Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Intergenerational injustice’ Category

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

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

Evolving the map of climate ‘scepticism’…

with 5 comments

Sorry for the long gap between posts… Herewith an updated version of my previous post.  This, then, is the final version of my attempt to describe my research to fellow first-year PhD candidates at the University of Liverpool. From the feedback received on this, however, it is clear that I have still failed to explain stuff like the theoretical basis for my research (i.e. “…is it is constructivist, institutionalist, or positivist?”).  Err, yeah, right.  What do you expect? I don’t claim to be an expert. Not yet, anyway.

———-

If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.
DenialOfScience

My research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. The key was finding the right PhD supervisor, which has resulted in my focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion. See The Power of the Commentariat by Hobsbawm & Lloyd (2008).

globalwarming_theoriesWhy does this interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment.

In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

What am I going to do?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Elsasser&DunlapTable3How will this be done?
The current understanding of ‘climate scepticism’ (CS) is hampered by confusion and disagreement amongst social scientists regarding: (1) what constitutes its core features; and (2) how CS discourse is evolving and engaging with current political, policy and scientific developments. This impedes the identification of: (3) key voices in the CS commentariat; and (4) the processes and institutional dynamics behind the evolution and mediated dissemination of CS discourse.

This project will address these four gaps in our current understanding of CS by providing: (5) an evidence-based assessment of the prominence, structure and evolution of CS discourse; and providing a platform for assessing: (6) the implications CS has on or for the public understanding of climate change; and (7) the quality of contemporary and future public debate about climate concerns.

Building on the most recent work of Elsasser and Dunlap (2013) – see their summary table shown here – and many others, I intend to devise a definitive typology of CS arguments, which will include: (a) conspiracy theorists; (b) trend, attribution and impact sceptics (Rahmstorf, 2004); and (c) the increasingly-dominant category – in journalism and politics – of policy sceptics (Painter, 2011). This will then be used as the basis for mapping the evolution of CS arguments over time, which is my fundamental objective.

sust devt iconWhy is this worth doing?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

References:
Hobsbawm, J & Lloyd, J. (2008). The Power of the Commentariat: How much do commentators influence politics and public opinion? Published by the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism (PDF summary available online here).
Elsasser, S. & Dunlap, R. (2013). ‘Leading Voices in the Denier Choir: Conservative Columnists’ Dismissal of Global Warming and Denigration of Climate Science’. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(6), 754 –776.
Rahmstorf, S. (2004). The climate sceptics – see PDF on website of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Scepticism, Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism – see this excellent summary by Leo Hickman on the Guardian website (11 Nov 2011).

Written by Martin Lack

28 June 2014 at 00:02

Mapping the evolution of climate change ‘scepticism’ in British newspapers since 1990

with 23 comments

This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…

———-

If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider

DSCF1826xWhere did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.

DenialOfScienceMy research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…

The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.

what ifWhat’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Why does this interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment.

In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

globalwarming_theoriesWhere is the conspiracy?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value).

However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).

Therefore, whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

sust devt iconWhat does this matter?
I shall leave the final word to James Hoggan, the author of Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, and co-founder of the DeSmogBlog website.

“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.

Written by Martin Lack

1 June 2014 at 00:02

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.

How many more must die because of climate change denial?

with 8 comments

Warmer oceans cause more evaporation; leading to more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time.  This results in more frequent storms of greater intensity than before.  This email from Greenpeace therefore needs no further introduction from me:

—————————

Dear supporter,

These are extremely tough times for the people of the Philippines. Unfortunately, this disaster is not over yet and recovering from it will take a lot of time and resources. Nothing will make up for the lost lives though.

I often say this and unfortunately it is true on this occasion as well. It is those who are the least responsible for climate change who are getting hit the hardest by its impacts.

I received the email below from the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Von Hernandez. It was such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do that I asked if I could share it with you. He agreed.

Please continue to show solidarity with our colleagues, their families and the Filipino people and remind our governments that every fresh investment in a fossil fuel project is a bet against our children and children’s future on this planet, as Von put it himself.

In solidarity,

Kumi Naidoo
International Executive Director
Greenpeace International
———-

Dear friends,

It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now.

Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly clear that the damage wrought by the super typhoon has been colossal, the devastation absolute.

As of this writing, almost a thousand people have been officially confirmed to have lost their lives. The number of dead, however, is expected to exceed 10,000 — as more reports continue to filter in from other cities, islands and villages that were flattened by the apocalyptic winds and enormous walls of sea water that came rushing ashore.

More than 10 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this single event. Hunger, sickness and despair now stalk the most hard hit of areas, even as aid from both local and international sources started to trickle in. The President has already declared a state of national calamity.

It will probably take a few more days, maybe weeks before the total extent of this disaster can be confirmed. But for sure, this is now considered the worst natural calamity that the country has ever experienced. 

While storms and typhoons are indeed natural occurrences, the ferocious strength and destructive power delivered by this typhoon have been characterized as off the charts and beyond normal.

This is also not the first time. 

Last year, there was Bopha, which resulted in more than 600 fatalities, and before that a number of other weather aberrations too freakish even for a nation that has grown accustomed to getting more than 20 of these howlers in any given year. As if on cue, and following the template of Bopha in Doha, Haiyan also came at a time when the climate COP is taking place, this time in Warsaw.

Some of you would have already heard about the emotional opening speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation at the climate summit, bewailing the absence of responsible climate action at the global level and refusing to accept that the fate of Filipinos may now be irretrievably linked to a future where people are served super typhoons for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Once again, a disaster such as this one, underscores the urgency of the work we do as a global organization on climate change. 

It is in fearful anticipation of tragic scenarios such as these why our staff and activists go through great lengths, putting their life and liberty at risk, to take action at the frontlines of climate destruction — whether that’s in the forests of Sumatra or the hostile waters of the Arctic.

I would like to believe this is part of the larger narrative why 30 of our colleagues remain in detention in Russia. And it is our hope that they find courage and inspiration to endure the injustice they are going through, moving the planet away from the clear and present danger posed by runaway climate change.

We thank you all for the messages of solidarity and support you have sent our way at this time.

More importantly, I would urge you to use this moment to remind your governments that every investment in fossil fuels is an investment in death and destruction. 

The impact of new coal plants being built or new oil fields being developed — do not remain in their immediate vicinities — they translate into epic humanitarian disasters and tragedies, as we continue to witness in the Philippines.

Regards,

Von Hernandez
Executive Director
Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Written by Martin Lack

15 November 2013 at 16:30

UK looks likely to back the wrong horse

with 12 comments

Sad to say it but, having reached cross-party consensus and implemented the Climate Change Act in 2008, the UK has now:
— failed to honour the promise this contained;
— failed to listen to the advice of its own scientific experts;
— failed to dismantle the subsidies that support fossil-fuel production;
— failed to provide certainty for investors in renewable energy (at any scale); and
— failed to take a lead to encourage other countries also to work towards a sustainable future.

I therefore think John Ashton, a former Foreign Office climate expert, was right to conclude recently that no-one who has voted for this new Energy Bill can be considered to be taking the threat of anthropogenic climate disruption seriously.

Here is the latest email from Greenpeace UK summarising what happened in the UK’s Parliament yesterday:

The vote was this afternoon and was amazingly close. But we lost.

MPs have just rejected a clean power future – and I thought you’d want to be the first to know.

It’s been a tense few days as we waited for MPs to vote on a clean power target in the Energy Bill, and it’s not the outcome we all wanted.

But there is a silver lining.

Thousands of us told our MPs to back clean electricity, and as a result the rebellion against George Osborne’s dirty, costly dash for gas continued to grow steadily right up to the vote.

We lost by just 23 votes. That’s the third closest vote since the election. If just 12 more MPs had switched sides, we’d have won.

Osborne may have won this round, but the Energy Bill will now go to the House of Lords. There will be another vote, which gives us another chance to secure our clean energy future.

The battle for Britain’s energy future is far from over.

Over the next few days, we’ll be thinking about where to take the campaign next. But right now we’re recruiting for our core volunteer lobbyists – the people who go and challenge their MPs face-to-face, in their constituency offices.

We need as many of these volunteers as possible to make sure we get the political impact we need. You’ll be trained for free and given all the support you need to become an effective lobbyist – for the good guys.

Let’s use today’s news to make us stronger. Volunteer for the Greenpeace lobbying network now.

[Greenpeace UK]

P.S. In two days, 21 people will be sentenced for occupying one of George Osborne’s dirty gas power stations. Some of them are facing prison sentences. Please follow [i.e. 'Like'] the Facebook page of Greenpeace’s No Dash for Gas campaign for updates.

The mother of all hockey sticks

with 18 comments

Image credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Words are not really necessary to accompany this image but, if you want some, feel free to go and read ‘The Last Time CO2 Was This High Humans Did Not Exist” by Andrew Freedman on the Climate Central website.

However, what I would really like to know is how anyone could possibly think that, since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s climate would not have been impacted by:
– a sevenfold increase in the the human population;
– a similar increase in the number of methane-producing livestock;
– a super-exponential increase in the burning of fossil fuels.

Therefore, those who still dispute the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption have not only picked a fight with history; they have picked a fight with science – the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Mass and the concept of Entropy in particular. Defeat is therefore inevitable. The only question that remains is how bad do things have to get before they are willing to admit they are wrong?

I am afraid this may be the last post on this blog for a while because – what with the all the willful blindness and ideological prejudice that seems to stop people from recognising what an Eff-ing mess humanity is in – and my as yet unresolved employment situation – I am feeling somewhat emotionally drained. However, please don’t cancel your subscription (as who knows how quickly I may recover).

————

Addendum (10:00 hrs BST 4 May 2013)
I would also recommend that reader take a look at this excellent post, ‘The “hockey stick” slaps back’, on the Skepticblog website.  This takes readers on a journey back in time, looking at all the palaeoclimatic reconstructions that have been done for the last million years.  Somehow, I managed to be the first person to post a comment on this piece, which reads as follows:

Why not go back even further by looking at sea floor sediments too? As in, for example, Zachos et al. (2001), ‘Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present’, Science 292: 686-93.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/686.abstract

For those that are really interested, you can get a PDF of the whole paper here.  It includes many fascinating diagrams, but one of the more complicated ones has been helpfully simplified by James Hansen in his book, Storms of my Grandchildren.  All the figures from the book are available here but, with regard to Zachos et al (2001), Figure 18 is the one to which I refer.  This too needs few words to convey its importance:

Storms Figure 18

Nick Reeves says we’re all ‘Fracking Mad’

with 27 comments

The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone!

I know this has been said many times.  Most recently it has been said by one of my favourite environmental commentators/campaigners, Executive Director of CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management), Nick Reeves OBE.  If any new readers are not familiar with him, they may wish to start by typing his name into the Search this Blog box (in the right-hand column) and see what happens…

CIWEM publishes a monthly magazine, to which Reeves nearly always contributes an article.  Last week, my copy of the May 2013 issue arrived early. It includes an article by Reeves entitled, ehem, “A bonkers energy solution”.  However, the online version is indeed entitled “Fracking Mad.  Reeves begins with a seemingly bizarre discussion of the failings of the UK’s education system.  However, it soon becomes clear that he considers this to be at least partly to blame for the fact that the general public are willing to accept a “bonkers energy solution” such as hydraulic fracturing. However, it is UK government policy that is “bonkers” (the general public just don’t seem to realise it):

Last December, the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, gave the go-ahead for fracking (the controversial technology for releasing underground shale gas) as part of a plan for maximising the use of (so called) low-cost fuel. In so doing the government has thumbed its nose at legally binding carbon emissions targets and cuffed the country to a fossil-fuel future. Worse still, its commitment to fracking will undermine investment of billions of pounds in renewables, geothermal and energy efficiency. We now know that the ‘greenest government ever’ tag was shameless and that ministers are back-sliding on their commitment to a low-carbon and green economy.

Reeves goes on to recount the recent history of fracking in the UK and mentions all the (probably spurious) safety concerns.  Like me, he focusses on the fact that we probably cannot afford to pursue fracking because of the long-term consequences doing so will have; and that we simply must find a way to do without it.  However, he is more blunt than I have been, and criticises the reviews the Government commissioned for not making this point:

The scientists appear to have ignored the fact that no amount of control and regulation can stop shale gas from being a fossil fuel or from releasing carbon dioxide.

This is an important point well made.  However, in defence of the scientists (and engineers) asked to determine whether fracking is ‘safe’, I would have to point out that the questions of the long-term environmental sustainability, sensibility and/or survivability of fracking were carefully excluded from the remit of the reviews that the Government asked them to undertake.  Reeves therefore concludes that fracking is “a reckless move driven by ideology” that “will commit the UK to being a fossil fuel economy and not a low carbon one” for decades to come…  And so, you can almost hear the frustration in Reeves’ voice as he asks:

What will it take to get people to understand the seriousness of the climate change catastrophe that awaits us?

Reeves then goes on to talk about carbon budgets and our rapidly-declining chances of limiting global average temperature rise to 2 Celsius (compared to pre-1850) and makes the point many others have made that global reserves of fossil fuels are five times greater than that which we would have to burn in order to guarantee at least 2 Celsius temperature rise.  As Reeves puts it:

In other words, we can only avoid devastating climate change if we keep most of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground. But, is that possible? Can we deliberately forgo what many regard as our most precious energy resource – the fuels that have powered 200 years of industrialisation – for the sake of future generations?  It is absolutely possible, and we must. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone. (my emphasis)

The remainder of Reeves’ article (which I would encourage all to read) is a typically incisive summary of how this problem is entirely solvable.  We do not lack the technology or the resources to produce the electricity to provide for the needs of even 10 billion humans. What we (or at least our politicians) lack is the intellectual honesty to admit that the game is up.  Fossil fuels are not the solution; they are the problem.  Furthermore, the longer we (or they) fail to acknowledge this, the greater the problem will become.

Reeves looks at the situation from a range of perspectives, UK, EU and global.  However, in the end, this is a problem that will only ever be solved by people demanding that their politicians solve it:

 The dash for oil in the Arctic and the dash for shale gas elsewhere, shows that we are as addicted to fossil fuels as we ever were.  But a low-carbon future is the one we must all fight for – our gift to the unborn.

Peak Oil – I think humanity is past it!

The population consumption environment nexus

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Today’s post is that which was intended for last Monday.  However, thanks to the happy coincidence of incoming information, Monday’s post was taken up with summarising an 11-year old presentation by Dr Albert A. Bartlett, entitled ‘Arithmetic, Population and Energy’, which is the best summary I have yet seen of the insidious problems caused by exponential growth.  Even if you think you understand the maths – and are familiar with concepts such as doubling time and illustrations such as 264 grains of rice on a chessboard – it is still worth watching the a series of eight 9-minute videos, or entire presentation, posted on YouTube.  This is primarily because of all the evidence Bartlett presents, which suggests that anyone who says exponential growth and/or resource depletion is not a problem is either stupid or a liar.  It really is that simple.

However, I should also wish to draw attention to two further happy coincidences – two recent posts by fellow bloggers that are well worth reading:
1. “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” – another post about Bartlett’s presentation by Jules Bywater-Lees.
2. The Great Unmentionable by George Monbiot – a self-explanatory post by Paul Handover.

Today, then, I will finally get round to summarising the recently-published paper by economist Partha S. Dasgupta and biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, entitled ‘Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus’.  As I said on Monday, the abstract is viewable on the Science journal website, but, having done a quick Google search, I found the entire paper published as a PDF by Dasgupta on the website of Cambridge University.  Here, then, is my summary of  the paper:

‘Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus’, by Partha S. Dasgupta and Paul R. Ehrlich.

Introduction (in lieu of Abstract)
The authors start by pointing out that externalities (i.e. unintended consequences) in economics are widely acknowledged but generally relate to human use of the natural environment.  Thus, people talk about our collective failure to value the essential ecosystem services Nature provides.  In strict contrast to this, the authors suggest that the adverse consequences of resource consumption and population growth are generally not acknowledged.

Reproductive Externalities
The authors then begin by suggesting that birth rates in Europe began to decline 400 years ago as a result of improvements in the standard of living of most people because, almost counter intuitively, it led to people delaying marriage and childbirth until they could afford to set up their own household.  However, birth rates in developed countries have since fallen much further and faster with improvements to the education and emancipation of women; and the advent and acceptance of contraception.

The authors note that, today, population growth is greatest in poor countries.  However, unlike Bartlett, they do not acknowledge that per-capita rates of consumption make modest population growth in wealthy countries even more problematic.  Instead, the authors focus on the factors that continue to encourage high birth rates in poor countries (in sub-Saharan Africa in particular).

Under the title ‘pro-natalist institutions’, the authors discuss societal norms such as the fostering of children by non-biological parents; communal land tenure (as opposed to the division of land amongst children that could discourage large families).  Although seemingly careful not to mention the effect of religious beliefs, the largely “unmet need” for family planning is acknowledged.  The authors also seem to be optimistic that lowering birth rates can be achieved faster through increasing access to contraception than it may be by improving education.  Irrespective of how it is achieved, the authors acknowledge that achieving it will be essential to halting global human population growth.  Notwithstanding, for the moment, that the ecological carrying capacity of the planet may have already been exceeded, the authors point out that whether or not global human population growth stabilises depends mainly on average family size in the future.

Under the title ‘conformity’, the authors discuss the reality that people continue to have large families long after the original reason for doing so (e.g. high infant mortality and lack of good healthcare or social welfare) has diminished or disappeared.  On a more positive note, the authors suggest that the desire to conform can be broken if a big enough minority can be encouraged to modify their behaviour (i.e. and defy convention).

Under the title ‘breakdown of the commons and the added need for labour’, the authors discuss the externalities arising from the predominance of subsistence economies.  These are the things that keep poor people poor, such as the labour intensive nature of many agricultural practices in the absence of mechanisation; and the fact that children who are fetching water, gathering fuel, working the land, or looking after animals are often missing out on being educated as a result.

Consumption Externalities
The authors start by stating the obvious: the consumption (and depletion) of resources has consequences for both current and future generations.  In terms of consequences for people alive today, the most obvious adverse consequence of resource consumption – or rather pollution by the waste being generated – is highlighted as being ongoing global climate disruption.  The authors then focus on what drives us to consume things and to do ‘competitively’ and ‘conspicuously’ (i.e. to equate consumption with progress, fulfilment, and happiness).  Here too, the authors highlight the troubling reality of social conformity as a driver of persistently self-destructive behaviour.

Environmental Externalities
Once again, the authors acknowledge previous discussion (in academic literature) of anthropogenic impacts upon the environment and choose to focus on those that are detrimental.  They suggest that these can be categorised as either unidirectional or reciprocal:  the former being impacts the authors describe as “externalities each party inflicts… on all others, as in the case of unmanaged common property resources”.   The authors then highlight that, unlike commonly owned resources at a local level, global resources that are not owned by anybody (such as the atmosphere and the  fish in the sea) tend to be become polluted or over-exploited.

Difficulties in Enacting Policies to Counter Externalities
The authors begin their discussion of all of the above by lamenting the popular misconception by economists of Nature as something that is “a fixed, indestructible factor of production”.  This rather opaque statement incorporates a variety of fallacies, including that Nature has only instrumental value; that it has an infinite capacity to provide resources for our use; and that it has an infinite capacity to assimilate (or recycle) the wastes we generate.  These are all serious misperceptions of reality:  Nature’s resources are finite and its essential ecosystem services are non-substitutable.  For example, if human activity continues to decimate bee populations, at what point will it start to impact upon our ability to grow fruit and cereal crops?  Indeed, is this not already happening?

As in many other discussions of the environment, the authors highlight the non-linearity of many processes in Nature; and the existence of positive (i.e. self-reinforcing or mutually-destructive) feedback mechanisms.  Thus, they construct the population consumption environment nexus as three corners of a triangle with each having an effect upon – and being affected by – the others. Towards the end of their discussion, the authors highlight the fact that 15 of the 24 major ecosystem services examined in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment were found to be either degraded or currently subjected to unsustainable use.

Even more worryingly, they cite the conclusions of numerous other studies that, if all 7 billion of the people on the planet today were to squander resources at the rate at which those who are already wealthy do, “at least two more Earths would be needed to support everyone on a sustained basis”.  Considering the consensus view of UN statisticians that, on its current trajectory, the world population could exceed 10 billion by 2050, the authors make the obvious point that, if realised, “the demands made on the Earth system will prove to be even more unsustainable”.

So it is, then, that the authors end their discussion of the issues by considering the prospects for technology alone to solve this problem.  They start by noting that technology does not operate in a vacuum (i.e. it too consumes resources) and that innovators respond to incentives (so government policies are important).   Reflecting recent pronouncements by the IMF, the authors highlight the fact that Nature’s essential ecosystem services are currently grossly under-valued (e.g. the price of fossil fuels does not currently reflect the damage our use of them does to our environment).  The authors also cite historical and empirical evidence that suggests that innovation and technology has historically increased unemployment; and archaeological evidence that past civilisations collapsed as a result of degradation of their environment or an inability to respond fast enough to environmental change.  This should be of great concern to all humans alive today, because the current rates of environmental change are almost certainly unprecedented in the period of time over which such civilisations have existed.

Conclusion
I will let the authors’ conclusion speak for itself:

Although their magnitudes are likely to differ across societies, owing to differences in societal histories, institutions, customs, and ecologies, the reproductive and consumption externalities we have identified here share striking commonalities. Moreover, the analysis has uncovered reasons why technological innovations since the Industrial Revolution have been rapacious in their reliance on natural capital. We have shown that the externalities studied in this paper are not self-correcting. Therefore, the analysis we have presented points to a spiralling socio-environmental process, giving credence to the presumption that the pattern of contemporary economic growth is unsustainable.

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