This is a crisis: environmental breakdown

This report published in February 2019 is from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the UK. It is yet another appeal to politicians to act in the face of the gravity of environmental breakdown due to human activity. It warns that the world is on a path toward “environmental breakdown” that will likely trigger “runaway collapse” of social and economic systems in the vein of the 2008 global financial crisis, and it calls for major shifts in understanding the scale and pace of environmental change, the implications of it, and the need for a radical transforming response.

It is almost half a century since warnings of this type have been appearing and have been ignored by those who are in a position to initiate the radical changes required to reverse the exponential acceleration of the damage that the “Machine World” is inflicting on Spaceship Earth. Crises are not what most leaders wish to recognise and the status quo that assumes that economic growth and human dominance can continue indefinitely is preferable to radical reversals of public policy. The dynamic of corporate profit-seeking remains all-powerful to allow serious attention to environmental breakdown.

Existential risks – the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks at Cambridge University contributed this article to the BBC website.

“the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forumboth listed climate change and its effects as one of their top risks for 2019.Recent UN talks heard climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many regions. While many, including Sir David Attenborough, believe it could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of “much of the natural world”. The threats are complex and diverse, from killer heatwaves and rising sea levels to widespread famines and migration on a truly immense scale.
Also increasing are the potential risks from novel technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The scenarios range from increasingly sophisticated cyber-weapons that could hold an entire nation’s data to ransom, to autonomous algorithms that could unwittingly cause a stock-market crash. Another threat is the possibility of a nuclear war. While many focus on rising tensions between global powers, new technologies may also be making us less safe.”

A new ‘Montreal Protocol’ needed?

This article and short film present the case for renewed international cooperation to repeat, for many other pollutants including plastics, the success that the 1987 Montreal Protocol represented in banning CFC s that were causing a hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic. The 5 minute film is narrated by David Attenborough.

Today scientists predict that stratospheric ozone concentrations will rebound to 1980 levels by the middle of this century. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montreal Protocol has prevented millions of cases of skin cancer and cataracts from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2016 nations adopted the Kigali Amendment, which will phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, another class of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Why has the Montreal Protocol worked so well? One key factor is that every nation in the world has joined it. They did so because alternative materials were available to substitute for chlorofluorocarbons. The treaty also provided financial support to countries that needed help transitioning away from the banned substances.

Another pact, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, banned or severely limited production and use of certain chemicals that threatened human and environmental health, including specific insecticides and industrial chemicals. Today 182 nations have signed the treaty. Concentrations of several dangerous POPs in the Arctic, where global air and water currents tend to concentrate them, have declined.

Nations have added new chemicals to the list and created “elimination networks” to help members phase out use of dangerous materials such as PCBs. And producers of goods such as semiconductors and carpets that use listed chemicals are working to develop new, safer processes.

Even though the United States has not signed the Stockholm Convention, U.S. companies have largely eliminated production of the chemicals that the treaty regulates. This shows that setting a global standard may encourage nations to conform in order to maintain access to global markets.

Green New Deal?

This article offers some hope amongst all the negative news coming out of the USA concerning human impact on the planet that threatens a sustainable future. And this additional article claims that the Green New Deal is a good first step. And here The Green New Deal explained. And from The Atlantic – Democrats put out an official blueprint for a Green New Deal on Thursday. The plan, released by freshman New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would completely transform just about all facets of the American economy to drastically lower carbon emissions. The bill has virtually no chance of becoming law—it’s dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate—but it’s nevertheless consequential, suggesting that a new crop of Democratic politicians is poised to make mammoth climate bills central to the party’s platform going forward. Further comment here. 

We have just launched in Tychy, Poland a small effort to raise local awareness and hope relating to the existential threats to Spaceship Earth. The small group ranging in age from 15 to 78 is tentatively using the acronym SEAT – (Spaceship Earth Action Tychy). Initially the mostly young professionals (psychologists, teachers, IT specialists, architect, school student) are working together in the English language and looking at offering workshop activities to local citizens in the town. At its first meeting, the group agreed to focus on hopeful reasons for community action.


“Once we start to act, hope is everywhere” Greta Thunberg.

Hope is less intellectual than emotional; it’s a feeling.

Hope increases if people feel part of a community dedicated to a common purpose.

More people are becoming involved in Spaceship Earth action every day. There’s plenty of fellowship

“Climate solutions and possibilities already exist. Together we can limit global warming to 1.5˚.”

The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Strategy:

A. Make sure everyone is sufficiently alarmed, and knows how desperate and urgent the crisis is — so that they act.

B. Give people a sense of hope so that they know what actions to take that will have a strong impact — so that they act.

Ten reasons for hope:

  1. Technological and industrial innovations, such as cheap renewable energy, are coming faster and faster.
  2. Local, city and national governments are committing to cut carbon, ban pollutants, protect species and replant forests.
  3. People are rising up in popular protests to pressure policymakers and companies to change direction.
  4. Humans have not, since 1945 in Japan, used the nuclear weapons that have been available.
  5. The CFC chemicals causing a hole in the ozone layer (discovered in 1973) were banned when nations agreed to cooperate (Montreal Protocol, 1987).
  6. Slavery that was once seen as normal is now seen as immoral, so maybe growth economics can be replaced by circular regenerative economics.
  7. The scientific evidence of the effects on health of smoking were recognised despite 40 years of denial and delay by the tobacco industry, so maybe the same will happen in relation to greenhouse gas emission from human activity.
  8. School pupils are starting protest to thanks to Greta Thunberg, who started this, and is still inspiring our youth to take action around the world.
  9. A political movement for a “Green New Deal” is emerging in the USA.
  10. Huge amounts of evidence for change now available:

There are powerful obstacles to change – e.g. Deep vested interests are resisting climate action: those are the economies, businesses and political systems dependent on fossil fuels, polluting industries, or biodiversity destruction. We must speak truth to power. “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”