, if they do not kill the fish off first.

So here we have several kinds of human activity that are interfering with the natural cycles and transfer of chemicals and energy through the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as through the food chains:

  • the whole industrialisation process, which releases excessive carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants into the air;
  • the use of pesticides to enhance agricultural production, which has killed off bees and other insects and also birds;
  • intensive farming methods which have eliminated hedgerows and thus the bird species which rely on them for nests and food;
  • the feeding of processed animal products to herbivores;
  • the expansion in the use of exfoliants, which get into rivers and seas and work their way up through the food chain;
  • the introduction of non-native species into other countries;
  • deforestation and land clearance.

And these have not been the only human activities to do this. Humans also exploit the animal kingdom, sometimes in very cruel ways, in order to make money for themselves and this has also put some species at risk of extinction.  This exploitation includes killing elephants for ivory, rhinos for their horns, sharks for their fins, bears for their bile, pangolins and forest mammals for their meat and capturing baby monkeys and other primates, some from rare species, to sell in markets. Some species, such as the tiger, are currently threatened because of habitat loss or fragmentation. Forests where the tiger lives are cleared for agricultural activity, such as growing palm oil. Many other species are also in danger because of habitat loss (orang utan, elephant, rhino, polar bear etc).  As I write, we hear about a huge fire in the country of Indonesia, originally started to clear forest for the planting of palm oil crops, but now burning out of control, leaving a smoky haze over a wide area.  Indonesia is the only habitat for the endangered orang utan, as well as the rare Bornean white-bearded gibbon, sun bears and pangolins.

Global warming has led to the melting of the ice caps and a subsequent rise of sea levels, so that some island nations are at risk of disappearing into the sea. Scientists have predicted that global average surface temperatures are likely to rise by 3-4˚ within the lifespan of today’s teenagers, though there are efforts to keep it down to below 1.5˚.   The BBC recently reported that, as 2015 has been a particularly hot year, the average global temperature is likely to increase above 1˚ for the first time14. In a later chapter I will discuss the efforts being made at UN level to keep the temperature rise below 1.5˚.

 Fig. 10 – increases in global average temperature since 1860

Temperatures

From: www.bbc.co.uk (GCSE Bitesize)

Recent reports, described in the Guardian, have demonstrated that global temperatures in 2016 have been the hottest since records began15  so that 2016 is likely to be the hottest on record, with 2015 was the hottest year on record before that and 2014 the hottest year before that.

Also affected has been the climate, with more frequent catastrophic events, such as tornados and cyclones, mud slides, flooding, droughts, desertification etc. With the melting of the polar ice caps, the ecological balance of species living in these areas has also been disturbed, the most well-known being the polar bear, which can no longer rely on its main food resource, the seal.

 FIG 11: A starving and emaciated female polar bear on a small block of ice

Image result for emaciated polar bear

Photograph by Kerstin Langenberger with permission

 Already, in several parts of the world there has been a rise in sea level, affecting especially coastal areas and island nations (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Philippines, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands). Over the past century, the world’s oceans have risen 4-8 inches. It is reported that several rocket launch areas and space stations in the US will have to be moved inland, because of the risk of flooding.  Scientific models have suggested that sea levels will rise by 20 centimetres by 2050 (that’s another 8 inches), or triple that if the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt. The acidity of the sea has also increased by 30%, due to it absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid and this puts some marine creatures and coral at risk.  Coral reefs are particularly in danger, especially the iconic Great Barrier Reef, just off Australia. Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects (mega-mines, dredging and railway projects) has put the reef in danger with rapid destruction of the coral. We are told that 50% of coral has been lost since the 1980s, due to the warming of the sea.

Fig. 12: Bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

Image result for bleaching of coral reefs in australia

From: https://fightforthereef.org.au

 Picture

Fig. 13 – the increases in sea level over the last century.                                                  Source: US EPA Climate Change website

Most worrying are the vast permafrost regions of the world (Siberia, Canada, Alaska), where the earth remains below freezing point, even during the summer.  If the temperature of these areas increases, then large quantities of methane will be released into the atmosphere, adding to the problems of global warming that we already have.

At this time, there are campaigning groups trying to stop companies drilling for oil in the Arctic ocean, where the sea ice is already melting at a rapid rate. Recent studies in Greenland have shown that there is evidence that the glaciers are shrinking and the ice is thinning.  A recent report from the Californian Institute of Technology states that one of the biggest glaciers in Greenland, Zachariae Isstrom, which holds enough ice to raise the sea level by 18 inches, has broken loose from a stable position and is melting at both ends, with ice crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.  Greenland is the second largest ice body in the world and already contributes to about 40% of the current sea level rise.  Since 1992, 65 million tons of Antarctic ice has melted.

Fig. 14: The Shrinking of Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2016

copyright: Andy Lee Haviland (with permission)

Some have made calculations about what would happen to the world if all the ice caps were to melt and it is quite clear that, not only island nations, but also whole countries and some major cities would be swallowed up by the sea.  The map below shows what would happen to Europe in this circumstance.  Such a circumstance would remove much of the UK, especially the eastern areas and around the wash and the Thames, the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, almost all of Denmark, part of northern Germany and Russia, much of Turkey and the Baltic regions. Venice would disappear into the Adriatic Sea and the Caspian and Black Seas would become much larger.  Worldwide, we would lose Bangladesh, Singapore, some of the Philippine Islands, much of Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, the whole of Florida, several Caribbean islands, Tuvalu and much of China.  Huge inland seas would develop in Australia, around the Amazon and Paraguay River basins and delta areas would also be inundated (Mekong, Nile, Ganges), leading to the submergence of Cairo and Alexandria.  Due to differences in ocean currents, the sea level increase would be higher in some areas than others (eg the eastern seaboard of the USA).  Africa’s coastline would not be as affected as that of some other continents but, due to temperature rises, some parts would become so hot that they would be uninhabitable.

In 2014, the University of Notre Dame produced a definitive ranking system that showed how countries around the world would fare if global warming increased at its current rate.

The rankings took into account the country’s location, its population density and how financially equipped it was to deal with the rising sea level and increase in temperature.

Fig 15 and 15a: Pictures showing new coastline of Europe if all the ice caps were to melt – the outer line shows coastlines as they are at present     Source: National Geographic Creative (with permission)

Related image

All of the changes described above have not gone unnoticed and there have been numerous campaigns and demonstrations to prevent some of the human activities which are endangering our planet, some more successful than others. For example, in the Netherlands, one of the countries most at risk of rising sea levels, the Hague District Court recently ordered the Dutch government to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.  This arose following a complaint by an activist group.  The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with much of its land lying below sea level.  The island nations are also at risk of being swallowed up by the sea but this is as a result of greenhouse gas emissions of other countries, rather than their own. And the Philippines were recently devastated by Cyclone Yolande.  All of this is summarised in a short video clip on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10154178419921479/).

The United Nations has been taking action, ever since the Rio Summit in 1992 (to be described in a later chapter) but it is not enough, as carbon emissions continue to rise.  As I started to write this book, the latest summit (CPO21 in Paris) had not yet taken place but, by the time it was finished, an agreement had been reached, which will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Some of the toxic chemicals released from human manufacturing activity, such as nitrous oxide and bromine and chlorine compounds (CFCs), have the effect of depleting the ozone layer, which exists in the earth’s atmosphere.  The purpose of the ozone layer is to absorb ultra-violet rays from the sun. Ozone levels in the stratosphere have reduced by 4% since 1970 and there is an ozone hole over the Antarctic circle – again more evidence that human activity is affecting the stability of the planet.

So many factors have been interacting to create the global situation in which we are at the moment and this book attempts to show how they interrelate. Each chapter in this book will look at a different factor, which has put the planet and its species at risk and will show, I hope, that each of these has an inter-connectedness.  We therefore need to tackle every factor, not just one in isolation.  Scientists have said that we have only three generations to do this before things have gone too far.  If the exponential graphs shown in Figures 7, 11 and 15 continue at this rate, then we probably have even less time than three generations to reverse the changes.

A short piece of film has recently been circulated on the internet, which summarizes all of these risk factors, and is especially targeted at those who, like me, love and cherish the natural world16.

Scientists have predicted that, in three generations time, there will be a mass extinction of many of the animal species inhabiting this planet.  It is not clear whether this extinction will include humans but many of the animal, insect and bird species that we have grown to love will have gone by then.  I think the risk is there for human populations as well, so I have used this “3 generations” factor as the title of this book and in most of the assessments and discussions which follow. Let’s hope that this never happens but using 3 generations as a rule of thumb will hopefully concentrate the minds of those who are in positions in which they can make the changes needed to ensure that this never becomes a reality.