Lack of Environment

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A personal exchange of email with LEGO

with 5 comments

In my original email to LEGO (via the Greenpeace website), I tried to be as brief as I could. Sadly, all I got was a generic reply that did not address the issues I was raising. Here is the correspondence to-date (any further responses from Lego will be appended as comments by me):

—–Original Message—–
From: Martin Lack
Sent: 04 July 2014 19:48
To: Responsibility
Subject: Invest in the future not the past – stop sponsoring Shell

Dear LEGO,

Fossil fuels are a 19th century technology and a finite resource. A post-carbon era is inevitable, the only question that remains is whether 10 billion humans will be able to share in it.

I’m really disappointed to learn that you have agreed to help Shell clean up its image, while it helps to endanger the environmental biodiversity of the Arctic.

You claim that it is your ambition to protect children’s right to live in a healthy environment, both now and in the future. If that is true, please cut your ties with Shell now.

Yours faithfully,

Martin Lack

———————

On 17 July 2014 10:08, CustomerResponseTeam@LEGO.com <CustomerResponseTeam@lego.com> wrote:

Dear Martin Lack,

Thanks for getting in touch with us.

I’m sorry to hear you feel so strongly about our co-promotion with Shell. We really appreciate you taking the time to write and share your concern with us, and I’ve passed your thoughts and opinions to our promotions team.

We’re determined to help make the world that children will inherit a better place. Our unique contribution is to inspire and develop children through creative play. By entering a co-promotion like the one with Shell, we can put LEGO® bricks into the hands of even more children around the world. This allows more children to develop their imagination and creative skills through building and creating models with LEGO bricks.

The Greenpeace campaign focuses on how Shell operates in one specific part of the world. We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and that they take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case. We’re sad to see the LEGO brand used as a tool in any dispute. We believe this is a matter where Greenpeace and Shell must work out their differences between themselves.

For more information, you’re welcome to read our CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s comment on this Greenpeace campaign. There’s also more information about our responsibility agenda in this area of LEGO.com. More information on the environmental targets that we have set for ourselves can be found here.

Please let us know if you need anything else.

Kind regards,

Tanja
LEGO® Service

———————

Dear Tanja/LEGO,

Thank you for taking the time to personalise your response to me; and for explaining LEGO’s thinking in working with Shell. I understand and accept that, since Lego is itself a product of the petrochemical industry, such a “co-promotion” makes good business sense.   However, the Arctic is not just a “specific part of the world” in which Shell is operating. In order to preserve a habitable planet for future generations, the Arctic is somewhere that Shell should not be operating!  Even if it were good, therefore, this makes Shell’s operational safety record (etc) irrelevant.

The only reason it is now possible to operate in the Arctic is because the ice is melting; and most of the ice is melting because of the exponential growth of fossil fuel use since the Industrial Revolution.  Humans may well use fossil fuels to make all sorts of things (including Lego) but this does not make it right for us all to disregard the long-term consequences of continuing to pump geospheric carbon (i.e. that derived from fossil fuels) – in the form of CO2 – into the biosphere (i.e. the atmosphere and the oceans).  In combination with deforestation and the exponential growth of livestock farming, global warming and ocean acidification were therefore an inevitable result of the exponential growth of the human population on this planet since the Industrial Revolution. However, now we know we are in a hole, is it not time we stopped digging? See my blog post regarding the Rio+20 Summit: ‘When in hole keep digging?’ (21 June 2012).

If LEGO truly wants to preserve a habitable environment and planet, it should place conditions upon its support for Shell.  Given that the vast majority of relevant scientists agree that there are now 5 times more fossil fuels left on this planet than it would ever be safe for us to burn – something the IEA, IMF, OECD and Pentagon all acknowledge – LEGO needs to encourage Shell to find alternative means to meet (or reduce) global demand for fossil fuels. As such, although “turkeys will never vote for Christmas”, the petrochemical industry needs to invest in finding non-fossil alternatives for its current products.  Such things definitely exist (e.g. biosythetic fuels and energy from waste products).  What is lacking is the corporate will or political incentive to pursue them.  Things that are worth doing are rarely the easy option.  Shell’s exploration in the Arctic is both the wrong option and the lazy option; one that is collectively endangering the future habitability of this planet.

Therefore, I hope I may look forward to LEGO placing conditions upon its future support for Shell, which needs to adopt a long-term business strategy that does not contradict the science and economics underlying the call for humans to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. For more information, please see this recent blog post: ‘Geoscientists get all ethical about climate change’ (2 May 2014).

Yours very sincerely,

Martin Lack

Written by Martin Lack

23 July 2014 at 12:00

Corporate interests lean on YouTube to delete Lego-Shell video

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But Greenpeace UK will just keep re-posting it… Here is the latest email from their Head of Arctic Campaigns, Ben Ayliffe:
———-

Hi Martin,

I think we might have offended someone. This morning we were shocked to learn that our viral video calling on LEGO to break its lucrative partnership with oil giant Shell has been REMOVED from YouTube!

This controversial new clip has amassed more views and shares than any other video in Greenpeace history. Today, corporate interests are trying to stifle our efforts exposing the LEGO-Shell partnership for what it really is.But we won’t give up that easily. We’ve just reposted the video and it’s ready for you to share far and wide right away! Click here to watch the video they don’t want you to see. Then, if you haven’t already, add your name to the growing global call telling LEGO to stop covering for Shell’s Arctic oil plans.BANNED from YouTube
More than 3 million people have viewed this video in less than three days. People everywhere are sharing it with friends and loved ones, shocked to learn that this dearly-loved children’s toy brand is helping Shell clean up its image. Now our important message is being attacked, and it’s time to ramp our efforts and fight back.Our ad might have offended the likes of LEGO, Shell, and its corporate pals. But this is nothing compared to what Shell wants to do to our beautiful Arctic. Despite the real risk of a terrible and unstoppable oil spill, it continues to forge ahead to plunder every last drop of oil it can from this pristine environment.

The only reason Shell can get away with it is by forming public partnerships with the brands we all love. And we’re sorry to say this includes LEGO. Their deal involves everything from incentivising fuel purchases with free Lego kits, to plastering the Shell logo on the side of millions of children’s toys.

If Shell had its way, it would drill for oil in every corner of the planet. So it’s up to people like you and me to make sure that doesn’t happen. Not now, not ever. Ask Lego to stop its partnership with Shell today. 

In the past we’ve helped delay Shell’s plans in the Arctic and opened up the public’s eyes to their dangerous plans. Now Shell is desperately trying to rebuild its reputation by partnering with beloved brands like LEGO. But LEGO doesn’t have to play along.

Please watch this video and send your message to LEGO right away. Let’s move one step closer to kicking Shell out of the Arctic.

Thanks for getting involved.

Ben Ayliffe
Arctic Campaigner
Greenpeace

Written by Martin Lack

11 July 2014 at 12:28

Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy

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The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change has today published its 2014 progress report. The report considers preparedness to climate change in England related to major infrastructure, business, public health and emergency planning. It also provides an update to the ASC’s previous analysis of flood risk management.

This report is the last in a series that will feed in to the ASC’s first statutory report to Parliament on the National Adaptation Programme in 2015.

A copy of the report can be found on our website at: www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Final_ASC-2014_web-version.pdf

The associated news story is available at: www.theccc.org.uk

Please help save the African elephant

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Are humans a plague upon the Earth?  When I read stufff like this (from Avaaz), I find it hard not to feel ashamed of what our species is doing to this planet.

———-

Dear friends,

African elephants could go extinct by 2030, but in days, a body in charge of protecting endangered species could slap sanctions on Thailand, the key blood ivory market. Let’s race to put key representatives on the spot to save the elephants — add your voice now:

SIGN THE PETITION

Poachers just shot one of the world’s largest elephants, Satao, then hacked his 100 pound tusks out of his face with a machete. At the current rate of killing, elephants may be extinct in 15 years, but this week if we act now we have an amazing chance to crack down on the illegal trade that fuels the slaughter.

Each day, 50 regal elephants are butchered just to make dinky ivory trinkets! The main culprit for this carnage is Thailand — the fastest growing market for unregulated ivory. And tomorrow the international body created to protect endangered species has a chance to sanction Thailand until it cracks down on the elephant killers. Experts fear Thai leaders are mounting a propaganda campaign to dodge penalties, but it just takes Europe and the US to ignore their noise and spearhead action to end the slaughter.

Let’s give key European delegates, and the US, the global call they need to tune out Thailand and bravely lead the world to save the elephants. A final decision could be made tomorrow, so we have no time to lose — sign the petition, then send a message to the UK Environment Minister:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_elephants_uk/

20,000 African elephants are killed every year, and the number of ivory products on sale in Bangkok trebled in the last twelve months. Government representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have the responsibility to keep the world’s rarest plants and animals alive, and when sanctions were applied to Thailand twenty years ago, it forced the country to pass critical wildlife protection laws.

Thailand says it’s hard to distinguish legal ivory from Thai elephants from smuggled African ivory, and that it has adopted an action plan to stop the ivory trade. But 20 years of delays and a recent military coup tell a different story. If we reach out to the ministers who set the position, we can get the votes needed to prevent Thailand exporting items like aquarium fish and exotic flowers.

Right now CITES representatives are considering whether to sanction Thailand for its failure to stem the ivory trade. Let’s make a call directly to key delegates and the UK Environment Minister now to ensure they make the right decision. Add your voice, then share widely:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_elephants_uk/

Last year, the Avaaz community helped force Thailand to agree to ban the domestic ivory trade. But Thailand’s new military government has done little to show it will fulfil this promise or restrict this bloody business. Let’s show the strength of our community by issuing an enormous call to protect the lives of one of the world’s most precious species.

With hope,

Alex, Danny, Alice, Nick, Lisa, Emma and the rest of the Avaaz team

MORE INFORMATION:

World famous elephant ‘Satao’ killed by poachers in Kenya (Forbes)
http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2014/06/15/world-famous-elephant-satao-killed-by-poachers-in-kenya/

The ivory highway (Men’s Journal)
http://www.mensjournal.com/magazine/print-view/the-ivory-highway-20140213

Legal reform must shut down Thailand’s ivory trade (WWF)
http://wwf.panda.org/?209665/Legal-reform-must-shut-down-Thailands-ivory-trade

Elephant population too small to supply huge local ivory market (Bangkok Post)
http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/418534/thai-elephant-population-too-small-to-supply-huge-local-ivory-market

Major increase in Thai ivory market shows need for action at wildlife trade meeting (World Wildlife Fund)
http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?224690/Major-increase-in-Thai-ivory-market-shows-need-for-action-at-wildlife-trade-meeting

Written by Martin Lack

7 July 2014 at 11:39

Humanity will not be able to say it was not warned

with 6 comments

This post is to mark the impending publication of the latest book from Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, entitled The Collapse of Western Civilisation: A View From the Future.  The authors have already published a summary of this book’s thesis and purpose in the academic journal Daedalus.  However, in July, the book itself will be published by Columbia University Press, who summarise it thus:

In this haunting, provocative work of science-based fiction, Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway imagine a world devastated by climate change. Dramatizing the science in ways traditional nonfiction cannot, the book reasserts the importance of scientists and the work they do and reveals the self-serving interests of the so called “carbon combustion complex” that have turned the practice of science into political fodder. Based on sound scholarship and yet unafraid to speak boldly, this book provides a welcome moment of clarity amid the cacophony of climate change literature.
http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-16954-7/the-collapse-of-western-civilization

I was tempted to recommend readers look at all previous posts in my ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ or ‘Collapse’ categories. However, this would take quite a long time.  Therefore, if you have not read them before, I will just limit myself to recommending that you read:
The first of two sequential posts in January 2012 about Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; and
One of my earliest posts from September 2011 (reproduced in slightly modified form below), in which I mention the Civilisation: Is the West History?  book and TV series by Niall Ferguson.

Taking these three books – from Diamond, Ferguson, and Oreskes and Conway – together, the one thing humanity will not be able to say is that it was not warned…

—–

The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of Dagon

I firmly believe that you do not need to be an adherent to any faith to find value in religious texts; and this is one of my favourite historical stories from the Old Testament: It tells of the Philistines (i.e. now Palestinians) capturing the Ark of the Covenant and – eventually – returning it to the Jews because of all the trouble having it caused (see 1 Samuel Chapters 5 and 6 if you’re interested). I think the moral of this story may be twofold: It tells us (1) that God can look after himself; and (2) we should not raise any object to the status of an idol.

Personally speaking, learning the first lesson from this story eventually convinced me in the mid-1980s that there was no point trying to persuade my devoutly-atheistic teachers at Portsmouth Polytechnic (as it was then) that not all Christians were Young Earth Creationists… However, globally speaking, learning the second lesson from this story will be necessary before humanity can dig itself out of the hole it is now in – as a result of (1) pride (in our own resourcefulness); and (2) complacency (regarding the Earth’s sensitivity to our activity)…

This was the warning given by E.F. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful (1973) and, most-recently, by James Lovelock in Revenge of Gaia (2006). Karl Marx called it “money fetishism” and Herman Daly called it “growthmania” but, whatever you want to call it, we need to renounce it; and acknowledge that all human actions – most important of all being waste production – have consequences… Therefore, more than anything else, this is a plea for anthropogenic humility, intellectual honesty, moral courage, and determined action. This is because if we fail to act soon then, yes, I do firmly believe that we face an environmental catastrophe.

If all of the above merely convinces you that environmentalism is a new religion, so be it but, I think you are wrong: I think consumerism is the new religion and, on the contrary, environmentalism is just a natural response to the realisation that humanity is having a terrible impact on the planet; and needs to change its ways before its very existence – in anything like current numbers and at current average levels of affluence – is seriously compromised.

Authors will have to forgive me if they feel I have here plagiarised any of their work, because this is an amalgamation of many different things I have seen or read. However, above all, it is influenced most-recently by watching Civilisation: Is the West History? by Niall Ferguson; and reading Requiem for a Species by Clive Hamilton… I do not believe either of these two men has been ideologically “captured” by any political agenda; they are merely being (at times painfully) honest and objective about the predicament in which we now find ourselves (though to be fair we were warned almost 40 years ago but chose not to listen).

In their latest book, Oreskes and Conway suggest that collapse will occur in 2093. Sadly, I suspect it will be a lot sooner than that. However, far from being mere pessimism, this conclusion is based on a great deal of scientific research.  Research that shows that environmental change is now in the process of accelerating beyond our capacity to mitigate it:
What on Earth are we doing? (19 February 2013).
A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al. (11 October 2013).

Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

with 12 comments

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?

With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:

(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
or
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.

What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P

If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).

N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.

Geoscientists get all ethical about climate change

with 9 comments

GeoscientistMay14The Geoscientist is the Fellowship magazine of the Geological Society of London.  With the Permission of the Editor of the magazine, I hereby republish extracts from three items in the most recent issue (cover image shown here) of the magazine:

(1) The Soapbox item (i.e. guest op-ed) by Roger Dunshea;
plus Book Reviews of:
(2) William Hay’s Experimenting on a Small Planet; and
(3) Jermemy Leggett’s The Energy of Nations.

There will, no doubt, be howls of protest from all the ‘climate ostriches’ within the Geological Society – those who dispute the problematic nature of the reality that:

(a) the Earth’s fossil fuel resources are non-renewable and finite;
(b) burning them is the primary cause of ongoing climate disruption; and
(c) feeding 10 billion humans will be very hard without fossil fuels.

Sadly, however, reality is not altered by our refusal to face it!

——-

(1) The Only Way is Ethics (Opinion piece by Roger Dunshea*)

dunsheaWe all know geology is the most enjoyable of sciences, bringing together a differential of maths, a wave of physics, a whiff of chemistry and a gene of biology…  Our science combines analytical techniques in the laboratory with equally important observation, sampling and experimentation in the field…  We grapple with the fundamental structures of this planet, its minerals and history, and the enormous magnitude of time it has taken us to get to where we are now. As a group of scientists we are in a unique position to appreciate that this planet’s rock-based economic resources are essentially finite and that their replacement is either not possible or may take at least mega-millennia…

These resources have delivered abundant power and materials, resulting in outstanding increases in agricultural and industrial output, as well as some glinting adornments for the celebs. The average lifespan of Homo sapiens has been transformed and global numbers have increased at an astounding rate…

Geologists specialise in different areas of the science…  Geology has made a major contribution to global society but do we risk threatening the prospects of future generations due to the current unsustainable levels of extraction?  Should geologists start thinking more about helping the long term economic prospects of Homo sapiens?

So while our peers in the medical and life sciences are developing new ethical standards to protect the wellbeing of current and future generations, is it not now time to start discussing and developing a set of geological scientific ethics that can support very long-term global economic sustainability?

(*Roger Dunshea spent most of his career in the UK public sector in managerial and financial roles)

(2) Experimenting on a Small Planet (by William Hay)

bookcoverhayThis thick and well-illustrated volume is a highly readable tour through the multidisciplinary science behind Earth’s oceanographic and atmospheric warming and cooling on both geologic and anthropogenic timescales, by a major contributor with a phenomenal grasp of the whole…  Many of these topics are neglected in mainline global-warming work, and professionals as well as outsiders will find much that is new to them…

The decreasing temperature gradient south from the Arctic has already made the northern jet stream slower, more frequently erratic, and much more likely to stall in place with the weather masses it controls. Extreme weather is steadily increasing as a result, and more and worse would be coming even if greenhouse gas emissions stop immediately (which of course will not happen). Predicting the specific great changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulations is confounded, however, because there has been no documented past occurrence of an icy Antarctic and an ice-free Arctic from which to reason by analogy, and north-south interconnectedness is uncertain, nor has there been anything comparable to our geologically instantaneous increase of greenhouse gasses to levels unknown for 35 million years.

Bill Hay has searched for explanations of the two major stable states of Phanerozoic climates, “greenhouse” and subordinate “icehouse”, and of the switches between them. He has focused on the Cretaceous and early Paleogene, when the poles were mild and temperate and deep oceans were warm, and the middle and late Cenozoic, when Antarctic continental ice and a mostly-frozen Arctic Ocean produced strikingly different regimes because the world’s oceans were dominated by polar-chilled deep water, and the atmosphere by great latitudinal temperature and pressure gradients, a regime that culminated in the waxing and waning continental ice sheets of the past two million years.

Changes due to even ‘present’ atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to develop for millennia before new quasi-equilibria were established. Mankind is facing catastrophe as a rapidly increasing population simultaneously outgrows its resources and enters a more hostile global environment.

(Review by Warren Hamilton)

(3) The Energy of Nations (by Jeremy Leggett)

bookcoverleggettSubtitled ‘Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance’, the risk that Leggett’s book draws to our attention is that because of the demands of nations for us collectively to cut back on the use of fossil fuels (so as to mitigate the effects of global warming caused by emissions of carbon dioxide) eventually the assets that oil companies have in the ground, and that form the basis for their share price, will become worthless because we shall have to stop using them…

“This risk goes completely unrecognised by all sectors of the financial chain” he says. If that realisation comes suddenly rather than slowly, it could “amount to another bubble bursting and a grave shock to the global financial system”. We are looking at what Leggett calls “unburnable carbon”.

Leggett’s argument also revolves around ‘peak oil’. Production has been running at about 82 million barrels/day, but the rise in demand by 2050 will be such that we will need 110 million Bpd. Yet all that industry has been able to do over the past few years is keep production flat in a time of extended oil prices. Where is all that extra production to come from?…

Leggett’s answer is to call for massive investment in what he calls the cleantech energy sources we shall need in the future. Currently we are saddled with a dysfunctional dinosaur and riddled with short-term thinking. The industry may be right to say there will always be gas, and oil, and coal. But the Stone Age didn’t stop because we ran out of stones. Endless growth is a problem on one planet with finite resources. So what can we do about it? We could all start by reading Leggett for ideas, that’s for sure.

(Review by Colin Summerhayes)

——-

Copyright in all of the above remains with Geoscientist.

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