This Guardian article is based on an International Monetary Fund estimate of the vast subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel producing corporations. The costs (externalities) of the damage to health and the environment are not borne by the producers of fossil fuels, and can therefore be considered as ‘subsidies’ amounting to many trillions of dollars.
In April 2015 the UN Secretary General joined religious leaders at the Vatican in Rome and made this statement. Pope Francis is placing climate change mitigation on the agenda of the 1 in 6 humans who adhere to the Catholic faith and a new encyclical will be drafted setting out the church’s position that aligns with that of the UN. The encyclical is being drafted along lines indicated in this quote from a Truthout article:
“The ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the Earth’s delicate ecological balance on an almost unfathomable scale,” warned Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian cardinal who is taking a leading role in drafting the climate encyclical. “Corporations and financial investors must learn to put long-term sustainability over short-term profit.”
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.
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.
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 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.
The remarkable on-line book to which I linked in the previous post led me to a pretty fundamental academic article by two anthropologists entitled “Unsettling Anthropocentrism” that vividly explores the interface between the Machine World created by humans and the Natural World that it is devastating beyond its limits to support civilised life. Human hubris takes the stance that nature exists on our behalf, simply to serve our species’ need. This belief has become deeply embedded in our collective unconscious. The article opens as follows:
In an article titled ‘‘Robochop,’’ The Economist reported a practical problem and its technological solution. The problem was that swarms of jellyfish clogged up the pipes of a Swedish nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea coast, forcing the plant’s temporary shutdown. The proposed solution involved utilizing an invention of ‘‘a fleet of killer robots that turn jellyfish into mush.’’ The devices known as JEROS (Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarms) are designed to follow a lead robot and work in formation: They can apparently chop up to 900 km of jellyfish an hour.1 The report raises an irrepressible question: Is there not something wrong—even deeply disturbing—about this picture?
The article concludes as follows but the whole text is very worth reading:
David Kidner’s contribution in which the face value assumption of anthropocentrism is that it constitutes a perspective that serves human interests—is radically challenged. ‘‘Anthropocentrism,’’ Kidner contends, is not anthropocentric. He traces the roots of what is considered anthropocentric thinking—especially the belief that ‘‘all forms of life exist to serve us’’—in a reductive technological-economic order that gained ascendancy in early modernity and has culminated in the industrial system of our time. This system has colonized human consciousness just as surely as it has colonized the natural world; as Kidner puts it, within it both ‘‘humanity and nature are being dissolved.’’ Far from being beneficiaries of an order that displaces embodied forms of awareness, reduces value to money, and approaches problems through technological management, human beings are unknowing perpetrators of that order—unknowing in the sense of being unable to escape their conditioning by its symbolic and material dimensions. Echoing critical theory themes, Kidner argues that the domination of nature and the domination of human consciousness are simultaneous and deeply entangled. ‘‘Just as the nuances of human awareness are replaced by the rational calculations of the economist and the marketing executive, so the intricate interactions of tropical forests are replaced by the ecological sterility of palm oil plantations.’’
This link is to remarkable new publication (free & online) of stunning photographs and accompanying text entitled “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Global Population Speak Out is making copies of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) free for people who would like to request free books to use promoting awareness and action on the important environmental and social issues addressed within its pages.
A NASA-funded study “Human and Nature Dynamics” (HANDY) has created a model of how civilisations collapse that has created quite a stir in the community of people concerned about human threats to our current civilisation on “Spaceship Earth”. The report’s conclusion starts as follows:
Collapses of even advanced civilizations have occurred many times in the past five thousand years, and they were frequently followed by centuries of population and cultural decline and economic regression. Although many different causes have been offered to explain individual collapses, it is still necessary to develop a more general explanation. In this paper we attempt to build a simple mathematical model to explore the essential dynamics of interaction between population and natural resources. It allows for the two features that seem to appear across societies that have collapsed: the stretching of resources due to strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity, and the division of society into Elites (rich) and Commoners (poor).