Thursday, 24 December 2009

Not looking in the right place

As I watch entrepreneurs and businesses attempting to offer green products and services or attempting to minimize the environmental impact of their operations, I realize that something is wrong.

We are now on a timeline, a timeline that is not defined by us but by Nature. Nature is acting like a landlord that is not receiving rent payment. It is taking action to kick us out. It will do so by making our conditions of life impossible, by starving us, by contaminating us, by destroying our habitats, by making the ongoing operation of our lives impossible. And it will do so faster than we think.

Yet we remain focused on our economic system. This is wrong. We need to turn the economic system’s concept on its head and use it as a means to an end. The goal now is to insure our survival as a species because we’re worth it. So what we need to do is use our economic system to insure our survival, not to meet our needs. And the only way to do this is to use the wealth generated by the economic system as a means to finance our ability to rebuild ecosystems.

The need is simple: we have ecosystems, which we rely on to sustain life, in an advanced state of degradation. Things are worst than I thought. Methane hydrate has already begun escaping from the Ocean underneath the Arctic (1). As far as I was aware, that was not supposed to happen until we reached 6 degrees of global warming (2) and there's enough methane under the Ocean to generate an explosion equivalent to 10,000 times the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. According to James Lovelock, the melting that occurred in the Arctic in 2007 was not predicted to occur by any climate model until 2050 (3). Methane is escaping from the thawing of the permafrost in the Arctic Circle and peat bogs worldwide are drying up and releasing significant quantities of methane in the atmosphere (4). Forest fires are on the rise and more devastating than they have ever been. (5) Combined, the degredation of all these ecosystems, and the accentuation of that degredation will cause an increase in temperatures at a faster pace than before. Both ecosystem degreadation and temperature increases are dependent variables, the occurance of one causes the occurance of the other. Thus temperatures will just keep on rising possibly causing the death of the whole Planet.

We are now in a situation where Nature has turned against us. But I do believe that we have the resources, the creative potential and manpower necessary to turn things round. The problem is that we are not looking in the right direction. We need to find a way to rebuild rather than just mitigate. I have already proposed two geo-engineering solutions in the business ideas section of the Ecochanges website (6). There are more simple solutions: biochar (7), preserving the Rainforest (8). Only it is a combination of all these solutions and a mobilization of the masses on the solutions that we need to insure our survival. So long as ecosystems do not turn against us, we do not have a sense of urgency to act. When they finally do turn against us, the heat becomes unbearable; we have massive crop failures and rising sea levels all at once, that’s checkmate. At that point in time, everyone of us will want to act but it will be too late because every ecosystem will be degrading in a perfect symphony making our efforts at reducing our emissions fruitless. The pace at which ecosystems will be sending carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere will be far faster than what we’re capable of doing ourselves. The time-bomb reservoirs of global warming gases trapped in the Oceans, the soils, forests and permafrost (9) are far greater than the ones we currently cause from the burning of gas, oil and coal.

To have a fighting chance at survival we have to turn the game around. What we need from business is not zero carbon goods and services, it’s negative carbon goods and services. What we need is not carbon capture and storage from usage of energy, it’s carbon capture and storage of what we’ve already put in the atmosphere. It has to be done through a carbon market that aims not at neutralising emissions but at making them negative several times over in a bid to outdo the damage we have already caused. There lies our only hope of redemption: a blind belief from each and everyone of us in our ability to restore.

(1) Science et Vie, 10/2009, p38
(2) Six Degrees by Mark Lynas
(3) The Vanishing Face of Gaia, James Lovelock
(4) Science et Vie, 01/2010, p24-25
(5) Science et Vie, 06/2009, p83-89
(7) More info on biochar:
(8) The best way of preserving the rainforest I’m aware of is to donate money to Cool Earth

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

3.5 billion years of evolution and 9 billion people down the drain

Two years ago when I first started looking into the climate change problem, I had no idea that what I would find out would affect my life so much.

Now with Copenhagen negotiations down the drain, it is time to morn the likely loss of my species and to dogedly persist in finding solutions to our problem.

My research, and particularly the book 6 Degrees by Mark Lynas showed me a world in which there was no future. Later I found an expression coined by Paul Hawken: the death of birth. I can try to explain it but there really is no substitute for reading 6 degrees. We have maybe 7 years left to stabilize temperatures to 2 degrees. To do that, we have to reduce our carbon emissions. This means using less energy at home, eating vegetarian or vegan whenever possible, flying as little as possible, consuming less and using public transport. Not too complicated since it can be summarized in one sentence. But doing this insures our survival as a species. Not doing this insures our extinction as a species. Staline said that one death was a tragedy but a million was a statistic. To imagine our extinction as a species, you have to first think of who you love the most, then picture them dead. Then start thinking about all the people you know dead. Then picture yourself dead. Not from old age but from the consequences of war, famine, poverty, natural disaster or suicide. Not a natural death, not a nice death... The extinction will occur soon and rapidly. By 2050, the world will be unrecognizable (1). By 2100, more than 90% of the human population is likely to be dead. Our children, grand-children and great grand-children will pay the price for our failure to act.

Our problem stems from a fundamental misunderstanding in our culture. And the misunderstanding is that our Planet has limits that we ignore at our own peril. So far as climate change is concerned, the limits stem from the ecosystems we rely on for our survival (oxygen, water and food come from Nature and they're not to be taken for granted). They are in an advanced state of degredation and if we go past 2 degrees of global warming, the degredation will become irreversible. Irreversible degredation means that we will have runaway, unstoppable global warming with temperatures rising gradually but inexorably until we reach our collective death warrant: 6 degrees. In a way, runaway global warming is something we can't possibly imagine. What with all our resources and technology surely there's something we can do about it isn't there? The answer is quite simply no. Once the ice caps melt, the Gulf stream will shut down, the Amazon rainforest will burn down, the permafrost will thaw and every ecosystem that helps to maintain life will start to help destroy life. Rather than being net carbon sinks, oceans, forests and soils will start releasing carbon in massive quantities. More than half of our emissions are currently absorbed by Nature and even with her help temperatures have still risen inexorably over the past two decades. Imagine what will happen when the ecosystems we rely on to absorb our atmospheric pollution no longer store carbon but instead release it in quantities far greater than we can produce ourselves... At 6 degrees; the 10,000 billion tonnes of methane trapped at the bottom of the Ocean will start to be released. An explosion of that methane is equivalent to an explosion of 10,000 times the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. That's easily enough to destroy every last piece of life on Earth and to turn our wonderful paradise into a burning ball of fire. Expected fireworks date: 2100, just 90 years from now. Time to stop it? 7 years max as of today. More on this here. (2)

When it comes to us as individuals, the cultural misunderstanding is still there. We fail to see that our actions in one part of the world affect people in another part of the world. A simple example is beef consumption. It takes a hundred thousand litres of water to make one kilogram of beef. When I eat at restaurants and see meat on the table I try to picture how much of the restaurant's space would be occupied by the water it took to get that meat to the table. I imagine water up to the sealing with all the hosts drowned and still more water in the parking lot. Cows are fed soya, soya is pure protein it helps the cows grow faster. But feeding them the soya requires to grow it first and that's where the bulk of the water consumption occurs. But we don't think about this when the meat comes on the table. An empty stomach needs to be taken care of whilst the head... remains empty... Meanwhile, in India, the Punjab region, considered to be the breadbasket of India, is running out of water whilst it exports a large proportion of its production to Europe and the US. 15 years down the line, Indians will be starving because right now, we as individuals, did not make the decision to eat a diet requiring a low amount of water, land space and carbon emissions. In 40 years, Bangladesh and millions of the poorest people in the world will lose everything they have as their country is engulfed by sea level rises. Sea levels rises due to carbon emissions, 51% of the world's carbon emissions due to meat consumption (3)! Cause and effect... The Matrix Reloaded... We live an illusion; the illusion of choice without consequence. And if ytou don't want to take a moral responsibility for your consumption choices you can always blame someone else! That's the beauty of freedom of choice afforded by a consumer democracy. Only Nazture's law couldn't care less about democracy. It's coming after your children with every piece of meat sinking in your stomach. Someone always pays. Cause and effect... Meat packaging should carry images of starving somalians on the same token as cigarettes have images of people with cancer. But they don't. Why? It's the economy stupid.

And it is precisely economic growth, our national preoccupation with MORE that means that 9 billion of us will die in the name of greed. It's down to mismanagement. We elect politicans to represent our choices and our choice is that we want more. Politicians don't meet our demands and we elect new ones. We're selfish, opportunistic and greedy. And our culture encourages us to move further in that direction. Switch on the TV to find out how irresistible you could be with the new Givenchy perfume, how much fun you could have with the latest videogames or why you need to have life insurance. All that stuff, the adverts, that's consumption. So whilst you unwrap your Christmas presents consider that every £1.25 you spent on presents for others generated on average one kilogram of carbon emissions. Carbon emissions from consumption that add up over the course of a year to 3.7 tonnes per person in the UK, more or less the same weight as a Range Rover.

But it's not over till it's over. Negotiations in Copenhagen failed, according to Ed Milliband because ... of the Chinese (4)! Ha! Nicely put by a man responsible for fraudulent accounting of our own carbon emissions. Apparently the UK's carbon emissions are around the mark of 634 million tonnes. But these statistics assume that nobody in the UK buys any of the stuff that is taunted to us on television. So no WII consoles at Christmas, no toys for the kids, no crackers... We are all reliant to meet our needs on stuff produced at home. Anything coming into the country, produced for us, to meet our demands, we are not responsible for. BLAME CHINA!!! Because you see, goods produced for us in China account for another 200 million tonnes of carbon (30%+ of the declared total) but it's not our fault; it's the Chinese! We don't care if the stuff we buy is cheap or expensive, it's the Chinese's responsibility to make sure it works. So long as it works, who gives a rat's arse of how it's made. And if the Chinese can't do it cheap enough, sod them, we'll find someone else who can! No wonder they didn't want to lower their carbon emissions. We wouldn't buy their stuff if they did!

I think I'm going to use the same logic as the department of energy and climate change to complete my tax return this year. If the government can suit itself for the accounting of the country's carbon emissions, why shouldn't I suit myself for the accounting of my income. I wonder what they'll say when I deduct my home's rent, gas, electricity and water bills as a business expense. I might even try to talk my landlord into sending me copies of the maintenance expenses. That's a big bill he racked up for refurbishing the bathroom... Ah I forgot, the tax inspectors... Funny how there's no carbon inspectors to check on the department of energy and climate change statistics. But in a world where money is more important than the lives of people in the third world and the lives of our children, should we be even remotely surprised?

Well there's a simple solution to our problem with the Chinese: a carbon tax. Showman French President set one up this year. At least in France, with the media rattling on about climate change all the time, brain dulled French TV viewer Joe Blogg has started worrying a bit about climate change. And with political popularity at stake the French President had to whip out the green credentials didn't he? If we tax everything that's being made in China at around £10 per tonne of carbon emissions, it will cost us £20 billion a year but that's a lot less than the economic losses we'll rack up if the Gulf Stream shuts down and we start having winters at minus 22 degrees. The good news is this: if we reinvest the £20 billion into building renewable energy or nuclear energy power stations in China, we'll soon own a sizeable proportion of the Chinese energy supply and within 10-20 years there'll be no need for a carbon tax because we'll be receiving that much in income from the Chinese who will be producing goods for us that aren't causing climate change. In the long-run, they'll lose out because we'll own their power supply. The fact of the matter is that our basic nature is that we are greedy. And there's no point in trying to change our nature. We might as well use it to our advantage. Sure enough we might lose out a little in the short-term but in the long run, we'll end up wealthier. What the Chinese have failed to act on; we can profit from in the names of the ones we love: our children. This may seem crude but there's oppportunities made available by those who do nothing.

(1) See our blog on the world at 4 degrees
(3) and summary at: