Lack of Environment

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

Posts Tagged ‘European Union

From the Treaty of Rome to the Tragedy of the Commons

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This post has been prompted by recent comments on an old post on another blog. That blog is Learning from Dogs, and the old post – dating from December 2011 – was about the financial crisis in Greece… Yes, it really has been going on that long!

For reasons I cannot now recall, I was not impressed by the humorous nature of the original post – entitled ‘Financial bailouts explained!’ – preferring instead to focus on the seriousness of the crisis.

However, a recent response to my original comment – no doubt prompted by the events of the last week or so – led me to try and clarify my opposition to the idea of a European superstate.

What we now refer to as the European Union (EU) was formerly the European Communities (EC) and, originally, the European Economic Community (EEC). This was formed by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. Originally envisaged as a way to prevent the resurgence of extreme nationalism, it is interesting to note that concerns about the erosion of national sovereignty appeared very early in the EEC’s history:

“Through the 1960s, tensions began to show, with France seeking to limit supranational power.” — Wikipedia

Anyway, in attempting to justify my opposition to the idea, I suggested that a European superstate was not necessary to prevent another war in Europe; offering the Battle of Waterloo as evidence (because it was followed by 99 years of peace in Europe). However, upon further reflection, I realised that this does not validate my argument… and so began a train of thought that led me back to Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is an essay written by Hardin, which was published in an academic journal in 1968 (a link to which is provided below). In this essay, Hardin used a medieval analogy – of the over-grazing of land held in common ownership – to warn of the dire consequences of unbridled self-interest on an over-populated planet with finite resources.

What now follows, therefore, is that train of thought, which all started with The Treaty of Rome:

To be honest, my reference to Waterloo is probably a logical fallacy… and peace in Europe since WW2 is probably due, in large part, to the Treaty of Rome that created the EEC. However, it is not the only reason; others would include the dominance of the US and USSR during the Cold War era.

Like many others, I am in favour of European co-operation and free-trade (etc) but not in favour of political and fiscal union of widely divergent economies. Despite this, I think Europe-wide legislation is a good thing when it comes to tackling environmental issues such as the over-fishing of our seas, global warming and ocean acidification – all of which are consequences of treating the Earth like ‘a business in liquidation’ (Herman E. Daly).

Given that the EU has an admirable record in promoting climate change mitigation, some may find it odd that I would oppose the construction of a European superstate. However, I think it is entirely reasonable to make a special case for global environmental issues that do not respect national boundaries. As Isaac Asimov once said, “It is important that the World get together to face the problems which attack us as a unit.”

The problem is that, because our survival as a species is endangered by global warming (etc), humanity is now self-harming. Furthermore, until libertarians stop denying the nature of reality, we will continue down the road to what Garrett Hardin called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). As with the problem of global over-population, so it is with global warming: Libertarians everywhere need to acknowledge the reality of the problem and, therefore, recognise that it is in the best interests of every individual that we all exercise self-restraint.

Clearly, it would be good if the Treaty of Rome can be used to help prevent the Tragedy of the Commons. However, what concerns me is that free trade is used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to enrich those who already have far more than their fair share of the Earth’s finite resources:

“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA. As officials from both sides acknowledge, the main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.” — War on Want

If you are a European citizen, I hope you will register (or have registered) your opposition to TTIP by signing one (but only one) of the many petitions on the Internet. One of these can be reached via the above link to the War on Want website.

Tearfund has unearthed the truth!

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Fantastic news today!  Tearfund, a UK based Christian charity focused on promoting overseas aid and development, has announced the success of its ‘Unearth the Truth’ campaign.  As of today, the EU has implemented new Transparency Laws that will make it much harder for corrupt governments and companies around the world to trade with the EU.  Here is the news in Tearfund’s own words…

We’ve unearthed the truth!

As we approach the G8 summit, all eyes are on world leaders to take action on hunger. But we also wanted to let you know some great news about our ‘Unearth the Truth’ campaign.
Recently European leaders made a provisional deal to implement strong transparency laws in the extractive industries – and now it’s official!
Today, the European Parliament, voted in new laws making all big oil gas and mining companies owned in Europe publish what they pay to local and national governments.
This is a crucial step in the fight against poverty. More open and transparent payments mean citizens and churches can see more of the revenue from natural resources invested in their communities, and less of it lost to corruption in secret.
Thank you for all the ways you’ve backed the Unearth the Truth campaign – from lobbying your MEPs to praying. It is because of your support that these laws have become a reality!Thank you.The Campaigns Team.

Written by Martin Lack

12 June 2013 at 14:00

Memo to Osborne, Merkel, Cyprus and the World

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Dear George Osborne, Chancellor Merkel, EU Commission, Citizens of Cyprus, and people everywhere,

I would like to hereby remind you of what Richard Heinberg said in his book The End of Growth.  Here is a quick audio-visual summary:

Please accept my condolences for your loss(es) and my sincerest wish that you will now stop lying to yourselves; and face-up to the nature of reality.


Martin Lack.

Further to the comment by Lionel Smith (below), this is what page 159 of Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell looks like:
universe in nutshell p159
This is the problem that we have with exponential growth.

Who wants cleaner cars in the EU then?

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With apologies for the delay, here is the latest email received from Greenpeace:

VW has now turned away from the Dark Side


Hi Martin,

Right now, we have a huge chance to help save the Arctic.

To tackle the threats posed by the disappearing ice and the invasion of oil drillers – like Shell – we need to reduce the world’s thirst for oil. We can do that by making greener cars. And the good news is we’ve already begun.

Politicians are right now deciding the rules for the next generation of European cars. Let’s demand tough laws to make them greener. [i.e. the deadline is tomorrow]

We know this can be done. When we first asked VW to make their cars cleaner and more efficient, they said it wasn’t possible. Then 526,000 of us piled pressure on VW and helped persuade the biggest and most powerful car company in Europe that clean technology is possible. That’s something we can be proud of. Now it’s time to move the whole of Europe (and the world) forward.

Push your European representatives on strong targets for cleaner cars and help reduce the world’s thirst for oil.

This isn’t just about our continent. If we make these big wins here, the global car market will feel the pressure to keep up with innovation in Europe. That means we could see less polluting cars in countries like China and the US too. That’s better for the Arctic, the air we breathe and the stability of our global climate.

Over the next few months European politicians are making decisions that will affect every new car in Europe – this is a huge opportunity – so let’s make sure we send the strongest possible message. We know that these politicians aren’t used to getting thousands of messages from people like us, so this could really have an impact.

Together we can show the world what can be done,

Nic and all the Greenpeace crew

PS Of course, not everyone drives – I don’t – and your bicycle is the most efficient vehicle you can use. But cars are a big part of society today, so please help make cars cleaner in Europe (and the world).

PPS You may have heard about the No Dash For Gas heroes who shut down a polluting gas power station last year and were being sued by owners EDF for £5m in an attempt to stifle peaceful protest. This week, we heard the amazing news is that, after nearly 65,000 people signed a petition, EDF have backed down! The activists still face criminal charges and you can get the latest updates on their website.

Life is full of tough choices…

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…but this isn’t one of them.

Or is it?
The trouble is, of course, that removing all the subsidies and tax breaks given to the fossil fuel industry (which are delaying the creation of a free market in power generation) will make fossil fuels even more expensive.

In the USA, the fiscal cliff was narrowly avoided by last-minute agreement on budget cuts (hence the above choice). However, the fiscal cliff arose out of over-spending and economic stagnation; and both of these can be blamed – at least in part – on rising fuel prices.

In the UK, fossil fuels are already more than twice as expensive as they are in the USA (as they have been for decades). However, as a result of a weakening currency, they are now expected to reach an all-time record next month.

Even if we ignore the impossibility of perpetual growth in resource consumption and waste generation on a finite planet — and the consequential reality that we cannot rely on perpetual economic growth to pay-off the massive debts denying it has caused — we all need power to heat and light our homes; and get us to and from work.

The end of the era of cheap energy is therefore cited by many as the reason for the end of growth.  This is a reality the World urgently needs to take on board.  This will require radical thinking; and radical changes in policy in all areas of government policy.  Thus, Richard Heinberg has been proven right:

Is it time to go “cold turkey”?
Sadly, electric cars are not going to be the answer; unless the electricity is generated from renewable or nuclear energy.  Therefore, since the latter will take decades to become a reality – and our governments are still not doing as much as they could to invest in renewable energy – power generation capacity is clearly developing into a serious problem.

Here in the UK, we are facing a double-whammy: Record-breaking high fuel prices and the EU-enforced early-retirement of 10% of our oldest (and most-polluting) coal-fired power stations.  Therefore, unless we, as individual consumers, invest in renewable energy, we will soon be paying more than ever for something whose supply will be more uncertain than ever.  Believe me, if I could install solar PV panels on my roof I would.  Sadly, without a job, I cannot.

Sadly, too, opposition to the radical solutions needed for us to resolve our problems is unwelcome irrespective of its origin: Denying that we have a problem is just as much an impediment to implementing solutions as is disregarding potential solutions for ideological reasons.  For example, if our governments had not given up on fast breed reactor programmes in the 1980s (as a consequence of the campaign for nuclear disarmament mutating into ideological opposition to civil nuclear power generation) we would probably by now have solved the technical problems and be extracting uranium from sea water (wherein there is more of it than there is beneath our feet).

Must we embrace nuclear power?
In the long-run, yes, I think we must. The only thing that will make this unnecessary is the increasing possibility that Nature will soon intervene – and reduce the global human population to pre-Industrial levels (i.e. 1 billion). However, in the meantime, an awful lot of poor people need low-tech solutions. The good news is that such solutions definitely exist and, as Stephen Leahy pointed out over the weekend (reposting an item from over 3 years ago): “Bringing clean energy to billions costs far less than fossil fuel subsidies”.

Will we choose to fail or choose to succeed?
Just how long, I wonder, until expensive energy (and therefore expensive food) causes social instability?

What will our governments do then?  Admit they were wrong and make radical changes, or send the Army on to the streets to maintain order?  Sadly, I think we know the answer to that one – Jared Diamond gave it to us several years ago:

Wonderous Stories from Greenpeace (let us hope for more)

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Hi Martin,

We’ve done it again – more good news!

European politicians voted overwhelmingly in favour of radical, progressive reform of our fishing laws. A “victory for citizen power” is how Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, described it. So, well done citizens!

Together we set out to achieve what seemed like an impossible challenge: to reform the infamous Common Fisheries Policy – the package of broken laws that have depleted our fish stocks and devastated fishing communities across Europe.

Previously, huge industrial interests have held our seas to ransom, emptying our waters for profit. But then thousands of us stepped in to help. Cooperation between campaign groups, fishermen, champion politicians, retailers, and celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, all made sure that our MEPs could not ignore what we wanted: real change to protect our fragile seas.

So what’s in the new measures? A ban on discards: the cynical practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea to meet fishing quotas. The changes also reward responsible fishing and set catch limits in line with the best scientific advice. Importantly, new rules to improve the behaviour of European boats wherever they fish, anywhere in the world. Now, we stand a real chance of achieving a fish-filled future.

There are more hurdles ahead. The next stage will require agreement from European fisheries ministers (and that could take months). But let’s take a moment to enjoy this, and reflect on how much we have achieved.

Let’s keep going!

Nic and the whole Greenpeace community

PS There is more work to do. Unsustainable industry players won’t give up easily. So please consider donating to help safeguard the future of our seas and our fishing communities.

End ecocide in Europe (and the World)

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I am not sure what good it will do unless the whole World decides to stop self-harming as well but…

Image credit : End Ecocide in Europe

If you live in the EU please sign-up here to help stop ecocide in Europe (thanks Pendantry).


One way to stop Ecocide in Europe would be to stop Hydraulic Fracturing from going ahead in your neighbourhood.  The best way to do this would be to form or join a local protest group:  See the Frack-Off website for details.

As a hydrogeologist who has spent many years working on Landfill sites, I am well acquainted with methane; and how it is better to burn it than to let it escape into the atmosphere.  Therefore, even if you discount all the immediate environmental hazards associated with fracking, you should be very concerned about the uncontrolled releases of methane that will occur if fracking becomes common practice.  As per my recent blog post, Stephen Leahy explains why here.

Meanwhile, on the subject of those immediate environmental risks, here is the inside story from someone who was, until comparatively recently, directly involved; environmental scientist Jessica Ernst (thanks Christine).


Ultimately, of course, ecocide will only be avoided if we stop doing the things that are causing it.  And the main thing we are doing that is causing it – is growing in numbers in the absence of predators; consuming exponentially-increasing amounts of food and water; and producing exponentially-increasing amounts of waste.  This is no idle piece of misanthropic rhetoric – it is a cold hard fact.

Louise Gray published a short article on the Telegraph website yesterday, in which she cites Sir David Attenborough as having described humans as a plague on the Earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth.  This has attracted an  an awful lot of attention and comment; most of it negative; and some of it very unpleasant.  What I find most astonishing is the inability of so many admittedly-self-selected people to appreciate the difference between ideology and science.   Furthermore, despite little evidence of scientific training in many of their comments, they seem content to accuse Attenborough of being a bad scientist; a bad person; and of peddling bad ideology.  All this reality inversion prompted this comment from me:

Absolutely stupendous amounts of Dunning-Kruger Effect in evidence here:  Despite the fact that only 49% of the population can be better-than-average at doing anything — and a far smaller percentage are likely to know what they are talking about in this instance — the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas is clearly the intellectual fortress to which the ideologically-prejudiced retreat when confronted with the scientific realities of Nature.

A few hours earlier I had found it necessary to respond to a particularly stupid assertion (that every human could be given 1000 square feet and there would still be room for plenty more) by saying this:

You need to look up the terms “ecological carrying capacity” and “overpopulation” in a reputable scientific dictionary.  The latter is dependent on the former – which is specific to local conditions – so even one person per square mile makes a desert overpopulated.

If you think that a seven-fold increase in the human population since the Industrial Revolution is not a problem – especially as we are running out of the “cheap” energy that facilitated it – you are picking a fight with basic biological science: Populations of any species are limited by food supply and by predation.  Humans have no predators but, having ignored (or disputed) the warnings for decades, we are now beginning to see people fighting over access to clean water and food; or at very least complaining about the price of life’s essentials – hence the Arab Spring.

The writing is very much on the wall.  We ignore it (or dispute the fact that it is there) at our peril.


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