Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Don't despair

I was touched by Monbiot's latest post. I've only been interested in the environment for a recent period of time but in that time, I've been able to read about and get a sense for the despair of the environmental movement. I remember an article published by the Ecologist a few months ago about an environmentalist who'd finally reached the end of his tether, this seemed to be an article also reflecting the writers of the Ecologist magazine's stance. That was touching too. Being an environmentalist is a combination of irresistible optimism and fighter spirit. Invariably, it is challenged by the grim reality: on one side there are the interests bankrolled by consumers full of cash and causing massive environmental havoc, on the other, there are the democrats and social activists, those who seek to weigh on government decisions and make a difference in society. The voice and will of the people sometimes looks like a weak counter weight to powerful economic interests especially when the fate of these economic interests is interlinked with the fate of the voice and will of the people.

Paulo Coelho once said in the Alchemist that when you really want something, all the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Every billionaire intuitively knows that and so does every activist. Paulo Coelho also said that every search begins with beginner's luck and ends with the victor's being severely tested. So I thought I'd write something to cheer myself up and other people who's energies have been severely tested.

The energy we put in fighting and defending the planet doesn't come from our training or knowledge. It is a leftover from the energy of our youth. Emotions in child, teenage and early adult life are much stronger than they are in adult life. They're like a ship's rudder that guides us through our lives as adults.

I think that every new generation is an opportunity for a new beginning, they are the carriers of change. So whilst things might look grim with the current generation, imagine what they would look like if every new adult realized that they could be agents of change, if that was inbuilt in the culture. Only in the last 5 years has environmental culture gone mainstream but it is still in its infancy. It is maturing but not yet in full swing. Technology may be a burden to the environment but it is a friend of culture. When the media, internet and other tools we have take up the environmental agenda fully as they are already doing in some countries, change will occur at a much faster rate. We may be running out of time, but the culture is catching up.

If corporations can cause damage on a massive scale in a relatively short period of time, restoration should also be able to occur in a relatively short period of time. As environmentalists, we have to be patient despite the fact we have no time left. Being an environmentalist in these times is a matter of faith. The fact that no one can see God or have proof of it hasn't stopped billions of people from believing in it or believing in miracles. This faith was built over centuries with missionaries. It was subjective and difficult to believe in. Environmental faith on the other hand is objective and scientific. It's main obstacle is human psychology. There are a host of interests, behavioral and psychological biases that stand in the way of our ability to appreciate the full magnitude of the catastrophic situation we are in. But I don't see why these obstacles shouldn't be eventually overcome and vanquished.

We need faith in the problem: us. We are a magnificent species endowed with wonderful qualities but like the rest of nature, we are yin and yang. We have imagination, we have number power, we have intelligence, we have advanced technology, we have creativity, we have the ability to influence and mold our world. We have will power. What was once the privilege of God, the ability to destroy the Planet is now in our hands and we need the wisdom and determination to change our fate.

It may seem impossible to overcome the problems we face but environmentalists should brace themselves for a surprise. What has happened in a short time, in a fast paced world can be undone in an even shorter period of time. Hope and faith is what we need however irrational these emotions and values may seem to a scientifically minded movement.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The World at 4 degrees of global warming

"In 2010, 50 million people will be trying to escape the effects of environmental deterioration" (The Planet Documentary)

On the 25th of February 2009, New Scientist published a map of the world at 4 degrees of global warming. This map can be found here:

It is shocking as it shows the bulk of the inhabitable world becomes uninhabitable due to droughts, flooding and extreme weather. I suppose that in order to create the map, they used Mark Lynas's excellent book 6 degrees which describes the impact of each degree of global warming on the world's ecosystems and land. Although the book seemed to emphasize the bulk of the changes would take place in the second half of the century. The idea that the world could be 4 degrees warmer as soon as 2050 didn't seem to be included.

Last week, I finally got round to simplifying the map to show the areas that were inhabitable and those that weren't. Then I added up the populations currently living in the uninhabitable areas and factored in a 35% growth rate corresponding to the expectation that the world population will grow from 6.7 to 9 billion people by 2050 (calculations available here). The total number of people living in uninhabitable areas adds up to a little over 8 billion people, 95% of the 2050 human population. I'm making the map public domain and it can be used for commercial purposes. Email me at if you want a map with no comments.

MAP 1: Geographical area affected

Map 2: Impact on populations

One fact that has long bothered me is James Lovelock's assessment that 8 billion people will die by 2100 ( watch: too little too late?). He believes it is already too late. I long wondered how he got to his 8 billion figure as I had not found it anywhere else. The answer's in the map: if 8 billion people live in uninhabitable areas, James Lovelock assumes that they will die. That's not an unreasonable assumption. It is reminiscent of a quote from The Planet Documentary: "An environmental refugee has to leave, has no options whatsoever to remain in the area where he or she is coming from because of a lack of opportunities, lack of a viable environment, lack of ecological services" James Bogardi, United Nations University.

What would be the consequences of 8 billion people being displaced? I can only picture flows of refugees to inhabitable areas. I have often heard people complaining that they lost their job to a polish immigrant and that they felt like voting for the BNP. A flow of immigrants will likely cause those countries accepting refugees to close their borders but that won't stop refugees from trying to get in. Eventually the refugee's frustration will be reflected in their governments who will have no choice but to go to war to secure a livelihood for their inhabitants. What will happen then? What's already happened in the past and is described in the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. The best example was Easter Island. The population peaked at 7000 people around 1300. When they'd finished deforesting and could no longer build boats to fish, they ate and killed each other. A few centuries later, less than a thousand people remained. Nuclear bomb technology wasn't available at that time. Unfortunately, the countries that will become uninhabitable have it.


I found the map visually striking and it stuck with me. I was however surprised by the fact that instead of trying to establish the populations affected the map focuses on how the new lifeless areas can be exploited for renewable energy. This view it seems, is the one that got us in trouble in the first place. By over-exploiting our ecosystems, we've brought them to the brink of the limits they can tolerate.

I found the idea that we had a future in a globally warmed world disturbing. New Scientist and Mark Lynas didn't explore the consequences of the world warming beyond 4 or 6 degrees. There is no doubt that it will. Mark Lynas was content with his assessment that if the world does indeed warm by 6 degrees, it is unlikely that mankind will survive. Nobody knows how much the world could warm by but it has warmed by up to 20 degrees in the past. With all the world's ecosystems as a whole capable of creating far larger amounts of global warming than us humans can, it's not the impact caused by humans we need to be concerned about beyond 2 degrees, it's the impact caused by the world's ecosystems. Two degrees is the point of no return. Once we move past it, we're doomed.

The greatest concern of our time is the fact that we live at a time when we may still be able to avoid disaster yet the world's culture hasn't caught up with this truth. Evidence of this is most easily seen on television where the topic isn't covered enough, the programming is still mainly focused on trivial entertainment and news bulletins focus on the return to growth. I saw one news bulletin at the week-end where a presenter interviewing a French government representative appeared to praise her for their good management and the return of their country to growth. The mood was focused on assessing when our country would return to the "rosy path". Growth in economies 80% dependent on fossil fuel for energy is catastrophic. It's not something to look forwards to.

It seems at this point in time, that the only thing that will make us wake up to the threat of global warming, is the world warming beyond 2 degrees, at which point it will be impossible to avoid runaway global warming.

You can do something to avoid this: visit to find out how to reduce your own carbon footprint, how to set up a green business or charity, how to volunteer and how to sign petitions to ask for change.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Finding a green laptop

My computer recently broke. According to the repairmen, the mother board is often the element that causes the computer to die an early death. It is broken by handling the computer horizontally rather than vertically. When you move your computer around, if you grab it by one side without giving the other side support, you are causing the weight to be disproportionately heavier on one side than on the other and if repeated enough, this can cause enough pressure on the mother board for it to break.
Considering a laptop generates 4000 times its own weight in waste, it's worth spending money on one that will last longer or getting yours repaired. Based on my knowledge of laptops (which is not extensive), I would say that the IBM thinkpad from the perspective of screen and mother card protection is the most likely to last long.
It costs £200, most likely £300 to send your laptop back to the manufacturer and for them to repair the mother board. On the other hand, some companies specialize in dealing with this particular repair. Laptop repair in Cambridge will collect and deliver laptops free anywhere in the UK and if the mother card is broken, is able to repair it for roughly £155 ( 01223852777).
On the other hand, if you live in Colchester and your laptop's broken, I would recommend my repair man The Computer Doctor because he's successfully repaired my laptop a number of times and he's very cheap since he operates from home and his turnover is below the VAT threshold. His number is 01206520174.

Tree Hugger has just published an article about an upgradeable laptop that's 10 years old. That's pretty amazing for a laptop. They don't make them like that anymore. I've dreamed of something like that before and published it as a business idea here. I am convinced that there is a huge extraordinarily lucrative market for niche operators who know how to build laptops to create computers that are durable. Since all the main brands are decidedly positioned on short-term throw-away crap, there's another Michael Dell out there just waiting to happen. If that sounds like you, the world needs you urgently.