All posts by David Oldroyd

Is 2014 the hottest year on record?

2014 is set to be the warmest calendar year in recorded human history, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Centre revealed in its latest monthly report.

The “combined average temperature” of land and ocean surfaces for September was the highest in recorded history, the report states. Furthermore, October 2013 to September 2014 was the warmest 12-month period ever recorded.

“If 2014 maintains this temperature departure from average for the remainder of the year, it will be the warmest calendar year on record,” concludes the report.

The NOAA’s findings echo those of NASA, which revealed earlier this month that the last six months were the warmest such period of time ever recorded.

The degree to which these increases in global average temperatures of land and sea recording sites is the result of anthropogenic effects of adding green house gases  to the atmosphere (as opposed to natural causes) is still a contested issue, though there is clear evidence that levels of atmospheric CO2 have been rising at around 3 parts per million (ppm) each year from around 310 ppm in 1960 to around 400 ppm this year. This hockey ‘J’ curve graph of CO2 increase is named the Keeling Curve after Dave Keeling, the originator of atmospheric CO2 measurement who started his research in 1953. (see Scripps Institute  website)

Global Wealth maldistribution accelerates

In the year between mid 2013 and mid-2014 world wealth increased by 8.3% (a rate of doubling every 8.5 years)

The growth added $20.1 trillion to global assets

Total global wealth (assets and income combined) is now $263 trillion comared to $117 trillion in 2000

The richest 1% own 48.2% of these global assets

The richest 10% own 87%

The poorest 50% own less than 1%

And the inequality among passengers of Spaceship Earth continues to accelerate.



Accelerating Extinctions on Spaceship Earth

Another Guardian article adds weight to the WWF report on the 50% loss of vertebrate wildlife over the last 40 years. Here is and extract:

Humans, said TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough last year, are a “plague on earth”, but WWF claims there is still time to stop the rot. Its UK chief executive David Nussbaum said: “The scale of the destruction highlighted in this report should act as a wake-up call for us all. We all – politicians, business and people – have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for people and nature.

“Humans are cutting down trees more quickly than they can regrow, harvesting more fish than the oceans can restock, pumping water from our rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them, and emitting more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb,” he said.

“A  healthy future for people and nature” at least implies that the world does not simply exist for the benefit of humans. Nature in the form of the entire web of life has it right to exist. Attenborough’s frightening metaphor of humans as “a plague on earth”, echoes the view of James Lovelock that our species (the dominant passengers of Spaceship Earth?) is an infestation, an invasive species, that is threatening Gaia, the material and organic planet. Responding to this planetary threat is the greatest challenge of our Age of Accelerating Extinctions brought about by the impact of human population, affluence and technology.

Is a ‘Not for Profit’ (NFP) world imaginable?

This link to a Guardian article from two co-directors of the Post-Growth Institute tackles this question that is asked by radical thinkers about the unsustainable nature of exponentially growing economies on our finite planet. To quote:

… we live in a for-profit world.

This way of conducting business has led to socioeconomic inequality, with capital gains and company dividends the largest contributor to income divides. What else could we expect when private profit is seen as the driver of economic activity and profit maximisation is the priority of most big businesses?

Furthermore, the social stratification that results from global financial inequity is tied to ecological devastation, driving our ongoing march towards full systems collapse in the next 50 years.

After outlining many examples of NFP enterprises in the UK and around the world, the article reaches this conclusion:

… For the first time in modern history we have the structures, capabilities and impetus to evolve to an NFP world, in which the best energies and drivers of good business are harnessed for our collective flourishing.

50% wildlife loss in last 40 years

Research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London has found that the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats. The report is summarised in this article from the Guardian newspaper.

Ecological overspending and overshoot

August 19th was Earth Overshoot Day 2014, the approximate date humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what the Earth can renew this year. In less than 8 months, we demanded an amount of ecological resources and services equivalent to what Earth can regenerate for all of 2014.  On Earth Overshoot Day, humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. For the rest of the year, we are drawing down our ecological assets.

Ecological deficit spending is made possible by depleting stocks of fish, trees and other resources, and accumulating waste such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. Currently, the carbon Footprint is the largest portion of humanity’s Footprint — a result of emitting greenhouse gases faster than they can be absorbed by forests and oceans — and contributes significantly to humanity’s ecological overspending.

According to Global Footprint Network’s calculations, it would take more than 1.5 Earths to provide the bio-capacity needed to support humanity’s current Ecological Footprint. Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the bio-capacity of three planets well before mid-century. This may be physically unfeasible. Today, 86 percent of the world population lives in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. These “ecological debtor” countries either deplete their own ecological resources or get them from elsewhere. Were Japan’s residents to consume ecological resources and services solely from within their country’s borders, they would demand 7 Japans. In other words, Japan’s Footprint is 7 times larger than its bio-capacity. Similarly, it would take 4.3 Switzerlands to support Switzerland and 2.7 Egypts to support Egypt.

Not all countries demand more than their ecosystems can provide, but even the reserves of such “ecological creditor” nations like Brazil, Indonesia, and Sweden are shrinking over time. For these countries, the main challenge is to treat their natural assets as ever-more significant sources of wealth to be preserved and nurtured over the long term, as opposed to riches to be squandered for short-term profits.

Calculate how much ecological debt you are causing



Community and corporate action for Spaceship Earth

This week saw two encouraging and contrasting events. The first was huge street protests around the world in more than 2,000 locations demanding urgent action from those in power to ease the effect of humans on the climate of our planet. The People’s Climate March was campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York on 23 September. The UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon who took part in New York told reporters “This is the planet where our subsequent generations will live. There is no ‘Plan B’ because we do not have ‘Planet B’.”

The second piece of encouraging news was the decision of the Rockefeller Foundation to stop investing in coal, oil, and gas production enterprises. Heirs to the Rockefeller family, which made its vast fortune from oil, are to sell investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy.  The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is joining a coalition of philanthropists pledging to rid themselves of more than $50 bn (£31 bn) in fossil fuel assets. The philanthropic organisation was founded in 1940 by the sons of John D Rockefeller. As of 31 July 2014, the fund’s investment assets were worth $860 million. “There is a moral imperative to preserve a healthy planet,” Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, a great-great-granddaughter of Mr Rockefeller and a trustee of the fund. This divestment (withdrawing investment in economic activities) is focused on four energy sources that have led to a new acronym – CONG – coal, oil. nuclear power and gas.

It will be interesting to see which of these events results has the greatest impact on easing one aspect of the accelerating and damaging human impact on our planetary home, Spaceship Earth.

The worship of profit in a deified market

The first Jesuit and first non-European Pope in the modern era produced a 50000 word Apostolic Exhortation in Nov 2013.  

[An apostolic exhortation is a type of communication from the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It encourages a community of people to undertake a particular activity but does not define Church doctrine. It is considered lower in formal authority than a papal encyclical, but higher than other ecclesiastical letters, Apostolic Letters and Other Papal Writings – Wikipedia]

In Chapter 2, paragraphs 52-58, Pope Francis’  theme is that “money must serve, not rule!” He develops a critique of the way money depersonalises peoples’ relationships with reality and each other and becomes an end in itself, referring to:

“the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings. …”

“The thirst for power and possessions know no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

“When a society—whether local, national, or global—is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquillity.”

A longer extract from the Apostolic Exhortation is here.

Money and debt oil the wheels of ever-accelerating economic growth that concentrates wealth and power and underlies so many threats to a sustainable future for Spaceship Earth. One imaginative simile is that money is like the ‘holy spirit’ of the deified market!

Three ways to deny climate change

Jeremy Williams reviews (below) John Foster’s book After Sustainability. This book augments the summary of the document by Jonathon Rowson. Foster uses the term ‘implicative denial’ rather than Rowson’s ‘stealth denial’ for those of us who “say how important climate change is without ever doing anything serious about it”? In other words – accepting the scientific evidence but denying the implications for how we act. Community action is the ambition of the CASE initiative on both climate change and other global threats to the sustainability of Spaceship Earth:

WILLIAMS – Foster sees the issue of climate change as a philosopher, and he’s convinced that denial is not just something that the bad guys do. We’re all involved in a complex culture of denial, he suggests, and climate activists are as likely to be caught up in it as everyone else. Drawing on sociologist Stanley Cohen, he outlines three forms of denial:

Literal denial: This is the climate denial we’re familiar with – the insistence that global warming isn’t happening. It’s an active ignoring of the facts, and it’s easy to sustain. Just add the word ‘debunked’ to any climate related Google search you do in the name of ‘reading up on it’, and you won’t see anything you don’t want to see.

Interpretative denial: The second form of denial is more nuanced. It accepts the facts, but rejects the meaning, interpreting them in a way that makes them ‘safer’ to our personal psychology. So one might accept climate change, but conclude that there’s nothing we can do. Or you might choose to frame climate change as a purely technical energy problem or a market failure, making it something that experts need to address and thereby removing any responsibility to change the way we live.

Implicative denial: The form Foster is most interested in is the third kind, where we accept the facts and the interpretation, but suppress the “psychological, political and moral implications that would conventionally follow”. It’s how we let ourselves off the hook, “quasi-intentionally not following up on the uncomfortable implications” of what we know.

Foster argues that implicative denial is rife. It’s why so many of us, politicians and campaigners included, can continue to say how important climate change is without ever doing anything serious about it. By nature, implicative denial is covert – it has to be, because we’ve already agreed that climate change is happening and that it matters. It is seen in the jokey brushing away of climate change when it comes up in small talk, in the diversion of green consumerism, in what Norwegian psychologist Kari Norgard calls the ‘social production of innocence’.

It’s also seen in environmental activism, Foster argues. Whether it is dipping a toe in the local Transition Towns initiative or signing online petitions, there are endless ways for people to be ‘doing something’ without seriously confronting the reality of climate change.  

Peak oil and the elephant in the room

This short essay by Richard Heinberg points out how the decreasing availability of easily accessible liquid hydrocarbon fuel remains central to the cluster of crises facing Spaceship Earth. Between 2002 and 2011 the price of a barrel of oil rose five times while continuing to contribute to anthropogenic global climate disruption.

There is a danger that we lose the big picture when grappling to understand the threats to our planet, rather like the blind men in the Indian proverb who are trying to discover what an elephant is by examining only its component parts. Heinberg, a leading analyst on the availability, use an effects of energy resources, paints the bigger picture. He argues that we urgently need policies of de-growth and de-carbonisation to keep our Spaceship Earth as a sustainable home.