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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Plastics and global pollution: the UK population want plastic-free supermarkets NOW – and more!

Of all the factors associated with the demise of our planet, the one which seems to have caught the public’s imagination is plastics and plastic pollution of the oceans and the damage that is being done to marine life by them.  And they want immediate action, as evidenced by comments on a recent BBC phone-in programme about the issue.

In the UK, watchers of the TV programme Blue Planet II, have had their awareness raised about the huge distress and death caused to many thousands of animals through plastic debris in the sea, as typified in the photograph of a dead penguin, caught up in plastic below:

penguin

This is just one example of the many horrifying and distressing photographs of creatures caught in plastic debris and fishing nets, which can be found by searching google images: turtles, seals, fish, sea birds and so on – all dead and dying because they have become trapped in plastic waste floating in the sea.

A sperm whale recently washed up dead on the Spanish coast and its stomach was full of 29 Kg of plastic, blocking its digestive system and causing its death.  Altogether a massive 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year.

And so, the public is beginning to demand that something be done about the use of plastic packaging for everyday products, much of it bought at the supermarket.

A letter from 200 MPs from seven different political parties urged the country’s major supermarkets to scrap plastic packaging.  And the Queen has also banned plastic straws and bottles from the royal estate.

Friends of the Earth have invited people to take a pledge to have a #PlasticFree Friday.

Prime Minister Theresa May also announced her proposed policies on plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and a tax on takeaway containers. She plans to limit all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years.   TWENTY FIVE YEARS!  ARE YOU SERIOUS?  The public want it banned right now.  Even the supermarket, Iceland’s plan to have no plastic packaging in their supermarkets in FIVE years time is not soon enough.  So, let’s get serious about this.

I grew up at a time when there were no supermarkets and I remember accompanying my mother to the local grocer, who would weigh out the goods she ordered, tip them into a brown paper bag, twist the corners to close it and then Mum would place it in her linen shopping bag and take it home.  No plastic in sight.

gapps-store-50-fulham-road

A small corner shop from the 50s – pre-supermarkets

It was encouraging therefore to hear about a man who has opened a plastic-free supermarket in Digbeth, Birmingham in July 2018.  See:

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/we-went-shopping-at-a-zero-waste-supermarket-thats-chucked-single-use-plastics_uk_5b3e22f6e4b07b827cbe2122

5b3e95d82000004200b96418

The plastic-free shop in Digbeth, Birmingham

And Greenpeace are campaigning for this too.  Let’s hope that the impact of the Blue Planet II series will also reach beyond these shores and set off a global response to this shocking issue.


Greenpeace have produced a youtube video, which describes the issues about supermarkets and plastics and whether “biodegradable” plastics are a good idea.  See:


An article by Roger Harrabin on the BBC website states that there is already an international law against polluting the oceans with plastic.  However, he comments that, as legal action needs to be taken by a country, rather than individuals, those smaller nations, such as islands, are unlikely to take the larger countries to the International Court of Justice.  The greatest plastic polluters of the oceans are China, India and Indonesia.  His article contains a map showing the biggest plastic polluters:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43115486


Turtles and plastic

A piece of research, carried out by the University of Queensland in Australia, has demonstrated that one in three sea turtles has eaten plastic.  This can kill them or make them very ill, as it can either perforate the internal organs, leading to septicaemia, or cause a condition called ‘floater syndrome’, which makes the turtle more buoyant and unable to swim down to lower depths to feed on sea grass.  As a result, sea turtles are now an endangered species. A short piece of video shows a turtle with floater syndrome.  See:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/03/17/turtles-marine-plastic_n_9455496.html

sea-turtle-in-grass1

sea turtle in sea grass

This is not about plastic but I insert it here because there is some news breaking from Australia that 99% of green sea turtles born in Northern Australia are now female.  This is due to global warming, as the temperature of the sand incubating turtle eggs can determine the gender of the hatchling.  Ultimately, this could lead to the loss of this species, with no male turtles to fertilise the offspring.


Microplastics found in tap water and sea salt

The Guardian reported on numerous studies which have found microplastics in tap water, bottled water and sea salt.  It is not yet known whether this has an effect on human health.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/08/sea-salt-around-world-contaminated-by-plastic-studies


The UK campaigning group, 38 Degrees, have recently emailed their supporters outlining successes they have had with their petition-focused campaigns.  The following is taken from their latest email about plastics:

In recent months 38 Degrees members have played a huge role in tackling plastic waste. In March, after months of campaigning from 38 Degrees members and other campaign groups, Environment Minister Michael Gove announced a plan to bring back a bottle deposits recycling scheme in England.

Here’s how we did it:

  • 329,314 of us signed the petition – one of the biggest in 38 Degrees history – demanding that Michael Gove did the right thing to tackle plastic pollution
  • We handed in the petition in style straight to 10 Downing Street – complete with a boat made of bottles
  • A huge 150,944 of us told the government what we thought about plastic and litter when they asked for the public’s thoughts
  • We chipped in fivers and tenners for polling to show that the public was behind the idea of a bottle deposit scheme and it made it into national news

 

And it’s not just the government that 38 Degrees members pressured into taking plastic waste seriously – we’ve convinced big businesses to change their ways too.

When Mike, a gardener from Wrexham in Wales, discovered his morning cuppa was harming the planet he started a 38 Degrees petition asking Britain’s biggest tea company, PG Tips, to remove plastic from their tea bags.

More than 200,000 of us joined his campaign. We signed petitions and spread the word among our friends and family. And when it seemed like PG Tips were ignoring the issue, we upped the pressure. Tens of thousand of us emailed them directly and wrote on their Twitter and Facebook pages…. And it worked! PG Tips announced they would aim to make their tea bags plastic free by the end of this year.

 



June 2018:

The BBC TV programme “Springwatch” featured the whole plastics issue this week and found groups of people in different parts of the country who were removing plastic waste from beaches and rivers.  Well done!

Another campaigning organisation, Global Citizen, have circulated an email on the subject of plastics, as follows:

“Today is World Oceans Day, a day to celebrate our beautiful oceans, and to take action to protect them — because they’re in trouble. 

Earlier this year, thanks to Sir David Attenborough and his epic BBC series Blue Planet II, we opened our eyes to plastic pollution, which is wreaking havoc on oceans, wildlife, and on people in the poorest countries who are often worst hit, but least responsible.

Now, we’re taking a stand against plastics that we use once and then throw away — like drinking straws, bottles, and bags — and we want governments and businesses to join us.

Click here to sign the petition calling on world leaders to take concrete steps towards reducing the use of single-use plastics. 

Plastic pollution has a detrimental impact on people’s health, with a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest. It pollutes life-sustaining rivers, causes diseases, and floods poor communities that lack proper facilities for collecting and disposing of waste.

The numbers are appalling. There are over 5 TRILLION pieces of plastic already in the ocean — and if we stay on our current trajectory, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

Change is happening. Countries like the UK are cracking down on plastic pollution by exploring sustainable alternatives, such as providing greater access to water fountains to reduce plastic bottle waste. Businesses like Tesco and Iceland are also pledging to tackle unnecessary plastic waste in their supermarkets, but we want to see more governments and businesses to follow their lead.

This World Oceans Day, take part in the plastic revolution: call on governments and businesses to commit to ending the distribution of single-use plastics, and to develop renewable alternatives that won’t threaten our planet — and the people who inhabit it. 

With hope,

Marissa and the Global Citizen team”


Many companies are now stating that they will phase out plastic straws but the dilemma is what to replace them with. Now, a new company is opening up in Wales to meet the demand. It is Transcend Packaging, based in Ebbw Vale and has already signed a deal with McDonalds to supply paper straws to their 1,361 outlets.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/17/paper-straw-factory-to-open-in-britain-as-restaurants-ditch-plastic-mcdonalds


At a European level, a new law has been proposed to ban single-use plastics but the EC is being lobbied by the plastics industry not to ratify this law.  As a result, a petition has taken off to get ordinary people to pressure the EC to maintain its proposals on plastics.  Europe is the world’s second largest producer of plastic. See:

WeMove.EU


Not all plastics are recyclable!

News is coming out that only a third of all the plastics that we put in our recycling bins can actually be recycled.  The black plastic trays frequently used for microwave meals cannot be recycled.  Nor can other items which may contain a mixture of different kinds of plastics.

According to the Guardian (4th August 2018), local authorities are saying that two thirds of plastics cannot be recycled and are sent to landfill or incinerated.  They are urging industry to stop using plastics to package their goods.  The LGA is saying that manufacturers should work with councils to develop a plan to stop the use of unrecyclable plastic and that the government should consider a ban on low-grade plastics.  They also believe that producers should contribute to the cost of collecting and disposing of plastic products.


September 2018

The UK government website state that there is strong public support for measures to reduce the use of plastics.  Here is the text of the statement:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/strong-public-backing-bolsters-fight-against-blight-of-plastic-waste

 

 


And, according to George Monbiot, the problem is not just about plastics but about consumerism:

Plastic Soup


October 2018

Greenpeace, in their newsletter “Unearthed” have announced that they have been following up what happens to plastics sent from the UK and other European countries to be re-cycled in Malaysia. They report the following:

We have a breaking story in the news. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic scrap that the UK sends abroad every year to be recycled.

For the past year, I’ve been finding out where it goes – and if it actually gets recycled.

Two weeks ago, we went out to Malaysia – where a quarter of UK plastic scrap exports are sent – to follow up on reports of illegal dumping there.

In the illegal dumps, we found: packaging for Fairy dishwasher tablets, Yeo Valley yoghurt and Tesco finest crisps, alongside plastics from Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Australia. In an adjoining recycling facility that was shut down months ago, we also found ripped-open recycling bags from UK local authorities discarded among a huge pile of plastic bags.”

You can read the story – and see all the pictures – here.



October 2018:

The Huffington Post published details of which company’s products contributed to most of the plastic pollution in the world.  This was derived from an analysis of 187,000 pieces of plastic found on beaches in 42 countries (249 clean-ups).

CocaCola, PepsiCo and Nestle produced the majority of the plastics analysed.

Coke branded plastic was found in 40 countries; PepsiCo and Nestle came second and third.

Other company’s plastics found in at least 10 countries were:

Danone, Mondelez, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars, and Colgate-Palmolive.

See:https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/coca-cola-nestle-and-pepsico-are-worst-brands-for-plastic-pollution-on-beaches_uk_5bbdb7fbe4b01470d0570227

Plastic in Cornwall

Picture published by Cornwall Wildlife Trust after a beach clean-up



January 2019

The Guardian has announced that it is phasing out the polythene wrappers that have been used to enclose its additional reports at weekends.  Instead of using polythene, it will now use wrappers made of potato starch.  These can be recycled in a composter.  See:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46849937



March 2019

A report in The Guardian tells the story of a young Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up on a beach in The Philippines.  It had 40 Kg of plastic in its stomach and had died of gastric shock.  The plastic included 16 rice bags 4 banana plantation bags and multiple shopping bags.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/18/dead-whale-washed-up-in-philippines-had-40kg-of-plastic-bags-in-its-stomach?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwMzIy&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email



March 2019

The European Union passes legislation to remove single-use plastics.

According to the European Commission, more than 80% of marine litter is plastics. The products covered by this new law constitute 70% of all marine litter items. Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Plastic residue is found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore in the human food chain.

seal in plastic

Parliament approved a new law banning single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds sticks.  560 MEPs voted in favour of the agreement with EU ministers, 35 against and 28 abstained.

The following products will be banned in the EU by 2021:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
  • Single-use plastic plates
  • Plastic straws
  • Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
  • Plastic balloon sticks
  • Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups

New recycling target and more responsibility for producers

Member states will have to achieve a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will have to contain at least 25% of recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

The agreement also strengthens the application of the polluter pays principle, in particular for tobacco, by introducing extended responsibility for producers. This new regime will also apply to fishing gear, to ensure that manufacturers, and not fishermen, bear the costs of collecting nets lost at sea.

The legislation finally stipulates that labelling on the negative environmental impact of throwing cigarettes with plastic filters in the street should be mandatory, as well as for other products such as plastic cups, wet wipes and sanitary napkins.

Quote

Lead MEP Frédérique Ries (ALDE, BE) said: “This legislation will reduce the environmental damage bill by €22 billion – the estimated cost of plastic pollution in Europe until 2030. Europe now has a legislative model to defend and promote at international level, given the global nature of the issue of marine pollution involving plastics. ”



May 2019

A recent report states that Sir David Attenborough has warned that the growing tide of plastic pollution is killing up to a million people as year as well as having devastating consequences on the environment.

A report on the impact of plastic pollution, one of the first to document the impact of discarded plastic on the health of the poorest people in the world, estimates that between 400,000 and one million people die every year because of diseases and accidents linked to poorly managed waste in developing countries.

Bali beach

Plastic waste on a beach in Bali, Indonesia

Sir David, whose Blue Planet TV programme alerted the world to the damage plastic was wreaking on the oceans, says that the effects of plastic pollution is an “unfolding catastrophe that has been overlooked for too long”.

He said it was time to act “not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world”.

“We need leadership from those who are responsible for introducing plastic to countries where it cannot be adequately managed, and we need international action to support the communities and governments most acutely affected by this crisis,” he said.

Just one in four people around the world have their rubbish collected so plastic and other waste often ends up discarded in the environment, blocking waterways and drains. This leads to flooding, which, in countries with poor sanitation, leads to outbreaks of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, as well as drowning. Discarded plastic also provides a fertile ground for disease vectors such as malaria- and dengue-carrying mosquitoes which breed in the rainwater collecting in waste.

The report also highlights the link between plastic waste and air pollution. For many in low and middle income countries the only way to get rid of plastic and other waste is to burn it, releasing toxic fumes into the air.

The effects of microplastics on human health is still unknown.



Also, in the news this week is a report that the deepest ever submarine dive in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean has taken place and that plastic waste was found on the floor of the ocean even at this deep level.



The Guardian – May 24th 2019:

The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns.

Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.

This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday.

The contribution of plastic production and disposal to climate change has been largely hidden, say the authors of the report by the Center for International Environmental Law, which estimates the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave for the first time.



 


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Bringing it all together and a way forward

CHAPTER 9

So there we have it!  A plethora of human activities which have put the harmonious cycles of our beautiful planet out of balance, leading to loss of habitat for many species, increasing global temperatures, climate change, extreme weather events, melting of the ice caps, raised sea levels, deforestation, acidification of the sea, space junk, accumulations of waste plastic and the threat of a mass extinction – all related to increasing carbon emissions, a process which may never be reversed unless urgent action is taken.

And, alongside of this, there has been the rapidly increasing human population, now seven times greater than at pre-industrial levels, leading to a multiplication of the destructive effects of human activity and loss of habitat for many species. Each of these activities has an inter-connectedness, which has led to a situation where a domino effect may take place, one factor triggering another factor, the total effect of which may make our planet unstable and uninhabitable in just three generations:

  • Industrial revolution, which did not end pre-1900 but which continued with an ever-increasing momentum, through the IR Continuum, to the present time;
  • Increasing human population, multiplying the effects of the IR;
  • Changes to economies from local agrarian economies to market economies, which encourage further industrialisation and rewards businesses who increase manufactured production;
  • International and multinational trading patterns, adding to the IR Continuum and leading to local situations where more is imported than is exported, and politicians desiring to take action for more and more economic growth; such actions are counter-productive, adding to the carbon load;
  • Greater divisions between the rich and poor in the world, leading to migration, unrest and wars, and with the rich contributing considerably more to climate change than the poor and with wars adding to the carbon footprint.

Fig. 75 attempts to show how all of these factors are interrelated and how each is contributing to ecological instability, both in its own right and by interaction with the others.  For example, the increasing human population has a multiplying effect on all the others; weakening economies result in increased efforts to promote economic growth, which multiply the effects of industrialisation, trading systems and global travel; increasing affluence of the super-rich provides a multiplying effect through increased multi-national trading; poverty in some areas being related to deforestation in order to grow crops to survive, this has the effect of reducing the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthetic cycle; market economies exaggerate the effects of the industrial revolution and its continuum, as well as affecting trading systems; greater unrest in the world, leading to wars, which add to the carbon load.

fig75

Fig. 75:  Our beautiful planet no longer in harmony due to ten of the

                interrelated factors at work in the world today

I hope I have made a convincing case about the urgent need for change in the ways in which the global human population organises its affairs.  To bring this change about needs a complete re-think by everybody, a complete change in the way in which we go about our normal lives and our business (see also Naomi Klein8).

As this book has unfolded, and during the writing of it, I have learnt so much myself – but this new learning has also opened me up to seeing things in a totally different light. It has been a revolution in my own thinking and responses. So, what started as a gut instinct has been transformed into an urgent imperative. I hope it does the same to you as well.

Many of the things that clutter up our lives, or make our lives more comfortable or exciting, have been produced at the cost of the planet.

So, some of the questions that have come to me, I will pose also to my readers:

  • Can we continue to slavishly follow consumer trends? Buying the latest gadgets, regardless of whether they have been transported across the world, thus increasing carbon emissions?
  • Can we continue to use our motor cars just to travel down the road to the shops or the school?
  • Should we continue to import foodstuffs that can be produced in our own country by our own farmers?
  • Can we continue to rob other species which share this planet with us, of their habitats?
  • Can we continue to clutter up the space around our planet with redundant and unused space junk?
  • Can we continue to fill our oceans with discarded, non-biodegradable plastic, which can also kill many marine species?
  • Can we continue to support the free-trade movement, which feeds into further industrialisation and the IR continuum?
  • Can we continue to give tacit support to a market economy, which rewards those companies and individuals who selfishly add to the carbon footprint of our planet?
  • Can we continue to support those industries which make unheeding use of fossil fuels in order to make a profit for themselves?
  • Can we continue to let the super-rich control most of the systems of the planet to feed their own greed, at the expense of the planet and of the poorest of the poor?
  • Can we continue to use nuclear power and manufacture nuclear weapons, when there is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste?
  • Can we continue to go to war at the drop of a hat, when the carbon emissions released in such a war, add substantially to the carbon footprint of the planet?
  • Can we continue to trade in weapons and spend vast amounts of money in producing them, when many millions of people across the world go hungry?
  • Can we continue to allow the rich and multi-national companies to evade taxes, at the expense of supporting poorer nations to drag themselves out of poverty?
  • Can we continue to ignore the comfortable relationship that our governments have with the business world, which leads them to take decisions which support the business world, regardless of the damage they are doing to our planet and at the expense of the majority of the population?
  • Can we continue to take long-haul holidays, travelling across the world, using airlines, which are one of the worst polluters of the atmosphere?
  • Can we continue to give birth to babies, when the planet is already over-populated, with humans robbing many beautiful species of their habitats?
  • Can we control or curb the results of human curiosity and inventiveness? Or should it be channelled into less world-destroying end-products, such as innovations to produce clean energy?
  • Can we put sufficient pressure on our politicians to change direction regarding current economic thinking, the mathematics of which are flawed?
  • Can changes in the economy be introduced in time to save the planet?
  • What are the risks of changing trading practices on the economy?
  • What if one country makes changes and is exploited by other, less scrupulous, nations?
  • Will big business play ball?
  • What about the rich super elite? Will they recognise the urgency of the situation and change their behaviour to a more altruistic approach?
  • Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?

So many questions have come to me and I am sure that other questions have come to you too as you have read this book.  There are so many decisions we need to take as well, both as individuals and as nations and global citizens.

Some groups are looking at the issue of climate justice, in which reparation is made by the greatest polluters, to poorer countries whose way of life is severely affected by climate change. Indeed, this formed part of the COP21 Paris agreement.

fig76

Fig.76:   ©Joel Pett, with permission

Reasons for the lethargy

Of course, many people already realise and understand about the damage we have done to the planet, as a species, and many people are already taking action across the globe, but there seems to be a lethargy to make the significant changes needed, so I will address this too.

Part of the lethargy is, I think, due to the success of the big business-climate-change-deniers, who have influenced people to think that the scientists are wrong and that there is nothing to worry about. Naomi Klein8 addresses this issue strongly in her book, “This Changes Everything”, as she places most of the blame for the desperate situation we face today, firmly in the courts of the big corporate businesses. In her opinion, they have used their money, and lots of it, to establish a climate-denial movement, in which the credibility of the climate scientists is attacked and the seriousness of global warming is minimised. She identifies a strong right wing caucus, which sees those campaigning for climate action, as a group of left wingers who wish to establish their own political agendas on the rest of the world. They also see it as a new battle they must fight in much the same way as they fought communism during the Cold War.  And they believe that they can use their $ millions to protect themselves from climate change disasters. In her view, they have little empathy for the victims of global warming and climate change, especially the poor in developing nations and island states; their attitude to such people is cruel and nothing short of racism.

Another reason for the lethargy is, I believe, that the whole concept of another mass extinction caused by climate change is too horrendous to think about and, in a way, unthinkable. Thus, people blank it out and just concentrate on their own lives and their normal agendas for the next few years.  It is easier to do this than to institute, and campaign for, the major lifestyle changes that are needed to avert this crisis. And it is easier to label people who, like me, write books to raise the issues, as doom-mongers, greenies or left-wing loonies.

I have come across people who look at the greenness of the English countryside, stretching for mile upon mile and, looking at the lovely green foliage, they cannot take on board that this is likely to disappear and so, like others, they dismiss global warming as unlikely.  The problem with this approach is that, we probably will see the countryside looking greener for a while, as plants and trees, in response to the increased carbon dioxide in the air, will produce more chlorophyll.  This may have a minimal effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide. But the mind-set fails to acknowledge that ocean acidification is already taking place and rises in sea levels have already swallowed up some islands (five of the Solomon Islands, for example), that coral is bleaching and that the ice caps are melting at increasing rates.  And that, whilst some areas are greening, other parts of the world are being ravaged and scorched by unprecedented temperatures and others suffering more and more wildfires and bush fires due to tinder-dry conditions (see also the quote from India at the end of chapter 10).

The scientist James Lovelock, who described the Gaia Hypothesis and who came up with methods to measure CFCs in the atmosphere, followed up his thesis with a warning124.  He comments in his book that:  “… it seemed there was little understanding of the great dangers that we face. The recipients of climate forecasts, the news media, government departments, the financial market – normally as skittish as blushing teenagers – and the insurance companies all seem relatively unperturbed about climate change and continued with business as usual until their world, the global economy, almost collapsed.”

Human Responses to warnings

One of the things that I find quite intriguing is how some people fail to take heed of warnings, a fire alarm for example. Whilst I get up, grab my things and run out of the door to the nearest fire exit, most people just carry on as if nothing had happened.  The same thing happens on motorways, when warning messages urge you to slow down because there is some hazard ahead.  Why is this?  Of course, these could be false alarms but why take the risk?  I can remember reading an article once about a tragedy when a ferry sank, drowning many people on board.  It would appear that those who survived were the ones, who reacted immediately and made extreme efforts to get to the upper decks and the lifeboats.  Are people unable to visualise a hazardous and different future?  Why do we continue to live for the present even if it makes the future more risky?

In an article in the New Scientist125, Robert Gifford, a Canadian environmental psychologist looked at the psychological reasons why people have failed to take action on climate change.  He came up with 33 reasons, which he grouped under certain headings.  I’ll attempt to give a short summary of them:

  1. LIMITED UNDERSTANDING

Gifford believes that humans are far less rational than was once believed and gives a list of 10 reasons why humans are not acting on climate change. The reasons range through sheer ignorance, limited brain power, not knowing what to do about it, a lack of priority to climate change because it does not seem to be causing any immediate problems, hearing the message so often that we switch off to it (message numbness), not understanding the urgency of the situation, due to poor reporting, undervaluing distant and future risks, a tendency to over-optimism, a perception that climate change is a complex global problem, so people think that their own behaviour will have little or no impact. Some have a fatalistic bias because they think nothing can be done, even by collective human action. People with doubts about the reality of climate change tend to read newspapers or listen to broadcasters which reinforce their convictions.  Also, studies show that, when people view the time they have available to do something in monetary terms,they tend to skip acting in environmentally friendly ways. Some think they are unable to take climate-friendly action because they don’t have the knowledge or skill and some claim they are unable to take certain actions, such as riding a bicycle or changing their diet.

 

 

fig77

Fig. 77

  1. IDEOLOGIES

Gifford believes that there are four broad belief systems that inhibit climate-positive behaviour. These include a strong belief in capitalism, a tendency to justify the status quo, a belief that a religious or secular deity will not forsake them or that “Mother Nature will take a course that we mere mortals cannot influence” and a belief that technology will be able to solve all the problems.

This category of Gifford’s has resonance with Naomi Klein’s views, though he does not place it first, as she has.

 SOCIAL COMPARISON

Gifford believes that, as humans are social animals, we will gravitate towards the choices of people we admire, so that, if they are climate change deniers, we will also deny that it is happening.  He also believes that, if we see others not changing their behaviour, we will think, “Why should I change if they don’t?” So this also leads to inaction about climate change.


fig78


Fig.78:  From: Justin Bilicki, with permission

We buy things and spend money to make our lives more comfortable and some of these will not be climate-positive.  They include financial investments, in a car, for example, or working in a fossil-fuel burning industry. Habit can also lead to repeating actions which increase climate change, in order to keep life more ordered and regular; people also have conflicting goals, values and aspirations, which do not always accord with climate friendly actions. People have strong aspirations to “get ahead” and their actions may compete with climate change goals, such as buying a larger house or car, taking an exotic holiday for example. This is a form of the consumer culture, which I mentioned in an earlier chapter. Gifford also believes that people get attached to a place and may thus oppose nearby wind farms (Nimbyism).


fig79

 


Fig.79  From : Joe Heller with permission

4.  DISCREDANCE (OR DISAPPROVAL)

When people think ill of others, they are unlikely to believe what they say or take direction from them.  For example, many people mistrust scientists, government officials or politicians, so do not take on board what they are saying. Some programmes have been introduced by government to encourage climate-friendly behaviour (such as solar panels at reduced costs) but are not considered by some to be generous enough. Large numbers of people in most countries do not believe that climate change is happening and so deny it; they are called climate change deniers and would include ordinary people as well as those with vested interests in using fossil fuels.

In chapter 3, I discussed the attractiveness of the concept of freedom and many people may struggle against what they consider will restrict their freedom.  This includes big business, which strongly adhere to the free trade movement.

  1. PERCEIVED RISK

Some people may consider that changing their behaviour and/or possessions is risky (eg buying an electric car, cycling instead of driving) or cost them too much or they may be afraid of being judged or teased by their peers for their choices.

  1. LIMITED BEHAVIOUR

Most of us engage in some climate-friendly actions but these are not enough and may be just tokenistic.  Others may make positive changes but these are cancelled out by other actions they take, which are not so climate-friendly.

It is helpful knowing the reasons why more action against climate change has not taken place but, in acknowledging these, we must also find ways to reduce their effect. In reading through them, I can find examples within my own behaviour amongst the lists, as well as in people I have discussed the issue with.  For example, I have found people with a strong sense of fatalism about it (“What will be will be”), as well as those who react as if its old hat: “We’ve heard it all before. What’s new?”  I feel that perceived risks also feature very strongly and the government could do much more, by providing more generous subsidies for conversion to solar panels, for example, and by encouraging the motor industry to develop greener cars, which do not have perceived operational problems.

At the start of this book, I mentioned that it took me 22 years to begin to write it, after first becoming aware of the clouds of pollution hanging over each of the cities that I visited on my world trip in 1994. So, I have been part of the lethargy in a way that seems to hit most people to one degree or another. When I look back over those 22 years, I can see that I have been altering my behaviour in small ways to be more climate friendly, though like others, not by enough. Also, when I returned from my world trip in 1994, there were other imperatives for me to attend to, most of which have been described in my second book (The Desert will Rejoice). During that trip, I was introduced to many models of good social projects for working with the urban poor and marginalised and I became involved in developing or founding some new inner city projects. And I also had two other books to write – the story of my journey and the inspiration behind these inner city projects.  So, global warming and climate needs went to the back of my mind. But they didn’t totally disappear. Maybe a similar thing happens to others – we all lead such busy lives. Being too busy to take action about global warming may be another thing to add to Gifford’s lists.  But I am glad that I eventually became jolted into researching and putting together the evidence for this book.

And, for those who are still in denial after reading this book, I have just one thing to say “JUST LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE” and let it work on you, just as the clouds of hazy pollution I saw in 1994 eventually worked on me.

2015 has been the hottest year on record, this last winter too has been the wettest, with excessive rainfall leading to devastating floods in the north of England and elsewhere, causing £250 million worth of damage.  The immediate reaction of people who have had their homes flooded is to accuse the government of not spending enough money on flood defences.  This is important but, far more important is that they lobby government to do more to reduce carbon emissions nationally and to take a global lead to institute some of the changes necessary to avert global climate disaster. Just focussing on flood defences is an example of limited understanding (cognition) from Gifford’s lists.

Is the idea of global co-operation to save the planet realistic?

This is a question I posed earlier in this chapter and it is worth looking at the difficulties in more detail.  Global co-operation is the idea I have promoted throughout this book because I believe it is the only way to produce the kind of rapid changes in human activity that are needed if we are to save the world from destruction.  We are all in this together, so the divisiveness promoted by some groups and countries is just not appropriate.  The world is facing a crisis and we need to join hands and work together to solve it.

So, what are the factors which are likely to limit global co-operation? I list some of them below:

  • The massive size of the global population;
  • Differences in national priorities, ethos and cultures;
  • Differences across the world in how climate change is affecting individual countries;
  • Lack of trust between nations;
  • Ideological differences;
  • Other crises seem more important to address, such as terrorism, migration etc.;
  • Risks to national economies;
  • Fears that other nations will not do likewise;
  • Fears of being left behind in trading competitiveness;
  • Unwillingness to give up prestigious possessions, power and status.

Unless some of these factors are overcome, then global co-operation will not occur.  They are all challenging but I do believe that the human intellect is capable of finding ways to take global co-operation forward.  What is less likely to happen is to find the will to do it.

In the meantime

In the meantime a group of UK climate activists found themselves in the dock recently.  The following is a post on Barbara Panvel’s website “Antidote to doom and gloom” which describes what happened.  The five activists had whitewashed the walls of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and painted on them, in black: “The Department for Extreme Climate Change”, to expose the department’s hypocrisy.

The five activists, members of the Climate Change Action Group, were ordered to pay £340 each at Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The defendants, who represented themselves, did not dispute their presence at the scene or the actions attributed to them, but argued that they had a ‘lawful excuse’ under section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.126

DECC was not fined.

Their letter, which was handed in to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, made many powerful points. In a preamble, they declared:

Climate change is not one in a number of issues to be addressed. A stable climate is a fundamental need on which the maintenance of our civilisation and the earth’s abundant life relies. There will be no economy, health or security to speak of on the planet towards which we are currently heading”.

Edited extract from list of actions June-Sept 2015:

In 2009 G20 countries, including the UK, pledged to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. But on the 19 March 2015: George Osborne announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil, on top of a whole series of previous measures, including support for further exploration:

16 June: The European Union says the UK is set to miss its EU target of generating 15 per cent of its energy (not just electricity) by renewable methods, despite being set one of the lowest targets of all EU countries.

17 June: On the evening of the Big Climate Lobby on the 17th June, when thousands met with their MPs to ask them to put climate as a priority, you announced the first of your ‘cut-the-green-crap’ policies, that new onshore wind farms (the cheapest form of renewable energy) will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned.

25 June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70% of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes such as wind farms that couldn’t raise cash elsewhere. The sell-off means it may no longer focus on risky green schemes, and most of the profits will not go to taxpayers. By contrast, a similar US scheme is set to make $5 billion profit for taxpayers on $30 billion-worth of loans. Companies it helped include Tesla Motors, which paid back its loan early.

30 June: The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020. Its recommendations include taking action to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon energy, such as by extending existing short-term schemes to a 10-year timescale.

Ruth Jarman, one of the five members of the Christian Climate Action demonstration, who are deeply concerned about climate change and its impact on God’s creation, the lives of people now the world over, and future generations, said:

We do not agree with today’s judgement. The point of the law is to maintain justice, stability and order. Climate change threatens all these things so fundamentally that the law should be used to defend those who are trying to stop climate change, not those who are creating it. We think DECC should have been in the dock, not us. The department speaks fine words, but with its actions scuppers any possibility of global action to tackle climate change.”

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh reminds us that without such acts in the history of the United Kingdom, the vote would not have been conferred on non-land owning citizens, nor on women and slavery, or forced child labour in our factories would not have ended. He said:

“The actions of these protestors were a non-violent and peaceable way to expose the hypocrisy of current UK government energy policies. The UK has the potential still to lead the world towards the new sustainable energy economy that the climate crisis calls for and this type of action is essential to the democratic process in the UK.”

I believe that we will see many more actions like this, as the world in which we live gets more and more unstable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The industrial revolution

CHAPTER 2

The most significant development, which is being linked to the environmental changes we are seeing in our world is the industrial revolution, so I will deal with it in some depth from an historical point of view, so we can all see how it came about and how it is still continuing.

Britain is considered to have been the birthplace of the industrial revolution which, historians say, took place during the period of 1760 to 1840.  Before this, societies were mainly rural and the daily existence of small communities revolved around farming.  Life was difficult, with the majority of people on low incomes, so many were malnourished and diseases were rife. People produced most of their own food, clothing, furniture and tools, with manufacturing (cottage industries) being carried out in homes or in small, rural shops, using hand tools or simple machines.  The industrial revolution was to completely turn this around, having an impact on every family in the land and on their way of life.

Several factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialisation and it was a politically stable society. At the time, it was also the world’s leading colonial power, which meant that its colonies could serve as sources of raw materials, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.  As demand for British goods grew, merchants needed better methods of production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the whole factory system.

One of the first inventions to spark the industrial revolution was in the textile industry: by the spinning “jenny”, invented by an Englishman James Hargreaves in 1764. It was later improved on by others, and led to the power loom, which mechanised the process of weaving cloth, leading to the production of textiles on a wide-scale.  Industrialisation of the textiles industry meant that some craftspeople were replaced by machines. This led to the Luddite Rebellion in 1811-1813, in which textile workers protested against the newly developed labour-economizing technologies which replaced them with less-skilled, low-waged labourers, leaving the craftsmen without work.

Industrialisation of the textile industry was followed soon after by the development of the iron industry. Englishman Abraham Darby discovered a cheaper, easier method to produce cast iron, using a coke-fuelled furnace and then, in the 1850s, British engineer Henry Bessemer developed the first inexpensive process for mass-producing steel. Both iron and steel became essential materials, used to make everything from appliances, tools and machines, to ships, buildings and infrastructure.

Fig.16: Image of the Industrial revolution in Britain

The steam engine was integral to the industrialisation process. In 1712, Englishman Thomas Newcomen had developed the first practical steam engine (which was used primarily to pump water out of mines) but, by the 1770s, Scottish inventor, James Watt, had improved on this and the steam engine went on to power machinery, locomotives and ships in the years that were to follow.  Some say that the steam engine represented a second phase of the industrial revolution though many of these new technologies did overlap.

 Coal mining became a major industry in the 19th century, as coal and/or coke was needed to power up the factories, as well as the engines running the railways and steamships.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a greater volume and variety of factory-produced goods and raised the standard of living for many people, particularly for the middle and upper classes. However, life for the poor and working classes continued to be difficult. Wages for factory workers were low and working conditions could be dangerous and monotonous. Unskilled workers had little job security and were easily replaceable. Children were part of the labour force, often working long hours and involved in hazardous tasks. In the early 1860s, one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile industry were younger than 15.

fig17

Fig.17 Children working in a textiles factory (From: www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk)

Children in the coal mines

Fig.18: Young boys working as miners during the industrial revolution

From: http://historylearning.com/great-britain-1700-to-1900/indrevo/coal-mines-industrial-revolution/

Additionally, urban, industrialised areas were unable to keep pace with the flow of workers arriving from the countryside, resulting in inadequate, overcrowded housing and polluted, unsanitary living conditions in which disease was rampant. However, conditions for Britain’s working-classes began to gradually improve by the later part of the 19th century, as the government instituted various labour reforms and workers gained the right to form trade unions.

The invention of the steam engine led to significant improvements in transport, from largely horse-drawn methods to the introduction of steam-powered engines for ships and railways. Steam powered cars first appeared in the late 19th century but these were to be replaced later by the, more popular, petrol driven engines.

The Motor Car

The history of the development of the motor car is well-known to us, as is the rise in the use of motor cars in the last 100 years, which has been phenomenal, with many households now being 2 or 3-car families, or even more. The thing that underlines this to me is the change in the road where I grew up.  In the 1950’s, there were no parked vehicles on this road and goods were often delivered with horse-drawn vehicles.  When I last visited this street, in 2005, there were cars parked on both sides of the road, with room for only one vehicle to pass between them; woe betide if anything was coming the other way.  Traffic jams are now a world-wide phenomenon, particularly in capital cities.  My visits to Bangkok and Manila in 1994 were an eye-opener; in both of these cities, if you wanted to get anywhere by car and quickly, you had to leave home very early in the morning.

fig19

Fig.20 Takeover by the motor car

With petrol being a major culprit in contributing to carbon emissions, it would be expected that vehicles propelled by cleaner forms of energy would be starting to take over from petrol and diesel-driven vehicles but a chart published by Statista.com17 shows that the total number of new vehicles registered in the UK has been on the increase and few of these use alternative fuels. The actual numbers for the UK in 2014 were:

%

Petrol fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,184,409               47.8

Diesel fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,240,287                50.1

Alternative fuel vehicles new registrations               51,739                  2.1

So, the small increase in the use of alternative fuel is minimised by the continuing dominance of petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles and the ever-increasing overall numbers of cars being used on the roads.

From another source (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – SMMT)18, I have obtained further information about the preferred type of alternatively-fuelled cars during 2014, compared with 2008 and 2011.  The figure below shows that there is an increase in purchase of these vehicles over the six-year period, with a 25% increase between 2013 and 2014.

fig20

Fig.20: SMMT New car registrations for 12-month periods 2008, 2011 and 2014

©2016 SMMT Ltd. All Rights Reserved        Source: AIS 0207 235 7000

The continuing increase in vehicles of all kinds on the roads may be as a result of increases in the human population, or in an increased interest in driving by the developing countries of the world, as they try to catch up with the lifestyles of the developed countries. However, a recent initiative by Mexico City, to reduce the amount of pollution and smog in their capital city, has been to ban all vehicles from their roads for one day per week.

In the Netherlands in 2013, 1.4% of car sales were fully-electric vehicles and the Netherlands are currently second in the world (behind Norway) in adopting the highest number of fully electric plug-in vehicles19. Owners of these vehicles are already eligible for tax breaks and parking spots – a not surprising development in view of the vulnerability of this country to flooding as sea levels rise. A number of Dutch politicians are proposing the banning of gas and diesel-powered vehicles from 202520.

The large-scale production of chemicals, then cement, glass making and gas lighting also began during the industrial revolution.  Communication became easier with inventions, such as the telegraph and, in 1866, a telegraph cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic.

Thus Britain was the seat of these massive changes in industrialisation but it was not long before it spread, first to countries in Western Europe and then to America, being well established in these countries by the mid-19th century.  By the early 20th century, America had become the world’s leading industrial nation and remains so. Japan’s industrial revolution began in about 1870 but other large eastern nations followed much later. China’s was not until 1979 to 2000 and it still continues to escalate. India came under the East India Company at the time of the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, so there was some technological progress (such as the introduction of railways, canals, modern banks and postal system) but no significant advances during the 19th and 20th centuries, due to problems caused by some major famines and factional rivalries and wars, though India has been a major supplier of raw materials to Britain.

However, there are some people who believe that Britain’s colonisation of India and the sequestration of its resources, set that country back years, leading to the destruction of many forests, loss of land rights and the subversion of its education and cultural traditions, especially associated with arts and science (W. Pereira and J. Seabrook, 19964,21.

‘Follow Green Living’22 talks about the Uttarakhand (flooding) disaster, which was caused by deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that every minute, forest area equivalent to 36 football fields is lost, along with 137 species of plants, animals and insects, which totals 50,000 species a year.

fig21

Fig 21: INDIAN weavers at the 1886 colonial and Indian exhibition in South Kensington; copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

fig22

Fig.22: Deforestation in India

Some countries have still not become industrialised and continue to be mainly agrarian, rural or nomadic communities.

Other changes associated with the industrial revolution

During the industrial revolution there were changes in the economy, society and culture, perhaps some of the most significant changes in human history. It was much more than just a mechanization drive. It was also an epoch in European social history that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the development of the latter. So, there was a change from family-based economies, organised around and within agrarian communities, to an economy organised around a factory system, dependent on owners and managers, and on businesses and their productivity. The factory replaced the home as the centre of production. The industrialists running factories pressured governments to spend money on infrastructure (railways, roads, shipping etc), to foster free trade between nations, and not to interfere with businesses and the way factories were run. This change in the focus of the economy will be discussed in more detail in chapter 7.

The industrial revolution also saw the rise of banks and industrial financiers. A stock exchange was established in London in the 1770s; the New York Stock Exchange was founded in the early 1790s. In 1776, Scottish social philosopher Adam Smith, who is regarded as the founder of modern economics, published “The Wealth of Nations.”23 In it, Smith promoted an economic system based on free enterprise, the private ownership of means of production, and lack of government interference.  In the 21st century we have seen how the increasing power of banks has upset the balance of the economy, leading to vast profits for bankers at the expense of the average person.

So there have been many downsides to the industrial revolution, not the least of which has been the concomitant changes that have occurred to the earth’s ecosystems, its biosphere, to global temperature and to the earth’s climate.

The Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum

Historians now say that the industrial revolution was followed by a second one, which continued from 1870 to 1914, with advances in technology, and a 3rd one later which included the digitisation of manufacturing and the internet and others are now saying that we are entering a 4th industrial revolution, marked by further advances in technology, which will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another – included in this revolution will be advances in green technology.  I personally don’t think it is helpful to divide the industrial revolution into historical eras.  This is because I believe that the chain of events the first industrial revolution initiated have continued to the present day. I call this process, which is still ongoing, the IR Continuum (ie the continuation of the first industrial revolution) and will use this name throughout the rest of this book.

Let’s look at a few of the things that have been invented since the late nineteenth century which, along with the industrial revolution, have changed the face of this planet and had a large impact on our experience as human beings living here.

  1. Electricity

The invention of electricity and the introduction of light bulbs by Edison in 1879 made a huge impact of the human way of life, as it extended the length of the day in which we could be active, from early morning until well into the evenings, as well as enabling people to work night shifts.

fig23

Fig 23: The development of the light bulb had a huge impact on society

The light bulb was followed by labour-saving devices, all powered by electricity; things for the home, such as washing machines and later dish-washers and the development of radio and television, as well as the motor car and other inventions described later in this chapter.  Whilst the motor car is powered by a petrol or diesel engine, electricity is needed to maintain and circulate that power.

 The problem with electricity of course is that, to generate it, we have been burning fossil fuels. And nuclear energy, now often promoted as a clean source of energy, is not the answer either as it has its own dangers from accidents (as in Chernobyl and Fukushima) as well as problems and dangers associated with disposal of nuclear waste. The present preferred means of generating energy are solar power, wind or water power but, as yet, they contribute to only a small proportion of electricity generation (see figure below, where renewable energy is marked as RE) and globally the proportion is even lower than that of the UK (see  Fig. 25)24.

fig24

Fig.24

Figure 24 shows UK electricity generation by fuel type since 1960.  In 2014, the UK electricity mix was 31% coal, 31% gas, 19% renewable and 18% nuclear. Chart by Carbon Brief using DECC data.  From CarbonBrief website: www.carbonbrief.org and http://www.carbonbrief.org/data-dashboard-energy-archive

And an interesting development in 2016 (also reported by Carbon Brief) is a 22% decline in coal use in the UK since 2014, coal now being replaced by renewables and nuclear power in the generation of electricity, as reported in The Guardian, 24th September 201525.

Changing to renewables is not a world-wide phenomenon, though.  The biggest problem is that the global use of energy continues to increase; it has tripled since 1965, as shown in figure 25, with coal, gas and oil being the major energy sources.

fig25

Fig.25 Global energy use by source, 1965-2014. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015. Chart by Carbon Brief: www.carbonbrief.org and http://www.carbonbrief.org/data-dashboard-energy-archive

Despite the small proportion of renewable energy shown in the global graph, there is hope, as The Guardian recently reported26 that at least five countries have shown initiatives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. For example: Uruguay gets 94.5% of its electricity from renewables, due to a hefty investment in wind, biomass and solar in recent years. Costa Rica went for 94 consecutive days earlier this year without using fossil fuel for energy at all, thanks to a mix of 78% hydropower, 12% geothermal and 10% wind. Iceland is able to tap geothermal sources for 85% of its heating, which with hydropower, enables this country to have 100% of its electricity from renewables. Paraguay has one huge hydropower dam at Itaipu, which supplies 90% of its energy and Lesotho gets 100% of its electricity from a cascade of dams that have enough spare capacity to export power to South Africa.

  1. Plastics

The first substance that could be described as plastic was Parkesine, produced by Parkes in 1862.  It was highly flammable, so later versions followed, such as celluloid, bakelite, artificial silk, cellophane, polythene etc. The great advantage of plastics is that they can be moulded into any shape that is required and much of our life activities today are surrounded and influenced by plastics in one shape or another. The downside of plastics is that most are not biodegradable.  So, the world now has many rubbish dumps, landfill sites and tips, all containing plastics, as well as other kinds of rubbish, the best example being that of Smoky Mountain near Manila.  In Britain, we are rapidly running out of landfill sites in which to dispose of our rubbish.  And we are told that our oceans are full of plastics, which damage marine life and wash up on beaches across the world.

fig26

Fig.26: An Indian boy walks by the Arabian Sea near Mumbai, piled with mainly plastic rubbish

A young Dutch student may have come up with a cheap solution with which to clear the oceans of plastic rubbish, using the pre-existing ocean currents27 but this is not yet tried on a global scale and there would still be a problem of disposal, once the plastic is collected.

  1. Weaponry

During the industrial revolution, there was a big development of new forms of weaponry, with hand-held weapons becoming ever more sophisticated and playing a major part in the First World War (1914-18).  By the time of the Second World War (1939-45), there had been a development of bombs, as well as the aircraft to drop them on enemy targets.  This culminated in 1945 with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 129,000 people immediately with many thousand others dying later as a result of nuclear fallout. Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since but are still owned by a number of countries, being used it is thought, as a deterrent to war.

Using weapons and bombs in war also has the effect of increasing carbon emissions.  For example, it has been calculated that, during the Iraq war, the total carbon emissions per year, as a result of the war, were higher than the emissions of 139 countries put together. This issue is of such importance that I have devoted a whole chapter to it (Chapter 6).

  1. Aviation

During the first half of the 20th century, there were huge advances in the manufacture of flying machines, first of all for early pioneers to fly over the great oceans but, later, to the development of passenger airlines, with some of the larger planes, such as the Airbus, now taking well over 500 passengers at a time.

fig27

Fig.27: The Airbus A380

In 1952, the first commercial jet flight took place and 24 years’ later, Concorde began its fascinating history.   Air travel has become so commonplace that it is now nothing special to fly to the other side of the world and back in a short space of time and to do it several times a year.

In her piece entitled “Counting the Cost”, written for the New Era Network in 200528 (and downloadable from their website, Molly Scott Cato MEP, a green economist, gave some compelling statistics about carbon dioxide emissions related to the aviation industry, the expansion of which has been completely unregulated.  Much of this increased usage of passenger airlines has been as a result of the expansion of tourism.  In 1990, CO2 emissions from aircraft accounted for about 2.4% of total emissions – they are projected to grow by another 3-7% by 2050 to approximately 10% of all emissions.  The entire transportation system accounts for about 25% of emissions. Global tourism increased from 8.5 million people in 1970 to 56.8 million in 2000. So, the current obsession with taking regular holidays (or mini-breaks) and flying around the world to some remote destination is a major contribution to the problems of global warming and climate change.  Yet, when people come into an unexpected financial windfall, the majority of them plan to use it first to take an overseas holiday. The effects of this on global warming are rarely thought of.  The airline industry is certainly not going to advertise their impact on climate change, for it might mean the loss of their business.

  1. Electronics, Space and the digital revolution

After the Second World War, we entered into an electronic era, the Space Age, satellite technology and the digital revolution, which began with the invention of the transistor in 1947, followed by computers, hard disks, microchips and microprocessors, recording devices for music and video/film, CDs, DVDs, iPODs, hand-held devices (calculators, 1972; mobile phones, 1983), computer games, smaller and smaller computers, the internet, computer software, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, smart phones, robots etc.

The development of space travel will be discussed further in the next chapter.

The Consumer Culture

The digital age has revolutionised the human way of life on a global scale, with vast advances in communication, which could never have been anticipated when the telegraph was first invented in the mid-1800s.  The downside of it is that some of the devices invented are superseded very rapidly by improved versions, leading to a throw-away culture, as people try to obtain the latest version of the devices they treasure.  All of this, of course, feeds into the escalation of the IR Continuum.

Whilst a significant number of people adhere to the consumer culture, wishing to have the latest invention in line with their friends and colleagues, there are those who are deeply concerned about it.  In fact, when I first talked about writing this book to some of my friends, the throw-away culture that we live in was the first thing that sprang to their minds.  Not only is it damaging to the planet, feeding into the IR Continuum and the accumulation of discarded items, it is also bound up with trading patterns and an obsession  with economic growth, as discussed in chapters 4 and 7.

Who are the worst polluters?

It is the industrialised countries that have contributed most to carbon emissions, though the whole world feels the effect of this.  And amongst the industrialised nations, some emit more per head than others.  Damon Matthews from Montreal in Canada has calculated climate debts for each country related to their population size. He sees those who pollute more than their fair share (i.e. above the global average), as being in climate debt.  From these calculations, the US leads the list by a long way, with the greatest climate debt, Russia is second and Japan third; the UK is the 6th worst polluter in the world29.  Other ways of presenting the data show the UK in first place (because we have been industrialised for longer).

However, in terms of individuals, the richest people in the world contribute to 85% of carbon emissions (see also in Chapter 5).

fig28

Fig.29: Picture showing different ages of man up to the present computer generation