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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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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.

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

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

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

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

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

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

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

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

25biggest

Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

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

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

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

The Volkswagen deception

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

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

Trade and Competition 1

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

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

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

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

OIL

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

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Fig. 35  An oil well

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

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

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Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

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

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

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Fig. 37  

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Fig. 38

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Fig.39

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

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

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

 Market Economies

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

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

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

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

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

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Fig.40

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

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

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Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

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

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Growth

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

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

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

Social Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

oecd

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

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

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

National Self-Sufficiency

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

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Fig.42

A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

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

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

Trading and Competition 2

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

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

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

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

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

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

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

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

 The Merchant Culture

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

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.