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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

AustralianBushfire

koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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Hundreds of thousands evacuated as monsoon rains lash India

This event has hardly been reported in the UK’s mainstream media, apart from the report below, written by Alessio Perrone for The Independent on 12 August 2019:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/india-floods-death-toll-latest-kerala-karnataka-monsoon-climate-change-a9054586.html

At least 157 people died after the monsoon caused flooding and landslides in the Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, according to state authorities.

The water inundated more than a thousand villages and parts of a world heritage site, destroying bridges and causing dams to reach their full capacity.

Authorities cancelled train services in several flood-hit areas, while key highways and roads were damaged or cut off by the flood.
An aerial view shows a flooded residential area after heavy rains in Ahmedabad, India on 10 August 2019.

The monsoon, or summer rainy season, hits India, China and southeast Asia every year between June and September, affecting the lives of over a third of the world’s population.

In India, it accounts for nearly 80 per cent of the year’s rainfall, providing a lifeline for agriculture and drinking water stocks but also routinely bringing death and devastation.

“Mean rainfall is decreasing, but extreme events are becoming more intense,” said Kieran Hunt, Research Scientist in Tropical Meteorology at the University of Reading.

“This is because as the climate warms, the atmosphere is able to hold more moisture,” he said.

Mr Hunt cited the Kerala floods as an example: “The three worst floods in Kerala occurred in 1924, 2018, and 2019,” he said. “In other words, a 1-in-100 years flood has occurred two years in a row.”

“Irregular monsoon has become the new norm for India,” Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told The Independent.

“This year, the monsoon was severely deficit (35 per cent) during June, which was followed by heavy rain events in July and August.

“This is an emerging pattern for India’s monsoon: increasing droughts intermittent with heavy rainfall events.”

Mr Koll said that extreme rainfall events in India have tripled between 1950 and 2018, with many resulting in devastating floods. He put the damages at about US $3 billion (£2.5bn) per year.

While Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra have been the worst hit this year, several other states including Gujarat, Assam and Bihar have also seen heavy damage due to floods.


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Devinder Sharma writes about droughts in India

This is taken from a piece written by Devinder for Ground Reality on 13th June 2019:

Drought getting more pronounced in India, while cities in drought affected regions remain like an oasis.

The struggle for getting water
pic courtesy Livemint
As drought looms large in many parts of the country, more than 50,000 farmers from Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra have moved to nearly 500 makeshift cattle camps that the district administrated has built across eight talukas. “This has been our home since March this year. Problems galore at these cattle camps but we have little choice,” Dagru, a farmer told the media. They cook their meals at the camp and during the day go out looking for job.
At present, there are 1,501 cattle camps across Maharashtra.
As parts of Maharashtra faces its worst drought since 1972, another news report warns of fodder supplies running out for an estimated 10 lakh cattle housed in these camps. While the state government is thinking of setting up more cattle camps, this time for sheep and goats as well, I shudder to think how the farming families are surviving in these cattle camps. And yet I marvel the sensitivity and compassion some well know economic writers have demonstrated by saying there is no visible farm crisis !
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis has allocated Rs 1,300-crore for these cattle camps. With the prices of cattle feed soaring, the government has raised the daily allowance for cattle contractors to Rs 100 per cattle per day and Rs 50 for each calf. The cattle are milked twice daily, but over the weeks the milk yield is coming down. Obviously, with the fodder supplies getting scarce in a worsening drought situation is beginning to take its toll. Water is supplied regularly by tankers.
Writing in The Wire, journalist Sukanya Shantha brings out the pain and agony that hapless families, including women who carry their children along, are undergoing: “What can we do, anyway? We would also like for our children to continue going to school but there is no one to feed them in the village right now,” Lalitabai Jhimmal was quoted. Her three children, in Classes VII, V and III, have been squatting at the camp along with her, intermittently attending their school. “There is no water in the village. Here, at least, we have water to drink,” says the eldest one.
With the houses locked, many nearby villages have become empty as the villagers have moved along with their cattle to the cattle camps. This is despite the fact Maharashtra had vowed to become drought free by 2019.  Instead, with 72 per cent Maharashtra hit by drought, and approximately 43.4 per cent of the country reeling under drought, an estimated 600 million people have been hit hard by an acute water crisis in the country. As crop land become parched, most of the land lying fallow, crops wither and fail, the soaring temperature has made life difficult in the drought-affected villages.
But the biggest tragedy is the appalling disconnect that such a devastating drought has with the city dwellers. People living in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which has 500 cattle camps in the district, are by and large oblivious of the severity of the drought only a few kilometres outside the city premises. Life goes on as usual, as if everything is normal in the rest of the district. Not only in Ahmednagar, every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that people in the city even realise that Karnataka too has been reeling under a severe drought. In 2017, a severe drought prevailed, and as many as 139 of the 176 taluks were declared drought hit. And this year too, nearly 82 per cent of Karnataka is reeling under a drought. But go to Bangalore, you will not even get a hint of a terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
Such is the disconnect that life in any mega city does not even give an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 10 kms away. I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is it that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? For instance, I travel to Bangalore very often, at least four times a year, and never have I returned with a feel of an acute water-stress that the people are faced with.
But how long will the cities continue to be like an oasis in an otherwise dry and parched landscape? That’s a big question. But a recent report by Niti Aayog warns that 21 cities – including the four metropolis Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of ground water by 2020, just a year away. Since ground water provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 100 million people are expected to be hit. I am not sure whether water availability will be down to a trickle in these cities, but for sure the emphasis will shift to farmers advising them not to waste water.
Farmers have always been a soft target. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire blame shifts to farmers. In Punjab, free power and water guzzling crop like paddy have always been the target. They are now being advised to go in for drip irrigation for which the government is being asked to provide 80 per cent subsidy. But a fact no one wants to acknowledge is that the consumption of water in the cities is no less a culprit. At a price of about 4 paise a kg, water supply is almost free for the urban consumers. While the farmers are being asked to go in for drip irrigation to reduce water wastage when was the last time you heard urban consumers being asked to do away with showers in their bathroom?

Every time someone uses the shower for about eight minutes roughly 65 litres of water goes down the drain. A typical bathtub, of the size 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, can contain 300 litres of water. If a luxury hotel has on an average 100 rooms, imagine 30,000 litres of water being drained simply for bathing every day. This is not fair. We can’t force the poor farmers alone to make sacrifices while we allow the rich to bathe in luxury.

 



And another piece in The Tribune by Devinder Sharma:

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/india-is-drying-up-fast/789376.html

India is drying up, fast

Devinder Sharma

Devinder Sharma, Food and Agriculture Specialist

Traditional water bodies and harvesting systems need urgent revival

“Congratulations to all… we have achieved 50 degree temperature this year. Let’s cut more trees to achieve 60 degrees the next year,’ a sarcastic tweet the other day came as a jolt. It was, however, hard to tell whether the quiet sarcasm was lost on a majority of the readers who are following Twitter or had made more and more people sit up and think.

Whatever had been the impact, the fact remains that while 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record in the past 140 years since the world began to keep a track on temperatures, NASA expects 2019 to be still hotter. The heat is therefore on. In India, a 22 per cent deficit has been recorded in pre-monsoon showers in the months of March, April and May — the second lowest in the past 65 years — and with monsoons delayed by a fortnight or so, daily temperatures have been sizzling. Churu in Rajasthan has already crossed 50°C thrice this season, and even Delhi burnt at an all-time high of 48°C.

With nearly 43 per cent of the country engulfed in a drought, an estimated 600 million people are reeling under its fury. With temperatures soaring, water sources going dry, parched lands staring as far as one can see, ‘hundreds of villages have been evacuated as historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water’, reports The Guardian. In Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, such is the wrath of a continuing drought that over 50,000 farmers have shifted to 500 camps meant for cattle. There are 1,501 cattle camps in Maharashtra, where 72 per cent of the area is faced with a drought. Reports say village after village around the capital city of Mumbai has been deserted. More than 88 per cent of Karnataka is somehow surviving under a severe drought. With 156 of the 176 talukas declared drought hit, Karnataka has faced 12 years of drought in the past 18 years. 

Karnataka’s economic survey for 2018-19 projects a growth rate of minus 4.8 per cent in agriculture.  Therefore, while drought has taken a heavy toll on standing crops and also crippled the farming-led economic activity, not only in Karnataka, but also in nearly half the country, adequate attention is finally coming to the declining groundwater levels. With the conundrums of water conflicts between states, between communities within a state, and as well as individuals standing in queues increasing over the years, policy makers are now realising the importance of conservation. Already the alarm has been raised with a recent report by Niti Aayog warning that 21 cities — including the four metropolises — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of groundwater by 2020. Since groundwater provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 600 million people may be hit.
 

But the problem of groundwater depletion is not only confined to the cities. In fact, it is because of the unbridled exploitation of groundwater that even a short dry spell turns into a more destructive drought. At most places across the country the rate of depletion exceeds 0.5 metre a year and often touches 1 metre. Add to it the reduced availability of water from shrinking rivers; the resulting water crisis has reached worrying levels. Reports say the water availability from the mighty Narmada has declined, from 30.84 million-acre ft in 2007-18 to 14.80 million-acre ft in 2017-18. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates water levels in 91 reservoirs falling to 18 per cent of their capacity. Moreover, water from numerous dams is being diverted from agriculture to meet the needs of the urban areas, including drinking water. This has added to farmer protests, leading to rural-urban conflicts.  

Over the years, the emphasis shifted from water conservation, water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Revival of traditional water bodies, which could have played a major role in drought-proofing, received lip service. Restoration of ponds and measures for recharging groundwater remained incomplete, abandoned or preceded at a slow pace. There still exist close to 2 lakh traditional water bodies, ponds and tanks across the country which need to be revived. In Punjab, where 110 of the 138 blocks are in the ‘dark zone’ (over exploited), the revival of the 15,000 ponds and traditional water bodies could not only help in recharging groundwater, but also providing irrigation. So far, only 54 such ponds have been rejuvenated. Strangely, even in Rajasthan, instead of reviving the excellent water conservation structures perfected over the ages, the emphasis is on drip irrigation. Not even a drop of rainwater was allowed to go waste in these baoris. In Karnataka, an estimated 39,000 traditional ponds and tanks existed. While nearly three-quarters of them have dried up, encroached upon or turned into sewage dumps, there is still a sizeable number that can be revived. Meanwhile, Karnataka has launched a jalamrutha scheme under which the traditional water bodies would be rejuvenated. But the pace needs to be hastened.

Although Karnataka is trying to preserve the kalyanis, and Odisha has the kutta and munda water systems, the traditional wisdom association with water harvesting has been more or less lost. Several years back, travelling to Texas A&M University, I was surprised to see the traditional water harvesting structures of Tamil Nadu being followed. The Centre for Science and Environment had published a book, Dying Wisdom, listing all traditional harvesting systems.

In the age of borewells, the emphasis has to revert to traditional harvesting. Recharging the depleting groundwater in a sustainable manner is urgently required. But this cannot be in isolation. Destroying forests, water bodies, catchment areas in the name of development must cease. Otherwise, crossing the Rubicon may turn out to be catastrophic.”



 


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Glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas and Andes are set to disappear by 2050

An article in today’s Guardian reports that glaciologists at ETH Zurich have been studying glaciers in the European Alps and they predict that to thirds of the ice in these glaciers will have melted by 2100, as climate change forces up temperatures.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/two-thirds-of-glacier-ice-in-the-alps-will-melt-by-2100/ar-BBVLhlO?ocid=spartandhp

The researchers said the loss of the glaciers would have a big impact on water availability for farming and hydroelectricity, especially during droughts, and affect nature and tourism.

Another study on the ice fields in the Himalayas found that these also will melt, with serious consequences for almost 2 billion people in the valleys below.  In addition, to the glacier concern, Nepal is sending a group of expert climbers to remeasure the height of Mount Everest amid concerns that the devastating 2015 earthquake in the country caused the peak to shrink. It is the first time the country has sent its own government-appointed team to conduct a survey of the world’s highest mountain. Officially, Everest stands at 29,029ft – but this figure was calculated by an Indian team back in 1954. Since then its actual height has been widely debated.

Another study reported in 2009, showed that Switzerland’s glaciers had reduced by 12% of their volume in the previous 10 years. Switzerland’s glaciers equate to about two thirds of the volume of Lake Geneva. Similar reports come from researchers studying glaciers in the Andes.

Swiss glacier

A Swiss glacier

See:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090622064813.htm

The Himalayan glaciers may have an even more important function, as they are reducing at a similar rate to those in the European Alps, despite being higher and therefore colder. More than 700 million people in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan get their water from rivers that come from the Himalayan glaciers. India has been ranked the most vulnerable country to climate change by risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft. 113 million people in the country are vulnerable to dangerous levels of flooding. More than 300 million are vulnerable to drought and more than 700 million to extreme local storms.  The melting glaciers just compound all these issues.

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/why-the-indian-himalayan-glaciers-may-be-the-most/

Glaciers are unique because they are reservoirs of fresh water, have sheer mass and their ability to move, as they flow like very slow rivers.



20.6.19

Financial Times report states that glaciers have been melting twice as fast as they were during 1975-2000.  This was taken from a report on 19th June 2019 in Science Advances:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/6/eaav7266

entitled “Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years” by J.M. Maurer, J.M. Schaefer, S. Rupper and A. Corley.  The abstract for the article states:

“Himalayan glaciers supply meltwater to densely populated catchments in South Asia, and regional observations of glacier change over multiple decades are needed to understand climate drivers and assess resulting impacts on glacier-fed rivers. Here, we quantify changes in ice thickness during the intervals 1975–2000 and 2000–2016 across the Himalayas, using a set of digital elevation models derived from cold war–era spy satellite film and modern stereo satellite imagery. We observe consistent ice loss along the entire 2000-km transect for both intervals and find a doubling of the average loss rate during 2000–2016 [−0.43 ± 0.14 m w.e. year−1 (meters of water equivalent per year)] compared to 1975–2000 (−0.22 ± 0.13 m w.e. year−1). The similar magnitude and acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas suggests a regionally coherent climate forcing, consistent with atmospheric warming and associated energy fluxes as the dominant drivers of glacier change.”

glacierHimlayas

Imja Tso, a glacial lake in the Mt. Everest region, did not exist on trekking maps 30 years ago. Today it is 2 kilometers long and the region continues to warm. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times



14.8.19

A Guardian report from Iceland about the loss of a glacier there, written by Andri Snaer Magnason, about how they are mourning the loss of the OK glacier.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/14/glaciers-iceland-country-loss-plaque-climate-crisis?CMP=share_btn_link

A plaque has been developed to remember the OK glacier, which has now lost its status as a glacier:

Iceland plaque

According to current trends, all glaciers in Iceland will disappear in the next 200 years. So the plaque for Ok could be the first of 400 in Iceland alone. The glacier Snæfellsjökull, where Jules Verne began his Journey to the Centre of the Earth, is likely to be gone in the next 30 years and that will be a significant loss. This glacier is for Iceland what Fuji is for Japan.



 


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Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) in India starts an urban afforestation project

cere-header-2

CERE’s Urban Afforestation Project (UAP) is increasing the green cover in Indian cities by helping companies, organisations, and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.

CERE calculates the amount of carbon sequestered at each plantation site, taking into consideration species type, age of saplings and projected growth rates. Sequestration values are calculated as projections over 5, 10, or 15 years. Carbon Sequestration Certification is an integral part of the program and clients are provided with a CERE Offset Certificate at the end of the plantation and assessment.

See the locations at which plantation drives have been held and added information on this new website.

cere-team

Katy, Rashneh and colleagues – full list here

CERE’s Rain Water Harvesting programme has proved to control floods and our Carbon Map and Cap project is also growing from strength to strength, helping major companies to go green by mapping their carbon emissions and determining their carbon footprint and thereafter, helping achieve reduction targets to cap their carbon emissions.

Their Schools for Solar programme started this year with three institutions being solarised and the project will expand further next year to cover many more schools and colleges. CERE’s educational books, posters and e-learning courses are being used by various stakeholders.

As they say, most parts of India receive a high amount of solar radiation for 250 to 300 days in a year which-eventually adds up to a potential of producing 6,000 million GWh of energy per year. All will hope that – as soon as possible – the country will tap this resource to generate electricity on a large scale.

With acknowledgements to:  https://notthembutus.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/news-about-the-work-of-cere/



 


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India: new contract for 500 megawatt Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan

The Financial Times has outlined details of this project, which went up for auction in May.  The companies which won the bid have said that they can build the project for 2.44 rupees ($0.04) for every unit of electricity eventually generated. The article was written by Kiran Stacey from New Delhi and published on 1st November 2017.  See:

https://www.ft.com/content/4dca7f72-b31d-11e7-a398-73d59db9e3299?accessToken=zwAAAV-azb9Akc9Nyn9ysx0R59OjmHPVnbnjmQ.MEQCID3mnYDb7NVXzpn9wAPEMb7C6IwZUIHs5MHMvp8lsZK8AiBs5deHUvR6sQJI9vkbwoRdq_62CK-xxB3Zy7cuLTijAQ&sharetype=gift

This detailed and interesting article provides a number of facts about India’s place in the renewable energy field.

  1.  India’s solar power tariffs have reduced from over 8Rs/Kwh to 2.44Rs in the last six years.
  2. Solar power in India has grown at double digit rates over the last six years.
  3. There are plans to increase India’s solar capacity by 76% more in 2017 than in 2016, which will make India the third largest solar market globally. An interesting graph is included in the FT article, which shows that China is by far the leading solar industry around the world.  In second place is the USA, though their additional capacity has dropped in the last year.  The capacity of Japan and Germany is also dropping, which has enabled India to soar into third place.
  4. The price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in recent years, due to over-production.
  5. At present, 60% of India’s energy is coal-powered, so there is still a long way to go, though the reducing price of solar panels makes the solar industry much more competitive.

The FT article mainly focuses on the economical effects of these changes and the risks associated with them.

However, it makes sense for this to happen, in view of the rising temperatures experienced in India in the last few years.

India_heat_wave_large-1-678x381

Map of India showing high temperature areas during recent heat wave

And now, further details of the new solar development in Rajasthan have come to me, as follows:

The winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords. 

Further details can be found at:

https://chssachetan.wordpress.com/2017/12/30/indias-development-of-solar-energy-1/


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Predictions: climate refugees to reach 50 million by 2050

From the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/climate-refugees-rising-seas_uk_59b7d86fe4b027c149e2564e?

It has been predicted that by 2050, the number of climate refugees could rise to 50 million.

The global sea level rose about eight inches in the last century. The rate in the last twenty years, however, is nearly double that of the last century.

Sea level rise is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting ice sheets and glaciers and the expansion of sea water as it warms. The current NASA estimation is that by 2100 the sea levels will rise by up to four feet – depending on how quickly land-based glaciers melt.

Small island nations and cities built on water will be affected the most.

50 million people will be displaced from their homes due to sea level rise.  That is 10 times the number of Syrian refugees.

The question is – where will they go?

The full 32-minute video, covering an expedition to Antarctica, can be seen here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/end-of-the-earth-watch-huffpost-uks-first-documentary-here_uk_59bbe848e4b0edff971b86eb?

It has been made to look at the issue of climate change from a different perspective, though I find that the style of  presentation and editing, though not meant, tends to trivialise the whole issue.  However, it includes some important footage of Trump and other climate change deniers, as well as interviews and footage from people from a variety of countries across the globe, including the Marshall Islands and India.

November 2017:  A new approach to the issue of climate refugees is being pioneered by New Zealand.  See the full report at:

https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-11-03/new-zealand-considers-climate-migration-visa-pacific-islanders-fight-stay

New Zealand could become the first country in the world to recognize climate change as a valid reason to be granted residency, according to an interview with a government minister on Tuesday.

The nation’s newly elected government is considering creating a new visa category for Pacific Islanders displaced by climate change. If implemented, New Zealand’s proposal would offer up to 100 humanitarian visas per year as an experimental — and unprecedented — trial.

The 1951 Refugee Convention does not cover people displaced across borders due to climate change. Though Fiji had previously committed to providing future climate refuge to Pacific neighbours, the New Zealand proposal marks the first time a developed country has considered addressing the international legal protection gap with a regional visa agreement.

Further discussion of this offer, with especial reference to Kiribati, can be found in the blog entitled The Effects of Sea Level Rise on Island Nations.

woman_kiribatiA woman swimming at high tide near her house in Kiribati 2017

 

 


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Heat waves in UK and US – effects of global warming? What about India? The Middle East? Pakistan? Iran? Portugal? Africa?

June has been really hot here in the UK and there are reports that the USA is experiencing similar high temperatures. In July and August in Europe, temperatures have risen into the 40s, with a heatwave named ‘Lucifer’, and reports that snow is melting in the Italian alps and increased deaths due to heat stroke.

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USA: A report from USA Today has said that due to the heat, American Airlines have had to cancel several flights from Phoenix, as follows:

The extreme heat forecast for Phoenix on Tuesday has caused the cancellation of 20 American Airlines flights out of Sky Harbor International Airport. 

According to a statement from American Airlines, the American Eagle regional flights use the Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Tuesday’s forecast for Phoenix included a high of 120 degrees, and the flights that are affected were to take off between 3 and 6 p.m. MT.

Customers affected were told to contact American Airlines for rebooking options or to request a refund.

Extreme heat affects a plane’s ability to take off. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and the hotter the temperature, the more speed a plane needs to lift off. A runway might not be long enough to allow a plane to achieve the necessary extra speed. “

Are we to experience more and more of these excessive temperature events? After all, every one of the last three years has been the hottest on record. Will this be enough to change Donald Trump’s mind about the Paris Agreement?

Another report in the Huffington Post on 14th February 2018, cites a study from Princeton University, which predicts that, by 2100 most cities are set to become unbearably warm. Thanks to a combination of impenetrable, concrete surfaces and lack of moisture in the surrounding areas these cities will become hot spots during a heat wave.  By 2050, it is predicted that 70% of the world’s population could be living in cities.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/by-2100-cities-are-going-to-become-unbearably-warm_uk_5a841b3be4b02b66c513b133?ncid=webmail

In the UK, 2017 was the hottest June since 1976.  I can remember the heat in that year – but somehow it felt like a dryer heat then. Still uncomfortable if you were out in the sun but not quite as sticky and debilitating as this June has been.

And whilst we are feeling the effects here in a temperate country, let us not forget those hotter countries where they are experiencing even higher temperatures than normal. And the devastating forest fires in Portugal, France, the USA and Australia.

IRAN

Iran, having the highest ever recorded temperature in June 2017, with Pakistan not far behind, both well into the 50s Celsius.

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Ahvaz in Iran, which reached the highest ever recorded temperature on 29th June 2017, a staggering 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit

Heat waves are more easily attributable to climate change, according to scientists, because there is a clear connection between carbon absorbed in the atmosphere and temperature rises. Such extreme heat put the residents of Ahvaz in serious danger for dehydration, heat fatigue, heat cramps, heat stroke, and other illnesses. For the elderly, these risks are amplified.

Parts of Iran have also struggled with extreme droughts in recent years, which is threatening the country’s water sources and harming agriculture. Lake Urmia, for instance, once the sixth-largest saline lake in the world, has lost 90% of its water since 1970.  Taken together, Iran is experiencing climate change more intensely than many other countries in the world.

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India

India_heat_wave_large-1-678x381

My book finishes with a quote from Devinder Sharma from India. Here is part of what he wrote in 2016 (and 2017 has been even worse):

It has now become even more obvious than before that the world we are living in has
changed profoundly in the last five years. Every passing year is turning out to be hotter
than the previous. It is just the middle of April but vast tracts of India are reeling under
scorching heat with temperatures zipping past the 40 degrees mark. In 13 States, April
temperature is higher by 8 degrees from the average. This will only intensify, as the
season warms up.  India is on the boil, literally………….

“We are now in mid-April and I can already feel the average temperatures creeping up. While we can survive, my thoughts go out to the 700 million people reeling under two consecutive years of drought. With wells almost dry and walking on a parched land they will now have to confront an unkindly hot sun. Some reports say wells have dried to a level in Marathwada not seen in past 100 years. Another report tells us that 133 rivers have dried in Jharkhand. To make matters worse, a BBC report indicated that the government might pipe Himalayan water and carry it all the way to the parched lands. After all, this is the surest way to add to GDP!

The relatively well-off in the cities, towns and suburbs have the facility to switch on an air conditioner or an air-cooler but imagine the plight of majority population who have no
other option but to survive under shade, be it at home or under the tree.
Water bodies have dried up. Many studies point to a steep fall in water levels in major
reservoirs to the levels that are lowest in a decade.”

Sharma also reports that, in the previous year (2015), there were 1,500 deaths from the effects of heat wave in Andhra Pradesh alone.

Pakistan has also felt the effects of extreme heat.  The photograph below shows people in Lahore cooling off in a water channel.

PAKISTAN-WEATHER

AFRICA

And in Africa, there are more famines and drought and more starving children.  Also, from the following website:

https://newrepublic.com/article/143019/one-meal-day-lake-chad-vanishes-seven-million-people-starvation

came this report:

Not so long ago, Lake Chad was one of the largest bodies of water in Africa. The thick reeds and vital wetlands around its basin provided vast freshwater reserves, breeding grounds for fish, fertile soil for agriculture, and grasslands where farmers grazed their animals. In 1963, it spanned almost 10,000 square miles, an expanse roughly the size of Maryland. But as climate change has taken its toll, the lake has shrunk by 90 percent. Today, only 965 square miles remain. Wetlands have given way to sand dunes. Farmers have abandoned their fields. Those who still live by the lake struggle to survive, beset by chronic drought and the slow onset of ecological catastrophe.”

0281-lakechad-EN_0

Update August 17th 2017

Now today, I have received a report to say that July 2017 has been equal first in being the hottest global temperature since records began.  And yes, it is equal with July 2016!  July is traditionally the hottest month of the year globally and the last two Julys have been the hottest ever.

The researchers from England, France, Switzerland, and the U.S., found that climate change made the intensity and frequency of the extreme heat at least twice as likely to occur in Belgium, at least four times as likely in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and central England, and at least 10 times as likely as Portugal and Spain.

The unusual heat was not limited to Europe, either.

On July 21, Shanghai, China, which is the most populated city in the world with 24 million residents, set a record for its hottest day since record-keeping began there in 1872. The high temperature on that day was 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40.9 degrees Celsius, and it fits with a pattern of hotter weather in that city.

The planet has not had a cooler than average month since December of 1984.

The graph below shows seasonal temperatures from 1884 to 2017.

https-blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.comuploadscardimage5647026012232f-acd6-4098-828f-491dbac30eda

Can we continue to ignore these facts and behave as if nothing is happening?

I believe that we are seeing the beginnings of climate change effects that can only get worse if nothing is done to reverse the trend.


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End Piece Two

CHAPTER 10

I started this book by talking about my love of nature and how it had been present in me from a very early age and I shared that the fauna of this world have a very special place in my heart. And I saw how this special world of ours, originally so much in harmony and balance, was systematically being destroyed by the hand of man.

I cited an article by American scientists which argues that most of the life forms living on this earth will have become extinct in only three generations, with maybe humans becoming extinct at about the same time too. Hence the title of this book became: “Three generations Left: Human Activity and the Destruction of the Planet”. These scientists may be wrong about the dates and about the mass extinction but I believe that there is sufficient risk to rouse me into writing a book about it and attempting to show how other, apparently disconnected factors, have added to the risk.

The book has been targeted at the average person in the street, because I feel that the message in it has to become worldwide knowledge before serious actions are likely to be taken to reverse the destruction. There are too many vested interests to keep the status quo but the status quo will not be good enough any longer.  We need radical system change.

The message in this book has not yet become universal knowledge.  This was emphasised for me recently when I attended an anti-austerity workshop in Birmingham.  A group of 50 or so thinking people had come together to discuss what might be the alternatives to the present Chancellor’s austerity programme.  We were split up into groups of five and given a poster to write down key factors that we considered to be important as alternatives to austerity.  Then the groups were split up again, so that a different set of people was going through the same exercise.  This happened four to five times.  The thing that astonished me most was that each group seemed to have an entirely different list, though common themes did emerge.  The other thing that astonished me was that the majority of people saw no link between anti-austerity and a green economy; indeed, many people did not know what a green economy was. Nobody mentioned loss of species and few were aware of the links between economies, trade, population increase, the industrial revolution, wars etc. that I have described in this book.

Whilst it was a shock to discover this lack of knowledge amongst thinking people, it has also been a spur for me to proceed to the publication of this book.

I have also been concerned that ordinary people, who are not particularly thinkers but who regularly read the red-top tabloids, have been strongly influenced by the lies that are, frequently and without conscience, spread across the pages and headlines of the daily papers that they read.  I am sad that they have been so misled by a mixture of divisive rhetoric, scandal-mongering and fear-inducing falsification that is the situation we are living with today. How can people tell the difference between the truth and lies, when this is frequently being peddled to them by a frenzied media who gain from the tax breaks handed out to them through austerity economies, and who pander to the corporations because they want to receive advertising revenue from them to help them to balance their own books.  They have no conscience about the lies that they propagate.

This is nothing short of corruption and it occurs, not only in today’s media, but also in the business world, amongst the super-rich and in many politicians in power today, throughout the world. Several corrupt dictators have been brought down but others seem to get away with it because deceit and lies is their second nature and, if something is repeated often enough, people begin to believe in it as the truth.  A good example of this was during the last two general elections in this country, when Conservative politicians repeated over and over that the Labour party were responsible for the 2008 recession and were weak on the economy.  Many people believed this and voted the Conservatives into power as a result; the truth of the matter is that the 2008 recession was a world recession and the UK was not the only country to be affected by it. The recession was caused by banks being able to create too much money too quickly and used it to push up house prices and speculate on financial markets, so that debts became unpayable.


fig80


Figure 80 showing that the 2008 recession did not only occur in the UK but also in the Eurozone and the USA (From: https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/7157/economics/to-what-extent-did-eu-recession-cause-uk-recession/  Source ONS IHYQ)

From the same source as the figure above, is a bar chart of the UK economic growth during that same period, which shows that the economy had recovered before the 2010 general election began.  And the truth of it is that, those who make this claim to be “strong on the economy” are actually not strong at all because the market economy as it stands at the moment (and as described in previous chapters), is actually destroying our beautiful world.  This is not only occurring in the UK but in other countries too who have market economies. So, relentlessly pursuing a market economy is not the answer to the world’s problems. It is positively dangerous.

The other point I want to make in this “End Piece Two” is about how power corrupts.  When people get into a position of power and take rather dodgy actions from that position, and get away with it, never being taken to task by anyone, they gain in confidence to do it more and more, each time taking bigger and bigger risks.  Thus, some politicians will go so far as to change their country’s laws and constitutions to improve their chances of staying in power.  This has happened in some African countries (e.g. Zimbabwe and now Uganda) and is currently happening in the UK, as constituency boundaries are being changed to improve the Conservative’s chances of hanging onto power, as well as giving monetary handouts to Tory-run councils and squeezing the others. And their ability to do this is, of course, being fuelled by the super-rich.

In the last 35 years in the UK, we have had three Prime Ministers who held onto power for longer than usual and, towards the end of their terms of office, I noticed that these three began to have a manic gleam in their eyes. You could say they went power mad.

We have just had another budget in the UK issued by the present Chancellor, George Osborne and yet again, it is peddling this worn-out ideology of austerity measures, this time hitting disabled people even harder.

And, at the moment the media are in a frenzy about a forthcoming referendum to be imposed on the British public about whether to stay in the European Union or whether to come out, most of the frenzy being xenophobic or racist in nature.  I fear this is a distraction.  It is not the main issue we should be concerned about. If the earth on which we live is in danger, it is neither here nor there as to whether the UK is in Europe or not.  The media, and the present government, is focussing on the wrong issue.  Let us work together to ignore this distraction and to set a new agenda. An agenda to save our planet.

So, I will quote again from the “End Piece” to my first book:

“To reverse current trends, and to prevent the destruction of the world, there is an urgent need for co-operation between nations, in which the commonality of the human condition is stressed, rather than its diversity.  Then, mankind might find a way to tackle global warming, to alleviate extreme poverty and to frustrate exploitation by the merchants.”

fig81

Fig.81

From: http://www.catchnews.com/environment-news/cop-out-on-climate-change-will-paris-summit-achieve-anything-1448814544.html

Reproduced with permission from catchnews

 

And I will end by adding a quote (with permission) from Devinder Sharma in India, which is receiving much of the increase in global temperatures:

It has now become even more obvious than before that the world we are living in has changed profoundly in the last five years. Every passing year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. It is just the middle of April but vast tracts of India are reeling under scorching heat with temperatures zipping past the 40 degrees mark. In 13 States, April temperature is higher by 8 degrees from the average. This will only intensify, as the season warms up.

India is on the boil, literally.

This is just the beginning of the summer months. In the next three months, before the monsoons set in, the heat wave is going to deadly. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted that the summer months this year will be warmer than normal across the country in all meteorological sub-divisions of the country. This year, unlike in the past, heat wave conditions are likely to hit more of central and north-western parts of the country. In fact, this is becoming quite visible with the hills facing very high temperatures.

I don’t know why the IMD uses the word ‘warmer’ to describe sweltering heat conditions but shooting mercury has already taken a death toll of 130. If this is ‘warmer’ by IMD definition, I shudder to think what it would mean if it were to use the word ‘hotter’ instead?

Last year, 1,500 deaths from heat wave were reported from Andhra Pradesh alone.

Now, let us look at the rising graph of mercury. According to NASA, 2015 was the warmest year ever since it began to keep record. But a year earlier, in 2014, the world also lived through the warmest year till then. In other words, mercury has been rising with each passing year. And now, meteorological predictions globally point to a still warmer 2016. Let me add, India is not going to be an exception. The IMD too points to a deadly heat wave in the months ahead. Its predictions shows that ‘all temperatures’ maximum, minimum and mean for most sub-divisions from northwest India, Kerala from south India and Vidharbha from central India are likely to be above 1 degree C.

If you thought January was unusually warm this year, let it be known that February was still warmer. Globally, February 2016 was the hottest month known based on the long-term averages drawn. NASA had used the word ‘shocker’ to describe the unprecedented warming it measured for the month of February and warned of a ‘climate emergency’. The average global temperatures in February were higher by 1.35 degree C. In India too, February was unusually warm this year with average temperature hike fluctuating between 1.5 degree and 2 degree.

But March has now turned to be the hottest. As per the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) March has ‘smashed’ all previous records. Data compiled by Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that the March temperature was higher by 1.07 degree, based on an average since 1891. Data released by NASA also shows that March temperatures have beaten the past 100-years records.”

fig82

Fig.82
A drying out water hole in India, surrounded by thirsty animals

We are now in mid-April and I can already feel the average temperatures creeping up. While we can survive, my thoughts go out to the 700 million people reeling under two consecutive years of drought. With wells almost dry and walking on a parched land they will now have to confront an unkindly hot sun. Some reports say wells have dried to a level in Marathwada not seen in past 100 years. Another report tells us that 133 rivers have dried in Jharkhand. To make matters worse, a BBC report indicated that the government might pipe Himalayan water and carry it all the way to the parched lands. After all, this is the surest way to add to GDP!

The relatively well-off in the cities, towns and suburbs have the facility to switch on an air-conditioner or an air-cooler but imagine the plight of majority population who have no other option but to survive under shade, be it at home or under the tree.

Water bodies have dried up. Many studies point to a steep fall in water levels in major reservoirs to the levels that are lowest in a decade. Reports of several rivers drying up are also pouring in, Tungbhadra in Andhra Pradesh being one of them. But while the media remained embroiled in the controversy surrounding IPL matches following the Mumbai High Court directive to shift them outside Maharashtra, the nation has failed to focus on what is clearly a ‘climate emergency’.

What should certainly be more worrying is that each year is turning out to be hotter than the previous. Quoting JMA, a report in The Guardian says: ‘every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.’ The way the temperature is climbing every month, it seems the records will go on tumbling as we step into the future. Is this because of the climate change or not is something for the scientists and policy makers to conclude but as far as I am concerned the climate is already changing.

Can we do something? Yes, we can. There are already a number of stories of hope – of how ordinary people have made efforts and demonstrated the will to make a difference. Just to illustrate. From Anna Hazare’s water harvesting techniques in the famed village of Ralegon Siddhi in Maharashtra to the tiny but forgotten village of Sukho-Majri tucked away in the Shivalik hills in Haryana, such examples are aplenty. This is just one way to minimize the impact. Several other alternatives and solutions have also been prescribed.

It’s therefore high time to take a fresh look at what development means. Policy planning must shift to address the emerging issues linked to human survival at times of worsening climate. I am not sure whether the two-years of back-to-back drought followed by an unprecedented heat wave have given any jolt to policy planners. We seem to be simply waiting for a normal monsoon to provide a succour, and wash away the dark realities.”

India is on a boil, literally. ABPLive.in April 16, 2016
http://www.abplive.in/blog/india-is-on-the-boil-literally


Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 4/26/2016 05:30:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Trading Systems, Deficits and the Concept of Growth

CHAPTER 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for McDonalds in Japan

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

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

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

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

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

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

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

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

25biggest

Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

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

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

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

The Volkswagen deception

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

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

Trade and Competition 1

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

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

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

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

OIL

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

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Fig. 35  An oil well

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

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

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Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

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

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

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Fig. 37  

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Fig. 38

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Fig.39

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

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

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

 Market Economies

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

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

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

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

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

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Fig.40

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

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

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Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

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

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Growth

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

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

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

Social Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

oecd

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

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

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

National Self-Sufficiency

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

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Fig.42

A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

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

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

Trading and Competition 2

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

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

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

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

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

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

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

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

 The Merchant Culture

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

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

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

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

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

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