UN Sustainable Development Goals in Graphics

This extremely helpful pdf “People and the Earth”  has been produced by the Dutch government’s Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) which at this site is a very valuable source of current information about the predicament of Spaceship Earth in the Anthropocene Epoch.

PBL, an independent research agency, lists its core tasks as:

  1. to investigate and document current environmental, ecological and spatial quality and to evaluate policy;
  2. to explore future social trends that influence environmental, ecological and spatial quality and to evaluate possible policy options;
  3. to identify social issues of importance to environmental, ecological and spatial quality and raise them for discussion;
  4. to identify possible strategic options for achieving government objectives in the fields of the environment, nature and spatial planning.
    “People and the Earth” is a free download and is introduced as follows:With the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world committed to an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable world. The corresponding objectives, laid down in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasise the importance of managing the environment and natural resources to further both human development and the well-being of the global population.

Although I am  currently preparing a seminar that raises doubts about whether development as exponential GDP growth makes the phrase ‘sustainable development’ and oxymoron, the noble intentions of the UN to combat both human poverty and planetary destruction are highly laudable and brilliantly displayed in the free-download pdf.

TED Talk on SDG progress (or lack of) after 3 years.

Circular economy & its impact

Reported new research in Vienna has calculated that converting from our current throwaway (MAKE-USE-DISCARD) economy to a  100% circular (REDUCE-RE-USE-RECYCLE) economy would make little impact on the level of greenhouse gas emissions:

“… even if the world achieved 100 percent recycling, our total carbon footprint would be reduced by less than 1.6 percent (from 9,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per person annually to 8,856 kilograms). Considering that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “safe” scenario for 2050 requires a more than 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions, this can seem like a drop in the bucket.”

Several studies that attempt to throw light on the ‘circular economy’ has become a a “buzzword”, were released in a June 2017 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Industrial Ecology entitled “Exploring the Circular Economy.” The issue contains 25 articles written by university and institute-based researchers from around the world.

“Exploring the Circular Economy.” You can read the entire issue here. All articles are currently provided free on the Journal of Industrial Ecology site.

1.5C global warming limit feasible?

Could this be good news on the feasibility of limiting the 1.5C increase in global warming envisaged by the COP 21 Paris Climate Accord? A new study reported here suggests that ‘an updated analysis using the latest data shows the global carbon emissions budget that meets the 1.5C goal is significantly bigger than thought, equivalent to 20 years of current annual emissions…. the new work revealed that for a 66% chance of meeting the 1.5C target in 2100, the budget is 240bn tonnes of carbon, assuming that other greenhouse gases such as methane are also controlled. This means the target could be met if strong action is taken. The scientists also warned that carbon cuts need to happen sooner rather than later, starting with countries strengthening their Paris pledges in 2018.’

The new study reminds us of the difficulties of making projections but does not mention the expected addition of two billion more humans to Spaceship Earth by 2050 and another 2 billion after that by the target date for limiting global warming which is 2100. So often the climate disruption debate fails to make connections to other related existential threats to so-called civilised life in the Anthropocene Epoch. Here is a reminder of some of them:



The Seneca Curve and Overshoot



An important graph presented by Ugo Bardi in his new book “The Seneca Curve” which he introduced in a presentation at the Club of Rome. This is the link to the short article in which he elaborates the rapid collapse  in complex systems that overshoot by consuming more resources than they need to maintain carrying capacity. This is the basis of the crises faced on Spaceship Earth in the Anthropocene Epoch.

6th Mass Extinction Update

Thanks to Rob Ford, Principal at Wyedean School and Sixth Form College in the UK, for sending this link to a source – New Atlas – with which I was not familiar. Most of Rob’s students should expect to be alive by 2100 which is the possible ‘tipping point’ identified used by the MIT study described  in the article. The tipping point would be triggered by the increase in atmospheric CO2. The article starts:

In the history of life on Earth, there have been five mass extinction events, with the most extreme example, the Permian extinction, wiping out some 95 percent of all marine life. Now, an MIT professor has analyzed the changes that took place in the carbon cycle leading up to these five main events – as well as dozens of smaller ones – and found that the end of this century could mark the tipping point for a sixth mass extinction event.

Each of the five major extinction events can effectively be traced back to one little troublemaker: carbon. As respiring organisms inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and photosynthesizing plants do the opposite, the Earth naturally cycles carbon through the atmosphere and ocean. But disruptions to that process can throw the whole planet’s climate out of whack, either by adding too much carbon at once or by speeding up the rate at which it’s being added….

Rothman calculated how much carbon it would take today to tip us over the threshold. According to his calculations, if an extra 310 gigatons of carbon is added – say, through human action – it would tip the carbon cycle into “unknown territory” that may lead to mass extinction….

If 310 gigatons sounds like a lot, we have some bad news: humans are full steam ahead towards smashing that figure by the end of the century. According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the best-case scenario for how much carbon humans will add to the oceans by the year 2100 is about 300 gigatons. In the worst case scenario, that number could surpass 500 gigatons.

Political debate on economic de-growth

In Catalonia and in the UK politicians are now starting to examine the alternatives to the universal notion of ‘progress’ as maximising the exponential rate of GDP rate of increase given the finite limits of Spaceship Earth’s carrying capacity. Here are the links to these two welcome and long overdue debates:

Catalonia – CUP (Popular Unity List)

UK – All Party Group on Limits to Growth 

US – De-grow US 2018 – new umbrella group created

Critique of ‘growthism’ from Resilience

Post-Brexit opportunity for de-growth – Nov 2018

A call for radical abundance – Jan 2019 de-growth proposition

IBM and the Anthropocene

1981 brought the cybersphere into people’s homes offices with the launch of the IBM personal computer. This article from the Telegraph records the event and includes an advert from the time which started the massive technological breakthrough that changed the world in such a big way. The Machine World created by human intelligence was now expanded in a new way. Human ingenuity and capital-driven enterprise added to the planet’s airwaves an exponentially exploding cybersphere with an undreamed of capacity to process and store the ‘memes’ (units of cultural meaning) by which humans make sense of existence.

Earth Spheres Diag To the ‘spheres’ of the natural world – the outer skins around the planet (litho-hydro-cryo-hydro-atmo-biospheres) – we now have the ‘memosphere’ embedded, not only in human brains, but also in an infinitely expanding cybersphere. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now ominously poised to outstrip the organic form of human intelligence and has both the potential for both intended and unintended consequences for future existence.

In only around 10000 years, human activity has created the ‘technosphere’ on the surface of the ‘blue dot’ Spaceship Earth and imposed it on the natural spheres. The natural world’s spheres have been evolving for 4,500,000,000 years but in the last 300 years the technosphere has exploded exponentially and in the last 40 years (just over half my lifetime) the growth of computing power has expanded by doubling every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law). The scale of human impact on the planet means that we are now in a new geological Epoch – the Anthropocene -where humans are the greatest geologica force in transforming the earth’s natural spheres.

Although human-made global warming and climate disruption are now much in the news, the rise of computing and the expansion of the cybersphere underlie the globalised financial, economic and commercial systems  have become incredibly complex and inherently unstable as they expand at an exponential rate. Deregulated ‘market forces’ encouraged by neo-liberal values have limited the capacity for political control of the processes unleashed within the Machine World’s invented systems accelerated by computing.

The Telegraph article does not make the leap to the planetary implications of the launch in 1981 of the small home computer. But thinking globally is an urgent need if we are to grasp the reality of contemporary existence and should be a major task for all those who run the world and those who research and teach about our contemporary predicaments. Unfortunately, as we sit before our home computers or access our hand-held computing devices, the mass of distractions divert us from reflecting on the ‘big picture’ and the unpredicatable trajectories and the unintended consequences that lie ahead.