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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
The Club of Rome report Limits to Growth’s MIT-based computer model in 1972 predicted that with ‘business as usual’ the global system would collapse within the next century. The Guardian newspaper now reports new research at the University of Melbourne, Australia showing that this dismal projection is justified by trends in the key variables over the last 40 years. Spaceship Earth is on course for overshooting its limits due to the obsessive drive for growth among the states and ruling elites that constitute its passengers. Read the Guardian report here .