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|30 January 2017
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So there we have it! A plethora of human activities which have put the harmonious cycles of our beautiful planet out of balance, leading to loss of habitat for many species, increasing global temperatures, climate change, extreme weather events, melting of the ice caps, raised sea levels, deforestation, acidification of the sea, space junk, accumulations of waste plastic and the threat of a mass extinction – all related to increasing carbon emissions, a process which may never be reversed unless urgent action is taken.
And, alongside of this, there has been the rapidly increasing human population, now seven times greater than at pre-industrial levels, leading to a multiplication of the destructive effects of human activity and loss of habitat for many species. Each of these activities has an inter-connectedness, which has led to a situation where a domino effect may take place, one factor triggering another factor, the total effect of which may make our planet unstable and uninhabitable in just three generations:
- Industrial revolution, which did not end pre-1900 but which continued with an ever-increasing momentum, through the IR Continuum, to the present time;
- Increasing human population, multiplying the effects of the IR;
- Changes to economies from local agrarian economies to market economies, which encourage further industrialisation and rewards businesses who increase manufactured production;
- International and multinational trading patterns, adding to the IR Continuum and leading to local situations where more is imported than is exported, and politicians desiring to take action for more and more economic growth; such actions are counter-productive, adding to the carbon load;
- Greater divisions between the rich and poor in the world, leading to migration, unrest and wars, and with the rich contributing considerably more to climate change than the poor and with wars adding to the carbon footprint.
Fig. 75 attempts to show how all of these factors are interrelated and how each is contributing to ecological instability, both in its own right and by interaction with the others. For example, the increasing human population has a multiplying effect on all the others; weakening economies result in increased efforts to promote economic growth, which multiply the effects of industrialisation, trading systems and global travel; increasing affluence of the super-rich provides a multiplying effect through increased multi-national trading; poverty in some areas being related to deforestation in order to grow crops to survive, this has the effect of reducing the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthetic cycle; market economies exaggerate the effects of the industrial revolution and its continuum, as well as affecting trading systems; greater unrest in the world, leading to wars, which add to the carbon load.
Fig. 75: Our beautiful planet no longer in harmony due to ten of the
interrelated factors at work in the world today
I hope I have made a convincing case about the urgent need for change in the ways in which the global human population organises its affairs. To bring this change about needs a complete re-think by everybody, a complete change in the way in which we go about our normal lives and our business (see also Naomi Klein8).
As this book has unfolded, and during the writing of it, I have learnt so much myself – but this new learning has also opened me up to seeing things in a totally different light. It has been a revolution in my own thinking and responses. So, what started as a gut instinct has been transformed into an urgent imperative. I hope it does the same to you as well.
Many of the things that clutter up our lives, or make our lives more comfortable or exciting, have been produced at the cost of the planet.
So, some of the questions that have come to me, I will pose also to my readers:
- Can we continue to slavishly follow consumer trends? Buying the latest gadgets, regardless of whether they have been transported across the world, thus increasing carbon emissions?
- Can we continue to use our motor cars just to travel down the road to the shops or the school?
- Should we continue to import foodstuffs that can be produced in our own country by our own farmers?
- Can we continue to rob other species which share this planet with us, of their habitats?
- Can we continue to clutter up the space around our planet with redundant and unused space junk?
- Can we continue to fill our oceans with discarded, non-biodegradable plastic, which can also kill many marine species?
- Can we continue to support the free-trade movement, which feeds into further industrialisation and the IR continuum?
- Can we continue to give tacit support to a market economy, which rewards those companies and individuals who selfishly add to the carbon footprint of our planet?
- Can we continue to support those industries which make unheeding use of fossil fuels in order to make a profit for themselves?
- Can we continue to let the super-rich control most of the systems of the planet to feed their own greed, at the expense of the planet and of the poorest of the poor?
- Can we continue to use nuclear power and manufacture nuclear weapons, when there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste?
- Can we continue to go to war at the drop of a hat, when the carbon emissions released in such a war, add substantially to the carbon footprint of the planet?
- Can we continue to trade in weapons and spend vast amounts of money in producing them, when many millions of people across the world go hungry?
- Can we continue to allow the rich and multi-national companies to evade taxes, at the expense of supporting poorer nations to drag themselves out of poverty?
- Can we continue to ignore the comfortable relationship that our governments have with the business world, which leads them to take decisions which support the business world, regardless of the damage they are doing to our planet and at the expense of the majority of the population?
- Can we continue to take long-haul holidays, travelling across the world, using airlines, which are one of the worst polluters of the atmosphere?
- Can we continue to give birth to babies, when the planet is already over-populated, with humans robbing many beautiful species of their habitats?
- Can we control or curb the results of human curiosity and inventiveness? Or should it be channelled into less world-destroying end-products, such as innovations to produce clean energy?
- Can we put sufficient pressure on our politicians to change direction regarding current economic thinking, the mathematics of which are flawed?
- Can changes in the economy be introduced in time to save the planet?
- What are the risks of changing trading practices on the economy?
- What if one country makes changes and is exploited by other, less scrupulous, nations?
- Will big business play ball?
- What about the rich super elite? Will they recognise the urgency of the situation and change their behaviour to a more altruistic approach?
- Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?
So many questions have come to me and I am sure that other questions have come to you too as you have read this book. There are so many decisions we need to take as well, both as individuals and as nations and global citizens.
Some groups are looking at the issue of climate justice, in which reparation is made by the greatest polluters, to poorer countries whose way of life is severely affected by climate change. Indeed, this formed part of the COP21 Paris agreement.
Fig.76: ©Joel Pett, with permission
Reasons for the lethargy
Of course, many people already realise and understand about the damage we have done to the planet, as a species, and many people are already taking action across the globe, but there seems to be a lethargy to make the significant changes needed, so I will address this too.
Part of the lethargy is, I think, due to the success of the big business-climate-change-deniers, who have influenced people to think that the scientists are wrong and that there is nothing to worry about. Naomi Klein8 addresses this issue strongly in her book, “This Changes Everything”, as she places most of the blame for the desperate situation we face today, firmly in the courts of the big corporate businesses. In her opinion, they have used their money, and lots of it, to establish a climate-denial movement, in which the credibility of the climate scientists is attacked and the seriousness of global warming is minimised. She identifies a strong right wing caucus, which sees those campaigning for climate action, as a group of left wingers who wish to establish their own political agendas on the rest of the world. They also see it as a new battle they must fight in much the same way as they fought communism during the Cold War. And they believe that they can use their $ millions to protect themselves from climate change disasters. In her view, they have little empathy for the victims of global warming and climate change, especially the poor in developing nations and island states; their attitude to such people is cruel and nothing short of racism.
Another reason for the lethargy is, I believe, that the whole concept of another mass extinction caused by climate change is too horrendous to think about and, in a way, unthinkable. Thus, people blank it out and just concentrate on their own lives and their normal agendas for the next few years. It is easier to do this than to institute, and campaign for, the major lifestyle changes that are needed to avert this crisis. And it is easier to label people who, like me, write books to raise the issues, as doom-mongers, greenies or left-wing loonies.
I have come across people who look at the greenness of the English countryside, stretching for mile upon mile and, looking at the lovely green foliage, they cannot take on board that this is likely to disappear and so, like others, they dismiss global warming as unlikely. The problem with this approach is that, we probably will see the countryside looking greener for a while, as plants and trees, in response to the increased carbon dioxide in the air, will produce more chlorophyll. This may have a minimal effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide. But the mind-set fails to acknowledge that ocean acidification is already taking place and rises in sea levels have already swallowed up some islands (five of the Solomon Islands, for example), that coral is bleaching and that the ice caps are melting at increasing rates. And that, whilst some areas are greening, other parts of the world are being ravaged and scorched by unprecedented temperatures and others suffering more and more wildfires and bush fires due to tinder-dry conditions (see also the quote from India at the end of chapter 10).
The scientist James Lovelock, who described the Gaia Hypothesis and who came up with methods to measure CFCs in the atmosphere, followed up his thesis with a warning124. He comments in his book that: “… it seemed there was little understanding of the great dangers that we face. The recipients of climate forecasts, the news media, government departments, the financial market – normally as skittish as blushing teenagers – and the insurance companies all seem relatively unperturbed about climate change and continued with business as usual until their world, the global economy, almost collapsed.”
Human Responses to warnings
One of the things that I find quite intriguing is how some people fail to take heed of warnings, a fire alarm for example. Whilst I get up, grab my things and run out of the door to the nearest fire exit, most people just carry on as if nothing had happened. The same thing happens on motorways, when warning messages urge you to slow down because there is some hazard ahead. Why is this? Of course, these could be false alarms but why take the risk? I can remember reading an article once about a tragedy when a ferry sank, drowning many people on board. It would appear that those who survived were the ones, who reacted immediately and made extreme efforts to get to the upper decks and the lifeboats. Are people unable to visualise a hazardous and different future? Why do we continue to live for the present even if it makes the future more risky?
In an article in the New Scientist125, Robert Gifford, a Canadian environmental psychologist looked at the psychological reasons why people have failed to take action on climate change. He came up with 33 reasons, which he grouped under certain headings. I’ll attempt to give a short summary of them:
- LIMITED UNDERSTANDING
Gifford believes that humans are far less rational than was once believed and gives a list of 10 reasons why humans are not acting on climate change. The reasons range through sheer ignorance, limited brain power, not knowing what to do about it, a lack of priority to climate change because it does not seem to be causing any immediate problems, hearing the message so often that we switch off to it (message numbness), not understanding the urgency of the situation, due to poor reporting, undervaluing distant and future risks, a tendency to over-optimism, a perception that climate change is a complex global problem, so people think that their own behaviour will have little or no impact. Some have a fatalistic bias because they think nothing can be done, even by collective human action. People with doubts about the reality of climate change tend to read newspapers or listen to broadcasters which reinforce their convictions. Also, studies show that, when people view the time they have available to do something in monetary terms,they tend to skip acting in environmentally friendly ways. Some think they are unable to take climate-friendly action because they don’t have the knowledge or skill and some claim they are unable to take certain actions, such as riding a bicycle or changing their diet.
Gifford believes that there are four broad belief systems that inhibit climate-positive behaviour. These include a strong belief in capitalism, a tendency to justify the status quo, a belief that a religious or secular deity will not forsake them or that “Mother Nature will take a course that we mere mortals cannot influence” and a belief that technology will be able to solve all the problems.
This category of Gifford’s has resonance with Naomi Klein’s views, though he does not place it first, as she has.
Gifford believes that, as humans are social animals, we will gravitate towards the choices of people we admire, so that, if they are climate change deniers, we will also deny that it is happening. He also believes that, if we see others not changing their behaviour, we will think, “Why should I change if they don’t?” So this also leads to inaction about climate change.
Fig.78: From: Justin Bilicki, with permission
We buy things and spend money to make our lives more comfortable and some of these will not be climate-positive. They include financial investments, in a car, for example, or working in a fossil-fuel burning industry. Habit can also lead to repeating actions which increase climate change, in order to keep life more ordered and regular; people also have conflicting goals, values and aspirations, which do not always accord with climate friendly actions. People have strong aspirations to “get ahead” and their actions may compete with climate change goals, such as buying a larger house or car, taking an exotic holiday for example. This is a form of the consumer culture, which I mentioned in an earlier chapter. Gifford also believes that people get attached to a place and may thus oppose nearby wind farms (Nimbyism).
Fig.79 From : Joe Heller with permission
4. DISCREDANCE (OR DISAPPROVAL)
When people think ill of others, they are unlikely to believe what they say or take direction from them. For example, many people mistrust scientists, government officials or politicians, so do not take on board what they are saying. Some programmes have been introduced by government to encourage climate-friendly behaviour (such as solar panels at reduced costs) but are not considered by some to be generous enough. Large numbers of people in most countries do not believe that climate change is happening and so deny it; they are called climate change deniers and would include ordinary people as well as those with vested interests in using fossil fuels.
In chapter 3, I discussed the attractiveness of the concept of freedom and many people may struggle against what they consider will restrict their freedom. This includes big business, which strongly adhere to the free trade movement.
- PERCEIVED RISK
Some people may consider that changing their behaviour and/or possessions is risky (eg buying an electric car, cycling instead of driving) or cost them too much or they may be afraid of being judged or teased by their peers for their choices.
- LIMITED BEHAVIOUR
Most of us engage in some climate-friendly actions but these are not enough and may be just tokenistic. Others may make positive changes but these are cancelled out by other actions they take, which are not so climate-friendly.
It is helpful knowing the reasons why more action against climate change has not taken place but, in acknowledging these, we must also find ways to reduce their effect. In reading through them, I can find examples within my own behaviour amongst the lists, as well as in people I have discussed the issue with. For example, I have found people with a strong sense of fatalism about it (“What will be will be”), as well as those who react as if its old hat: “We’ve heard it all before. What’s new?” I feel that perceived risks also feature very strongly and the government could do much more, by providing more generous subsidies for conversion to solar panels, for example, and by encouraging the motor industry to develop greener cars, which do not have perceived operational problems.
At the start of this book, I mentioned that it took me 22 years to begin to write it, after first becoming aware of the clouds of pollution hanging over each of the cities that I visited on my world trip in 1994. So, I have been part of the lethargy in a way that seems to hit most people to one degree or another. When I look back over those 22 years, I can see that I have been altering my behaviour in small ways to be more climate friendly, though like others, not by enough. Also, when I returned from my world trip in 1994, there were other imperatives for me to attend to, most of which have been described in my second book (The Desert will Rejoice). During that trip, I was introduced to many models of good social projects for working with the urban poor and marginalised and I became involved in developing or founding some new inner city projects. And I also had two other books to write – the story of my journey and the inspiration behind these inner city projects. So, global warming and climate needs went to the back of my mind. But they didn’t totally disappear. Maybe a similar thing happens to others – we all lead such busy lives. Being too busy to take action about global warming may be another thing to add to Gifford’s lists. But I am glad that I eventually became jolted into researching and putting together the evidence for this book.
And, for those who are still in denial after reading this book, I have just one thing to say “JUST LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE” and let it work on you, just as the clouds of hazy pollution I saw in 1994 eventually worked on me.
2015 has been the hottest year on record, this last winter too has been the wettest, with excessive rainfall leading to devastating floods in the north of England and elsewhere, causing £250 million worth of damage. The immediate reaction of people who have had their homes flooded is to accuse the government of not spending enough money on flood defences. This is important but, far more important is that they lobby government to do more to reduce carbon emissions nationally and to take a global lead to institute some of the changes necessary to avert global climate disaster. Just focussing on flood defences is an example of limited understanding (cognition) from Gifford’s lists.
Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?
This is a question I posed earlier in this chapter and it is worth looking at the difficulties in more detail. Global co-operation is the idea I have promoted throughout this book because I believe it is the only way to produce the kind of rapid changes in human activity that are needed if we are to save the world from destruction. We are all in this together, so the divisiveness promoted by some groups and countries is just not appropriate. The world is facing a crisis and we need to join hands and work together to solve it.
So, what are the factors which are likely to limit global co-operation? I list some of them below:
- The massive size of the global population;
- Differences in national priorities, ethos and cultures;
- Differences across the world in how climate change is affecting individual countries;
- Lack of trust between nations;
- Ideological differences;
- Other crises seem more important to address, such as terrorism, migration etc.;
- Risks to national economies;
- Fears that other nations will not do likewise;
- Fears of being left behind in trading competitiveness;
- Unwillingness to give up prestigious possessions, power and status.
Unless some of these factors are overcome, then global co-operation will not occur. They are all challenging but I do believe that the human intellect is capable of finding ways to take global co-operation forward. What is less likely to happen is to find the will to do it.
In the meantime
In the meantime a group of UK climate activists found themselves in the dock recently. The following is a post on Barbara Panvel’s website “Antidote to doom and gloom” which describes what happened. The five activists had whitewashed the walls of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and painted on them, in black: “The Department for Extreme Climate Change”, to expose the department’s hypocrisy.
The five activists, members of the Climate Change Action Group, were ordered to pay £340 each at Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The defendants, who represented themselves, did not dispute their presence at the scene or the actions attributed to them, but argued that they had a ‘lawful excuse’ under section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.126
DECC was not fined.
Their letter, which was handed in to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, made many powerful points. In a preamble, they declared:
“Climate change is not one in a number of issues to be addressed. A stable climate is a fundamental need on which the maintenance of our civilisation and the earth’s abundant life relies. There will be no economy, health or security to speak of on the planet towards which we are currently heading”.
Edited extract from list of actions June-Sept 2015:
In 2009 G20 countries, including the UK, pledged to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. But on the 19 March 2015: George Osborne announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil, on top of a whole series of previous measures, including support for further exploration:
16 June: The European Union says the UK is set to miss its EU target of generating 15 per cent of its energy (not just electricity) by renewable methods, despite being set one of the lowest targets of all EU countries.
17 June: On the evening of the Big Climate Lobby on the 17th June, when thousands met with their MPs to ask them to put climate as a priority, you announced the first of your ‘cut-the-green-crap’ policies, that new onshore wind farms (the cheapest form of renewable energy) will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned.
25 June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70% of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes such as wind farms that couldn’t raise cash elsewhere. The sell-off means it may no longer focus on risky green schemes, and most of the profits will not go to taxpayers. By contrast, a similar US scheme is set to make $5 billion profit for taxpayers on $30 billion-worth of loans. Companies it helped include Tesla Motors, which paid back its loan early.
30 June: The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020. Its recommendations include taking action to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon energy, such as by extending existing short-term schemes to a 10-year timescale.
Ruth Jarman, one of the five members of the Christian Climate Action demonstration, who are deeply concerned about climate change and its impact on God’s creation, the lives of people now the world over, and future generations, said:
“We do not agree with today’s judgement. The point of the law is to maintain justice, stability and order. Climate change threatens all these things so fundamentally that the law should be used to defend those who are trying to stop climate change, not those who are creating it. We think DECC should have been in the dock, not us. The department speaks fine words, but with its actions scuppers any possibility of global action to tackle climate change.”
Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh reminds us that without such acts in the history of the United Kingdom, the vote would not have been conferred on non-land owning citizens, nor on women and slavery, or forced child labour in our factories would not have ended. He said:
“The actions of these protestors were a non-violent and peaceable way to expose the hypocrisy of current UK government energy policies. The UK has the potential still to lead the world towards the new sustainable energy economy that the climate crisis calls for and this type of action is essential to the democratic process in the UK.”
I believe that we will see many more actions like this, as the world in which we live gets more and more unstable.
Climate change, the loss of species, global warming, the increase in the human population, trading systems, the type of economy and poverty are all factors that affect every nation of the world in one way or another. If there is to be a change of direction, in order to save the planet and its inhabitants, it must happen on a global scale and include every country, or at least those countries which have industrialised. We need to get citizens across the world understanding the implications of climate change and industrialisation, so that they realise the need for urgent action and lobby their governments to make appropriate changes.
The most obvious organisation to initiate such a change of direction is (and has been) the United Nations.
The Efforts of the United Nations to reduce carbon emissions
Fig.70: The Rio Summit
In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, produced a document, called Agenda 21, which was a non-binding, voluntary-implemented action plan with regard to sustainable development. It provided an agenda for the UN, other multilateral organisations and individual governments around the world that could be executed at local, national or global level. The UN body proposed in Rio to take this forward was the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), whose director is currently Halldor Thorgeirsson. Since Rio, regular meetings have been held in different countries of the world, under the title of COP (conference of parties), the latest being COP21 in Paris. A further appraisal of the major COP agreements reached over the years is given in Table 699.
As the United Nations does have a role in addressing the issue of climate change, let’s have a closer look first at how it functions and what it has achieved on climate change. The UN was first formed in 1945, as an intergovernmental organisation to promote international co-operation. The motivation for its formation came as a result of the Second World War, to prevent other similar conflicts from occurring. There were 51 member states initially and now there are 193, each country having one vote at deliberations of the General Assembly. The headquarters of the UN is in New York, with further offices in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. It is financed by contributions from its member states, the United Kingdom providing 5.19% of the total budget.
The UN currently operates through five principal bodies: the General Assembly (the main deliberative body); the Security Council (peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (for promoting international economic and social co-operation and development); the Secretariat (provides, information, studies and facilities needed); and the International Court of Justice. There are also various UN bodies, which have particular functions: the World Bank; the World Health Organisation; the World Food Programme, UNESCO and UNICEF. The current General Secretary is the South Korean, Ban Ki-moon, whose term of office comes to an end during 2016.
Structure of the United Nations
Many people are highly critical of the United Nations. Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development but others have called it ineffective, corrupt, biased and bureaucratic. I believe that, if the United Nations is to be taken seriously and respected, it needs to have more clout and to be reformed to be more inclusive. Its initiatives on climate change certainly need to be more decisive and more closely targeted. The problem is that, trying to get 193 or more nations to agree on one issue, is virtually impossible.
The original Agenda 21 was divided into four sections:
- Combating Poverty;
- II Environmental Issues;
- III Strengthening the role of major groups;
- IV. Means of Implementation.
The “21” refers to the 21st Century and has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences. It is a 700-page document that was adopted by the 178 countries attending the 1992 conference. In 1997, the UN General Assembly held a special session to appraise the status of Agenda 21 and this has continued every 5 years since then. In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called “The Future We Want”. 180 leaders from nations participated.
The implementation of Agenda 21 was intended to involve action at international, national, regional and local levels. Some national and state governments have legislated or advised that local authorities take steps to implement the plan locally, as recommended in Chapter 28 of the document. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Division for Sustainable Development (ECOSOC) monitors and evaluates progress, nation by nation, towards the adoption of Agenda 21, as well as progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and makes these reports available to the public on its website. Europe has turned out to be the continent in which it was best accepted, as most European countries possess well documented Agenda 21 statuses. France, for example has nationwide programmes supporting it, though there are opposition groups in this country, as there are in other countries.
In Africa, national support for Agenda 21 is strong and most countries are signatories. But support is often closely tied to environmental challenges specific to each country (such as desertification in Namibia) and there is little mention of Agenda 21 at the local level in the indigenous media. Agenda 21 participation in North African countries mirrors that of Middle Eastern countries, with most countries being signatories, but with little to no adoption at the local government level. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa generally have poorly documented Agenda 21 status reports but South Africa’s participation in Agenda 21 is similar to that of Europe.
Whilst the United States of America has been a signatory to Agenda 21, there is a strong business lobby, which opposes it on the grounds that it is bad for business. The Republican Party have stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Several state and local governments have considered or passed motions and legislation opposing Agenda 21, Alabama being the first state to prohibit government participation in it. Activists, some of whom have been associated with the Tea Party movement by The New York Times and The Huffington Post, have said that Agenda 21 is a conspiracy by the United Nations to deprive individuals of property rights. Interestingly though, in view of these opposition lobbies, the president of the USA, Barack Obama, recently participated in a TV documentary, in which he and David Attenborough discussed the issue of climate change and what needs to be done; he referred to a number of American initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.
Yet, despite the focus on environmental issues since the 1992 Rio Summit, global carbon emissions continue to rise, with petroleum, coal and natural gas being the worst culprits contributing to this increase.
From Rio to Paris, UN milestones in the history of climate change discussions
International negotiations on climate change have been going on for over 20 years. In the meantime, the Earth has become hotter, wetter and wilder. Like scientists, the vast majority of governments now agree that urgent steps are needed to reduce our impact on global warming. So far, they have failed to sign up to a universal plan of action.
- 1992: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. It acknowledged the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialised countries the major part of responsibility for combating it – but without specifying how.
- 1997: The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997 marked a milestone in international negotiations on tackling climate change. For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries, with obligations to reduce emissions by 5%. The protocol came into force in 2005, but was soon derailed by the failure of some of the world’s biggest polluters, notably the US, to ratify it. As a result, other countries, such as Canada, Russia and Japan also pulled out. Another weakness of the Kyoto Protocol was that it exempted three countries, who were in the early stages of industrialisation (China, India, Australia) and now these are amongst the worst polluters. Protocol runs until 2020.
- 2007: A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.
- 2009: Although the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, the summit recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation, barring which poor countries had threatened to scupper any deal. That pledge became more tangible with the establishment of the Green Climate Fund in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010.
- 2011: Countries signed up to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), thereby agreeing to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all states that are party to the UNFCCC. This agreement was scheduled to be adopted in Paris and implemented from 2020.
At subsequent gatherings in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima, Peru, in 2014, all states were invited to submit their pledges towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris.
The Paris Agreement
The objective of the 2015 Paris COP21 conference was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world. I would like to see the UNFCCC go even further than this, to be involved in an internationally evidenced marketing initiative to demonstrate how urgent it is to take robust action to reduce carbon emissions. Just talking about it, and making gestures to the world press, is not going to achieve what is needed.
The COP21 talks in Paris set out more ambitious goals than many anticipated and was heralded, with much media attention, as an historic accord, though many hours had been spent in finalising the wording of this agreement, signed by 195 countries. Many believe that, in getting agreement, the main focus of the document was watered down. I have heard it said that certain oil-producing countries were the ones who caused the watering down of the Paris agreement, a similar action to that of Exxon Mobil, described in Chapter 3. The self-interest of powerful people in the world yet again holding back the actions required to really address the crisis that we all face.
The agreement included:
- Clauses to limit global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels and to endeavour to limit it to below 1.5˚C;
- For countries to meet their own voluntary targets on limiting emissions between 2020 and 2030;
- For countries to submit new, tougher targets every five years;
- To aim for zero net emissions by 2050-2100;
- For rich nations to help poorer nations to adapt.
Fig.73: World leaders celebrating “an historic agreement” in Paris 2015
The agreement would come into force only after it had been ratified by 55 countries, who represented at least 55% of global emissions. If this target was exceeded, then the agreement would become operational in the same year.
A March 2016 report from the BBC indicated that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, the US and China (40% of emissions together), had produced a joint statement to say that both countries were ready to sign the agreement in April. Ban Ki-moon invited leaders to a signing ceremony in New York on 22nd April and expected 120 to turn up for this. The USA and China represent almost 40% of global emissions, so this was a huge step forward.
The move was not initially welcomed by some developing nations100, led by an influential, Malaysia-based think tank who wanted to receive stronger assurances on finance, technology and compensation for damage from extreme weather before signing. Meena Raman of the Third World Network, was quoted as saying: “It will be more advantageous to developing countries to wait this year and not rush into signing the Paris Agreement. Otherwise… we lose the political leverage that is critical to secure the necessary conditions that will enable developing countries to meet their obligations.” Developing countries have therefore been advised not to attend or sign at the 22nd April ceremony.
That date has now passed and a list of 175 nations who signed on 22nd April 2016 was included on a UN website (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/04/parisagreementsignatures/)
“List of Parties that signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016101
The Paris Agreement will be open for signature by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on 22 April and will remain open for signature for one year. This list contains the countries that signed the Agreement at the Signature Ceremony on 22 April:
Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Union, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.”
This is a very comprehensive list indeed and a significant achievement by Ban Ki-moon, though there are some notable absentees from the list (some oil-producing countries). Many people are now quite optimistic that there will be significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels and the subsequent carbon emissions. Others feel that the promised emissions’ cuts are totally inadequate. In a review of the Paris agreement, Michael Le Page in the New Scientist (no. 3052) stated that he thinks time has nearly run out for limiting global warming even to 2˚C and he quoted from various scientists and leaders as follows:
“Emissions targets are still way off track, but this agreement has the tools to ramp up ambition, and brings a spirit of hope that we can rise to this challenge”. Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands.
“If we wait until 2020, it will be too late.” Kevin Anderson, Climate Scientist at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, UK.
“As for 1.5˚, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”. We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency and housing changes. Even international aviation and shipping which were excluded from this report will need to be tackled”. Piers Forster, University of Leeds.
I personally don’t agree with this last person in terms of nuclear power and fracking, as I believe both to be dangerous cop-outs.
In a later, full length New Scientist Article, Michael Le Page102 discussed the likelihood of countries being able to keep to the promises made. He reminded his readers that each signatory has to formally approve, or ratify, the deal in their parliaments and only five had so far done so: Fiji, Palau, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Switzerland an interesting group of countries most at risk of rising sea levels or melting ice. The Telegraph reported on 22nd April that there had been 15 ratifications103.
Kimberley Nicholas, writing in the Scientific American (December 19th 2015)104, discussed what is required to bring about the meeting of the 1.5˚ target. She quoted from an article in Nature Climate Change by scientists Rogelj and colleagues, that it will require “rapid and profound decarbonisation” from its current 81% of fossil sources in order to meet net zero carbon emissions as early as 2045 (recognised in the long-term goal in the Paris agreement to balance greenhouse gas emissions and removal). Further they had found that meeting the target would ultimately require actively removing carbon from the atmosphere, through means that have yet to be widely tested or implemented.
The December 2015 Newsletter of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs)105 had the following statement about the Paris agreement:
“As the fallout continues, many of you may be confused by the outcome of the recent COP21 climate talks in Paris, variously reported as:
“A victory for all of the planet and future generations” ~ John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
“We did it! A turning point in human history!” ~ Avaaz
“10/10 for presentation, 4/10 for content” ~ Kevin Anderson, climate scientist
“A historic moment and positive step forward … but not the legally-binding science and justice-based agreement that was needed” ~ Friends of the Earth UK
“A sham” ~ Friends of the Earth International
“It’s a fraud really, a fake” ~ James Hansen, climate scientist
“Our leaders have shown themselves willing to set our world on fire” ~ Naomi Klein, author/activist
“Epic fail on a planetary scale” ~ New Internationalist
“The US is a cruel hypocrite. This is a deliberate plan to make the rich richer and the poor poorer” ~ Lidy Nacpil, Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development
COP21: a clear win for political reality – a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate
The TEQs newsletter105 continued:
“Our take is that when there is a fundamental rift between the physical reality of our changing climate and the political reality tasked with responding to this, this agreement – based on voluntary emissions pledges which even if met would mean more emissions in 2030 than today – is a clear win for political reality. In other words, a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate.
Sadly, it is not hard to identify the agendas of those hailing the Paris agreement as a great success. The whole conference has, in essence, been smoke and mirrors, distracting us from the real work of reintegrating human society with the reality that it depends on. As most impartial observers predicted, the UN have again failed to deliver an agreement that preserves the future of either humanity or the wider biosphere.
The Paris agreement is, in short, based on non-binding commitments to deliver on dodgy mathematics through the application of technologies that do not yet (and may never) exist.”
Greenpeace have also criticised the Paris agreement106, whilst applauding parts of it, such as setting 2018 as a review date. The main failure of the agreement, they feel, is that it failed the “justice test”; this relates to the human rights, where indigenous peoples affected by climate change are not given the protection they deserve. However, Greenpeace feel that what did not happen in Paris had already happened in Manila, where a human rights probe has been launched with the Human Rights Commission106.
Thus, the challenge facing the world in 2016 is significant. This has been reinforced by the excessive rain experienced in the north of the UK over the last few weeks, leading to extensive flooding, as well as in France and Germany and other extreme weather events in other parts of the world, such as the second strongest ever recorded tropical cyclone Winston which devastated Fiji.
I find it hard to reconcile these quoted comments with the “business as usual” attitude of our present government in the UK, a government which we will have to tolerate until 2020, unless something major happens in the next four years, to bring about an election.
In his book, “Why are we Waiting” (MIT Press), Professor Nicholas Stern107, author of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, sets out some of the goals that now face humanity in the 21st Century. The goals include:
- The elimination of mass poverty and the risk of catastrophic climate change;
- These goals are complementary;
- The case for action is overwhelming because greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for centuries.
A recent research report in Science, and quoted in the Guardian108, provides hope that carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by pumping it underground. The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted. Juerg Matter, of the University of Southampton in the UK, led the research. Further research clearly needs to take place on this potential resolution to the problems we face.
But, are there other global networks can we call on to make a greater impact than that so far made by the UNFCCC?
- The Elders
In 2007, Nelson Mandela set up a group, called “The Elders”; it originally included elder states-people, such as Kofi Annan (now chairman of the group, former UN-Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Laureate and honorary elder), Aung Sun Suu Kyi (honorary elder until her election in 2012, Burmese pro-democracy leader), Ela Bhatt (India, pioneer of women’s empowerment and grassroots development), Lakhdar Brahimi (Algeria, conflict mediator and UN diplomat) Martti Artisaari Finland, Nobel Peace Laureate), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, deputy chair, doctor who champions health as a human right), Fernando H Cardosa (Brazil – former president), Jimmy Carter (USA former president, Nobel Peace Laureate), Hina Jilani (Pakistan, pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner), Graça Machel (Mozambique, international advocate for women’s and children’s rights), Mary Robinson( first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for human rights), Ernesto Zedilla (former president of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms).
Fig.74: A group of The Elders in 2010. From: www.theelders.org
The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. The concept of the Elders originated from an idea from a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was simple: many communities look to their elders for guidance, or to help resolve disputes. In an increasingly interdependent world – a ‘global village’ – could a small, dedicated group of individuals use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today? Branson and Gabriel took their idea to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together and formally launched the group in Johannesburg in July 2007.
The Elders work strategically, focusing on work where they are uniquely placed to make a difference. One of their latest campaigns is for the UN, now over 70 years’ old, to be adapted so that it is fit for purpose. They have four proposals on this (more details available on their website: http://theelders.org/un-fit-purpose):
- A new category of members;
- A pledge from permanent members;
- A voice for civil society;
- A more independent Secretary-General.
I believe that the issue of Climate Change is now so urgent that it may be too late to wait for a reform of the United Nations to tackle the issue more robustly. Perhaps a new body, independent of the United Nations, but respected globally, needs to take on the issue, cutting through all the bureaucracy that creates a climate of inaction on major issues.
Whether these proposals will bring about the changes necessary to generate greater respect and support for the United Nations, remains to be seen. However, the United Nations is the most obvious body to take forward the urgent imperative to work together with global co-operation to turn back the current surge of ever increasing carbon emissions and the devastating effects of climate change. Most of the concerns about climate change come from faith-based networks.
b). Christian-based organisations and networks have had much to say about the need for urgent action, as good stewardship of the earth is a major tenet of the Christian faith, as are the Jubilee principles of environmental restoration and fair allocation of wealth.
There is an ecumenical organisation, Operation Noah, with a seven-year plan to encourage Christians to work together to address climate change109.
Recently, the Pope has issued an encyclical on climate change, which hasn’t gone unnoticed110.
For the Anglicans, Archbishop Desmond Tutu initiated a petition asking governments, and the United Nations, to set a renewable energy target of 100% by 2050111. Tutu, a Nobel peace laureate, who rose to fame for his anti-apartheid activism, said: “As responsible citizens of the world – sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family – we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow.”
There have also been statements published by:
- the Baptist Union112
- the Anglican Synod113
- the Methodist Church114
- the Quakers115
- and other ecumenical bodies, such as Christian Aid and Tear Fund.
A particular initiative is called “Eco-Church”116, which encourages churches to switch their energy supplier to green forms of energy, with special rates being negotiated if a number of churches join the initiative117 (called ‘Big Church Switch’). Other bodies of Christians network to encourage individuals to reduce their personal carbon emissions, in various ways. A recent conference in Coventry, “Hope in a Changing Climate” provided much information to inspire hope, as many groups of Christians are working together, rather like the 3G groups I mentioned in Chapter 7, to reduce their personal emissions and to encourage their friends to do so as well. One speaker, a climate scientist, talked about efforts already underway to develop a plan for net zero (from the Paris agreement), with the aim of keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. This included measurable actions to reduce carbon emissions per degree of warming.
There was also discussion about how churches might disinvest any funds they have with those companies who emit the most greenhouse gases, as well as taking action by joining the boards of such companies to influence their future direction. A similar action brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, it would appear that such an initiative is already underway through an organisation called Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, based in London118.
There has also been a Green Bible119, which outlines text in green, which relate to environmental issues and teachings.
c). Other faiths
Other faiths making statements about climate change include Baha’i; Buddhism; Hindu; Islam; Sikh; Unitarian Universalist Association120.
It is possible, therefore, that combined interfaith initiatives on climate change may have more impact on the activities of the global population than the United Nations has been able to do. Indeed, in 1995, at a conference in Japan on Religions, Land and Conservation, a declaration was made – The Ohito Declaration121 – which stated ten spiritual principles:
- Religious beliefs and traditions call us to care for the earth.2. For people of faith maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems is a religious responsibility.3. Nature should be treated with respect and compassion, thus forming a basis for our sense of responsibility for conserving plants, animals, land, water, air and energy.
4. Environmental understanding is enhanced when people learn from the example of prophets and of nature itself.
5. Markets and trade arrangements should reflect the spiritual needs of people and their communities to ensure health, justice and harmony. Justice and equity principles of faith traditions should be used for maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems.
6. People of faith should give more emphasis to a higher quality of life in preference to a higher standard of living, recognising that greed and avarice are root causes of environmental degradation and human debasement.
7. All faiths should fully recognise and promote the role of women in environmental sustainability.
8. People of faith should be involved in the conservation and development process. Development of the environment must take better account of its effects on the community and its religious beliefs.
9. Faith communities should endorse multilateral consultation in a form that recognizes the value of local/indigenous wisdom and current scientific information.
10. In the context of faith perspective, emphasis should be given not only to the globalisation of human endeavours, but also to participatory community action.
That declaration was made 11 years ago and, although people of faith make up the majority of the world’s population, it is surprising that very little has been done so far to really get to grips with the damage to the environment and the planet that humans are responsible for. Perhaps the time has come for a new purposeful faith initiative. Table 7 gives a summary of the recommended actions proposed at the Ohiti Conference. Maybe it is time for all the religions of the world to take another look at it.
d). Other agencies
In chapter 7, I gave details of the European Environment Agency and the Green Economy Coalition, both of which bodies are providing suggested frameworks for moving away from a market economy, which has been so damaging, to a green economy. Maybe either or both of these agencies can be reinforced to be the body to create more urgent change than the UNFCCC has done.
There is also Forum for the Future122, an independent non-profit organisation, which works with business, government and other organisations to solve complex sustainability issues; they particularly focus on food and energy.
Recommended Courses of Action made at the 1995 MOA International Conference on Religions, Land and Conservation, held in Ohito, Japan
1. We call upon religious leaders to emphasise environmental issues within religious teaching: faith should be taught and practised as if nature mattered.
2. We call upon religious communities to commit themselves to sustainable practices and encourage community use of their land.
3. We call upon religious leaders to recognise the need for ongoing environmental education and training for themselves and all those engaged in religious instruction.
4. We call upon people of faith to promote environmental education within their community especially among their youth and children.
5. We call upon people of faith to implement individual, community and institutional action plans at local, national, and global levels that flow from their spiritual practices and where possible to work with other faith communities.
6. We call upon religious leaders and faith communities to pursue peacemaking as an essential component of conservation action.
7. We call upon religious leaders and communities to be actively involved in caring for the environment to sponsor sustainable food production and consumption.
8. We call upon people of faith to take up the challenge of instituting fair trading practices devoid of financial, economic and political exploitation.
9. We call upon the world’s religious leaders and world institutions to establish and maintain a networking system that will encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental life systems.
10. We call upon faith communities to act immediately, to undertake self-review and auditing processes on conservation issues on a regular basis.
A new body?
But some have no confidence in the United Nations and have no faith, so should we consider looking to form, or adopt, some of these other networks into a consortium, to bring about greater consensus about achieving measures to stop or reverse current trends? If so, how will these bodies be funded? Perhaps a global tax on all offending organisations would be apt, though probably unenforceable.
I leave this as a question for others in more influential positions than myself to answer, and/or implement, as necessary. Quite clearly there is a need for the nations of the world to stop seeing each other as competitors, rivals or enemies, for the desired results will not occur without global co-operation.
The Business World
There are businesses who are aware of the problems and who invest their profits in carbon reduction initiatives. These are showing the way for those large corporations who have been investing their profits in hiding the reality of climate change and in deceiving the public about their products and in paying so-called scientists to question the reality of climate change.
But so much more could be done, as it is often big business who has the financial resources to make a difference. Richard Branson played an active part in bringing The Elders together. As part of the business world (including the airline industry), which has brought us to the current dilemma, could he take a lead in getting business leaders together to understand, and rectify, what they have been responsible for, rather than burying their heads in the sand and continuing in their money-making at the expense of the planet. Recently, a podcast has been produced by Kyung-Ah Park123 of Goldman Sachs on “The Business Case for Climate Action”, as a result of attending the Paris Summit on behalf of this company. It is warming that some businesses are beginning to come up with strategies for the future.
How to make a global impact on the issues facing us
The writing of this book has changed my own attitudes and thinking. As a result I am no longer influenced by the rhetoric propagated by UK government and its economists to focus mainly on economic growth. For I know that, in promoting economic growth and redirecting funds to the business world, they are actually multiplying the effects of industrialisation and its by-products, which will further damage and destroy the ecosystems and atmosphere of this world.
I do not support initiatives to get involved in bombing countries far from our shores, in the name of national security, for I know that this all adds to the carbon footprint, as well as driving many indigenous people to flee their homes, adding to the thousands of refugees seeking new homes elsewhere.
But how can we reverse the centuries-old trend of global trade – of believing that free trade is a good thing? Trading systems and merchant cultures are at the root of all of the cycles I have described and I think I realised this when writing the End Piece to my first book.
There is still so much ignorance about the cycle of activities, described in the pages of this book. The general public tend not to see the urgency of the situation, or dismiss it as not their concern. If you have been influenced by the descriptions in the pages of this book, then use it to lobby for the changes that need to occur urgently.
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.
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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?
A local farmer’s market (From clipart)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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)
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.