Category: Capitalism

The End of Ice

Climate disruption at its worst!

Margaret K. recently emailed me a link to a recent Ralph Nader Radio programme.

As I said in my email to her after Jeannie and I had listened to it:

OK. Have listened to it just now.
I don’t know what to say.

Frankly, I’m overwhelmed. I need some time to let it settle down but it’s going to be featured on the blog very soon.
Thank you

Paul

I’m still ‘processing’ it but that doesn’t stop me from sharing it with you.

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Ralph spends the whole hour with independent journalist, Dahr Jamail, author of “The End of Ice,” his first person report on the front lines of the climate crisis.

In late 2003, award-winning journalist, Dahr Jamail, went to the Middle East to report on the Iraq War, where he spent more than a year as one of only a few independent US journalists in the country. Mr. Jamail has also written extensively on veterans’ resistance against US foreign policy. He is now focusing on climate disruption and the environment. His book on that topic is entitled, The End of Ice.

“So much of what we talk about is so dire and so extreme and so scary and also disheartening that I quote Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident writer and statesman. And he reminds us that as he said, ‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.” And that’s where I get into this moral obligation that no matter how dire things look, that we are absolutely morally obliged to do everything we can in our power to try to make this better.”  Dahr Jamail, author of “The End of Ice”

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Now here’s the link to the radio programme: Link

(It’s a download so wait just a short time for it to play.)

Do put an hour to one side and listen to this important and compelling programme.

Please!

An introduction to Scientists Warning

The power of networking!

I am indebted to Margaret K. for including a number of videos in her long comment to my post The End Of Ice. They are being watched.

On Monday morning we watched one of them Deep Adaptation. It was a stark message.

It is included below. It’s 39 minutes long.

Please watch it!

Then if you are so minded their website is here. It’s free to join and you will be left with the feeling that you are doing something important. From that website:

The Union of Concerned Citizens of Earth

At some point we realize that humanity has strayed down a rabbit hole from which it cannot seem to emerge.  This quagmire is the belief in the idea of Consumerism, with its cast of advertising executives, bankers and economists, corporate CEOs, politicians, etc.  We have evolved a defective ‘operating system’ that insists on infinite, accelerating economic growth despite the ecological costs – namely the destruction of Nature.  Those who have signed or endorsed the Scientists’ Warning through this website have displayed a clear understanding of what is wrong and how we must head to avoid the worst of ecological destabilization that we have inflicted on Mother Earth.  We are all therefore de facto members of what we are calling the Union of Concerned Citizens of Earth.

“The world will have to start listening to the good scientists and not the ones paid to justify dodgy developments.”
– Greer Hart

The End of Ice – A review

Background

On January 21st this year I republished a post by Tom Engelhardt and called it The song this planet needs to hear. His post was essentially a piece written for Tom by Dahr Jamail. It was called A Planet in Crisis and it included reference to a recently published book The End of Ice.

Subsequently, I decided to order the book by Dahr Jamail, it arrived a week ago and I ended up finishing it last Saturday.

I was minded to publish a review of the book, and here it is:

The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail

This is a book that I wished I had not read.

Yet, this is a book that once started I wanted to finish, and finish quickly.

It’s a brilliant book. Very impressive and very readable.  But I speak of it from a technical point-of-view.

Now that I have finished it life will never be quite the same again. Nor, for that matter, for anyone else who chooses to read it.

Dahr Jamail has a background as a reporter, with some other books under his belt. But his reporting skills really come to the fore with The End Of Ice. For he has travelled the world speaking to experts in their own field and listening to what they say about the future prognosis of the planet that you and I, and everyone else lives on.

Earth has not seen current atmospheric CO2 levels since the Pliocene, some 3 million years ago. Three-quarters of that CO2 will still be here in five hundred years. Given that it takes a decade to experience the full warming effects of CO2 emissions, we are still that far away from experiencing  the impact of all the CO2 that we are currently emitting. (p.5)

And if you are below the age of 60 or thereabouts you are going to experience this changing world head on. To be honest, whatever age you are things are starting to change.

Take this:

We are already facing mass extinction. There is no removing the heat we have introduced into our oceans, nor the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere every single year. There may be no changing what is happening, and far worse things are coming. (p.218)

It really is a grim read. A grim but necessary read.

The eight chapters in the book spell out what is already happening. The diminishing glaciers and rising snow levels, the loss of coral, the rise in sea level and the loss of vast tracts of land as a consequence. Then there is the future of forests around the world. As I said, it is a grim read but a necessary one.

Towards the end of the book Dahr Jamail quotes author and storyteller Stephen Jenkinson:

“Grief requires us to know the time we’re in,” Jenkinson continues. “The great enemy of grief is hope. Hope is a four-letter word for people who are willing to know things for what they are. Our time requires us to be hope-free. To burn through the false choice of being hopeful and hopeless. They are the two sides of the same con job. Grief is required to proceed.” (p. 218)

Upon finishing this superb book, that you really do need to read, the one emotion that I was left with was grief. For what we have done to this planet. For what we are doing to this one and only home of ours.

Grief.

P.S. Dogs would not have done this to our beautiful planet.

Floppy ears!

Is there a difference? Mother Nature News thinks there is.

We don’t subscribe to the following idea that floppy-eared dogs are sweeter, more friendlier.

But there’s a serious notion that there is a difference.

I’m sceptical but see what you make of the following.

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Why do floppy-eared dogs seem friendlier?

Many people think they seem nicer than those with pointy ears.

By MARY JO DILONARDO

January 4, 2019

Charles Darwin thought there was a link between floppy ears and domestication. (Photo: Renee Heetfeld/Shutterstock)

You see a German shepherd and a golden retriever at a park. Which one do you want to pet?

A lot of people might perceive the German shepherd — with its pointy, upright ears — as a little more off-putting and maybe even scary. But the floppy-eared retriever seems friendly and sweet and just asking for a cuddle.

We all make judgments about dogs (and people, for that matter) based on certain characteristics. In dogs, one of those things is the shape of their ears.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been using more floppy-eared dogs to sniff out explosives because the agency says pointy-ear dogs are scarier.

“We’ve made a conscious effort in TSA … to use floppy ear dogs,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the Washington Examiner. “We find the passenger acceptance of floppy ear dogs is just better. It presents just a little bit less of a concern. Doesn’t scare children.”

Around 80 percent of the 1,200 canines the agency uses in the U.S. have droopy ears, according to the TSA. The agency uses seven types of dogs: five with droopy ears (Labrador retrievers, German short-haired pointers, wire-haired pointers, vizslas and golden retrievers) and two with pointy ears (German shepherds and Belgian Malinois).

But even though the dogs are friendly looking, they still have a job to do. Floppy-eared or not, they aren’t to be approached when they’re on duty, says the TSA.

A look at the science.

Charles Darwin thought a lot about ears when considering evolution, as the NPR video above explains in more detail.

“Our domesticated quadrupeds are all descended, as far as is known, from species having erect ears,” Darwin pointed out in “The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.” “Cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

In many species, ears seemed to flop when they no longer needed to be erect to catch every passing sound, Darwin mused. He called the phenomenon domestication syndrome.

More recently, in a 2013 study, Suzanne Baker of James Madison University in Virginia and Jamie Fratkin of University of Texas at Austin showed 124 participants images of a dog. In one, it was the identical dog, but it had a yellow coat in one photo and a black coat in another. The other photos showed the same dog but in one image it had floppy ears and in the other it had pointed ears.

Participants found the dogs with a yellow coat or floppy ears to be more agreeable and emotionally stable than the dogs with a black coat or prick ears.

But why the bias?

Pointy-eared German shepherds are often associated with working K-9s. (Photo: John Roman Images/Shutterstock)

Although there are plenty of people who love pointy-ear pups, why are so many wary of them? There are no studies that show prick-eared dogs are less friendly than their floppy-eared counterparts, says Elinor K. Karlsson, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and founder of Darwin’s Ark, a citizen’s science project centering around genetics and pets.

Instead, it’s likely that people base their opinions on past experiences they’ve had with dogs.

“If people do perceive floppy eared dogs as being ‘friendlier looking,’ it could be just because dogs they’ve known personally are more likely to be floppy eared,” Karlsson tells MNN, pointing out that Labrador retrievers, the most common breed in the U.S., have floppy ears.

In addition, many of the working police and military dogs people meet are breeds such as German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, which tend to have erect ears. So people may associate the ears with the working dogs which are in protector, not friendly, roles.

Karlsson says this kind of “perception bias” can affect how people see and interact with dogs, which is why she’s very interested it this theme in her research.

“People do have a habit of assigning characteristics to things based on general groupings,” she says. “People do this to humans as well. It’s the way ours brains work.”

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 I’m still not convinced but it makes a lovely story and one that I wanted to share with you.

Dark money.

Back to politics of the bigger order.

I stopped and pondered whether I should share this with you but then I decided to so do. Reason is that this is …. well, let me put it in the words of the essay: “Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Enough said!

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You Want It Darker?

10th December 2018

The remarkable story of how the hard-right Koch brothers funded a Trotskyite splinter group.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th November 2018

Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Among the world’s biggest political spenders are Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches. If their two fortunes were rolled into one, Charles David Koch, with $120bn, would be the richest man on Earth.

In a rare public statement – an essay published in 1978 – Charles Koch explained his objective. “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” As Jane Mayer records in her book Dark Money, the Kochs’ ideology – lower taxes and looser regulations – and their business interests “dovetailed so seamlessly it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.”

Over the years, she notes, “the company developed a stunning record of corporate malfeasance”. Koch Industries paid massive fines for oil spills, illegal benzene emissions and ammonia pollution. In 1999, a jury found that it had knowingly using a corroded pipeline to carry butane, which caused an explosion in which two people died. Company Town, a film released last year, tells the story of local people’s long fight against pollution from a huge papermill owned by the Koch brothers.

The Koch’s chief political lieutenant, Richard Fink, developed what he called a three-stage model of social change. Universities would produce “the intellectual raw materials”. Think tanks would transform them into “a more practical or useable form”. Then “citizen activist” groups would “press for the implementation of policy change.”

To these ends the Kochs set up bodies in all three categories themselves, such as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Cato Institute and the “citizens’ group” Americans for Prosperity. But for the most part they funded existing organisations that met their criteria. They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of academic departments, thinktanks, journals and movements. And they appear to have been remarkably successful.

As researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities have found, Americans for Prosperity alone now rivals the Republican party in terms of size, staffing and organisational capacity. It has pulled ”the Republican party to the far-right on economic, tax, and regulatory issues.” It was crucial to the success of the Tea Party Movement, the ousting of Democrats from Congress, and the staffing of Trump’s transition team. The Koch network has helped secure massive tax cuts, the smashing of trade unions and the dismantling of environmental legislation.

But their hands, for the most part, remain invisible. A Republican consultant who has worked for Charles and David Koch told Jane Mayer that “to call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground.”

Until now, there has been no evidence that Charles and David Koch have directly funded organisations based in the UK. But a few weeks ago, a reader pointed me to one line he found in a form submitted to the US government by the Charles Koch Foundation, which showed money transferred to a company that appears to be the US funding arm of a UK organisation. Once I had grasped its significance, I set up a collaboration with the investigative group DeSmog UK. We could scarcely believe what we were seeing.

The organisation the Charles Koch Foundation has chosen to fund is at first sight astounding: a US organisation established by an obscure magazine run by former members of a tiny Trotskyite splinter group. Some of its core contributors still describe themselves as Marxists or Bolsheviks. But the harder you look at it, the more sense the Koch donations appear to make.

The name of the magazine is Spiked. It emerged from a group with a comical history of left factionalism. In 1974, the International Socialists split after a dispute over arithmetic in Volume 3 of Das Kapital. One of the new factions formed the Revolutionary Communist Group. In 1976, it split again, and one of the splinters became the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. It was led by a sociologist at the University of Kent called Frank Furedi. In 1981 it changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist Party.

In 1988, the party launched a magazine called Living Marxism (later LM). By then, it had abandoned many of its former convictions. Among the few discernible traces of its revolutionary past was an enthusiasm for former communists in the Balkans, such as Slobodan Milošević. In 2000, it closed after losing a libel case: it falsely claimed that ITN had fabricated evidence of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. But as soon as the magazine folded, a network of new groups, with the same cast of characters – Frank Furedi, Claire Fox, Mick Hume, Brendan O’Neill, James Heartfield, Michael Fitzpatrick, James Woudhuysen – sprang up to replace it. Among these organisations were the Institute of ideas, the Academy of Ideas, the Manifesto Club and a new magazine, Spiked. It had the same editor as LM (Mick Hume) and most of the same contributors.

We found three payments over the past two years from the Charles Koch Foundation. They amount to $170,000, earmarked for “general operating support”. The payments were made to Spiked US Inc. On Spiked’s “Donate” page is a button that says “In the US? Donate here”. It takes you to the PayPal link for “Spiked US, Inc”. Spiked US, in other words, appears to be its American funding arm. Beyond a postal address is Hoboken, New Jersey, it is hard to see what presence it has in the US. It appears to have been established in 2016, the year in which the Koch donations began.

When I asked Spiked what the money was for and whether there had been any other payments, its managing editor, Viv Regan, told me that the Charles Koch Foundation has now given Spiked US a total of $300,000, “to produce public debates in the US about free speech, as part of its charitable activities.” She claims the foundation supports projects “on both the left and the right”. The Koch Foundation has funded “a free-speech oriented programme of public debates on campus titled the Unsafe Space Tour” and four live events, the first of which is titled ‘Should we be free to hate?’. She told me “We’re very proud of our work on free speech and tolerance, and we are proud to be part of the programme.”

But I have been unable to find any public acknowledgement of this funding. Neither on the videos of the debates, in the posters advertising them or in reports of the events in Spiked magazine is there any mention of the Charles Koch Foundation. From what I could see of the title slides in the videos, they acknowledged an organisation called the Institute for Humane Studies, but not the Foundation. Spiked has yet to reply to my questions on this matter.

The Koch brothers are famously careful with their money. According to Jane Mayer, they exert “unusually tight personal control over their philanthropic endeavours”. David Koch told a sympathetic journalist, “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” So what might have attracted them to this obscure organisation?

Spiked magazine, now edited by Brendan O’Neill, appears to hate left-wing politics. It inveighs against the welfare state, against regulation, the Occupy movement, anti-capitalists, Jeremy Corbyn, George Soros, #MeToo, “black privilege” and Black Lives Matter. It does so in the name of the “ordinary people”, whom, it claims, are oppressed by the “anti-Trump and anti-Brexit cultural elites”, “feministic elites”, “green elites” and “cosmopolitan politicians”.

It repeatedly defends figures on the hard right or far right: Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Alex Jones, the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance, Tommy Robinson, Toby Young, Arron Banks, Brett Kavanaugh, Viktor Orban. They are portrayed as victims of “McCarthyites” trying to suppress free speech. It demands the hardest of possible Brexits, insisting that “No Deal is nothing to fear”, as it would allow the UK to scrap EU regulations.

But what it appears to hate most is environmentalism. It rails against “climate scaremongering”, and has called for fracking and coal production to be ramped up. It blames the Grenfell Tower disaster on “the moral fervour of the climate change campaign”. It mocks the idea that air pollution is dangerous and has proposed abolishing the planning system. “We need to conquer nature, not bow to it,” it contends. “Let’s make the ‘human footprint’ even bigger”.

Spiked’s writers rage against exposures of dark money. It calls the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, who has won a string of prizes for exposing the opaque spending surrounding the Brexit vote,the closest thing the mainstream British media has to an out-and-out conspiracy theorist”. It carries numerous articles by writers from the obscurely-funded Institute of Economic Affairs and from the Cato Institute, that was founded by Charles Koch. Its editor, Brendan O’Neill, also writes for Reason Magazine, owned by the Reason Foundation, which has received $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the past two years.

Bizarrely, Spiked still uses Leon Trotsky to justify its positions. It claims to have built its philosophy on his objective of “increasing the power of man over nature and … the abolition of the power of man over man”. This means, it says, that “we should fight for greater human dominion over the natural world”, and that regulatory power should not be used to prevent anyone from exercising their agency. The result appears to turn Trotsky’s objective on its head: without constraint, those with the greatest agency can exercise uninhibited power over others.

Its enthusiasm for Trotsky is highly selective. As one of Spiked’s writers noted in 2002, his central message was that “the retreat behind national boundaries is a recipe for reaction”. Yet the magazine’s defence of both Brexit and Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, is founded on the notion of national sovereignty. Spiked seems to have remembered everything Leon Trotsky wrote that could be recruited to the cause of corporate capital and the hard right, and forgotten all his, shall we say, less enthusiastic musings about those forces.

Above all, its positions are justified with the claim to support free speech. But the freedom all seems to tend in one direction: freedom to lambast vulnerable people. The Unsafe Space tour that the Charles Koch Foundation financed was heavily slanted towards this line. Yet, when I exercised my freedom of speech in sending my questions to Spiked, I was denounced on the front page of the magazine as a “McCarthyite”. This is its favourite insult, which it uses prolifically to dismiss legitimate inquiries and critiques. The usual term for asking awkward questions about powerful interests is journalism. Open information and transparency are crucial to free speech: the more we know, the freer we become. Spiked has also called for schools, universities and governments to be “cleansed” of “the malign influence” of green NGOs, which it denounces as “the environmentalist enemy within.” Some friends of free speech, these.

The Kochs are mentioned in several Spiked articles, but no corresponding interests are declared. An article in 2016, when Spiked received $170,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, attacked the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which the Koch brothers have a major interest.

Is this the extent of the Koch brothers’ funding of groups based in the UK? Who knows? I have not yet had a response from the Charles Koch Foundation. But I see these payments as part of a wider pattern of undisclosed funding. Democracy without transparency is not democracy.

http://www.monbiot.com

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If I was a younger man I would be very active in trying to stop this threat to our open society.

But I am not!

All I can do is to republish this insightful essay by George Monbiot and hope that a few of you didn’t realise this thing was going on, and are concerned!

A Letter to Mr. Cosmos, Page Two

The concluding part of my letter to Mr. Cosmos.

Your Universe, Mr. Cosmos, is an enormous place.

Just the view at night from one small planet, the one that I happen to live on, Planet Earth, reveals millions upon millions of stars. It is then beyond inconceivable that there are not, in turn, countless numbers of other planets.

Extending this line of thought and recognising that a ‘mere’ billion years after the formation of our solar system and Planet Earth, some 4.54 billion years ago, the earliest life appeared, we can’t surely be alone!

Granted it was only cyanobacteria, as in blue-green algae, but, but, but ……… that this evolution of life on Planet Earth, and that evolution eventually leading to intelligent life, including the gift to us humans of the genetic separation of the dog from the wolf some 100,000 years ago, has not occurred on other planets is also totally inconceivable.

So, dear Mr. Cosmos, why have we not detected any signs of that intelligent life. Where are they?

Mr. Cosmos, back in June this year there was an article on the Big Think site that asked just this question.

Are we alone in the universe? New Drake equation suggests yes

A fresh take on the decades-old Drake equation incorporates new factors and greater uncertainty, suggesting a high likelihood that humanity is alone in the universe.

By , 25th June, 2018

At the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi famously posed to his colleagues a simple question borne of complex math: ‘Where are they?’

He was asking about aliens—intelligent ones, specifically. The Italian-American scientist was puzzled as to why mankind hasn’t detected any signs of intelligent life beyond our planet. He reasoned that even if life is extremely rare, you’d still expect there to be many alien civilizations given the sheer size of the universe. After all, some estimates indicate that there is one septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, stars in the universe, some of which are surrounded by planets that could probably support life.

So, where are they, and why aren’t they talking to us?

Now, as the article reveals, there is a lot to tackling this question, much of it involving statistics and mathematics, but it does prove one very important fact: Finding another planet as good for life and humanity as this one is just about impossible.

This is our only home!!

My wish, dear Mr. Cosmos, to you is this: That before I die it becomes clear beyond question that the peoples of this sweet Planet, from the lone individual living on some island out in the wilderness to the Governments of the most powerful nations on Earth, understand that nothing is more important than loving, caring for and looking after Planet Earth.

I remain, dear Mr. Cosmos, your respectful servant.

Paul H.

Changing the world.

The problem is not plastic. It is consumerism.

I closed yesterday’s Letter to the Moon with the last sentence from a recent essay from George Monbiot: “Defending the planet means changing the world.

Shortly, I will be republishing, with Mr. Monbiot’s generous permission, the whole of that essay.

But first I am going to reproduce in full what arrived via email from George in the early hours of yesterday morning.

If you are within reach of London please go, or if not do leave a comment on the wall.

Hi Paul,

I’m contacting you because you’re one of the people who emailed me as part of the overwhelming response to my columns In Memoriam, and Incompetence By Design, where I mentioned that ‘some of us are now mobilising to turn the great enthusiasm for wildlife and natural beauty in this country into political action, and to fight the dismantling of the laws that protect our precious wild places’.

Many of you asked what I meant by ‘Watch this space’. The mobilisation starts next Saturday, in London, with The People’s Walk for Wildlife. It’s not a demonstration, nor a rally – it’s a gentle, family-friendly day. The only kind of strength we need is strength in numbers – to show that many thousands of us care deeply about the vanishing of wild mammals, butterflies, mayflies, songbirds and fish, and that we want the Government to commit properly to protecting those that remain.

On Saturday 22nd September, we’ll gather at Reformers Tree, Hyde Park at 10.00am; entertainment will start at 12 noon. At 1pm we’ll walk from Hyde Park Corner, via Piccadilly, St James, Pall Mall, and Cockspur St, to Whitehall. Please come along if you can. Download the birdsong app to play as we go. Bring friends, dress up as your favourite plant or animal or just come as yourself!

I’m looking forward to walking for the missing millions – I hope you can join me!

George
P.S. If you can’t make it, you can still contribute by adding your message of support to the Walk’s Wonder Wall – every post is valuable proof that you care.

Now on to that post.

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Plastic Soup

The problem is not plastic. It is consumerism.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th September 2018

Do you believe in miracles? If so, please form an orderly queue. Plenty of people imagine we can carry on as we are, as long as we substitute one material for another. Last month, a request to Starbucks and Costa to replace their plastic coffee cups with cups made from corn starch was retweeted 60,000 times, before it was deleted.

Those who supported this call failed to ask themselves where the corn starch would come from, how much land is needed to grow it or how much food production it will displace. They overlooked the damage this cultivation would inflict: growing corn (maize) is notorious for causing soil erosion, and often requires heavy doses of pesticides and fertilisers.

The problem is not just plastic. The problem is mass disposability. Or, to put it another way, the problem is pursuing, on the one planet known to harbour life, a four-planet lifestyle. Regardless of what we consume, the sheer volume of consumption is overwhelming the Earth’s living systems.

Don’t get me wrong. Our greed for plastic is a major environmental blight, and the campaigns to limit its use are well-motivated and sometimes effective. But we cannot address our environmental crisis by swapping one over-used resource for another. When I challenged that call, some people asked me, “so what should we use instead?”. The right question is “how should we live?”. But systemic thinking is an endangered species.

Part of the problem is the source of the plastic campaigns: David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series. The first six episodes had strong, coherent narratives. But the seventh episode, which sought to explain the threats facing the wonderful creatures the series revealed, darted from one issue to another. We were told we could “do something” about the destruction of ocean life. We were not told what. There was no explanation of why the problems are happening, what forces are responsible and how they can be engaged.

Amid the general incoherence, one contributor stated “It comes down, I think, to us each taking responsibility for the personal choices in our everyday lives. That’s all any of us can be expected to do.” This perfectly represents the mistaken belief that a better form of consumerism will save the planet. The problems we face are structural: a political system captured by commercial interests and an economic system that seeks endless growth. Of course we should try to minimise our own impacts, but we cannot confront these forces merely by “taking responsibility” for what we consume.

Unfortunately, these are issues that the BBC in general, and David Attenborough in particular, avoid. I admire Attenborough in many ways, but I am no fan of his environmentalism. For many years, it was almost undetectable. When he did at last speak out, he consistently avoided challenging power, either speaking in vague terms or focusing on problems for which powerful interests are not responsible. I believe this tendency may explain Blue Planet’s skirting of the obvious issues.

The most obvious is the fishing industry, that turns the astonishing lifeforms the rest of the series depicted into seafood. Throughout the oceans, this industry, driven by our appetites and protected by governments, is causing cascading ecological collapse. Yet the only fishery the programme featured was among the 1% that are in recovery. It was charming to see how Norwegian herring boats seek to avoid killing orcas, but we were given no idea of how unusual it is.

Even marine plastics is in large part a fishing issue. It turns out that 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that has come to symbolise our throwaway society, is composed of discarded nets, and much of the rest consists of other kinds of fishing gear. Abandoned fishing materials tend to be far more dangerous to marine life than other forms of waste. As for the bags and bottles contributing to the disaster, the great majority arise in poorer nations, without good disposal systems. But because this point was not made, we look to the wrong places for solutions.

From this misdirection arise a thousand perversities. One prominent environmentalist posted a picture of the king prawns she had just bought, celebrating the fact that she had persuaded the supermarket to put them in her own container, rather than a plastic bag, and linking this to the protection of the seas. But buying prawns causes many times more damage to marine life than any plastic in which they are wrapped. Prawn fishing has the highest rates of bycatch of any fishery: scooping up vast numbers of turtles and other threatened species. Prawn farming is just as bad, eliminating great tracts of mangrove forests, crucial nurseries for thousands of species.

We are kept remarkably ignorant of such issues. As consumers, we are confused, bamboozled and almost powerless. This is why corporate power has gone to such lengths to persuade us to see ourselves this way. The BBC’s approach to environmental issues is highly partisan, siding with a system that has sought to transfer responsibility for structural forces to individual shoppers. It is only as citizens, taking political action, that we can promote meaningful change.

The answer to the question “how should we live?” is “simply”. But living simply is highly complicated. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the government massacred the Simple Lifers. This is generally unnecessary: today they can be safely marginalised, insulted and dismissed. The ideology of consumption is so prevalent that it has become invisible: it is the plastic soup in which we swim.

One-planet living means not only seeking to reduce our own consumption, but also mobilising against the system that promotes the great tide of junk. This means fighting corporate power, changing political outcomes and challenging the growth-based, world-consuming system we call capitalism.

As the famous Hothouse Earth paper published last month, that warned of the danger of flipping the planet into a new, irreversible climatic state, concluded, “incremental linear changes … are not enough to stabilize the Earth system. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold”. Disposable coffee cups made from new materials are not just a non-solution. They are a perpetuation of the problem. Defending the planet means changing the world.

http://www.monbiot.com

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A Letter to the Moon

We live on such a fragile planet!

The idea of writing a letter to the moon is not a new one and it came to me when listening to an item yesterday morning, Pacific Time, broadcast by the BBC on Radio 4. The item was the news that Elon Musk has announced that:

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has unveiled the first private passenger it plans to fly around the Moon.

Japanese billionaire and online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, 42, announced: “I choose to go to the Moon.”

The mission is planned for 2023, and would be the first lunar journey by humans since 1972.

So here is that letter!

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Dear Mr Moon,

I cannot believe how quickly the years roll by!

Who would have thought that yesterday, the 18th of September, 2018, was the anniversary of the day in September, 1977 when:

On September 18, 1977, as it headed toward the outer solar system, Voyager 1 looked back and acquired a stunning image of our Earth and moon.

You will surely remember that first image taken of the Planet Earth and your good self in the same frame.

Here is the 1st-ever photo of the Earth and moon in a single frame. Voyager 1 took the photo on September 18, 1977, when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million km) from Earth. Image Number: PIA00013 via NASA/JPL.

Now here we are some 41 years later and, my, how things have changed.

But something, dear Mr. Moon, has never changed for you. That is the sight of our most beautiful planet. Plus, I would go so far as to venture that what makes our planet such a beautiful sight, one that has captivated us humans when we have gone into space and looked back at home, is the magic of our atmosphere.

It is so thin!

Picture taken by a NASA satellite orbiting the earth some 200 miles above the planet’s surface.

So, so thin …. and so, so fragile.

It is akin to the thinness of the skin of an onion.

In fact, Mr. Moon, that layer that we earthlings call the troposphere, the layer closest to Earth’s surface varies from just 4 miles to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick. It contains half of our planet’s atmosphere!

Everything that sustains the life of air-breathing creatures, human and otherwise, depends on the health of this narrow layer of atmosphere above our heads. Now the thickness of that layer varies depending on the season and the temperature of the air. But let’s use an average thickness of 8 miles (say, 13 km) because I want to explore in my letter to you some comparisons.

In your infinite gaze down upon your mother planet you will have seen the arrival  of H. sapiens, out of ancestral H. erectus, that took place roughly 315,000 years ago.

You will also have seen from your lofty vantage point the growth of both CO2 levels in the planet’s atmosphere and the average land-ocean temperature. Forgive me quoting something at you, but:

OBSERVABLE CHANGES IN THE EARTH

SINCE THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

While politicians have been busy debating the merits of climate science, the physical symptoms of climate change have become increasingly apparent: since the industrial revolution, sea level has grown by 0.9 inches, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen to unprecedented levels, average global temperatures have increased by about 1.0 degree Celsius and, to top it off, the global population has jumped by nearly 600 percent; 15 of the 16 hottest years on record occurred in the 21st century, and 2016 is likely to be the warmest year ever recorded.

Now the Industrial Revolution was all but over back in 1840 and the last 178 years have seen an explosion in the way we use energy, in all its forms. Plus we have to accept that back then the global population was around 1 billion persons. It is now over 7 billion.

Between 1900 and 2000, the increase in world population was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity—an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years.

So on to my comparisons.

The radius of our beautiful planet is about 3,959 miles (6,371 km). The average thickness of the troposphere is 8 miles (13 km).

Thus the ratio of thickness of our liveable atmosphere to the radius of the planet is 8 divided by 3,959. That is a figure of 0.002! Our atmosphere is 1/1000th of the size of the radius of our planet.

Hang on that figure for a moment.

In the last 178 years humanity has transformed our consumption of energy and especially carbon-based fuels. H. sapiens has been around for 315,000 years.

Thus the ratio of these present ‘modern’ times (the last 178 years) to the arrival of us back then (315,000 years ago) is 178 divided by 315,000. That is a (rounded) figure of 0.0006. Our modern times are just 1/10,000th of the time that so-called modern man has been on this planet.

So, dear Mr. Moon, you must despair that in so short a number of years, proportionally ten times smaller than the ratio of the troposphere to the radius of our planet, we funny creatures have done so much damage to what we all depend on to stay alive – clean air!

Or maybe, my dear companion of the night sky, because you are celebrating your 4.1 billionth year of existence, what we humans are doing is all a bit of a yawn.

Sincerely,

This old Brit living in Oregon.

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My dear friends (and I’m now speaking to you dear reader, not the moon!) when you reflect on the fragility of our atmosphere, well the layer we depend on for life, you realise without doubt that each and every one of us must make this pledge.

“I promise to do everything possible to reduce my own personal CO2 output and to ensure that both to my near friends and my political representatives I make it clear that we must turn back – and turn back now!”

Or, as George Monbiot writes in closing a recent essay (that I am republishing tomorrow): “Defending the planet means changing the world.”

Can we really avoid the ‘train crash’?

The idea that humanity will not prevent the approaching disaster is beyond belief!

One of the results of all you great people signing up to follow Learning from Dogs is that it encourages me to share things that strike me as so, so important.

Another of the results in there being, as of today, 3,349 following this place, is that I get the sense of what many of you good people also feel is important. Ergo, it is clear to me, clear beyond doubt, that caring and loving a dog or two makes you a person who cares and loves passionately this beautiful planet that is our home.

The emotion that is spilling out of me via these words to you is a result of having just read an essay published recently on The Conversation site and shared with you today.

Directly, it has nothing to do with our dear dogs. Yet, in a way, it does!

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7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support?

By Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of the Holy Cross, July 9th 2018.

Humans are the most populous large mammal on Earth today, and probably in all of geological history. This World Population Day, humans number in the vicinity of 7.5 to 7.6 billion individuals.

Can the Earth support this many people indefinitely? What will happen if we do nothing to manage future population growth and total resource use? These complex questions are ecological, political, ethical – and urgent. Simple mathematics shows why, shedding light on our species’ ecological footprint.

The mathematics of population growth

In an environment with unlimited natural resources, population size grows exponentially. One characteristic feature of exponential growth is the time a population takes to double in size.

Exponential growth of world population

It took 127 years for the world population to double from one billion to two. By contrast, it took only 47 years, from 1927 to 1974, to double from two billion to four. Since 1960, world population has grown by about one billion every 13 years. Each point represents an additional one billion people.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Exponential growth tends to start slowly, sneaking up before ballooning in just a few doublings.

To illustrate, suppose Jeff Bezos agreed to give you one penny on Jan. 1, 2019, two pennies on Feb. 1, four on March 1, and so forth, with the payment doubling each month. How long would his $100 billion fortune uphold the contract? Take a moment to ponder and guess.

After one year, or 12 payments, your total contract receipts come to US$40.95, equivalent to a night at the movies. After two years, $167,772.15 – substantial, but paltry to a billionaire. After three years, $687,194,767.35, or about one week of Bezos’ 2017 income.

The 43rd payment, on July 1, 2022, just short of $88 billion and equal to all the preceding payments together (plus one penny), breaks the bank.

Real population growth

For real populations, doubling time is not constant. Humans reached 1 billion around 1800, a doubling time of about 300 years; 2 billion in 1927, a doubling time of 127 years; and 4 billion in 1974, a doubling time of 47 years.

On the other hand, world numbers are projected to reach 8 billion around 2023, a doubling time of 49 years, and barring the unforeseen, expected to level off around 10 to 12 billion by 2100.

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

World population projections

In 2020, the UN predicts that there will be 7,795,482 people worldwide.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Ecological implications

Humans are consuming and polluting resources – aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans – accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years, or longer.

Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares.

These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.

A man works recycling plastic bottles outside Hanoi, Vietnam. REUTERS/Kham

Water is vital. Biologically, an adult human needs less than 1 gallon of water daily. In 2010, the U.S. used 355 billion gallons of freshwater, over 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) per person per day. Half was used to generate electricity, one-third for irrigation, and roughly one-tenth for household use: flushing toilets, washing clothes and dishes, and watering lawns.

If 7.5 billion people consumed water at American levels, world usage would top 10,000 cubic kilometers per year. Total world supply – freshwater lakes and rivers – is about 91,000 cubic kilometers.

World Health Organization figures show 2.1 billion people lack ready access to safe drinking water, and 4.5 billion lack managed sanitation. Even in industrialized countries, water sources can be contaminated with pathogens, fertilizer and insecticide runoff, heavy metals and fracking effluent.

Freedom to choose

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

The drive to reproduce is among the strongest desires, both for couples and for societies. How will humans reshape one of our most cherished expectations – “Be fruitful and multiply” – in the span of one generation? What will happen if present-day birth rates continue?

Population stays constant when couples have about two children who survive to reproductive age. In some parts of the developing world today, couples average three to six children.

We cannot wish natural resources into existence. Couples, however, have the freedom to choose how many children to have. Improvements in women’s rights, education and self-determination generally lead to lower birth rates.

As a mathematician, I believe reducing birth rates substantially is our best prospect for raising global standards of living. As a citizen, I believe nudging human behavior, by encouraging smaller families, is our most humane hope.

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This essay from Professor Hwang is one of those articles that one frequently sees online that comes across as really interesting but, in the end, only gets a skim read; at best.

So if you didn’t fully comprehend what the good Professor included then ‘Stop‘ and go back and read it all very carefully.

Don’t just be alarmed at Professor Hwang writing:

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

Or:

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

Be concerned that each and every one of us, as in you and me, can only prevent the train crash by making a change in how we live: Today!

Otherwise ….

In so many ways we are such a clever and inventive race, capable of exploring the farthest reaches of outer space and the innermost aspects of quantum mechanics. Surely we must learn to live sustainably on beautiful Planet Earth!

Just say “No!”

We have to keep banging this drum on behalf of our wildlife!

OK! This new essay from George Monbiot applies specifically to the United Kingdom. But there’s no question in my mind that awareness of what is going in the U.K. will be important for readers in many other countries.

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Incompetence By Design

As state bodies are dismantled, corporations are freed to rip the living world apart

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th July 2018

It feels like the collapse of the administrative state – and this is before Brexit. One government agency after another is losing its budget, its power and its expertise. The result, for corporations and the very rich, is freedom from the restraint of law, freedom from the decencies they owe to other people, freedom from democracy. The public protections that constrain their behaviour are being dismantled.

An example is the cascading decline in the protection of wildlife and environmental quality. The bodies charged with defending the living world have been so enfeebled that they now scarcely exist as independent entities. Natural England, for example, has been reduced to a nodding dog in the government’s rear window.

Its collapse as an autonomous agency is illuminated by the case that will be heard next week in the High Court, where two ecologists, Tom Langton and Dominic Woodfield, are challenging its facilitation of the badger cull. That the cull is a senseless waste of life and money is well established, but this is only one of the issues being tested. Another is that Natural England, which is supposed to assess whether the shooting of badgers causes wider environmental harm, appears incapable of discharging its duties.

As badger killing spreads across England, it intrudes upon ever more wildlife sites, some of which protect animals that are highly sensitive to disturbance. Natural England is supposed to determine whether allowing hunters to move through these places at night and fire their guns has a detrimental effect on other wildlife, and what the impact of removing badgers from these ecosystems might be. The claimants allege that it has approved the shooting without meaningful assessments.

Some of its decisions, they maintain, are farcical. In Dorset, for example, Natural England assumed that overwintering hen harriers and merlins use only one out of all the sites that have been designated for their protection, and never stray from it. It makes the same assumption about the Bewick’s swans that winter around the Severn estuary. That birds fly, enabling them to move from one site to another, appears to have been overlooked.

Part of the problem, the claimants argue, is that staff with specialist knowledge have been prevented from making decisions. The location of the badger cull zones is such a closely guarded secret that Natural England’s local staff are not allowed to see the boundaries. As a result, they can make no meaningful assessment of what the impact might be. Instead, the decisions are made in distant offices by people who have not visited the sites.

I wanted to ask Natural England about this, but its external communications have been shut down by the government: any questions now have to be addressed to Michael Gove’s environment department, Defra. Defra told me “staff carrying out this work have all the necessary information. It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal matter.” How can Natural England be an independent body when the government it is supposed to monitor speaks on its behalf?

Another example of how far Natural England has fallen is the set of deals it has struck with grouse moor owners, allowing them to burn protected habitats, kill protected species and build roads across sites that are supposed to be set aside for wildlife. For several years, the redoubtable conservationist Mark Avery has been fighting these decisions. This May, Natural England conceded, in effect, that he was right. The agency that is meant to protect our wild places has been colluding in their destruction.

A correspondent from within Natural England tells me its staff are so demoralised that it has almost ceased to function. “Enforcement, for example, is close to non-existent … Gove seems to have somehow both raised the profile of environmental issues whilst simultaneously stripping the resources … it has never been as bad as this.”

In March, the House of Lords reported that Natural England’s budget has been cut by 44% since it was founded in 2006. The cuts have crippled both its independence and its ability to discharge its duties. It has failed to arrest the catastrophic decline in our wildlife, failed to resist the housebuilders trashing rare habitats and abandoned its regulatory powers in favour of useless voluntary agreements. As if in response, the government cut the agency’s budget by a further 14%.

Dominic Woodfield, one of the claimants in the court case next week, argues that Natural England has been “on death row” since it applied the law at Lodge Hill in Kent, where the Ministry of Defence was hoping to sell Britain’s best nightingale habitat to a housing developer. Natural England had no legal choice but to designate this land as a site of scientific interest, hampering the government’s plans. As the government slashed its budget and curtailed its independence, the agency’s disastrous response has been to try to save itself through appeasement. But all this has done is to alienate its defenders, reduce its relevance and hasten its decline. “There are still good people in Natural England. But they’re broken. They talk very slowly because they’re thinking very carefully about everything they say.”

If this is happening before we leave the European Union, I can only imagine where we will stand without the protection of European law. The environmental watchdog that, according to Michael Gove, will fill the role now played by the European Commission, will know, like Natural England, that its budget is provided by the government and can be cut at the government’s discretion. What is to prevent it from being nobbled as other agencies have been?

Already, the deliberate mutilating of the administrative state, delivering incompetence by design, has released landowners, housebuilders and assorted polluters from regulatory restraint. Only through European law have government agencies been forced to discharge their duties. Brexit strips away this defence. And if, as some propose, it paves the way for One Nation Under Gove, we should, the evidence so far suggests, be even more alarmed.

But some of us are now mobilising to turn the great enthusiasm for wildlife and natural beauty in this country into political action, and to fight the dismantling of the laws that protect our precious wild places. Watch this space.

http://www.monbiot.com

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On George Monbiot’s blog home page is this quote:

“I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

We must all love Nature more!