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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Global Networks

CHAPTER 8

Climate change, the loss of species, global warming, the increase in the human population, trading systems, the type of economy and poverty are all factors that affect every nation of the world in one way or another.  If there is to be a change of direction, in order to save the planet and its inhabitants, it must happen on a global scale and include every country, or at least those countries which have industrialised.  We need to get citizens across the world understanding the implications of climate change and industrialisation, so that they realise the need for urgent action and lobby their governments to make appropriate changes.

The most obvious organisation to initiate such a change of direction is (and has been) the United Nations.

un-logo

 

The Efforts of the United Nations to reduce carbon emissions

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Fig.70:  The Rio Summit

 In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, produced a document, called Agenda 21, which was a non-binding, voluntary-implemented action plan with regard to sustainable development.  It provided an agenda for the UN, other multilateral organisations and individual governments around the world that could be executed at local, national or global level.  The UN body proposed in Rio to take this forward was the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), whose director is currently Halldor Thorgeirsson. Since Rio, regular meetings have been held in different countries of the world, under the title of COP (conference of parties), the latest being COP21 in Paris.  A further appraisal of the major COP agreements reached over the years is given in Table 699.

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 Fig.71

As the United Nations does have a role in addressing the issue of climate change, let’s have a closer look first at how it functions and what it has achieved on climate change. The UN was first formed in 1945, as an intergovernmental organisation to promote international co-operation. The motivation for its formation came as a result of the Second World War, to prevent other similar conflicts from occurring. There were 51 member states initially and now there are 193, each country having one vote at deliberations of the General Assembly.  The headquarters of the UN is in New York, with further offices in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. It is financed by contributions from its member states, the United Kingdom providing 5.19% of the total budget.

The UN currently operates through five principal bodies: the General Assembly (the main deliberative body); the Security Council (peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (for promoting international economic and social co-operation and development); the Secretariat (provides, information, studies and facilities needed); and the International Court of Justice. There are also various UN bodies, which have particular functions: the World Bank; the World Health Organisation; the World Food Programme, UNESCO and UNICEF.  The current General Secretary is the South Korean, Ban Ki-moon, whose term of office comes to an end during 2016.


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Fig.72

Structure of the United Nations

Many people are highly critical of the United Nations. Some commentators believe the organization to be an important force for peace and human development but others have called it ineffective, corrupt, biased and bureaucratic. I believe that, if the United Nations is to be taken seriously and respected, it needs to have more clout and to be reformed to be more inclusive.  Its initiatives on climate change certainly need to be more decisive and more closely targeted. The problem is that, trying to get 193 or more nations to agree on one issue, is virtually impossible.

Agenda 21

The original Agenda 21 was divided into four sections:

  • Combating Poverty;
  •  II  Environmental Issues;
  • III Strengthening the role of major groups;
  • IV. Means of Implementation.

The “21” refers to the 21st Century and has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences. It is a 700-page document that was adopted by the 178 countries attending the 1992 conference.  In 1997, the UN General Assembly held a special session to appraise the status of Agenda 21 and this has continued every 5 years since then. In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, the attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called “The Future We Want”. 180 leaders from nations participated.

  The implementation of Agenda 21 was intended to involve action at international, national, regional and local levels. Some national and state governments have legislated or advised that local authorities take steps to implement the plan locally, as recommended in Chapter 28 of the document.  The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Division for Sustainable Development (ECOSOC) monitors and evaluates progress, nation by nation, towards the adoption of Agenda 21, as well as progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and makes these reports available to the public on its website.  Europe has turned out to be the continent in which it was best accepted, as most European countries possess well documented Agenda 21 statuses. France, for example has nationwide programmes supporting it, though there are opposition groups in this country, as there are in other countries.

In Africa, national support for Agenda 21 is strong and most countries are signatories. But support is often closely tied to environmental challenges specific to each country (such as desertification in Namibia) and there is little mention of Agenda 21 at the local level in the indigenous media. Agenda 21 participation in North African countries mirrors that of Middle Eastern countries, with most countries being signatories, but with little to no adoption at the local government level. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa generally have poorly documented Agenda 21 status reports but South Africa’s participation in Agenda 21 is similar to that of Europe.

Whilst the United States of America has been a signatory to Agenda 21, there is a strong business lobby, which opposes it on the grounds that it is bad for business. The Republican Party have stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Several state and local governments have considered or passed motions and legislation opposing Agenda 21, Alabama being the first state to prohibit government participation in it. Activists, some of whom have been associated with the Tea Party movement by The New York Times and The Huffington Post, have said that Agenda 21 is a conspiracy by the United Nations to deprive individuals of property rights.  Interestingly though, in view of these opposition lobbies, the president of the USA, Barack Obama, recently participated in a TV documentary, in which he and David Attenborough discussed the issue of climate change and what needs to be done; he referred to a number of American initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.

Yet, despite the focus on environmental issues since the 1992 Rio Summit, global carbon emissions continue to rise, with petroleum, coal and natural gas being the worst culprits contributing to this increase.


Table 6

From Rio to Paris, UN milestones in the history of climate change discussions


International negotiations on climate change have been going on for over 20 years. In the meantime, the Earth has become hotter, wetter and wilder. Like scientists, the vast majority of governments now agree that urgent steps are needed to reduce our impact on global warming. So far, they have failed to sign up to a universal plan of action.

  • 1992: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. It acknowledged the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialised countries the major part of responsibility for combating it – but without specifying how.
  • 1997: The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in Japan in 1997 marked a milestone in international negotiations on tackling climate change. For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries, with obligations to reduce emissions by 5%. The protocol came into force in 2005, but was soon derailed by the failure of some of the world’s biggest polluters, notably the US, to ratify it. As a result, other countries, such as Canada, Russia and Japan also pulled out.  Another weakness of the Kyoto Protocol was that it exempted three countries, who were in the early stages of industrialisation (China, India, Australia) and now these are amongst the worst polluters. Protocol runs until 2020.
  • 2007: A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.
  • 2009: Although the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, the summit recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation, barring which poor countries had threatened to scupper any deal. That pledge became more tangible with the establishment of the Green Climate Fund in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010.
  • 2011: Countries signed up to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), thereby agreeing to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all states that are party to the UNFCCC. This agreement was scheduled to be adopted in Paris and implemented from 2020.

At subsequent gatherings in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima, Peru, in 2014, all states were invited to submit their pledges towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris.


The Paris Agreement

The objective of the 2015 Paris COP21 conference was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world.  I would like to see the UNFCCC go even further than this, to be involved in an internationally evidenced marketing initiative to demonstrate how urgent it is to take robust action to reduce carbon emissions.  Just talking about it, and making gestures to the world press, is not going to achieve what is needed.

 The COP21 talks in Paris set out more ambitious goals than many anticipated and was heralded, with much media attention, as an historic accord, though many hours had been spent in finalising the wording of this agreement, signed by 195 countries. Many believe that, in getting agreement, the main focus of the document was watered down. I have heard it said that certain oil-producing countries were the ones who caused the watering down of the Paris agreement, a similar action to that of Exxon Mobil, described in Chapter 3. The self-interest of powerful people in the world yet again holding back the actions required to really address the crisis that we all face.

The agreement included:

  • Clauses to limit global warming to less than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels and to endeavour to limit it to below 1.5˚C;
  • For countries to meet their own voluntary targets on limiting emissions between 2020 and 2030;
  • For countries to submit new, tougher targets every five years;
  • To aim for zero net emissions by 2050-2100;
  • For rich nations to help poorer nations to adapt.

 

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Fig.73:  World leaders celebrating “an historic agreement” in Paris 2015

The agreement would come into force only after it had been ratified by 55 countries, who represented at least 55% of global emissions. If this target was exceeded, then the agreement would become operational in the same year.

A March 2016 report from the BBC indicated that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, the US and China (40% of emissions together), had produced a joint statement to say that both countries were ready to sign the agreement in April. Ban Ki-moon invited leaders to a signing ceremony in New York on 22nd April and expected 120 to turn up for this. The USA and China represent almost 40% of global emissions, so this was a huge step forward.

The move was not initially welcomed by some developing nations100, led by an influential, Malaysia-based think tank who wanted to receive stronger assurances on finance, technology and compensation for damage from extreme weather before signing.  Meena Raman of the Third World Network, was quoted as saying: “It will be more advantageous to developing countries to wait this year and not rush into signing the Paris Agreement. Otherwise… we lose the political leverage that is critical to secure the necessary conditions that will enable developing countries to meet their obligations.” Developing countries have therefore been advised not to attend or sign at the 22nd April ceremony.

That date has now passed and a list of 175 nations who signed on 22nd April 2016 was included on a UN website (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/04/parisagreementsignatures/)

as follows:


“List of Parties that signed the Paris Agreement on 22 April 2016101

The Paris Agreement will be open for signature by the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on 22 April and will remain open for signature for one year. This list contains the countries that signed the Agreement at the Signature Ceremony on 22 April:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Union, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.”


 

This is a very comprehensive list indeed and a significant achievement by Ban Ki-moon, though there are some notable absentees from the list (some oil-producing countries).  Many people are now quite optimistic that there will be significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels and the subsequent carbon emissions. Others feel that the promised emissions’ cuts are totally inadequate. In a review of the Paris agreement, Michael Le Page in the New Scientist (no. 3052) stated that he thinks time has nearly run out for limiting global warming even to 2˚C and he quoted from various scientists and leaders as follows:

“Emissions targets are still way off track, but this agreement has the tools to ramp up ambition, and brings a spirit of hope that we can rise to this challenge”. Tony deBrum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands.

“If we wait until 2020, it will be too late.”  Kevin Anderson, Climate Scientist at the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, UK.

As for 1.5˚, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”.  We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency and housing changes.  Even international aviation and shipping which were excluded from this report will need to be tackled”. Piers Forster, University of Leeds.

I personally don’t agree with this last person in terms of nuclear power and fracking, as I believe both to be dangerous cop-outs.

In a later, full length New Scientist Article, Michael Le Page102 discussed the likelihood of countries being able to keep to the promises made. He reminded his readers that each signatory has to formally approve, or ratify, the deal in their parliaments and only five had so far done so: Fiji, Palau, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Switzerland an interesting group of countries most at risk of rising sea levels or melting ice. The Telegraph reported on 22nd April that there had been 15 ratifications103.

Kimberley Nicholas, writing in the Scientific American (December 19th 2015)104, discussed what is required to bring about the meeting of the 1.5˚ target. She quoted from an article in Nature Climate Change by scientists Rogelj and colleagues, that it will require “rapid and profound decarbonisation” from its current 81% of fossil sources in order to meet net zero carbon emissions as early as 2045 (recognised in the long-term goal in the Paris agreement to balance greenhouse gas emissions and removal). Further they had found that meeting the target would ultimately require actively removing carbon from the atmosphere, through means that have yet to be widely tested or implemented.

The December 2015 Newsletter of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs)105 had the following statement about the Paris agreement:

As the fallout continues, many of you may be confused by the outcome of the recent COP21 climate talks in Paris, variously reported as:

“A victory for all of the planet and future generations” ~ John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
We did it! A turning point in human history!” ~ Avaaz
“10/10 for presentation, 4/10 for content” ~ Kevin Anderson, climate scientist
A historic moment and positive step forward … but not the legally-binding science and justice-based agreement that was needed” ~ Friends of the Earth UK
“A sham” ~ Friends of the Earth International
“It’s a fraud really, a fake” ~ James Hansen, climate scientist
Our leaders have shown themselves willing to set our world on fire” ~ Naomi Klein, author/activist
“Epic fail on a planetary scale” ~ New Internationalist
The US is a cruel hypocrite. This is a deliberate plan to make the rich richer and the poor poorer” ~ Lidy Nacpil, Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development

COP21: a clear win for political reality – a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate

The TEQs newsletter105 continued:

“Our take is that when there is a fundamental rift between the physical reality of our changing climate and the political reality tasked with responding to this, this agreement – based on voluntary emissions pledges which even if met would mean more emissions in 2030 than today – is a clear win for political reality. In other words, a clear loss for every life form dependent on a liveable climate.

Sadly, it is not hard to identify the agendas of those hailing the Paris agreement as a great success. The whole conference has, in essence, been smoke and mirrors, distracting us from the real work of reintegrating human society with the reality that it depends on. As most impartial observers predicted, the UN have again failed to deliver an agreement that preserves the future of either humanity or the wider biosphere.

The Paris agreement is, in short, based on non-binding commitments to deliver on dodgy mathematics through the application of technologies that do not yet (and may never) exist.”

 Greenpeace have also criticised the Paris agreement106, whilst applauding parts of it, such as setting 2018 as a review date. The main failure of the agreement, they feel, is that it failed the “justice test”; this relates to the human rights, where indigenous peoples affected by climate change are not given the protection they deserve. However, Greenpeace feel that what did not happen in Paris had already happened in Manila, where a human rights probe has been launched with the Human Rights Commission106.

Thus, the challenge facing the world in 2016 is significant.  This has been reinforced by the excessive rain experienced in the north of the UK over the last few weeks, leading to extensive flooding, as well as in France and Germany and other extreme weather events in other parts of the world, such as the second strongest ever recorded tropical cyclone Winston which devastated Fiji.

I find it hard to reconcile these quoted comments with the “business as usual” attitude of our present government in the UK, a government which we will have to tolerate until 2020, unless something major happens in the next four years, to bring about an election.

In his book, “Why are we Waiting” (MIT Press), Professor Nicholas Stern107, author of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, sets out some of the goals that now face humanity in the 21st Century.  The goals include:

  1. The elimination of mass poverty and the risk of catastrophic climate change;
  2. These goals are complementary;
  3. The case for action is overwhelming because greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for centuries.

A recent research report in Science, and quoted in the Guardian108, provides hope that carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by pumping it underground. The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted. Juerg Matter, of the University of Southampton in the UK, led the research. Further research clearly needs to take place on this potential resolution to the problems we face.

But, are there other global networks can we call on to make a greater impact than that so far made by the UNFCCC?

Other initiatives

  1. The Elders

In 2007, Nelson Mandela set up a group, called “The Elders”; it originally included elder states-people, such as Kofi Annan (now chairman of the group, former UN-Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Laureate), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Laureate and honorary elder), Aung Sun Suu Kyi (honorary elder until her election in 2012, Burmese pro-democracy leader), Ela Bhatt (India, pioneer of women’s empowerment and grassroots development), Lakhdar Brahimi (Algeria, conflict mediator and UN diplomat) Martti Artisaari Finland, Nobel Peace Laureate), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway, deputy chair, doctor who champions health as a human right), Fernando H Cardosa (Brazil – former president), Jimmy Carter (USA former president, Nobel Peace Laureate), Hina Jilani (Pakistan, pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner), Graça Machel (Mozambique, international advocate for women’s and children’s rights), Mary Robinson( first woman president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for human rights),  Ernesto Zedilla (former president of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms).

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Fig.74:  A group of The Elders in 2010. From: www.theelders.org

The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.  The concept of the Elders originated from an idea from a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was simple: many communities look to their elders for guidance, or to help resolve disputes. In an increasingly interdependent world – a ‘global village’ – could a small, dedicated group of individuals use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today? Branson and Gabriel took their idea to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together and formally launched the group in Johannesburg in July 2007.

The Elders work strategically, focusing on work where they are uniquely placed to make a difference. One of their latest campaigns is for the UN, now over 70 years’ old, to be adapted so that it is fit for purpose.  They have four proposals on this (more details available on their website: http://theelders.org/un-fit-purpose):

  • A new category of members;
  • A pledge from permanent members;
  • A voice for civil society;
  • A more independent Secretary-General.

I believe that the issue of Climate Change is now so urgent that it may be too late to wait for a reform of the United Nations to tackle the issue more robustly.  Perhaps a new body, independent of the United Nations, but respected globally, needs to take on the issue, cutting through all the bureaucracy that creates a climate of inaction on major issues.

Whether these proposals will bring about the changes necessary to generate greater respect and support for the United Nations, remains to be seen.  However, the United Nations is the most obvious body to take forward the urgent imperative to work together with global co-operation to turn back the current surge of ever increasing carbon emissions and the devastating effects of climate change. Most of the concerns about climate change come from faith-based networks.

b). Christian-based organisations and networks have had much to say about the need for urgent action, as good stewardship of the earth is a major tenet of the Christian faith, as are the Jubilee principles of environmental restoration and fair allocation of wealth.

There is an ecumenical organisation, Operation Noah, with a seven-year plan to encourage Christians to work together to address climate change109.

Recently, the Pope has issued an encyclical on climate change, which hasn’t gone unnoticed110.

For the Anglicans, Archbishop Desmond Tutu initiated a petition asking governments, and the United Nations, to set a renewable energy target of 100% by 2050111.  Tutu, a  Nobel peace laureate, who rose to fame for his anti-apartheid activism, said: “As responsible citizens of the world – sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family – we have a duty to persuade our leaders to lead us in a new direction: to help us abandon our collective addiction to fossil fuels. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow.”

There have also been statements published by:

  • the Baptist Union112
  • the Anglican Synod113
  • the Methodist Church114
  • the Quakers115
  • and other ecumenical bodies, such as Christian Aid and Tear Fund.

A particular initiative is called “Eco-Church”116, which encourages churches to switch their energy supplier to green forms of energy, with special rates being negotiated if a number of churches join the initiative117 (called ‘Big Church Switch’).  Other bodies of Christians network to encourage individuals to reduce their personal carbon emissions, in various ways.  A recent conference in Coventry, “Hope in a Changing Climate” provided much information to inspire hope, as many groups of Christians are working together, rather like the 3G groups I mentioned in Chapter 7, to reduce their personal emissions and to encourage their friends to do so as well. One speaker, a climate scientist, talked about efforts already underway to develop a plan for net zero (from the Paris agreement), with the aim of keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground.  This included measurable actions to reduce carbon emissions per degree of warming.

There was also discussion about how churches might disinvest any funds they have with those companies who emit the most greenhouse gases, as well as taking action by joining the boards of such companies to influence their future direction.  A similar action brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, it would appear that such an initiative is already underway through an organisation called Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, based in London118.

There has also been a Green Bible119, which outlines text in green, which relate to environmental issues and teachings.

c). Other faiths

Other faiths making statements about climate change include Baha’i; Buddhism; Hindu; Islam; Sikh; Unitarian Universalist Association120.

It is possible, therefore, that combined interfaith initiatives on climate change may have more impact on the activities of the global population than the United Nations has been able to do.   Indeed, in 1995, at a conference in Japan on Religions, Land and Conservation, a declaration was made – The Ohito Declaration121 which stated ten spiritual principles:

  1. Religious beliefs and traditions call us to care for the earth.2. For people of faith maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems is a religious responsibility.3. Nature should be treated with respect and compassion, thus forming a basis for our sense of responsibility for conserving plants, animals, land, water, air and energy.

    4. Environmental understanding is enhanced when people learn from the example of prophets and of nature itself.

    5. Markets and trade arrangements should reflect the spiritual needs of people and their communities to ensure health, justice and harmony. Justice and equity principles of faith traditions should be used for maintaining and sustaining environmental life systems.

    6. People of faith should give more emphasis to a higher quality of life in preference to a higher standard of living, recognising that greed and avarice are root causes of environmental degradation and human debasement.

    7. All faiths should fully recognise and promote the role of women in environmental sustainability.

    8. People of faith should be involved in the conservation and development process. Development of the environment must take better account of its effects on the community and its religious beliefs.

    9. Faith communities should endorse multilateral consultation in a form that recognizes the value of local/indigenous wisdom and current scientific information.

    10. In the context of faith perspective, emphasis should be given not only to the globalisation of human endeavours, but also to participatory community action.

That declaration was made 11 years ago and, although people of faith make up the majority of the world’s population, it is surprising that very little has been done so far to really get to grips with the damage to the environment and the planet that humans are responsible for.  Perhaps the time has come for a new purposeful faith initiative. Table 7 gives a summary of the recommended actions proposed at the Ohiti Conference.  Maybe it is time for all the religions of the world to take another look at it.

d). Other agencies

In chapter 7, I gave details of the European Environment Agency and the Green Economy Coalition, both of which bodies are providing suggested frameworks for moving away from a market economy, which has been so damaging, to a green economy. Maybe either or both of these agencies can be reinforced to be the body to create more urgent change than the UNFCCC has done.

There is also Forum for the Future122, an independent non-profit organisation, which works with business, government and other organisations to solve complex sustainability issues; they particularly focus on food and energy.


Table 7
Recommended Courses of Action made at the 1995 MOA International Conference on Religions, Land and Conservation, held in Ohito, Japan


1. We call upon religious leaders to emphasise environmental issues within religious teaching: faith should be taught and practised as if nature mattered.
2. We call upon religious communities to commit themselves to sustainable practices and encourage community use of their land.
3. We call upon religious leaders to recognise the need for ongoing environmental education and training for themselves and all those engaged in religious instruction.
4. We call upon people of faith to promote environmental education within their community especially among their youth and children.
5. We call upon people of faith to implement individual, community and institutional action plans at local, national, and global levels that flow from their spiritual practices and where possible to work with other faith communities.
6. We call upon religious leaders and faith communities to pursue peacemaking as an essential component of conservation action.
7. We call upon religious leaders and communities to be actively involved in caring for the environment to sponsor sustainable food production and consumption.
8. We call upon people of faith to take up the challenge of instituting fair trading practices devoid of financial, economic and political exploitation.
9. We call upon the world’s religious leaders and world institutions to establish and maintain a networking system that will encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental life systems.
10. We call upon faith communities to act immediately, to undertake self-review and auditing processes on conservation issues on a regular basis.


A new body?

But some have no confidence in the United Nations and have no faith, so should we consider looking to form, or adopt, some of these other networks into a consortium, to bring about greater consensus about achieving measures to stop or reverse current trends?  If so, how will these bodies be funded?  Perhaps a global tax on all offending organisations would be apt, though probably unenforceable.

I leave this as a question for others in more influential positions than myself to answer, and/or implement, as necessary.  Quite clearly there is a need for the nations of the world to stop seeing each other as competitors, rivals or enemies, for the desired results will not occur without global co-operation.

The Business World

There are businesses who are aware of the problems and who invest their profits in carbon reduction initiatives.  These are showing the way for those large corporations who have been investing their profits in hiding the reality of climate change and in deceiving the public about their products and in paying so-called scientists to question the reality of climate change.

But so much more could be done, as it is often big business who has the financial resources to make a difference. Richard Branson played an active part in bringing The Elders together. As part of the business world (including the airline industry), which has brought us to the current dilemma, could he take a lead in getting business leaders together to understand, and rectify, what they have been responsible for, rather than burying their heads in the sand and continuing in their money-making at the expense of the planet. Recently, a podcast has been produced by Kyung-Ah Park123 of Goldman Sachs on “The Business Case for Climate Action”, as a result of attending the Paris Summit on behalf of this company. It is warming that some businesses are beginning to come up with strategies for the future.

How to make a global impact on the issues facing us

The writing of this book has changed my own attitudes and thinking.  As a result I am no longer influenced by the rhetoric propagated by UK government and its economists to focus mainly on economic growth.  For I know that, in promoting economic growth and redirecting funds to the business world, they are actually multiplying the effects of industrialisation and its by-products, which will further damage and destroy the ecosystems and atmosphere of this world.

I do not support initiatives to get involved in bombing countries far from our shores, in the name of national security, for I know that this all adds to the carbon footprint, as well as driving many indigenous people to flee their homes, adding to the thousands of refugees seeking new homes elsewhere.

But how can we reverse the centuries-old trend of global trade – of believing that free trade is a good thing?  Trading systems and merchant cultures are at the root of all of the cycles I have described and I think I realised this when writing the End Piece to my first book.

There is still so much ignorance about the cycle of activities, described in the pages of this book.  The general public tend not to see the urgency of the situation, or dismiss it as not their concern. If you have been influenced by the descriptions in the pages of this book, then use it to lobby for the changes that need to occur urgently.

 

 


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Our Beautiful World in Harmony

CHAPTER 1

Our beautiful world in harmony

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

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

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

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

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

How everything fits together in harmony

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

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

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

the process of photosynthesis

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

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

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

Fig 2 THE CARBON CYCLE

Illustration by LizzardBrandInc, with permission from UCAR

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

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

Fig 3.  Simple Food chains

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

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

Image result for woodland food web

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for gaia hypothesis

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

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

Our beautiful world no longer in harmony

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

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

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

 Fig.7  Fossil fuel emissions since 1751

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

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

GteC refers to Giga-tonnes of carbon

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

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

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

Fig 8:  Bees in the process of pollinating flowers

Image result for diagram of cycle of bees pollinating flowers

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

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

or:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 9: Cane Toad

Image result for cane toad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Fig. 10 – increases in global average temperature since 1860

Temperatures

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

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

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

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

Image result for emaciated polar bear

Photograph by Kerstin Langenberger with permission

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

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

Image result for bleaching of coral reefs in australia

From: https://fightforthereef.org.au

 Picture

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

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

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

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

copyright: Andy Lee Haviland (with permission)

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

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

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

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

Related image

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

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

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

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

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

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