“Natural” Capital?

In his latest post, George Monbiot challenges the market-driven notion of putting a price on the features of the natural environment that the dynamic of the market has served to degrade by ignoring the costs to nature of the unbridled race for economic, demographic and fossil-fueled technological growth. As usual Monbiot eloquently expresses what I have long been concerned about.  Seeing nature and other species merely as “resources” in the service of wealth creation, underpinned by massive debt-creation, is one among several of humanity’s grave errors as humans seek to dominate and control the natural world. Maybe we would better see ourselves as the “unnatural” species that is rapidly replacing the natural with the artificial “Machine World”.

Energy transition under way

Jeremy Williams in his blog today features fossil fuel companies that are finally transforming their business  ambitions away from oil and gas extraction and its consequent CO2 emissions. Whether it is too late to go all the way to leaving these energy resources in the ground is the big question, given the continuing expansion of demand as population and affluence continue to grow rapidly. In Poland the explosion of car ownership continues and the prevalence of SUVs is particularly noticeable. This is just one of many indicators of the apparent lack of awareness of or concern for the long-term consequences of the use of cheap fossil energy that has brought so many advantages to the present generations but that threatens the very existence of generations to come.

Monopoly overcomes anti-trust laws in the US

This video from Robert Reich deals with the rarely discussed domination of the US economy by giant corporations that, unlike in the EU,  are  unchallenged by anti-trust legislation to ensure open competition that tends to keep prices lower and wages higher. The fact that media outlets are also corporate-owned and increasingly monopolies of fewer and fewer corporations, may have something to do with the low profile in the media of the trend towards this concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands.

Sustainable tourism?

On a recent holidat trip tp the Netherlands to see the height of the tulip season, we drove 2500 kms on the return journey. While on Noordvijk’d extensive beach, it was impossible not to notice the large number of con-trails from jets criss-crossing the  blue sky at  high altitudes, some heading for nearby Schiphol Airport. We  had driven rather than flown from Poland because the cost of petrol was siginificantly lower than two air fares. Thus, like most travellers, we placed a higher priority on costs than n the impact of our journey on the environment. The carbon footprint of our choice of transport, let alone all other supply chains that  underpinned a pleasant holiday, was not even  calculated. Such other impacts  include accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods. “Let them that be without sin cast the first stone” as the Bible says!

A new study reported here concludes that tourism contributes 8% of global carbon emissions when the supply chains involved are calculated. Tourism is expanding at a much faster rate than GDP growth.  The researchers identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013. Their results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food. They estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.

“Arctic Amplification” 1990 to present

This very personal article by a  professor of geography who specialises in Arctic studies describes, with an accompanying satellite time-lapse images video, the thinning and retreat of Arctic sea ice over the last few decades and the related effects on the adjacent permafrost and tundra regions on land of the warming causing these rapid effects. Prof. Mark Serreze, DIrector of  National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, was initially sceptical that human activity was behind the rise in temperatures in the Arctic but he writes:

Sometime around 2003, I accepted the overwhelming evidence of human-induced warming, and started warning the public about what the Arctic was telling us. … Today it seems increasingly likely that what is happening in the Arctic will reverberate around the globe. Arctic warming may already be influencing weather patterns in the middle latitudesMeltdown of the Greenland ice sheet is having an increasing impact on sea level rise. As permafrost thaws, it may start to release carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere, further warming the climate.,,, Scientists are trained to be skeptics, but for those of us who study the Arctic, it is clear that a radical transformation is underway. Indeed, the question is no longer whether the Arctic is warming, but how drastically it will change – and what those changes mean for the planet.

Evidence that the Arctic is warming rapidly extends far beyond shrinking ice caps and buckling roads. It also includes a melting Greenland ice sheet; a rapid decline in the extent of the Arctic’s floating sea ice cover in summer; warming and thawing of permafrost; shrubs taking over areas of tundra that formerly were dominated by sedges, grasses, mosses and lichens; and a rise in temperature twice as large as that for the globe as a whole. This outsized warming even has a name: Arctic amplification.

Good news on ecological footprint

This latest bulletin from the Ecological Footprint Network raises the question of whether the impact of humans on the natural world’s carrying capacity, measured by the metrics of the Ecological Footprint researchers, has peaked. They calculate that human impact overload is currently 68% above sustainable carrying capacity, but that this figure has finally levelled off. At the same time, there has been an increase in human happiness around the world according the the Index used to make such a huge generalisation! Amidst all the gloomy prognostications that fill our days. these admittedly human constructed metrics offer some modicum of comfort!

The 2016 Human Development Report (the latest published) found that the U.N. Human Development Index (HDI) improved significantly across all regions from 1990 to 2015. HDI is a composite index based on three components: education, longevity, and income.

What the mainstream press ignores

In Russia Madness on the Eve of Destruction: Hegemony Trumps Survival,  from the independent on-line news source ‘Truthdig’, the following observation is offered:

The fact that the world stands at the eve of ecological self-destruction, with the Trump White House in the lead, elicits barely a whisper in the commercial news media. Unlike Stormy Daniels, for example, that little story—the biggest issue of our or any time—is not good for television ratings and newspaper sales.

The article comments on the press obsession with Russia’s recent conduct that is returning the international political situation into dangerous territory once more, but points to the failure to report on the far more dangerous trajectory of climate change:

 We have 20 to 30 years (to be generous) to get off fossil fuels and curb mass consumption or it’s curtains. We are currently on pace for 500 atmospheric carbon parts per million—a level of warming likely to melt much of the world’s life-supporting Antarctic ice sheet—within 50 years, if not sooner.

The author offers public ownership as a solution, quoting a Marxist analysis:

The potentially disastrous effects from higher temperature, rising sea levels, and extreme weather formations will be hugely damaging especially to the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. But industrialization and human activity need not produce these effects if human beings organized their activities in a planned way with due regard for the protection of natural resources and the wider impact on the environment and public health. That seems impossible under capitalism. … What is really needed … require[s] public control and ownership of the energy and transport industries and public investment in the environment for the public good. …

Previous societal collapses illustrate how weathy and powerful elites remained blind to the impending disaster that impact first upond the common people:

[T]he Elites—due to their wealth—do not suffer the detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners. This buffer of wealth allows Elites to continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe. It … explain[s] how historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases). This buffer effect is further reinforced by the long, apparently sustainable trajectory prior to the beginning of the collapse. While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.

There is much more to contemplate in this attack on elites, profit-driven capitalism, mainstream press neglect of top news, the US assumption of its right to ‘rule the world’. I find it hard to disagree with the main thrust of the analysis, but find the ‘solution’ of a swift enough transformation to global public ownership and socialist planning highly unlikely.

Soil into concrete

A fascinating Guardian article from its ‘Overstretched Cities Series’ on urbanisation, as population pressure on the planet continues in the least economically developed parts of the wo rld:

What happens to those cities over the next 30 years will determine the global environment and the quality of life of the world’s projected 11 billion people. It’s impossible to know how exactly how cities will grow, of course. But the stark fact, according to the United Nations, is that much of humanity is young, fertile and increasingly urban. The median age of Nigeria is just 18, and under 20 across all Africa’s 54 countries; the fertility rate of the continent’s 500 million women is 4.4 births. Elsewhere, half of India’s population is under age 25, and Latin America’s average age is as high as 29.