threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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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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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.

 

 

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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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World Human Population: Past, Present and Future

CHAPTER 5

Up until the industrial revolution, the human population in the world had remained fairly static at around one billion people but, by 1930, it had doubled to 2 billion and had reached the third billion by 1959 (in less than 30 years), the fourth billion was reached another 15 years later (1974), and the fifth billion in only another 13 years (1987). According to the most recent United Nations estimates, the human population of the world is expected to reach 8 billion people by the spring of 2024. And 90% of world’s population now lives in cities.  A big change from the largely agricultural communities that existed before the industrial revolution.

Fig.43  The human population increase since the first century

Image result for world population graph since 0 ad

From http://www.google.com

Figure 43 shows the human population increase since the first century – an almost identical curve to that in Fig. 7 (Chapter 1), which shows the increase in carbon emissions over the last two centuries.  Thus, there would appear to be a very strong link between human population increases and the increase in carbon emissions, perhaps through the common connection they both have with the industrial revolution.

The population of the world is currently growing at a rate of around 1.13% per year, with the average annual population change currently estimated at around 80 million per year. The annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at 2% and above. Population statisticians expect the human population to begin to level off at about 11 billion people, which they think will be reached by the end of this century, mainly because family size is reducing.  In some Asian countries, for example Bangladesh, family size is now just over 2 children per family, having reduced from about 5.5 children per family 50 years ago; this is mainly as a result of better education about birth control and a demonstrated relationship between large family size, poverty and infant mortality.

The most populous country is China, followed by India, the USA and Indonesia.  The pie chart in Figure 47 shows the breakdown by country of those countries with over 100 million people.  The United Kingdom ranks 22nd in the world in terms of population size, with just over 62½ million people.  The smallest nation listed in Wikipedia is the Pitcairn Islands, with a population of just 48.

As long ago as 1798, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)52 warned that population increase might create problems, as his calculations showed that population size increases exponentially (as in the Fig.46 graph), whereas food production increases arithmetically. He thought there would come a time when we would no longer be able to feed ourselves. He predicted that there would be a halt in population increase, followed by a rapid reduction in the population of the world, caused by natural catastrophes, such as famine, disease and war.  He made a number of suggestions about what needed to be done to curb this population increase, such as “moral restraint”, with criminal punishments for those who had more children than they could support. Some of these ideas led to him losing credibility yet, 200+ years later, we can see that his theory has come to be true, surprising in a way, as he came up with his theory long before the human population began its phase of most rapid increase.  And it is interesting that some countries (eg China, Bangladesh) have used his ideas about limiting the number of children they have, though recently China has relaxed this policy because of a shortage of young people to work in their growth industries.

 

Image result for world human population countries over 100 million breakdown pie chart

Fig.44

World Population breakdown for countries with over 100 million people

(from Google Images)

 A recent article in The Guardian condoning China’s relaxation of its one-child policy53 has met with considerable correspondence, especially by population scientists, who are continuing to urge that it is highly important to do something to curb population increase. However, human rights organisations hold a different view on this issue. And economists urge to maintain the numbers of babies being born, in order to keep furure generations to work in the (fossil-fuel-burning) industries to keep the economy growing.  Population dynamics can therefore be contentious issue.

Studies of animal populations have shown that population size tends to increase exponentially (as in the Fig.48 graph) until a point is reached when some external factor causes a decline in the population.  With some carnivorous species, this shows a regular pattern which is very strongly related to the availability of prey.  However, as with food webs, the real situation is rather more complicated than this.

 

Fig.45: Population size – the relationship between predator (lion) and prey (gazelle)

From:  https://brothersdiamond.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/the-geometry-of-behavior/

 In other species, a maximum population size is reached, followed by a slight decline and then a levelling off.  During the 1960s, when human population was increasing at its fastest rate, there were great concerns about the future of the human race and whether the earth would be able to produce enough food to sustain all human life.   Some recent studies by Professor Hans Rosling54 and produced in video form (“Don’t Panic – the facts about population”) have suggested that family size is reducing in most of the world, though not yet in Africa, nor in the UK. His projections show that, by 2050, eighty per cent of the world’s population will live in Asia and Africa, as population size is beginning to decline in Europe and the Americas.

The huge increases in population are undoubtedly the reason why some countries are tampering with the genetic code of certain crops, to develop food crops that give better yields, are less affected by pests etc.  However, I believe that this is another example of human activity changing the face of the earth that we inhabit, without first checking what the long-term consequencies of this tampering might be.

Population increase is probably related to a number of factors: the discovery of antibiotics, which can have the effect of prolonging human life; vaccination programmes, which have eradicated or reduced the incidence of some of the most lethal diseases (eg smallpox); a higher standard of living since the industrial revolution.   There are all kinds of theories promoted by experts in population dynamics as to what point the human population will have reached its zenith and what will be the external factor which triggers a rapid decline in human numbers.  It could be anything: overcrowding, leading to wars; climate change, leading to deaths by increased incidences of weather disasters and poor crop yield; a lack of food; air pollution/ lack of oxygen; industrial accidents, especially connected with the nuclear industry; global warming, leading to deaths from heat exposure – some countries (eg India) are already showing record high temperatures and increased numbers of deaths associated with this; the appearance of new “super-bugs”, resistant to known antibiotics; a meteor strike; or something else, not imagined as yet. An article in the Open University’s “Open Minds” magazine55, entitled “Humanity’s Last Stand” proposed five of the greatest threats to the continued survival of the human race, according to OU experts, as being:

  • The appearance of super-bugs resistant to current antibiotics;
  • Nuclear war;
  • A takeover by robots;
  • A hotter planet;
  • A meteor strike.

At the moment, we can say that the increase in the world population is one untoward consequence of the industrial revolution and its continuum.  We can also say that the increase in the human population has led to increased human activity in those areas which are damaging to our planet. So, there is another interconnectedness here:  climate change/species loss connected to human activity, especially since the industrial revolution; increased human population also since the industrial revolution, also leading to species loss as humans take over new habitats.  But there are other factors also interconnected with these three factors. One of these is affluence.

Affluence and carbon emissions

Statistics promoted by Prof. Hans Rosling demonstrate a clear relationship between extreme poverty and population dynamics.  They also show that, whilst many people are starting to move out of poverty (as a consequence of the better lifestyles of all since the industrial revolution), there are some who cannot manage this without outside help, and these remain in extreme poverty (mainly in Africa and Asia).  His statistics show that the richest people in the world have the greatest use of carbon emitting fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), being responsible for 50% of all carbon emissions.  Indeed further analysis shows that 85% of carbon emissions come from the medium rich to the very rich.  The poorest people on earth, despite their numbers, only contribute towards 15% of carbon emissions.  So, this is another interconnectedness – whilst there might still be large numbers of people living in poverty, they cannot be blamed for the carbon emissions causing climate change. In fact, many of them have become the victims of it.

So, we can see that the increase in carbon emissions has been caused by the industrial revolution but that the exponential rise in the human population has resulted in more and more human activity, causing more and more carbon emissions. Because the human population has been rising exponentially, it has set off an accompanying exponential rise in carbon emissions, the rate of which has surprised many scientists.  It is only by looking at the the interconnections that we can come to these conclusions.

Fig.46  Logo for World Population Day 2016

Image result for world population day logo

However, there are many factors at work here. Just as the food chain is rarely a simple chain but more like a food web, so it is with carbon emissions.  Increased industrialisation – yes – but also increased numbers of people involved in more and more industrialisation.  Because it is more complicated than a simple cause and effect, it will take very sophisticated methods to reverse the trend, which will encroach on every area of life. Also, actions in some countries may not be relevent in other countries, so what is needed is a global response. Some of these issues are discussed by Paul and Ann Ehrlich in their book, “The Dominant Animal; Human Evolution and the Environment” (2008)56.

Poverty

Bill Gates, founder of the Microsoft corporation, and of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an advisor to the Global Povery Project, which campaigns for the elimination of poverty. As part of the Global Citizen Initiative, a number of ambassadors have been appointed, of whom one is my son Ben, to raise awareness of the fact that poverty could be eliminated by 2030, with relatively small increases in aid budgets. GCI challenges some of the myths and beliefs that the world is getting worse and that extreme poverty cannot be solved.  It has been said that, for the cost of the Iraq war, we could have ended world hunger for 30 years.

However, the sadness is that, when people do lift themselves out of poverty, they then start adding to the total carbon emissions by buying themselves vehicles and household equipment and gadgets that they previously could not afford.  However, I do not think this is a reason not to help people out of poverty.  What we must do is educate people about the consequences of human activity and climate change so that they, with the rest of the world, will start to find new ways of living that do not place the planet at risk.

The Super Rich

Prof. Paul Rogers has published a paper for the Oxford Research Group6,57(Sep. 2012), entitled: “Chances for Peace in the Second Decade – What is going wrong and what we must do.” He identifies two root issues which bring about the likelihood of conflict and/or war.  They are: Socioeconomic divisions and environmental constraints (climate change), which he considers to be interrelated. In a section headed “Rich-Poor World”, he outlines how global economic growth has become more and more unbalanced, leading to the existence of a trans-global elite who own own about 85% of the world’s wealth (1.5 billion people out of a world population of 7 billion), with a super-elite of many thousands of multi-millionaires.  Because of the size of the elite, it acts as a self-contained global entity and persistently fails to recognise the endemic mal-distribution of world wealth and income.  Because of improved education and better communication, many marginalised groups are becoming aware of these divisions and injustices, leading to despair, resentment and anger.  All over the world new social movements are developing, to challenge the old order, leading to unrest, conflict and wars.

Another Professor, Andrew Sayer from Lancaster University, has released a book entitled, “Why we can’t afford the Rich”58, a book which won the 2015 Peter Townsend prize. He states in his book, “We cannot continue to provide the rich and super-rich with unearned income.  Their political power is a threat to democracy,  and their excessive consumption and dependence on never-ending growth are unsustainable.”

Oxfam has recently released figures59 that show that, by 2016, the combined wealth of the richest 1% of people will have overtaken that of the remaining 99% of people.  One in nine people in the world do not have enough to eat and more than a billion live on less than $1.25 a day.

Image result for oxfam statistics in a graph 1% v 99%

Fig.47

From: graph taken from statistics provided by Oxfam (http://www.oxfam.org.uk/blogs/2015/01/richest-1-per-cent-will-own-more-than-all-the-rest-by-2016)

99

Fig. 48

From: lukeflegg.wordpress.com

There are those who are of the belief that big business is entirely responsible for terrorist attacks.In my first book I argue that it was no coincidence that the 9/11 outrage was targeted at the World Trade Centre – an icon for big business.  In her documentary, “The Economics of Happiness”, Helena Norberg-Hodge60 sets out how the world is moving simultaneously in two directions: Government and big business continue to promote globalisation and the consolidation of corporate power, whilst the rest of the world are resisting those policies and working to forge a very different future, which involves re-building on a more human scale, with the localisation of economics being the goal.

Urbanisation

Concomitant with the increase in the world’s population, there has been an increasing trend in people moving to cities, in search of work, so that now 90% of the world’s peoples live in cities.  A good example of this trend occurred with my own family ancestors on my father’s side, who were originally farm labourers in Norfolk. During the mid-1800s, due to imports of vast quantities of American wheat, many British farms went out of business and my ancestors found themselves out of work.  My great great grandfather, John Jackson, and his large family, travelled north to Lincolnshire and then Yorkshire, finding work eventually in the coal mines and coke industry, thus contributing unwittingly to the whole industrialisation process. And a similar story can be told over much of the world, as factories have replaced farms and the IR Continuum spreads.

Industrialisation of Farming

But, there have also been trends to make farms become more like factories, with the introduction of battery farms for the raising of poultry and egg production, the keeping of pigs in restricted metal cages, whilst they give birth, and the transport of live animals across continents under inhumane conditions and without water, only to be slaughtered abroad in sometimes brutal practices.  There has been limited success in abolishing some of the most brutal of practices, by campaigning groups, but there is still a long way to go before animals are seen as related species sharing this world with us, rather than commodities to be sold and slaughtered for profit.

Farmers have also utilised more of their land, with the pressure to become more productive, so that hedgerows have disappeared and, with them, many of the bird species that nest there, along with small mammals61). However, legislation has been introduced to control this61.

Some of the inhumane consequencies of the industrialisation of farming

fig49

Fig.49:  Battery hens

 

Fig 50:  A sow being kept in a restrictive pen after giving birth.  

 

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Fig 51:  Sheep being shipped by ocean in very cramped inhumane conditions

Another of the situations predicted by Malthus was the development of “gluts” when farm production over-supplied with certain crops and foodstuffs.  In Europe there have been gluts of sugar, butter, wheat and now milk.  And at the time that I write, UK dairy farmers and going out of business because supermarkets are failing to pay a fair price for milk, because they can buy it more cheaply elsewhere.  The Fair Trade system was introduced a few years’ back, to help developing countries sell their goods at a fair price; this sytem also needs to be introduced for dairy farmers in the UK.

In some countries, people have stayed in rural areas and continued to till the land, but because of increased populations, there is less land available.  This has resulted in the felling of forests, in order to produce agricultural land.  And this itself has affected the climate, as these very same forests were the major “sinks” in which carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was absorbed to produce oxygen, through the process of photosynthesis (chapter 1).  The loss of the forests has also led to the loss of many rare species , as their habitat is lost (chapter 1).

In some countries too, there has been a move to fell forests to grow illicit crops, which are more lucrative, thus fuelling the drugs cartels and parallel economies.

Values

One of the factors associated with a heterogenous world population is that people in different parts of the world grow up with different values and will seek to adhere to those values, wherever they live.  It is part of their cultural identity.  Thus, many in the UK adhere to a protestant work ethic, which may have been behind the industrial revolution.  Their value system also has much in common with Christian values of justice and fairness, even though many people no longer have a faith. In this country we also value education. This is, of course a generalisation, as many from the business world born out of the IR Continuum, do not adhere to the values of justice and fairness but instead see the acquisition of money as their main goal, perhaps because of ancestral links with the landowners of our feudal past.  They are not alone in this, as several of the other cultures settling in this country have different goals and values, mostly based on family and/or the acquisition of wealth.  This may be because they have come from poverty in their own countries, and want to send money to their relatives back home, or because they have come from a value system which admires those who have made a lot of money, rather than those who are well educated. Those coming from cultures which value the family (and father) above all else may find it difficult to adjust to a system based on the employer/employee relationship. In a multi-cultural society like ours, this can lead to conflicts, disaffection and a lack of awareness of the grave issues facing the world today.

Image result for multicultural britain

Fig 52: Multi-cultural Britain

The motivation to make money is a strong one and can also lead to a denial of the seriousness of climate change.

Many young people born in this country of parents who emigrated here from commonwealth countries, find themselves torn between two cultures:  the culture which their parents still value and the British culture.  They may feel they do not belong to either and this can lead to disaffection and the attractiveness of joining terrorist groups or criminal gangs, to which they feel they can belong.  It is a development with which we have not yet come to grips in the UK – and a similar situation exists in France, Belgium and Germany and other European countries. I worked in an inner city area of Birmingham for some years, trying to help the unemployed find work, most of them young, ethnic minority men.  It was very difficult as most potential employers just did not want them. I saw many becoming disaffected and angry and others turning to drugs and/or crime.  I do not find it surprising therefore that some young people have been radicalised and have joined terrorist groups.

I believe that it is differences in our value systems, way of life, mother tongue, clothing and appearance that lead to disharmony between ethnic groups and can, if we allow it, lead to racism.

Any strategy for the future needs to acknowledge that, whilst we all have in common our humanity, we may adhere to different value systems – and these need to be respected, if we are to move to greater co-operation and joint efforts to save the planet.

Migration issues

Some of the experts who have tried to predict the future of the human race, as a consequence of the multiple effects of population explosion, climate change and war, have foreseen that, in the future, there would be massive migration from Asian and African countries to Europe, Australasia and America.  As I write this, it would appear that this migration has already started, with thousands of refugees fleeing from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to Europe, at a rate with which the European countries cannot cope.  If the experts are right, this is only going to get worse, with more deaths from drowning in the Mediterrean Sea and more exploitation from ruthless traffickers who are keen to make money out of this human crisis.  It has already led to conflict and division between different European countries about how best to cope with the situation.  Some want to close their borders completely but this strategy is just as inhumane as the practices described earlier in treating farm animals as if they were factory commodities.  The wars in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan have resulted in huge numbers of refugees, including pregnant women, the elderly and children, fleeing the violence in order to find a safe place to live and trekking hundreds of miles across countries to reach their preferred destination.

According to George Monbiot62, one of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.

Wars in North African countries have also led to large numbers of people fleeing their countries, trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, to get to Europe.  Thousands have drowned. Others have ended up in the Greek islands and Greece, already in dire economic circumstances, has had to cope with helping the refugees as best they can. Yet others, trying to get to Britain across the English Channel, are trapped in makeshift camps in Calais.

fig53

Fig.53:  Refugees trying to reach the safety of other countries

Communication

The computer age, and especially the development of the internet, has led to significant changes and advances in communication.  People are now in touch on a regular basis through social networks and email.  This has transformed the world, both for good and for bad.  Whilst the media still try to control the news and impose their own biases on the public, and have a modicum of success in this, people are also receiving information informally through other networks.  Thus, demonstrations can be organised very quickly and, in some instances, this has brought down governments, as in the Arab Spring and in Ukraine.  There is currently a world-wide disaffection with politicians, who are seen as corrupt and not trusted any more.  Unfortunately, bringing down a government, or a despotic leader, does not always lead to the changes people are seeking, as others come in to fill the vacuum, that are also unpopular and/or corrupt.  There is thus, at the moment, considerable unrest and instability throughout the world and it is difficult to predict where this will end.

It is also difficult to predict where the new-found ease of communication through the internet will take us.  Let’s hope that, ultimately it will be for the betterment of this planet, its peoples and its wildlife.

Image result for Facebook connections throught the world blue map

Facebook connections throughout the world in 2010 and 2013

Overcrowding

In some, well-publicised experiments with rats in the 1950’s, Calhoun found that when rats were kept in extremely crowded conditions, but with unlimited water and food and protection from predators, there were a number of changes in their behaviour.  Male rats in the most crowded pens became  violent  and aggressive,  “going berserk, attacking females, juveniles and less-active males.” There was also “sexual deviance.” The mortality rate among females was extremely high and there was a breakdown in maternal behaviour. Mothers stopped caring for their young, stopped building nests and even began to attack their offspring, resulting in a 96 percent mortality rate in the most crowded pens.  Parallels were drawn between these experiments with rats and whether the same could be said to be true for humans, in particular those who lived in cities (Calhoun, in the Scientific American 1962). There were a number of reviews and other experiments following this, which concluded that it was too much social interaction that caused the pathological behaviour, rather than the overcrowding. The studies have been reviewed Carla Garnett63.

A Civilised Society

At the beginning of this book, I included a list of factors important in a civilised society, put together at the turn of this century by Barbara Panvel and me (Table 2).  I believe that any developments that are made in the future to rescue the planet are carried out with this list in mind. Indeed, these characteristics may become even more important as we, as a global population, seek to find ways to co-operate more closely to save the planet.

Much of the unrest caused by better communication through the internet is because the main concerns of ordinary people are about corruption in leaders and unhealthy alliances between politicians and big business.  Some of the issues of importance to ordinary people are just not being taken on board by politicians and leaders, sometimes to their cost. Richard Douthwaite, in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999)5,64 provides data from research that shows that most people when asked about what is important in the quality of life that they lead, come up with issues that are, in the main, not related to how much cash is available to them.  Things like:

  • The quantity of goods and services produced and consumed;
  • The quality of the environment they live in;
  • The fraction of their time available for leisure;
  • How fairly (or unfairly) available income is distributed;
  • How good or bad working conditions are;
  • How easy it is to get a job;
  • The safety of their future;
  • How healthy they are;
  • The level of cultural activity, the standard of education and ease of acces to it;
  • The quality of the housing available;
  • The chance to develop a satisfactory religious or spiritual life;
  • The strength of one’s family, home and community ties.

There is much in common between this list (from Douthwaite) and the list that Barbara and I produced (Table 2) of the characteristics of a civilised society. Also, a recent report published by the New Economics Foundation65 has used a shorter list to determine the UK’s success in economic terms, under the headings: good jobs, wellbeing, environment, fairness and health. A summary from that report and an extensive quote from Douthwaite are included with Chapter 7, on the economy.

Certainly in the UK, there seems to be an obsession among politicians about the economy and growth but little concern for issues in Douthwaite’s list, nor the effects of global warming and climate change, nor for people in poverty, nor for the many refugees fleeing their homes because of warfare there.  The anomally is that, for the UK at least, some of these wars people are fleeing from were caused by us messing in those very countries from which they are fleeing and actually making things worse for them. People fleeing from war-stricken countries do so in the hope that some of the things in the three lists may be available to them elsewhere.

Population increase and the future of the planet

At the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned that population scientists believe that the human population of the world will level off at 11 billion people at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, this is about the same time that climate scientists are saying we may be facing a mass extinction of species (three generations into the future), which will have a significant effect on the human population.  If we are going to do anything about all of these interrelated issues, it needs to be now – it will not wait until three generations’ time.  Something needs to be done to limit or reduce population increase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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).

fig40

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.

fig41

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?

fig42

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.