The very notion of ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron when applied to economic output of goods and services on a finite planet with a burgeoning human population. Yet Christine Legarde, the Director of the World Bank, uses the term with no hesitation or qualification. Even worse, a former senior economist in the USA, Laurence Summers, who oversaw the deregulation of the financial markets that led to the 2008 economic collapse, demonstrated alarmingly how economic thinking can completely ignore a concern for the well-being of poor people living in the least prosperous parts of the world. This article from Resilience entitled The Global Economy’s ‘Impeccable Logic’ is an almost unbelievable illustration of economic immorality. The obsession with economic growth and capital accumulation appears to override ethical concerns for the well-being of both people and the planet.
The question of the ethics of climate change is the theme of this book “A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change” by philosopher Stephen M. Gardiner. He argues that it is immoral to take modest economic benefits now while leaving massive environmental and economic costs for those who will live after us. Such an ethical stance seems indefensible.
Jeremy Williams today has an important blog.
He announces , with the aid of a short video, the campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground in order to limit global warming. Three key numbers are used:
2 degrees Celsius – the agreed limit required if global warming is not to sabotage ‘Spaceship Earth’.
565 – the amount in gigatons of CO2 emissions that would warm the Earth by 2 degrees Celsius (the Carbon Budget Limit)
2795 – the amount in gigatons of CO2 locked up in known reserves of fossil fuel. Companies last year invested 700 billion dollars looking to explore for more of these reserves.
Hence the campaign to ‘keep coal down the hole and oil in the soil’!
Williams also points out how the British press pays far more attention to the ‘fracas’ of a TV celebrity with his producer than to the threat to civilisation posed by the release of ever-increasing fossil fuel emissions and consequent anthropogenic global warming.
The term Anthropocene is used to describe the emergence of humans as the major geological force affecting the Earth. This article on the BBC website reports on new thinking that dates the start of this large-scale planetary effect to a time over 400 years ago. Since World War II which many have assumed may have been the start of the Anthropocene (literally “The [geological] Age of Humans”) the term “The Great Acceleration” for these planetary effects may be more appropriate. However one uses these terms, the more important issue is whether or not human impact has ‘progressed’ beyond the point of enabling a long-term sustainable co-existence between the Natural World and the ‘Machine World’ created by humans that has now invaded the Earth’s systems. These natural ‘spheres’ include litho-; atmo-; hydro-; cryo- and bio-spheres that support the techosphere and memospheres created by human, themselves a part of the biosphere). The sphere of life evolved over 3.5 billion years. The technosphere (tool and machine -making) by hominid species around 2 to 3 million years ago, but the truly global impact of the technosphere may now be considered as starting around 400 BP while the exponential “Great Acceleration” started only around one lifetime ago for those of us in our mid-70s!
Jeremy Williams shares an interesting analogy in his blog today derived from Michael Jacobs’ book The Green Economy. The notion of ‘the hidden hand’ was Adam Smith’s metaphor for the way that market forces guide economic life, usually interpreted as for the general good. Extending the metaphor: every hand is guided by an elbow and elbows are often the cause of unintended clumsiness, as well as sometimes being used to gain an advantage over one’s rivals! Economic external costs (externalities) that are not factored into the ‘story’ of the ‘hidden hand’ can be seen as an invisible but damaging ‘hidden elbow’. This helps to explain why there is still almost universal acceptance of measures of economic growth (such as the envy of China’s recently announced 7% per annum goal = doubling current GNP in the next 10 years) that fail to factor in costs to the environment and debts passed on to future generations.
This one hour and 40 minute film about China’s pollution was today taken off the internet by the Chinese authorities as the BBC website reports. “BBC News – China takes Under the Dome anti-pollution film offline” – the huge popularity of an impassioned, independent film on the issue appears to have made the communist authorities nervous. Seen by over 100 million viewers before it was removed, the investigative journalist Ms Chai in a very personal way, presents a fact-filled, desperate picture of government indifference and failure to apply environmental laws against particulate pollution of the air in particular, as well as criticising the state-owned monopolies of energy and manufacturing industries that cause the pollution. She compares the lack of progress in China in maintaining clean air with long-standing improvements made in western countries where there is less corruption and where environmental laws are actually enforced.
The film is sub-titled in English and Ms Chai has been dubbed as the Rachel Carson of China and even compared with Al Gore for his high-impact climate change presentation “An Inconvenient Truth”. While doubt was sown on Gore’s alarmism by the interests of big business, at least his views and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” were not removed from circulation!
The Oxfam Doughnut model, popularised by Kate Raworth, brings together research on planetary boundaries and human development with the concept of a ‘safe & just operating space’ for humanity. In this Oxfam blog, Katherine Trebeck introduces the model as it applies to the UK and finds that on many of the key indicators of planetary and social well-being, there are significant problems.:
The UK’s impact upon planetary boundaries is far beyond what its population size can justify. The UK significantly outstrips proposed boundaries in nearly all of the environmental domains identified … At the same time, inequalities in the distribution of the UK’s wealth are causing deprivation across many indicators as people find themselves out of work, unable to afford to heat their homes and forced to visit food banks or simply go without enough food.
The original 22-page report by Raworth was A Safe and Just Space for Humanity Oxfam Discussion Paper, February 2012. It is relevant reading as the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals are being formulated
“Beyond Cockpit-ism: Four Insights to Enhance the Transformative Potential of the Sustainable Development Goals”
This new publication from the Stockholm Resilience Centre offers proposals for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to be announced in September 2015. These goals will succeed the Millennium Development Goals that set targets to guided national policies on creating a more just and sustainable world up the to end of 2014. This SRC publication proposes four ‘insights’ for the SDGs: planetary boundaries; safe operating space for humanity; energetic society; green competition.
An ‘energetic society’ implies multi-level action to address the pressing issues that Spaceship Earth is facing. This is exactly the purpose of the CASE initiative and this website.
This site is from the progressive ‘alternative’ on-line news source Truthout that offers free access to readers who want an alternative view to what appears in the predominantly business-oriented corporate-owned press. The link is to a collection of articles written by Truthout’s staff and contributors since September 2012. They relate, with a North American slant, to a wide range of issues relevant to concerns for the ways in which profit-driven human behaviours threaten the future of Spaceship Earth and its species:
As the global impacts of anthropomorphic climate disruption continue to intensify, corporations and the global elite continue to plunder our planet, subjecting areas of the planet that already face fresh-water scarcity issues and other environmental contamination problems to still greater risks from various forms of pollution.
It is not clear whether we have already passed a tipping point such that human survival beyond the next few decades cannot be assured, but what is overwhelmingly clear is that capitalism – and the drive for profits no matter what the threat to the ecosystem all humanity depends upon – is a force for global destruction.
In this space, we’ll gather the work of Truthout writers and contributors as they investigate the overall systemic threats to the ecosystem, how they are imbricated in the organization of our society, possible forms of mitigation, and how specific environments and communities suffer from transglobal corporate profit-seeking.
This new tool has been produced by the UK Department of Environment and Climate Change to help people see how the 40 ‘levers’ that will determine carbon emissions might be used to control these emissions in order to hold global temperatures to within the additional 2 degree centigrade limits to global warming agreed by world governments.