The Earth Statement

Many attempts are being made to convince governments around the world that urgent action needs to be taken to avoid unpredictable climate change due to human activities on Spaceship Earth. One of these is the Earth Statement issued by the Earth League on Earth Day 2015 (22 April). The eight point statement refers to the danger of the current trajectory of global warming and the growing awareness that fossil fuels will have to kept in the ground to avoid drastic and destabilising increases in global temperatures.

Hidden threats to sustainable future

        

Hidden Threats Imperil Quest for Sustainable Societies Worldwide, Report Finds

Worldwatch’s State of the World 2015 finds that many global dangers to sustainability (and their solutions) are often overlooked

 

Washington, D.C.—     The world’s economies and people face hidden dangers to sustainability that demand immediate action. According to State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability, the latest edition of the annual series from the Worldwatch Institute, these threats, driven directly or indirectly by growing stress on the planet’s resources, have the potential to upend social systems, environmental balance, and even entire economies (www.worldwatch.org).

 “These threats are hidden in the sense that they are commonly overlooked or underappreciated,” notes Ed Groark, Acting President of Worldwatch. “But addressing them is critical to building sustainable societies.”

 The report outlines a set of issues whose roots in resource overconsumption are typically not explored in news accounts. The threats identified are diverse, ranging from emerging diseases that originate in animals and growing dependence on imported food to the problems of energy availability and increasingly degraded oceans. The common link among these various challenges—  humanity’s rising claim on the planet’s resources—  suggests the urgent need to commit to sustainable economies in which resources are stewarded and the environment is protected. 

 Over the last few decades, human societies have come to comprehend that they are depleting resources at unsustainable rates, spreading dangerous pollutants, undermining ecosystems, and threatening to unhinge the planet’s climate balance. But a reckoning is complicated by the fact that the complete environmental impacts are not always readily discernible—   they are camouflaged and multiplied by discontinuities, synergisms, feedback loops, and cascading effects. And the manner in which environmental impacts translate into the social and economic spheres further complicates the picture, producing unexpected consequences. Even economic growth, long unquestioned and coveted, needs to be examined with healthy skepticism.

 “These are significant threats, but each and every one of them has solutions, especially if we commit to an ethic of stewardship, robust citizenship, and a systems approach to addressing the challenges that we face,” says Groark.

 For many of these hidden threats, the solutions are common sense. For example, more rapid adoption of renewable energy systems would reduce the pressure to find ever more exotic sources of fossil fuels. And the pressure to import food could be reduced by effectively increasing food supplies through reductions in food waste-about a third of the global harvest is lost each year. But this requires that economics ministers and others set human well-being, rather than growth, as the primary economic objective, shifting the global economic machine away from intensive resource use and the endless pursuit of “more.”

 With the latest edition of State of the World, the researchers at Worldwatch bring to light challenges that we can no longer afford to ignore. For more information on State of the World, the Institute’s annual flagship publication, view the complete book series

California’s drought

This lead article from the New York Times is an example of the ecological deficit that was the topic of my last blog post. Deep aquifer water is being ‘mined’ in California’s Central Valley to maintain high-value large-scale agricultural production despite unusually strong regulations that have recently been introduced to diminish the demand for irrigation. The application of complex irrigation systems and fossil fuel powered pumping technology seems to have run into nature’s current limits. Water is the staff of life (all life, not simply human life) and humans seem to hold the anthropocentric view that it exists as a ‘resource’ to support unending  expansion of human populations and affluence. Not only will there be an inevitable deficit of water but we already have a major deficit of human understanding, imagination and education about the impossibility of infinite growth of human systems on a finite Spaceship Earth.

In this transcript of an interview on Democracy Now, a different slant is placed on the regulation of water in California. It highlights exemptions from the regulations for the most powerful agro-industrialists, the biggest producers who have the greatest lobbying power.

This BBC article and video elaborate further.

Ecological Deficit

If all people were to have the standard of living enjoyed by OECD nations, than the Earth would have been full around the 1970s according to the Global Footprint Network calculations. The news media are full of items about the economic deficits that many countries build up in order to become rich (credit-based material wealth) but the rich countries also depend on ecological deficits whereby other countries supply them with the resources they need to maintain their level of wealth. This newsletter from the Global Footprint Network has a vivid world map that shows which countries are in ecological deficit and which enjoy a surplus of resources that they export to the nations in ecological deficit. In this extract from the GFN newsletter (12.03.15) Mathis Wackernagel, the GFN founder stresses the importance of the Global Footprint metric:

“In addition to recognizing the importance of indicators like GDP, unemployment or inflation, we look forward to the day when national decision-makers around the world also track their resource dependence. I hope they recognize that natural resources are a fundamental asset for any economy. They should be measured and managed wisely,” says Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel. “We believe it is not only critical but also possible to live within the means of nature. It can be achieved without sacrificing current human well-being.”

“This is a particularly important year for looking more closely at the planet’s resource budget, first in September with the new Sustainable Development Goals and then in December in Paris for the climate talks,” Wackernagel adds. “What is becoming clear is that living within nature’s budget is vital for each and every nation’s economic strength and the well-being of its citizens. Working with, rather than against, nature’s budget is not only important for our planet as a whole but also for the health and resilience of each individual nation.”

Divestment from fossil fuel

Divestment means withdrawing investments from companies and corporations. The Guardian newspaper group (Guardian Media Group) has just announced that it will withdraw its 800 million GBP investments from coal, oil add gas extracting enterprises. This decision has been taken based on the belief that these fossil fuels must be kept in the ground if excessive anthropogenic global warming is to be avoided. The chair of GMG Neil Berkett calls this move a ‘hard-nosed business decision’ justified on ethical and financial grounds. Read the article here. In its campaign to slow down human impact on the planet’s climate the newspaper group is acting to encourage other large corporations to follow suit and the article lists several that it is targeting and provides several useful links to other sources.