Planetary Ponzi Scheme

A Ponzi schemes is defined as

a form of fraud in which belief in the success of a non-existent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors.

Current extraction of earth resources uses according to Ecological Footprint research uses up a full year’s supply by the 1st of August this year – so-called “Earth Overshoot Day”. This article shows how since the 1970s humans have consumed more earth’s resources than can be renewed, in other words each year demand has overshot supply. Thus at present humans consume resources at a rate that would require 1,7 planets to sustain – hence robbing coming generations of the planetary support for the lifestyles we no enjoy.

Resource use is not, of course, a non-existent enterprise as is a Ponzi scheme in the financial world, but resource use that assumes future supply of resources that will satisfy future demand is an unfufillable promise as demand is infinite and supply finite and diminishing rapidly.

Here George Monbiot reviews what he calls  “the most profound and far-reaching book I have ever read” The Patterning Instinct in which Jeremy Lent throws light on why our current Ponzi predicament has come about.

Capital growth or Life?

This 2 minute video  sets out the fundamental problem of ensuring a sustainable future in the Anthropocene Epoch.  It is, of course, a gross binary-choice generalisation of a matter of great complexity but it sets out states what is so often avoided – that the drive for wealth that underpins capital accumulation has had devastating consequences for the natural world and the systems of the geosphere that support life on planet earth.

Much of this capital has been used to release fossil fuel that was locked for millions of years in the lithosphere. This cheap energy has allowed technological civilisation to flourish and overshoot the capacity of the planet to support it.  Two remarkably important and brilliant presentations illustrate the effects of this maladaptive consequence of capital accumulation:

Johan Rockstrom  – Beyond the Anthropocene (21 minutes) – presentation at the Davos World Economic Forum in Jan 2017 offers hope of exponential decrease in CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 + pace of exponential acceleration

Nate Hagens – (80 minutes) – a comprehensive ‘big picture’ presentation of exponential human impact on the planet fueled by a 200-year long temporary blip in available cheap fossil energy

Here is a favourite blogger’s take on the short video with which I started the above blog entry.

Heatwave 2018

Simon Lewis is Professor of Global Change at Leeds University and he wrote this Guardian article in response to the heatwave in Western Europe that is continuing into mid-July 2018. The article laments the failure of politicians to place climate change as high on the political agenda as Brexit or other distractions from the accelerating human impact on the planet.  Lewis is co-author with Mark Maslin of a 2018 book The Human Planet. CO2 emissions that accelerate global warming result from the impact of fossil-fueled conversion of resources into products and services for the current global population of 7.6 billion. The consumption of these products and services and related CO2 emissions that underlie global warming is extremely uneven and Lewis and Maslin pose the following question and offer stark alternative answers:

  • What will be the outcome of billions of people trying to match the resource use of the richest? How to make resource consumption across the world fairer & below sustainable environmental limits?
  • Either environmental breakdown
  • Or globally coordinated action towards global equality. (Lewis & Maslin, 2018)

The arrival of the US President in the UK at the time of the current heatwave reminds us that globally coordinated action towards global equality  is not his priority as he pulls out of the Paris Agreement and strives to MAGA (Make America Great Again) in a win:lose approach to the future that undermines international institutions.

And from a Resilience article:

According to calculations from climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, this year will likely be the world’s fourth warmest year on record globally, behind 2015, 2016, and 2017. With another El Niño on the way, next year could be even hotter.

All over the world, heatwaves are getting longer and more intense, the most well-documented and deadliest consequence of our failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

China – from ecological disaster to ‘ecological civilisation’?

A recent article published in Nature by Australian researchers is summarised here  along with two videos from the academic popular journalist on-line publication The Conversation.

Long-term public investment has brought about huge ecological advances since the misguided hubris of Mao’s campaigns to control nature misfired and led to large-scale environmental degradation and much human suffering in rural areas. President Xi has invented the goal of building an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ by working with nature not against it. Not all has gone well, thusfar, but there have been vast benefits in undoing the errors of past badly conceived unintended impacts of ignoring natural processes that maintain equilibrium between societies and the natural world.

World energy statistics 2017

This article provides and update on the sources of energy  used globally to fuel human activity. It shows record highs as demand for evermore energy continues to rise and action to save energy decreases.

Renewable energy grew by the largest amount ever last year, while coal-fired electricity also reached a record high, according to new global data from oil giant BP. However, set against continued rapid rises in energy demand fuelled by oil and gas, renewables were not enough to prevent global CO2 emissions rising significantly for the first time in four years, the figures show. Still, the goals of the Paris Agreement look as far away as ever in the wake of these latest figures, given emissions must, ultimately, reach net-zero by mid-century to avoid dangerous warming.

Last year saw the strongest energy demand growth since 2013, BP says, with the 2.2% rise being well above the 1.7% average of the past decade. Developing countries accounted for four-fifths of the increase, BP says, though the EU also saw above-average demand growth. Meanwhile, global coal demand returned to growth after three years of declines, rising 25Mtoe (1.0%). However, coal use remains 3.5% below a peak reached in 2013. 

The rise in demand for coal, oil and gas means global CO2 emissions grew by 426MtCO2 (1.6%) in 2017, BP’s figures suggest. This follows three years of flat or falling emissions, when coal use was also falling. BP’s data broadly aligns with a 2% growth estimate published last November by the Global Carbon Project.

All told, the share of global energy use met by fossil fuels fell again in 2017 to the lowest level recorded by BP of 85.0%, down from 85.3% in 2016.


In-Depth: BP’s Global Data for 2017 Shows Record Highs for Coal and Renewables


Free public transport

This Jeremy Williams blog, like so many of his upbeat contributions relating to the ‘public good’, reports on a selection of examples where free public transport has brought benefits to travellers and to the environment.

“it’s worth remembering that car drivers don’t pay the full cost of their transport choices either. The costs of congestion, pollution, accidents and climate change are all externalised. Governments often pay for roads and maintenance, parking and policing. Everybody’s getting a subsidy one way or another. Why not price in more of the full cost of driving, and use it to encourage public transport?”…

“Does it work? Evidence is mixed. Talinn found that the people most likely to use the free bus were not car drivers but pedestrians. The number of bus riders rose, the number of walkers fell – but 10% of drivers did switch to the bus, which made enough of a difference for the scheme to be judged a success. In fact, Estonia is planning to follow Talinn’s lead and make a nationwide free transport network. In other places, bus travel soared and there’s no question that it worked. But since there are many models for funding and operating free travel, and many different goals – from reduced rush hour traffic to social inclusion to air pollution – there’s no one way to assess success.”

Antarctic Ice Loss

This article describes a report based on satellite observations that records the acceleration of ice loss caused in particularly by warming oceans that are thinning the offshore ice shelves by up to 5 metres annually.

Antarctica is shedding ice at an accelerating rate. Satellites monitoring the state of the White Continent indicate some 200 billion tonnes a year are now being lost to the ocean as a result of melting. This is pushing up global sea levels by 0.6 mm annually – a three-fold increase since 2012 when the last such assessment was undertaken.

Glaciologists usually talk of three distinct regions because they behave slightly differently from each other. In West Antarctica, which is dominated by those marine-terminating glaciers, the assessed losses have climbed from 53 billion to 159 billion tonnes per year over the full period from 1992 to 2017.

On the Antarctic Peninsula, the finger of land that points up to South America, the losses have risen from seven billion to 33 billion tonnes annually. This is largely, say scientists, because the floating ice platforms sitting in front of some glaciers have collapsed, allowing the ice behind to flow faster.

East Antarctica, the greater part of the continent, is the only region to have shown some growth. Much of this region essentially sits out of the ocean and collects its snows over time and is not subject to the same melting forces seen elsewhere. But the gains are likely quite small, running at about five billion tonnes per year.

A second article by two of the researchers elaborates with a little more detail about how almost 3 trillion tonnes of ice have been lost from Antarctica since satellite monitoring began 25 years ago:

We have found that since 1992 Antarctica has lost 2,720 billion tonnes of ice, raising global sea levels by 7.6 mm. What is most concerning, is that almost half of this ice loss has occurred in the past five years. Antarctica is now causing sea levels to rise at a rate of 0.6 mm a year – faster now than at any time in the past 25 years.

Recorded interview with one of the researchers.

Additional article with scenarios for the Antarctic in 2070.

Further coverage with graphic illustration of West Antarctic Ice Shelf (base below sea level) loss of ice mass – five-year tripling of the rate of loss.