George Monbiot is another of the hero-activists working tirelessly to educate the [Guardian reading] public about the core problem of how consumer societies are trashing the planet due to relentless and universal commitment to GDP-measured exponential economic growth and consumption. In this article he adds to his stream of publications yet more telling detail about the implications of this unsustainable credit-driven greed for more and more wealth that is a feature of both the rich and emerging economies.
A global growth rate of 3% means that the size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.
As always, Monbiot supplies additonal links to his sources and previous articles and uses powerful passionate prose to make his case. Here on video Monbiot in a wide-ranging 13-minute oration calls for a restorative narrative as an alternative to neoliberal economics and politics. He adds ‘household’ and ‘commons’ (community land purchase) to conventional economic calculations to replace token representative democracy with genuine participative democracy and to replace public squalor; private affluence with public affluence and private sufficiency – ‘a politics of belonging’. His detailed vision is set out in his book ‘Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis’.
The Economist warned in April 2017 that the economic gains from oil extraction and sea routes in the Arctic would be heavily outweighed by economic setbacks resulting from metling sea and land ice and permafrost. “The Paris agreement will not save the Arctic as it is today,” says Lars-Otto Reiersen, executive secretary of the group behind the latest edition of “Snow, Water, Ice, Permafrost in the Arctic” (SWIPA), a report produced under the auspices of the Arctic Council, a scientific-policy club for the eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle) …The thaw is happening far faster than once expected. Over the past three decades the area of sea ice in the Arctic has fallen by more than half and its volume has plummeted by three-quarters (see map). SWIPA estimates that the Arctic will be free of sea ice in the summer by 2040. Scientists previously suggested this would not occur until 2070. The thickness of ice in the central Arctic ocean declined by 65% between 1975 and 2012; record lows in the maximum extent of Arctic sea ice occurred in March.
Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has now reached 400 parts per million (ppm), up from 280ppm three centuries ago; the Earth is on average 1ºC hotter than in pre-industrial times. Although 190-odd countries signed up to limit warming to “well below” 2ºC above pre-industrial temperatures in Paris in 2015, pledges for mitigating action are likely to see temperatures increase by around 3ºC—assuming countries stick to their promises. But different parts of the world warm at different rates. Even if the Paris agreement is implemented in full, the Arctic will warm by between 5ºC and 9ºC above the 1986-2005 average over the Arctic ocean in winter.
ICE MELT Arctic Sea – Roy Scranton , Harvard (video lecture 90 mins) Climate modelling – projecting future warming; Drowning cities – predictions with 3C global warming; Economist article – “The Paris agreement will not save the Arctic”.
Here we read yet another of so many warnings of the existential threats to the future of Spaceship Earth that continue to be ignored by the political and economic decision-makers who can really make a difference, although most humans are contributing to the problem. And also here in another article is a list of specific of trends over the last 25 years that concerns the 15000 signatory scientists from 184 countries:
- A 26 percent reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
- A drop in the harvest of wild-caught fish, despite an increase in fishing effort
- A 75 percent increase in the number of ocean dead zones
- A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland, much of it converted for agricultural uses
- Continuing significant increases in global carbon emissions and average temperatures
- A 35 percent rise in human population
- A collective 29 percent reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish
Global trends have worsened since 1992, the authors wrote, when more than 1,700 scientists—including a majority of the living Nobel laureates at the time—signed a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The article was written by an international team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. The authors used data maintained by government agencies, nonprofit organizations and individual researchers to warn of “substantial and irreversible harm” to the Earth.
“Some people might be tempted to dismiss this evidence and think we are just being alarmist,” said Ripple. “Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences. Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate.”
The gap between the worldviews of scinentists and those who hold power and wealth in our world remains worryingly wide. Clearly they are motivated by very different priorities. But all presumably would not wish to hasten the collapse of global equilibrium. Most of them must want the best for their children and grandchildren.
My American friend Charlie Goldman today sent me this illuminating article from Vox that explains the opposition of the Republican (GOP) Party in the US to accepting and acting on the evidence about climate disruption. The article also explains their commitment to policies that further develop and subsidise fossil fuel production. The Republican Party and the Trump cabinet, are among all other nations, isolated in this stance as the meeting of COP 23 in Bonn this week illustrates. The writer of this article examines their anti-progressive core values that help to explain this exceptional intransigence. It advocates an aggressive fight (agonism) against the conservative elites that goes beyond the use of the scientific evidence to try and persuade the deniers of the dangerous trajectory of carbon emissions now threatening the future equilibrium of the global atmosphere.
“But it may be time to face the fact that there is no magic message, no persuasive strategy, that can get us out of this mess. There’s no persuading the conservative base without conservative elites and there’s no persuading conservative elites as long as their material interests point the wrong direction. …
“For Democrats, raising intensity would mean making it a fight, staking a claim, defining the core values involved, telling vivid stories with heroes and villains and repeating them frequently. It would mean making climate change and clean energy tier-one priorities — organizing around them, talking about them at every opportunity, pushing them into the news and popular culture.
“It would mean, rather than begging Republicans for assent or small scraps of policy assistance, doing everything possible to publicize their intransigence and make it core to their identity. Tie it around their necks every time a microphone appears; make them own it. …
“The weather is only getting worse, young people are only getting more engaged, and clean energy is only getting cheaper. Climate change and clean energy will be winning issues in the long term.
“Why not claim and own them while it’s still possible? Then the GOP’s motto in the 2020s can be: ‘Hey, We Like Clean Energy Too!'”
UN initiatives can never be binding on nation states and much cynicism exists about their value particularly when delegates assemble from around the world to discuss climate change, their flights emitting much CO2. But awareness needs to be raised and these meetings are a drop in the ocean of conversion of fossil fuels in to atmospheric CO2, just as are own personal travels.
The Climate Action Leadership Network (CALN) was convened in September 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters with the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa. It will support the Champions and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action to encourage governments to raise the ambition of their national climate pledges, in advance of when they are scheduled to take effect in 2020.
The Conference of the Parties (COP23) starts in Bonn on 6 November with the hope that negotiators will make meaningful progress on implementing the provisions of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This article suggests five things that the 3000 delegates arriving in Bonn should:
- recognise the “net-zero” emissions goal in the Paris Agreement means the end of fossil fuels
- agree that their commitments to cut emissions, known as “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), are inadequate and announce revised and more aggressive ones
- speed up adding to the US$10 billion in total of the US$100 billion a year by 2020 of the new investments in the Green Climate Fund
- agree on certain rules left vague at COP22 in Marrakech whic need to be agreed on by 2018, in order to help the first stocktake of progress in implementing the Paris Agreement
- explicitly accept that “negative emissions” technologies are no substitute for aiming for zero emissions.
The academic authors of the article conclude:
All five of the above are pretty unlikely. The chances are that negotiations will continue along the path of nothing happening until the last minute (if then).
But here’s one that will almost certainly happen, but . The Climate Action Leadership Network, will be largely meaningless although it will be fully launched, to keep up the semblance of momentum in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, renewable energy technology will drop in price independently of all the fine words, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will continue to grow.
Increasingly I am discovering articles or presentations that are pointing to the inevitability that the overshoot of the human-created Machine World of the carrying capcity of the Natural World’s eco-systems will lead to the collapse of society as we know it. This blog published on MAHB uses the label of the ‘Time of Great Dying’ of planetary support systems to emphasise this conclusion. ‘The population bomb has finally exploded’ it claims as one might expect on a website from Stanford University’s Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere where Paul Ehrlich , author of the original ‘The Population Bomb’, now in his 90s, is still active.
Barry Glen writes to introduce the blog:
Earth system science is now revealing human impact on the earth as a single complex system although impact is largely from the 18% OECD humans who account for 74% of global GDP. See:
(30 min. documentary video from Australia featuring Will Steffen – excellent introduction) 50 min. lecture by Will Steffen
– “The Great Acceleration”
(2015) earth as a single complex system – post-1950 massive rich world (18% popn.) impact (74% consumption of ‘stuff’ = TAKE-MAKE-USE-DUMP
The latest World Meteorological Organisation evidence on CO2 and methane concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere is reported in this BBC article. The unexpected rapidity of the 3.3 ppm rise CO2 in 2016 was higher than the previous record 2.7 ppm in 1997-8. “since 1990 there has been a 40% increase in total radiative forcing, that’s the warming effect on our climate of all greenhouse gases.
the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene era. The climate then was 2-3C warmer, and sea levels were 10-20m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets”.
These results mean that the assumptions made relating to the Paris Accord on Climate Change will need to be reassessed as being too modest in their proposed guidance on reducing emissions. Further concerns are being raised about the unexpected rise in methane concentrations particularly in the tropics and sub-tropics which do not seem to be directly connected to emissions originating from human activity.
“The WMO report has been issued just a week ahead of the next instalment of UN climate talks, in Bonn. Despite the declaration by President Trump that he intends to take the US out of the deal, negotiators meeting in Germany will be aiming to advance and clarify the rulebook of the Paris agreement”.
Alarm bells ringing
2017 hottest non-El Nino year ever
Unequivocal evidence – from US climate assessment agency report – “If America’s leaders don’t start listening to scientists, the whole world is going to pay a truly terrible price.”
The scientists’ predictions include:
- A global sea level rise of up to 8ft (2.4 metres) cannot be ruled out by the end of the century
- Risks of drought and flooding will increase
- There will be more frequent wildfires and devastating storms
Running to nearly 500 pages, the report concludes that the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilisation”.
Today’s New York Times has yet another of hundreds of similar articles exposing the complicity of American politicians in allowing big business to threaten the welfare of both the public and the planet. Nicholas Kristof’s article focuses on the cynical appointment by the Trump administation of pro-business, anti-regulatory personnel to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and how the toxic chemical chlorpyrifos that was in line to be banned will now be allowed to contribute to the profits of Dow Chemicals. The artice features a graph that shows the huge contributions made by Dow Chemical to the lobbying process in Congress and to Trump’s inauguration.
This pattern of buying political support by multi-billion dollar companies has a long an persistent history. The most successful campaign to place profit ahead of public health concerns was the 40-year delay in distorting the scientific links between smoking and cancer and heart disease. Then came the case of misleading the public about carcinogenous flame retardant chemical used in furniture and, of course, the massive impact of fossil energy companies buying politicians to deny the evidence on anthropogenic global warming. One might expect the pollution of land and sea by indestructible plastics to receive the same treatment by those who make profits from its production and free disposal into the natural world.
As citizens we can offer pin-prick local responses such as that of my friend Charlie Goodman in South Carolina who is engaged in a campaign in his suburb of Columbia to persuade local restaurants and food outlets to replace their use of plastics with materials more compatible with the cycles of nature. Charlie writes: We are getting ready to approach restaurants and bars with a whole set of tools (posters, signs, badges, surveys) and get them to sign on.
The new website has interesting short videos about the massive impact of man-made plastics on the Natural World. Hundreds of thousands of small campaigns and websites (case4all.org included) and the independent self-funding press are engaged in the David vs. Goliath testimony and action against eco-villainy that cares little for the side-effects of profit-making business success.
US Ecocide under Trump – Zinke exposed as agent of nature destruction motivated by fossil fuel political donations.
Richard Heinberg (interviewed here) at the Post-Carbon Institute is a prolific researcher and educator on global sustainability issues. His latest manifesto “There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss.” questions the myth that technology will solve current problems of human impact on the planet. I have been reading his books for several years and have taken his recent course (Fee of $20) and always, his lucid explanations bring home the urgency of the action needed to rein in exponential trajectories that have now become unprecedented existential threats. The last section of the manifesto offers tangible suggestions for action:
8. What you can do right now
Each of us needs to take responsibility for addressing climate change, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. You can start right now—just choose where to start: from a place of personal growth, within your community, or take it all the way to the national or global levels.
- Climate Stability: Ditch the screen and reconnect with the people in your life. Take the pledge to unplug.
- Right-sized Population: Talk with friends and loved ones about family size. Read this article or Bill McKibben’s book Maybe One for ideas on how to start a conversation.
- Biodiversity Conservation: Turn your yard, balcony container garden, schoolyard, or work landscape into Certified Wildlife Habitat.
- All Three Goals: Learn how to build resilience in your own community. Take the Think Resilience online course.
National / Global Actions
If we do all of the things suggested here, can we turn the tide and avert ecological catastrophe and social turmoil? There’s no guarantee. But if we continue on our present path, no magic machine will be able to prevent current trends from converging into an unprecedented ecological and human crisis. Nor can national governments by themselves save the day: they are too invested in the current growth-based model of development, and in many cases too politically polarized to be capable of managing such a profound change of direction. Our only real hope is to join together as individuals, as households, and as communities to weave a new fabric of cooperative action rooted in deep and ancient values. That means deliberately choosing to live in a world that is sustainable and equitable, by following such a world’s inevitable and inherent rules.
Johan Rockstrom is the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and co-developer of the planetary boundaries research and delineation of a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity within the limits of global ecological systems of the natural world. His several research-based presentations are among the best for anyone seeking to understand the urgent nature of maintaining the environmental conditions that gave rise to human civilisations during the stable Holocene Epoch that preceded the current post-Industrial Revolution Anthropocene Epoch.
TED Talk (2010) – Let the environment guide our development and (2013) Are we bankrupting nature?
Climate Crisis: The Big Picture and Beyond the Anthropocene – 2017 February Davos WEF presentations
This TEDblog introduces his 2013 The Future of the Sustainable Earth TEDTalk in which he offers a unified framework of goals for a sustainable future for humanity:
1. Energy for thriving lives and livelihoods
2. Sustainable food security
3. Secure sustainable water
4. Universal clean energy
5. Healthy and protective ecosystems
6. Governance for sustainable societies
This article is about the impact that Rockstrom’s planetary boundary research has had and how 4 boundaries are already overshot.
Kate Raworth’s recently publicised ‘doughnut economics’ model subsequently incorporated the nine planetary boundaries identified by Rockstrom’s team as well as the notion of a safe operating space (SOS). Her Planetary Economics is an attempt to provide an alternative to neoclassical economic models that are based on national and corporate competition but discount environmental and social costs and focus only on GDP as the metric for ‘development’ and ‘progress’. Seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist has eight clever short video animations, each less than 2 minutes, that outline the substance of her proposed new approach.
Rockstrom’s presentations end with upbeat messages such as ‘we have the knowledge and thinking required to design a safe and good Anthropocene — by intertwining the world with planet Earth in social economic harmony.’ These tend to contradict the evidence that he presents about the Great Acceleration towards tipping points that hasten existential threats. For example to meet Paris Climate targets will require a global zero carbon economy by 2050. This will need an exponential decrease in emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing them by half every ten years. This currently does not appear remotely possible even though ‘we have the knowledge and thinking’. What is missing is political will to develop a new mindset to replace the universal desire for ever-increasing affluence.
These two ‘gurus’ – one an environmental scientist, the other an economist – offer crucial insights and ways forward in the exponentially-challenged future of the Anthropocene in which we have created a big Machine World that is now too big for a Small Planet.