The latest World Meteorological Organisation evidence on CO2 and methane concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere is reported in this BBC article. The unexpected rapidity of the 3.3 ppm rise CO2 in 2016 was higher than the previous record 2.7 ppm in 1997-8. “since 1990 there has been a 40% increase in total radiative forcing, that’s the warming effect on our climate of all greenhouse gases.
the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene era. The climate then was 2-3C warmer, and sea levels were 10-20m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets”.
These results mean that the assumptions made relating to the Paris Accord on Climate Change will need to be reassessed as being too modest in their proposed guidance on reducing emissions. Further concerns are being raised about the unexpected rise in methane concentrations particularly in the tropics and sub-tropics which do not seem to be directly connected to emissions originating from human activity.
“The WMO report has been issued just a week ahead of the next instalment of UN climate talks, in Bonn. Despite the declaration by President Trump that he intends to take the US out of the deal, negotiators meeting in Germany will be aiming to advance and clarify the rulebook of the Paris agreement”.
Alarm bells ringing
2017 hottest non-El Nino year ever
Unequivocal evidence – from US climate assessment agency report – “If America’s leaders don’t start listening to scientists, the whole world is going to pay a truly terrible price.”
The scientists’ predictions include:
- A global sea level rise of up to 8ft (2.4 metres) cannot be ruled out by the end of the century
- Risks of drought and flooding will increase
- There will be more frequent wildfires and devastating storms
Running to nearly 500 pages, the report concludes that the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilisation”.
Today’s New York Times has yet another of hundreds of similar articles exposing the complicity of American politicians in allowing big business to threaten the welfare of both the public and the planet. Nicholas Kristof’s article focuses on the cynical appointment by the Trump administation of pro-business, anti-regulatory personnel to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and how the toxic chemical chlorpyrifos that was in line to be banned will now be allowed to contribute to the profits of Dow Chemicals. The artice features a graph that shows the huge contributions made by Dow Chemical to the lobbying process in Congress and to Trump’s inauguration.
This pattern of buying political support by multi-billion dollar companies has a long an persistent history. The most successful campaign to place profit ahead of public health concerns was the 40-year delay in distorting the scientific links between smoking and cancer and heart disease. Then came the case of misleading the public about carcinogenous flame retardant chemical used in furniture and, of course, the massive impact of fossil energy companies buying politicians to deny the evidence on anthropogenic global warming. One might expect the pollution of land and sea by indestructible plastics to receive the same treatment by those who make profits from its production and free disposal into the natural world.
As citizens we can offer pin-prick local responses such as that of my friend Charlie Goodman in South Carolina who is engaged in a campaign in his suburb of Columbia to persuade local restaurants and food outlets to replace their use of plastics with materials more compatible with the cycles of nature. Charlie writes: We are getting ready to approach restaurants and bars with a whole set of tools (posters, signs, badges, surveys) and get them to sign on.
The new website has interesting short videos about the massive impact of man-made plastics on the Natural World. Hundreds of thousands of small campaigns and websites (case4all.org included) and the independent self-funding press are engaged in the David vs. Goliath testimony and action against eco-villainy that cares little for the side-effects of profit-making business success.
US Ecocide under Trump – Zinke exposed as agent of nature destruction motivated by fossil fuel political donations.
Richard Heinberg (interviewed here) at the Post-Carbon Institute is a prolific researcher and educator on global sustainability issues. His latest manifesto “There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss.” questions the myth that technology will solve current problems of human impact on the planet. I have been reading his books for several years and have taken his recent course (Fee of $20) and always, his lucid explanations bring home the urgency of the action needed to rein in exponential trajectories that have now become unprecedented existential threats. The last section of the manifesto offers tangible suggestions for action:
8. What you can do right now
Each of us needs to take responsibility for addressing climate change, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. You can start right now—just choose where to start: from a place of personal growth, within your community, or take it all the way to the national or global levels.
- Climate Stability: Ditch the screen and reconnect with the people in your life. Take the pledge to unplug.
- Right-sized Population: Talk with friends and loved ones about family size. Read this article or Bill McKibben’s book Maybe One for ideas on how to start a conversation.
- Biodiversity Conservation: Turn your yard, balcony container garden, schoolyard, or work landscape into Certified Wildlife Habitat.
- All Three Goals: Learn how to build resilience in your own community. Take the Think Resilience online course.
National / Global Actions
If we do all of the things suggested here, can we turn the tide and avert ecological catastrophe and social turmoil? There’s no guarantee. But if we continue on our present path, no magic machine will be able to prevent current trends from converging into an unprecedented ecological and human crisis. Nor can national governments by themselves save the day: they are too invested in the current growth-based model of development, and in many cases too politically polarized to be capable of managing such a profound change of direction. Our only real hope is to join together as individuals, as households, and as communities to weave a new fabric of cooperative action rooted in deep and ancient values. That means deliberately choosing to live in a world that is sustainable and equitable, by following such a world’s inevitable and inherent rules.
Johan Rockstrom is the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and co-developer of the planetary boundaries research and delineation of a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity within the limits of global ecological systems of the natural world. His several research-based presentations are among the best for anyone seeking to understand the urgent nature of maintaining the environmental conditions that gave rise to human civilisations during the stable Holocene Epoch that preceded the current post-Industrial Revolution Anthropocene Epoch.
TED Talk (2010) – Let the environment guide our development and (2013) Are we bankrupting nature?
Climate Crisis: The Big Picture and Beyond the Anthropocene – 2017 February Davos WEF presentations
This TEDblog introduces his 2013 The Future of the Sustainable Earth TEDTalk in which he offers a unified framework of goals for a sustainable future for humanity:
1. Energy for thriving lives and livelihoods
2. Sustainable food security
3. Secure sustainable water
4. Universal clean energy
5. Healthy and protective ecosystems
6. Governance for sustainable societies
This article is about the impact that Rockstrom’s planetary boundary research has had and how 4 boundaries are already overshot.
Kate Raworth’s recently publicised ‘doughnut economics’ model subsequently incorporated the nine planetary boundaries identified by Rockstrom’s team as well as the notion of a safe operating space (SOS). Her Planetary Economics is an attempt to provide an alternative to neoclassical economic models that are based on national and corporate competition but discount environmental and social costs and focus only on GDP as the metric for ‘development’ and ‘progress’. Seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist has eight clever short video animations, each less than 2 minutes, that outline the substance of her proposed new approach.
Rockstrom’s presentations end with upbeat messages such as ‘we have the knowledge and thinking required to design a safe and good Anthropocene — by intertwining the world with planet Earth in social economic harmony.’ These tend to contradict the evidence that he presents about the Great Acceleration towards tipping points that hasten existential threats. For example to meet Paris Climate targets will require a global zero carbon economy by 2050. This will need an exponential decrease in emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing them by half every ten years. This currently does not appear remotely possible even though ‘we have the knowledge and thinking’. What is missing is political will to develop a new mindset to replace the universal desire for ever-increasing affluence.
These two ‘gurus’ – one an environmental scientist, the other an economist – offer crucial insights and ways forward in the exponentially-challenged future of the Anthropocene in which we have created a big Machine World that is now too big for a Small Planet.
This Guardian article appears today in the campaigning progressive newspaper’s ‘Green Light’ feature, a regular compilation of environmental news. The article celebrates the final acceptance of the UK government that attempting to move towards a carbon-free future is in the interests of business prosperity, not against it. In the same feature, however ,are two more less positive articles:
The EPA is the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency and it is making yet another of the moves by the Trump administration to undo the policies (Paris Climate Agreement; Obama-care; Iran Nuclear deal; TPTP; NAFTA) put in place or supported by Trump’s predecessor Obama.
The UK Conservative government’s step-change of policy towards clean energy to curb emissions of fossil fuel pollution stand in stark contrast to what is happening in the western world’s biggest polluter ‘sovereign nation’ that Trump claims to be making great again. In the foreword of the UK Plan, embattled Prime Minister Theresa May writes: “Clean growth is not an option, but a duty we owe to the next generation. Success in this mission will improve our quality of life and increase our economic prosperity.” This signals a change from the ‘business-as-usual’ paradigm, although the commitment to ‘growth as accelerating GDP’ is not questioned. The next big step would be to espouse the notion of ‘growth as seeking equilibrium and equity’ in order to adapt society for a future within planetary boundaries.
One crucial target not included in any government strategies anywhere is that of achieving a zero carbon economy by 2050. This is necessary if the inadequate limit of 1.5 – 2.0 C global warming beyond pre-industrial levels is to be achieved by 2100. Yesterday I watched Prof. Kevin Anderson’s provocative lecture at Stockholm University on the urgent need for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. He left his august audience in little doubt that even the step-change in UK policy, though welcome, is only the smallest step in the right direction. And as for Trump’s vindictive rolling back or Obama’s attempts to roll back fossil fuel pollution ….? Or development banks’ continuing massive investment in expanding fossil fuel extraction, use and pollution ….?
Since this website started the dissenters have been in retreat. Politicised culture wars have been raging for many years pitching those who oppose against those who promote: consumerist values, capitalism, the view that climate disruption is largely anthropogenic; economic growth; and so on. Stephen Murgatroyd is a blogger based in Alberta, Canada who has long been sceptical about what he characterises as ”the religion of climate change”. In this blog he questions our faith in science, scientists, experts in general and the IPCC in particular. He concludes a widely-sourced essay with:
Climate change is occurring, but we don’t fully understand the complexities of climate or how the changes are occurring. The earth is not warming, the sea level rises are within normal limits, yet the belief that the evidence is all pointing to catastrophe remains strong. C02 continues to rise, but the global surface temperature is stable – a challenge to the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Extreme weather events are known not to be directly connected to CO2, but the belief that they are persists, even amongst experts. A social psychological explanation of these beliefs and behaviours is needed.
In this subsequent blog Murgatroyd elaborates on why climate change and poverty are both ‘wicked problems’ and why too many people treat them as ‘tame problems’.
Climate change deniers in the wake of the UK Brexit vote (June 2016) have coined the term ”Clexit’ as a tag for their campaign to denounce anthropogenic global warming as an anti-fossil fuel and anti-economic growth conspiracy. This article outlines their case before critically opposing it.
Two new books (2017) are reviewed here which challenge ecological concerns as “collapse-porn”, see economic growth as ‘progress’ and point to a new political alignment that is not left-right.
Johan Norberg of the Cato Instititute (a free market think tank) has become a libertarian free market voice for optimism and a critic of doomsayers. His famous book is called “Progress” and he is interviewed here.
POST-WAR ANTHROPOCENE AGE DANGERS AND ‘REMEDIES’ RELATING TO SPACESHIP EARTH AND SURVIVAL:
|1944 Start of the Age of Nuclear War followed by proliferation of nuclear weapons to 10 countries (2014 estimate = 16400 warheads of which 4000 are active)
||1945 Creation of the UNO with hopes for some sort of global governance to regulate Spaceship Earth
|1948 Start of the Cold War and bi-polar super-power rivalry between competing economic and political systems stimulated the acceleration of technology
||1972 Club of Rome ‘Limits to Growth’ published predicting global ‘overshoot’ crises by 2030 (appear to be on track as predicted!)
|1950 Start of the Anthropocene Age of Exponential Acceleration of Technology and Human Impact creating the Anthropocene Era
||1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm leads to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) first of many events relating to growth of environmental degradation needing international attention and collaboration
|1979 Start of Reagan-Thatcher Era – beatification of neo-conservative ‘free market’ economics and retreat of the Welfare State
||1987 The Brundtland Report gives rise to the concept of Sustainable Development
|1981 Creation of the Internet and explosion of ICT giving rise to mass electronic distraction of the virtual digital world
||1989 Montreal Protocol treatycame into force showing that international cooperation can solve global anthropogenic problems
|1988 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established to be followed by increasing evidence and denial of human-made climate disruption
||1992 Agenda 21 adopted by 178 governments as a legally non-binding statement of intent to promote sustainable development in the 21st century
|1991 First Iraq War accelerates the spread of terrorism
||2000 Earth Charter civil society initiative proposing that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible
|1991 Break up of the USSR – assumed end of Cold War and ‘triumph of the neo-liberal consumer and debt-driven capitalist model’
|| 2000 UN Millennium Development Goals – 8 targets set to be achieved by 2015, a concerted international effort to expand hope and opportunity
|2001 – 9/11 ‘War on Terror’ following Al Qaeda attacks in USA
||2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals will build upon the Millennium Development Goals
|2014-16 Rise of ‘Islamic State’ & destabilisation of Ukraine reignite geopolitical animosities
||2015 Climate Summit to galvanize and catalyze climate action following many previous failed attempts
|2011-17 Continuing conflict in Syria and flood of migrants into Europe triggering anti-immigration response, e.g. Brexit in UK
|2015 -7 Spread of populist parties anti-establishment demagogic leaders e.g. Trump, Orban, Kaczynski, Erdogan
|2017 – Nuclear weapons and ICBM testing in North Korea leads to stand-off with the USA with impetuous Trump capability of triggering nuclear conflict