Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’
As a dog follows a scent.
I have been pondering about how one gets to the truth of a complex issue. And there’s none more complex nor more essential in terms of the truth of an issue than Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).
It was kicked off by an email received from Dan Gomez. Followers of Learning from Dogs will have seen mention of Dan’s name as he regularly sends me bits and pieces. Indeed, let me refer you to a post that came out last August, Feeling depressed? Join your pals in the pool! and this extract:
Regular followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Dan and I go back a long way; far too long! In fact the occasion of me becoming aware of Mr. Daniel Gomez was at a Commodore Computer dealers conference in Boston, Mass.
I was giving a talk promoting a UK word-processing program that I was marketing for the Commodore. That software was called Wordcraft and I think the year was 1979, possibly 1980. Anyway, I used the word ‘fortnight’, which back in England is a common word meaning two weeks. Immediately, a voice called out from the audience, “Hey Handover, what’s a fortnight?“
The session deteriorated rapidly thereafter! Dan and I became very good friends and his LA company Cimarron became my West Coast USA distributor for Wordcraft. And it was Dan’s sister, Suzann, who invited me down to Mexico for Christmas 2007 which led to me meeting my beloved Jeannie! Funny old world!
Dan is a smart cookie. He holds a degree in psychology, as well as being a very easy guy to get along with. We have been good friends for more than 30 years.
Anyway, back to the theme of the post; determining the truth of a complex issue.
Recently, Dan sent me an email with the subject heading of The Controversy Continues – A couple of Articles for your Digestive Tract….
The first article was:
Report shows UN admitting solar activity may play significant role in global warming
A leaked report by a United Nations’ group dedicated to climate studies says that heat from the sun may play a larger role than previously thought.
“[Results] do suggest the possibility of a much larger impact of solar variations on the stratosphere than previously thought, and some studies have suggested that this may lead to significant regional impacts on climate,” reads a draft copy of a major, upcoming report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
According to Bloomberg News, US carbon emissions are down 13% over the past five years and that they are now the lowest since 1994. In fact, we are more than halfway to President Obama’s goal of a 17% reduction below our peak year of 2007.
Coal has fallen to only 18% of our energy use (down from 23% in 2007) and natural gas is up to 31%. Natural gas has half the carbon emissions of coal.
Evidence suggests that climate change and global warming are happening, but at a much slower rate than doomsday warnings suggested. We are now on track for an increase in global temperatures of one degree centigrade by 2100. This increase is not enough to cause major flooding or rises in sea levels.
Please feel free to read the whole Dick Morris piece here.
So on the face of it, two convincing reports, especially the one from Alec Rawls.
Now let me turn to Professor Guy McPherson; professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. Just take a peek at the professional recognition granted to Professor McPherson.
Guy McPherson writes a blog called Nature Bats Last. It is described thus:
This blog focuses on the natural world, with a particular emphasis on the twin sides of our fossil-fuel addiction: (1) global climate change and (2) energy decline. Because these phenomena impact every aspect of life on Earth, specific topics range widely, and include philosophy, evolution, economics, humanity, politics, current events, and many aspects of the human condition.
Less than 3 months ago, Guy McPherson visited Greenfield Community College in western Massachusetts to deliver his presentation “The Twin Sides of the Fossil-Fuel Coin: Developing Durable Living Arrangements in Light of Climate Change and Energy Decline.“
It lasts for just 40 minutes and needs to be watched. Why do I say needs to be watched? Because tomorrow I delve deeper into the challenges facing ordinary folk and watching the presentation and reflecting on the start of this post are very pertinent to following the scent of truth.
Musings for a Monday morning!
Let me start with this:
For today, I am in charge of my life.
Today, I choose my thoughts.
Today, I choose my attitudes.
Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.
With these, I create my life and my destiny
I hasten to add that I am not the author of these wonderful words; just been aware of them for many years.
OK, to the muse!
In that post, Christine included this video,
The lead negotiator for the Philippines at the Climate Conference in Doha, Naderev Saño, could not keep back the tears as he made a passionate appeal for real action on climate change.
“I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around…
The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people…
I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”
Christine also included a short video of 19-year-old Syrian-American student Munira Sibai addressing the delegates.
“So let me now speak beyond the negotiators in this room to the people who I represent. Your governments are failing you. They are afraid that offering visionary pathways to low-carbon economies will make them look foolish, that taking responsibility will make them look weak, that standing up to the money and power of polluters will cost them political support. Unchecked, this cowardice will cost lives. Here in the halls of the United Nations, the voices of global citizens are limited, regulated and relegated to these short, symbolic statements. Outside these walls, these walls, there is a global movement, growing up from the grassroots, calling for climate justice. Join us.”
So young Munira Sibai offered the answer to Naderev Saño’s plea, “I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” That answer being so beautifully encompassed in the opening self-affirmation. Stay with me a little longer.
Many of you readers know that a little over 5 weeks ago Jean and I and our 11 dogs and 5 cats moved from Payson in Arizona up to Merlin, Southern Oregon. The reason I refer to Payson is that not long before we left, a group concerned about the environment and climate change decided to form Transition Town Payson.
If you go to the ‘About‘ page of their website, you will see this beautiful photograph.
It’s a view from the Mogollon Rim Trail that would inspire anyone to want to care for our planet. The trail passes close to Payson and is a very popular walking area.
Back to TTP. If you go to their website and start browsing the articles and seeing what information is already there, you get a clear idea of what a group of people can do. That key word ‘DO‘!
Last Thursday, I offered a reflection on Learning from Dogs about what feels like a new world order. The penultimate paragraph offered this:
I sense that we, as in the peoples on this planet, are well into a period of such change that even by the end of 2013, a little over 50 weeks away, the precipice for humanity will be within sight. I hold out zero hope that any time soon our leaders and politicians will stop ‘playing games’ and focus on doing what’s right. The time for truth, for integrity, for sound debate is NOW!
However, all the truth, integrity and debate in the world comes to nothing without ACTION.
It really is the bleedin’ obvious!
Part Four of The Sufficiency Economy
I am delighted to find that this essay by Dr. Alexander has been extremely well-received by you. On Monday, there were 1,458 viewings, Tuesday there were 1,546 viewings and today (Wednesday – the day I am writing this) already over 700 viewings at 9.20am local time (PST).
The wealth of evidence that is surfacing just now as to the seriousness of our present global predicament is mind-blowing. Indeed, a couple of the more important articles that have ‘crossed my screen’ this week will be published next week on Learning from Dogs.
In the third part of Dr. Alexander’s essay that was published yesterday, Doing nothing is not an option, the primary theme was predicated as follows:
The growth paradigm has reached, more or less, the ‘limits to growth,’ and this means that we must move away from growth-based economies if we are to avoid exacerbating existing ecological crises to the point of catastrophe. Billions of lives are at stake, as are the biodiversity and climatic balance of our planet.
Today’s essay offers a strong, positive framework for how humanity has to change – let me repeat that for emphasis – how humanity HAS to change!
THE SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY
ENVISIONING A PROSPEROUS WAY DOWN
Simplicity Institute Report 12s, 2012
Dr Samuel Alexander is co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne.
4. Envisioning a Prosperous Way Down
The following exposition of the sufficiency economy is a challenging mixture of utopian and dystopian speculation. It is utopian (or at least optimistic) in the sense that I present a picture of the sufficiency economy that depends upon human beings working relatively well together to meet the challenges ahead, rather than degenerating into a war of all against all at the first signs of trouble. I also assume that a culture of consumption has arisen in which sufficiency rather than affluence is widely considered the path to human flourishing. I believe these are necessary elements to any ‘prosperous way down’ (Odum and Odum, 2001). What follows is dystopian in the limited sense that the analysis accepts that there will be no smooth transition beyond the growth economy, and that consumer lifestyles will be taken from many people against their will – although perhaps ‘realistic’ is a better word than ‘dystopian’ here. Focused broadly on urban contexts in the developed world, the following analysis is structured by considering various aspects of the sufficiency economy, for the purpose of presenting a vision of the alternative way of life it implies.
However the future plays out – and let’s face it, no one really knows – what is certain is that the same events will be much less difficult and cause much less suffering if they are anticipated to some extent and prepared for (Alexander, 2012e; Burch, 2012b). I hope the following analysis might assist in both these regards.
I will begin with the issue of water security, this being one of the most essential biophysical needs. The first point to note is that in most urban (including suburban) contexts, the amount of roof space available to collect water would be insufficient to secure the necessary water supplies for such dense populations.(2) What this means is that urban contexts require the water mains to exist, for if they failed for more than a day or so, most people would quickly perish. Given that most people now live in urban contexts, it is fair to say that the first thing a sufficiency economy must do is ensure that the water mains continues to function. This may sound like a trite observation, and it is, but since our present exploration is considering the economic foundations of a very different way of life, the foundations are where we must start. Accordingly, a sufficiency economy must at least have the energy supply and stability to maintain the water mains at a sufficiently high level of regularity and safety, something resembling the existing model, but hopefully more efficient.(3) The alternative is mass population die-off and probably significant re-ruralisation (where there would be more room for large water tanks).
Despite the mains system in a sufficiency economy remaining something close to what we have today, attitudes to water consumption and collection would undergo a revolution. To provide some hard numbers, average household water consumption in the United States is around 370 litres(4); in Australia it is around 230 litres per day(5); and in Britain it is about 150 litres(6). At the other end of the spectrum, institutions like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation hold that 20 litres per person, per day, is close to the minimum needed for bare subsistence(7), and that figure is sometimes used as a baseline in refugee camps. In a sufficiency economy, I propose that domestic water consumption per person would need to fall to somewhere between 50-70 litres per person, per day, which is enough to live a dignified existence without leaving much room for waste.
Reduced water consumption should occur partly out of the desire for ecological preservation – for example, a desire to preserve river systems – but I should expect economic incentives to play a large part too. Assuming fresh water becomes increasing scarce as populations increase and the climate warms (Brown, 2011), the price of water must inevitably rise, and rise significantly(8). Currently, water is grossly underpriced(9). In itself, expensive water will provide a strong incentive for people to reduce their wasteful consumption, and much of this can occur with very little hardship at all. Government or community regulation of some sort may have to provide further incentives, in certain contexts, at least, as well as some baseline supply guarantees, irrespective of ability to pay.
In order to reduce water consumption (for either ecological or economic reasons, or both), various steps would be taken. First of all, every household would maximise its roof water collection via water tanks. Those households that prepare first will easily be able to purchase water tanks and pipes from hardware stores, but as times get tougher (e.g. plastics and concrete become harder to produce, source, or afford), more people will have to creatively use whatever containers and pipes they can salvage or make themselves. We will all become proficient in creating and connecting systems of water collection and reuse. Greywater systems, for example, will become the household norm, including the use of tank water to flush the toilet or simply collecting water when showering to flush the toilet. Eventually, composting toilets will be widely used (at least in suburbia), with huge implications on water consumption.
In order to reduce charges from the increasingly expensive mains supply, tank water will be used whenever possible, especially for watering productive gardens (more on food below). In those times when people are required to draw from the mains, there is much room for conservation. Being conscientious of water consumption when preparing food and cleaning dishes is one space for conservation, and never watering (or even having) lawns is another. But perhaps the largest savings in the domestic sphere can come from how we wash ourselves and our clothes. Showers could easily be reduced to a minute or two without interfering with their primary goal of keeping us clean and hygienic. In fact, if required we could remain sufficiently hygienic by cleaning ourselves with a bucket of water and some soap. It may be a requirement of a dignified life to be able to wash oneself regularly – achievable with a bucket of water and some soap – but we could live with dignity without showering or bathing in the accustomed fashion. Clothes would probably be washed less regularly, which might bring some balance to a culture that is arguably excessively concerned with cleanliness.
Innumerable other water-saving strategies could easily demonstrate that high water consumption is really a product of wastefulness, such that great reductions would not take away from us anything that is actually necessary for a good life. The critical point to note, which applies to all aspects of life discussed below, is that the same reductions in consumption (whether voluntary or enforced) would be experienced in totally different ways, depending on the mindset that was brought to experience. Fortunately, that mindset is within our control, even if the circumstances may not always be.
A foundational issue for any economy is how it sources and produces its food, and this issue sits next to water on the list of essential needs. The globalised, industrial food production system currently in existence is highly unsustainable for various reasons. Not only are industrial farming techniques causing the severe and widespread erosion of nutrient-rich topsoil (which takes many hundreds of years to rejuvenate), but also the industrialised system is extremely fossil fuel dependent. Natural gas is needed to produce commercial fertilisers, and oil is needed to produce commercial pesticides, to fuel farm machinery, and to create the plastics used in packaging. Most importantly, however, are the extremely long supply chains that reach all around the world and which are dependent therefore on oil for transport. In Australia, for example, a basket of food from the supermarket typically travels 70,000 kilometres from producer to consumer (if the distance each item travels is aggregated)(10). With respect to the UK, one study has the figure at 241,000 kilometres(11). This fossil fuel dependency is highly problematic not only due to its link to climate change, but also because it will not be economically sustainable as oil continues to get more expensive.
In a sufficiency economy, food production would be highly localised and organic, and based on permaculture or ‘biointensive’ principles (Holmgren, 2002; Jeavons, 2012). Ideally this transition would be voluntarily embraced at once, but more likely is that it will be ushered in by the pressures of declining oil supplies and increasing prices. Cuba, during its ‘special period,’ provides a real world example of some such transition (Percy et al, 2010; Friedrichs, 2010). When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba almost over night found itself with drastically reduced oil supplies, and this necessitated an immediate shift away from energy-intensive, industrialised food production, toward a system of local and organic production. Notably, the government played a large role in facilitating this transition, but the driving force for change came from the grassroots level, as people realised they had to produce their own food or starve. The Cuban experience has some parallels with the ‘relief gardens’ that arose during the Great Depression and the ‘victory gardens’ during World War II. Necessity has always been a great motivator to grow food.
One of the most significant implications of the transition away from industrial food production is the increased labour needed for organic production. Environmentalists too often overlook this issue. While it widely accepted that organic production can be more productive per acre than industrial food production (Jeavons, 2012), organic production is also vastly more labour intensive. The increased labour requirements arise primarily from the absence of mechanised farm machinery, but organic fertiliser production and pest control are also typically more time intensive than industrialised techniques (although permaculture practices can reduce or negate this disparity through things like companion planting). What this means is that organic food production is entirely capable of feeding the world, but do so it will require a huge increase in the provision of agricultural labour. This must be accepted as an implication of the transition to a sufficiency economy, however it is one that has a large silver lining. Not only will it reconnect communities with the local land base upon which they depend for subsistence, but many health benefits will flow from moving away from sedentary office or factory work toward the more active and outdoor work of farming. Governments must do everything they can to support localised, organic agriculture, starting by putting a price on carbon.
As well as a proliferation of organic farms on the urban periphery, a sufficiency economy would also aim to maximise organic food production within the urban boundary. This would involve digging up lawns and turning them into productive vegetable gardens, and planting fruit trees in all available spaces. Nature strips would be cultivated; parks would be turned into small farms or community gardens; suitable roofs would become productive, herbs would grow on balconies and windowsills, and generally all food producing potential would be realised. Most suburban backyards would keep chickens for eggs, and perhaps even small livestock, such as goats for milk and cheese. Animals are also a great source of manure for compost, and many permaculturalists build animals into their organic systems. While it will probably be far too energy intensive to dig up tar-sealed roads, there is still great potential for building raised beds on driveways, some footpaths or roads, and car parks. Mushrooms could be cultivated on the shady side of the house, and household or neighbourhood aquaculture systems could provide urban centres with some of their fish supply.
Even in a sufficiency economy, however, we can expect our households to ‘import’ various foods in various forms, if not from around the world, then certainly from rural contexts. This, in fact, would be an absolute necessity in urban contexts, because growing space simply does not permit anywhere near strict self-sufficiency. A recent study of Toronto, Canada, for example, concluded that the city could possibly produce 10% of its own fruit and vegetables, if available growing space within the city’s boundaries were converted to agriculture (MacRae et al, 2010). This implies that even if urban agriculture were enthusiastically embraced, the city would still need to import 90% of its fruit and vegetables, to say nothing of its meat, minerals, and other goods. While some cities may be able to do somewhat better (e.g. Havana), the Toronto study clearly shows that urbanites around the world are extremely dependent on functioning food production and distribution systems.
Food consumption, not just production, would change drastically in a sufficiency economy. As already implied, the consumption of food would be organic and highly localised, and this also means that people would eat ‘in season’ in order to avoid having to import non-seasonal foods from the other side of the world. Preserving foods in season would be the most appropriate way to access those foods out of season. Generally, food would be unprocessed and require no disposable packaging, and people would eat much less meat (especially red meat) or become vegetarian, due to the intolerable environmental impacts of excessive meat and fish consumption. This reduction in meat consumption could also open up huge tracts of land for human food production that are currently used to produce grain for animals. People would also eat less meat and fish because the sufficiency economy would internalise all externalities, therefore greatly increasing their relative price and thus their relative demand.
Finally, as well as composting human waste for ‘humanure’ via composting toilets (Jenkins, 2005), a sufficiency economy would vigilantly compost all its organic food wastes in order to supply the growing need for organic fertilisers, and this would also vastly reduce the amount of so-called ‘waste’ that is currently ‘wasted’ by being sent to landfill. One might even say that in a sufficiency economy a good bag of compost will typically be more valuable than a bag of gold, and if readers cannot understand that, perhaps they will not understand much about the sufficiency economy.
While Learning from Dogs trawls around a wide variety of topics, the theme behind the writings is, as the banner says on the home page: Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.
Integrity, defined more or less universally as the ‘adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.‘
Please trust me that this position is taken not from the perspective of the writer, I’m struggle with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as much as the next guy. No, this position is the result of one very simple and stark vision: If we don’t understand pretty damn soon what we, as in mankind, are doing to our planet, both directly and indirectly, then we are living through the era of the end of civilised man; these are the last times.
The relationship between man and the dog is ancient beyond contemplation. It is widely believed by scientists who study the history of man that, at the very least, dogs assisted man in evolving from hunter-gatherers to farmers. But some scientists believe that without the support of dogs, man never would had made the transition to farming. Either way the relationship goes back more than 10,000 years.
So what on earth does that have to do with integrity? Simply that alongside millions of us, dogs offer us the examples of loyalty, faith, meditation, patience, truth in love; an example of an adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.‘ In a single word: integrity!
OK, now that I have got that off my chest, to the topic of today’s post. For some months now I have subscribed to the blog run by The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. It has much that will be useful for Jean and me when we move to Oregon in November. But also, not infrequently, the Institute highlights deeper, more fundamental, issues.
Thus it was that a few days ago, my attention was drawn to an item with the title of We Need Your Help to End the Era of Ecocide. It was about the work of English woman, Polly Higgins. I’m ashamed to say that I had not heard of her before! A very quick search came across the website Eradicating Ecocide, from which one quickly learns that Polly,
In March 2010 international barrister and award winning author Polly Higgins proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be made the fifth Crime Against Peace. There are currently four Crimes Against Peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide is the missing fifth crime – it is a crime against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all life on Earth.
Wow, that makes sense. So what is ecocide? Again, Eradicating Ecocide offers the answer,
Back to the specific topic. This is a copy of what is the latest news item on the Eradicating Ecocide website and it is reproduced in full. I’ve included the Editor’s introduction from the Permaculture News website, as I couldn’t say it any better.
We need your help to end this era of Ecocide
Editor’s Note: We’ve covered a little of Polly Higgin’s important work before (see here and here). If you’re not already familiar with Polly’s work, I would strongly encourage you to check out the web pages and videos linked to below, as well as our aforementioned pieces. Permaculturists dream of whole earth restoration, but our efforts, whilst essential, are, if I may, largely piecemeal. The reason for this is that for every positive step someone makes, an industry or government does, or allows, something significantly more destructive to take place that more than overshadows it. We will never break out of this destructive cycle unless we make environmental destruction illegal, and hold the people responsible accountable. As you are able, please support Polly’s work. If you cannot donate, please at least do what you can to share and circulate this page.
I have something I would like to share with you. Today myself and my team have reached zero. The pot is now bare and our funding resources are in urgent need of replenishing. In the past year your donations of over £200,000 funded my and my team’s work; we planted some incredible seeds in the run up to the Rio Earth Summit. Out of that we have had some wonderful successes; in the past year alone we have held a mock Ecocide Trial in the UK Supreme Court, the University of London launched their Ecocide Project, I have travelled to countries and spoken on many platforms, I launched my second book Earth is our Business, I have been awarded Overall Champion by the PEA awards, I have started a training programme for others to learn how to become a Voice for the Earth and I have submitted a concept paper, Closing the door to dangerous industrial activity to all government’s around the world. All this has been done with the help of your money and without it none of this would have been at all possible.
Yesterday we held an emergency meeting; despite the enormous efforts of our fundraiser over the past few months we have been unable to raise more than a few thousand pounds. We are looking squarely at the future and we see enormous opportunity to take forward all that I have already achieved; just think how close we are to making this law a reality.
Everything we do is governed by permaculture ethics; people care, earth care and fair share. Ecocides occur when we take far more than our fair share, which affects both our people and our Earth. To ensure we live within our planetary limits, a law of Ecocide creates a legal framework that can ensure we all live in peaceful enjoyment.
Please help me to continue to build upon all of this good work; now more than ever people care, earth care and fair share matters. Together we can end the era of Ecocide.
With love for the Earth,
If you read this and want to share this Post, feel free to so do. If you want to do that and more, then:
How you can help
- Set up a direct debit.
- Give a one-off donation.
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- Send a cheque to us at 6 Highbury Corner, Highbury Crescent, London N5 1RD. Please write your cheque out to our charity, The Earth Community Trust.
- In the US you can donate via the Iris Arts and Education Group 1856 San Antonio Ave, Berkeley, California 94707. Please write your cheque out to our charity, The Earth Community Trust.
- Please become one of our funding volunteers. We are seeking a team of people to help us fundraise. This can be done in a number of ways. If you think you can help, please email our intern Nina: nina (at) eradicatingecocide.com
- We are seeking a volunteer for 2 weeks full time to come into our London office: please email Louise with your CV: louise (at) eradicatingecocide.com
And don’t forget to go to the Eradicating Ecocide website to become more aware and then take action! Speaking of becoming more aware, do watch this video.
An interesting reflection on the rearing of cattle and an ‘Anti-Meat pill! No kidding!
I was vaguely aware of the contribution of cattle towards the overall rise in greenhouse gases. A very quick web search found this news item from the United Nations which included,
29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released today.
“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
But what prompted me to look a little closer at this was a recent article on the Big Think website that was entitled, The Anti-Meat Pill: Human Engineering to Combat Climate Change.
Let me quote a little from the article, presented on the Big Think website by Daniel Honan.
NYU Bio-ethicist Matthew Liao has caused a stir recently with a forthcoming paper that explores the biomedical modification of humans in order to stop us from consuming red meat.
and a paragraph later continued with,
In a forthcoming paper to be published in Ethics, Policy and the Environment, Liao suggests that humans might take pills to bring about mild nausea to rid ourselves of our appetite for red meat. This would have a mitigating effect on climate change, he argues.
Liao refers to studies such as a widely-sited UN report that estimates 18 percent of greenhouse emissions come from livestock, which is a higher share than transportation. Another report, from 2009, estimates livestock emissions are significantly higher, at 50 percent. Fact of life: cows fart. Other negative impacts of increased livestock farming includes deforestation and a drain on water supplies.
Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change.
Now if we go back to that UN article, we can see that emissions from cattle and livestock in general is not a minor issue.
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
But modifying humans, frankly, misses the point.
That is unless we wholeheartedly embrace the need to change, to sustain the only planet we can call home, and do it because we care, Planet Earth will do the bioengineering for us – engineering us into extinction. For example, just cut back on eating meat! And if you don’t want to do it for the planet, do it for the health of your children as this Health Petition underlines in spades.
So I’m sorry Professor Liao but this seems like a step too far – by a long way.
An unanticipated reward from Blogging.
When I started writing Learning from Dogs, way back on July 15th 2009, I didn’t have a clue as to the world I was entering, figuratively speaking. But there have been many unanticipated rewards including the great pleasure of the way that this strange virtual world of the Internet brings people together. One connection recently made was with a young Bangladeshi living in the city of Dhaka, more of his background here.
Nakib recently published a powerful and moving Post and has been gracious in allowing me to republish it, as follows:
The vulture that waited for the child to die
The photo shows a famine-stricken child crawling towards a United Nations food camp, which was located at least one kilometer away from the place shown. The vulture on the other hand is waiting eagerly for the child to die so that it can devour it.
I do not know what message the photograph revokes on your head but every time I look at it I feel blessed that I have been provided enough at least to satisfy my hungry stomach and keep me energetic enough to write blogs. I feel small and humble when I think of all the people suffering out there— homeless and starved— yet trying their best to make some sense of the complex notion known as life. It tells me that I have been blessed for a reason, for a purpose, and whatever I have been provided with should not go in vain. I can infer that my powers should be used well, at least for that little kid on the above photograph for whom Fate had sealed a quicksand of reality too hard to acknowledge for many of us hedonists out here.
Most importantly, to me the photograph conveys an emotion; a reality that many of us are too blind to grasp. I think of how people throughout the world are suffering to no ends yet amidst everything trying again and again to find the silver lining associated with the black cloud. I realize that there is a lot happening outside my comfortable apartment and Biology textbook that needs looking after, that there is a lot of people who strive hard yet achieve nothing in return. It amazes me when I try to ponder God’s sense of justice and egalitarianism.
So is it okay for the blessed 25% of the population in this world to waste everything that life has given them while the the rest 75% live amidst severe poverty, oppression and inequality? Is it okay to go overboard with New Year parties while exactly at the same hour millions of people across the globe are suffering from the fangs of social deprivation? Is it okay to let things be as they are and forget about everything so as to harmoniously embrace useless ambitions and lustful desires?
Have we all truly forgotten to share our wealth and about the latent human being that exists inside everyone of us? Have we truly gottten rid of all those emotions that make us human beings? Is this what the world is for: for some to live lavishly while for the rest to suffer endlessly?
Three months after he took the photograph Kevin Carter, after suffering from several periods of depression, committed suicide.
Dated on the day the photo was taken, the following note was found from his diary:
Dear God, I promise I will never waste my food no matter how bad it can taste and how full I may be. I pray that He will protect this little boy, guide and deliver him away from his misery. I pray that we will be more sensitive towards the world around us and not be blinded by our own selfish nature and interests. I hope this picture will always serve as a reminder to us that how fortunate we are and that we must never ever take things for granted.
As for the child, no one really knows what happened to him; not even the South African photographer who had left the place immediately after the photo was taken. I try to appease myself by saying that the child never existed in the first place. God simply intended to provide us with a glimpse of the truth of life, to remind us how blessed we are. I hope this is true.
Very, very moving and beautifully expressed.
Musings about the importance of challenging accepted wisdoms
Life is full of traps. In that sense our lives are little different to our ancient days of cavemen. But the traps are very different. They have changed from pits embedded with sharp sticks, covered with vegetation, to an avalanche of information, news and media output from which determining truth is challenging. The modern equivalent of the ancient pit trap.
My sense is that one way we embrace what we perceive as truthful is through pattern matching, a powerful aspect of the human brain. By pattern matching, I mean the tendency to place greater emphasis on information that matches our view of the world, that accords with our core beliefs, than that which doesn’t.
Thus if one is a liberal with leanings towards social engineering as a means of improving society then news and information that supports that philosophy will be accepted as validation of that view. Then again, if one is strong on the need for the individual to be independent and responsible for their own lives then the validation of that philosophy will be supported by a completely different stream of information.
A prologue to what follows.
Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will be clear that my view is that mankind is responsible for a range of issues that, if not resolved, will threaten the very ecology of Planet Earth that allows mankind to survive. My dear Californian friend of over 40 years, Dan, thinks otherwise. Let me add, Dan is not a mental slouch.
I wanted to share some articles that Dan recently sent me, not to prove who is right or wrong, but to underline the critical importance of never ceasing to question the truth of everything that is fundamental to our knowledge of the world, in the broadest sense, upon which we live.
Dan sent me a link to this item,
New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole In Global Warming Alarmism
NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxidetrap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.
Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA’s Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.
”The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”
In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.
The new findings are extremely important and should dramatically alter the global warming debate.
This is not the full article, which may be read here.
I was interested in what had been published by Yahoo News and sought to verify it directly on NASA’s web site. I was unable to do so, and replied with links to two findings by NASA that man, indeed, was affecting global climate. One of those NASA links was here,
A new NASA-led study shows that human-caused climate change has impacted a wide range of Earth’s natural systems, from permafrost thawing to plants blooming earlier across Europe to lakes declining in productivity in Africa.
Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York and scientists at 10 other institutions have linked physical and biological impacts since 1970 with rises in temperatures during that period. The study, published May 15 in the journal Nature, concludes that human-caused warming is resulting in a broad range of impacts across the globe.
adding my own view that “There isn’t a serious scientist in the world who has published a peer-reviewed paper that disagrees with the core notion that man has affected the planet. “
Dan responded thus,
Paul – This will be a good one.
The point I always try to make is that good science is always subject to change as new evidence is discovered. I believe that science is by nature, controversial; plus ça change and all that….
To state as a “Hard-Core Ideological Truth” that Anthropogenic Global Warming (now known as more PC “Climate Change”) is a fact is self-serving. To deny the disputative work of many highly regarded scientists and climatologists who challenge this construct, can only result in a politically charged and alarmist position serving, in the end, special-interests.
Being skeptical is a healthy process. This process should be followed in the “Climate Change” debate. Especially in the face of today’s political reality and the funding that special interest groups need to survive. Regarding the proclamations of “Man-Induced Global Warming/Climate Change Proponents” that Man is and will be single-handedly responsible for the global flooding of most of the world’s coastal cities, is arrogant, absurd and unprovable.
Moreover, to ask world governments to take billions and billions of dollars out of their economies to fund nutty programs like “Cap and Trade” in order to ostensibly “contradict” something that has been happening on its own for millions of years, is pretty much over the top.
For the last 2 million years, Earth cycles in and out of ice ages. It happens whether the planet supports 20 million people or 20 million dinosaurs. Glaciers grow and recede. Polar ice increases and decreases. The planet shifts its axis a few degrees and it gets cold. It shifts back, it gets hotter. Ocean currents change based on God’s unpredictable timetable causing local droughts and floods. A few volcanoes erupt and we get instant cloud cover drifting over the planet changing climatology drastically. The Sun, its relative position to Earth and its sunspot cycles adds a little flavor. How about putting the Earth’s wobble in the mix? Or, for that matter, without the Moon we would have no seasons?
Greenhouse gases are mostly water vapor. After that, CO2 and methane. All together, very small components of the Earth’s atmosphere. That should tell us something.
If you go to NASA scientist, Dr. Spencer’s website - http://www.drroyspencer.com -, you may find some interesting data from his studies that suggest that man-made caused CO2 entering the atmosphere is not all that important. At the very least, this is a controversial subject that should be treated that way and not as fact. And please, don’t tax me more to pay for unsubstantiated programs to make it snow more in the Arctic. What if it snows too much or get’s too cold and Hudson and the Thames freeze again. Rather be warm than cold.
And by “peel-back-the-onion”, I mean that any ardent, independent researcher should publish both sides of the story as a matter of course. Especially in regards to global warming.
For what it is worth, I personally believe that the “Anthropogenic Global Warming Crisis” is an attempt by “Political Man” to assign full blame to the “Global Industrial Sector” for increased CO2 emissions which, in turn, will rapidly create an atmospheric, hydrospheric and lithospheric catastrophe beyond anything Man has every seen (Love that one!). Once that blame can become an incontrovertible truth and that Man is proven Responsible, then the Industrial Enterprises of the Advanced Nations (they have all the money, or they used to) will pay billions to Create Government Managed Programs to Decrease CO2 Emissions and Prevent this World-Ending Catastrophe from ever taking place. Wow.
Instead, what we should really be focused on is something a little more banal like Jobs, freeing up Global Enterprises from regulations and taxes, adjusting our Social Entitlement Programs to fit revenues and paying back Debt. That’s the Red Meat of this era, in my humble opinion.
Paul, I gotta say, this is fun! See more below…..
Dan then included more background articles that will be the subject of Sceptical Voices, Part Two. Hope you can stay with it.
Just maybe, economic activity and financial capital could align itself with the planetary demands!
A collection of items crossed my screen in the last few days that reinforced the interconnectedness of all life on Planet Earth.
First I saw an item on the BBC News website that demonstrated that climate change, global warming, or however one wants to describe man’s relationship with the planet, is not some crazy, fuzzy idea of a few liberal environmentalists. This was a report of the significant drop in global wheat yields.
The report was entitled, Climate shifts ‘hit global wheat yields’ and was written by Mark Kinver, Science and environment reporter, BBC News. Here’s a taste of what was written.
Shifts in the climate over the past three decades have been linked to a 5.5% decline in global wheat production, a study has suggested.
A team of US scientists assessed the impact of changes to rainfall and temperature on four major food crops: wheat, rice, corn and soybeans.
Climate trends in some countries were big enough to wipe out gains from other factors, such as technology, they said.
Professor David Lobell from Stanford University went on to say,
“In particular, you have to assume how non-linear the response will be and how different the crops of tomorrow will be from the crops of today,” he said.
He added that the study focused on historical data in order to strengthen confidence in the existing projections.
“I think it is very clear that climate is not the predominant driver of change over long periods of time in crop production.
“Across the board, you see crop yields going up over the past 30 years, but the question is how much is climate modified (and) what would have happened if the climate was not changing.
“In some countries, we see that climate has only affected things by a few percent. In other countries, we see that yields would have been rising twice as fast.
“On a global average, we see that wheat production would be about 5% higher if we had not seen the warming since 1980. We see about the same for maize or corn.
“Yet for rice and soybean, we actually find that production is about the same as if climate had not been trending.”
The report may be accessed here.
Sort of moving on, most people, when they stop and think about it, must realise that 6.9 billion people living (i.e. depending) on Planet Earth have to be causing changes. The Inside Science News Service published a reminder from last December of a calculation that,
By Mary Caperton Morton, ISNS Contributor
Inside Science News Service
STRASBURG, Pa. — Next month, representatives from more than 190 nations will gather in Japan at the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit to develop a global strategy for staunching habitat and biodiversity loss around the world.
The statistics are sobering: Every 20 minutes a species goes extinct. At that rate — estimated to be a thousand times faster than pre-human impact background levels – in 300 years, half of all living species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and plants will be gone. [My italics]
This alarming decline has not gone unnoticed. In 1992, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity — or CBD — one of the most widely ratified treaties in the world, established lofty conservation goals to be met by 2010. But since then the decline in biodiversity has not slowed. Nearly 16,000 species are still listed as threatened, with more than 200 of them described as “possibly extinct.”
What we need, some might ask, is for big business to get behind and push! Perhaps not so far fetched.
Last October, the British Guardian newspaper, published a very telling reminder that nothing ever in life stays the same.
The article was presented thus,
Biodiversity loss seen as greater financial risk than terrorism, says UN
Loss of ecosystems perceived by banks and insurance companies to be a greater economic risk than terrorism, finds UN report.
Written by Jonathan Watts in Nagoya.
The financial risks posed by the loss of species and ecosystems have risen sharply and are becoming a greater concern for businesses than international terrorism, according to a United Nations report released today.
From over-depletion of fish stocks and soil degradation caused by agricultural chemicals to water shortages and mining pollution, the paper – commissioned by the UN Environment Programme and partners – said the likelihood has climbed sharply that declines in biodiversity would have a “severe” $10bn (£6bn) to $50bn impact on business.
With the European Union and other regions increasingly holding companies liable for impacts on ecosystem services, it suggests banks, investors and insurance companies are starting to calculate the losses that could arise from diminishing supplies, tightened conservationcontrols and the reputational damage caused by involvement in an unsound project.
Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and Unep executive director, said: “The kinds of emerging concerns and rising perception of risks underlines a fundamental sea change in the way some financial institutions, alongside natural resource-dependent companies, are now starting to glimpse and to factor in the economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystems”.
The briefing paper cites the 55% crash of BP’s share price and the decline of its credit rating in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as an extreme example of the potential impact of inadequate environmental controls.
Read the full article in the Guardian here.
The United Nations Environment Programme report may be found here. The cover page says this,
“ As the global financial sector recovers and moves into the post financial crisis era,
there is one notion that crystallises before our eyes more acutely than ever: we need
to understand systemic risk in a much more holistic way. This CEO Briefing underscores
the critical natural capital that underpins our economic activity and financial capital.”
Richard Burrett, Partner in Earth Capital Partners
Co-Chair, UNEP Finance Initiative
As I wrote at the very start, just maybe, economic activity and financial capital could align itself with the planetary demands!
Politics, as she is played!
Well, as predicted, North Korea has totally got away with the murder of 40 odd South Korean sailors. The UN has issued a totally anaemic comment that does not blame North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan, even though a multi-national investigation concluded beyond reasonable doubt that NK was guilty. This has enabled the gruesome NK regime to crow “victory”.
It seems that China insisted on no blame being attached to North Korea as a condition of the UN statement being issued.
One can only conclude that A) China is ignoring and/or condoning this murder, and is therefore complicit in it and B), the free world doesn’t really give a damn because their business with China overrides all else, in particular morality.
They – and Obama in particular – seem not to understand that A) you never cower before bullies and B) China needs us as much as if not more than we need them.
The North Korea regime is an obscene and tyrannical scar on the planet and has brought unimaginable suffering to its people for long decades. Many of its citizens have been born and died without ever knowing freedom, either of travel or of the mind. If the free world cannot make a firm and principled stand over this then it shames all of us.
Obama is a major disappointment. Here, as in US relations with Israel, I see no intention of standing up for what is right, i.e. freedom, democracy, self-determination and justice. How long must we wait for real statesmanship in the free world?
By Chris Snuggs
It’s getting crowded down here!
For those readers who are not regular BBC television viewers, the Beeb has for many years run an excellent factual/science & nature series under the name of Horizon. Just recently there was a programme with the title of How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?
It was presented by that familiar face on the BBC in terms of the natural world, Sir David Attenborough. It was an appropriate and worthy person to present the information.
But before getting into some of the details underpinning the programme, there seems to been an enormous and unspoken omission at Copenhagen – why no debate about global population trends?
Luckily the media noticed the rather obvious exclusion. Here’s the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper (online version) of the 8th December, 2009. An extract:
Population growth is the one issue accused of causing driving climate change that no one at the Copenhagen climate summit dares to talk about.
The argument is that more people consume more resources, therefore producing more greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
The global population is currently at 6 billion and could rise to 11 billion by 2050 if fertility rates continue, not only threatening the climate, but food shortages and conflict as well.
Organisations like the Optimum Population Trust, that is backed by Sir Jonathan Porritt, Dame Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough, advocate birth control as a way of slowing climate change.
As Sir David has said: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.”
A study by the London School of Economics found contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green solutions such as investing in green technology.