I am a little confused about the notion of Earth Day. The only analogy I can think of is standing over the mutilated body of someone whom I have done grave harm to and saying, “Today I just want to think about YOU!”
Humanity is the runaway species on Earth. Economics is the religion that drives the destruction of each and everyone of us. But how to convey this in a way that is easy enough to understand, honest and not over dramatic?
I recall about 24 years ago doing work experience in Jersey at the zoological park founded by my great uncle Gerald Durrell. Each day I would ride on my bicycle to the zoo and spend the day immersed in the fruits of his labour. Jersey zoo, 'Durrell', has one very special quality. Every animal that has a home there is on the critically endangered species list and is part of a programme to reintroduce it to the wild. A happy memory I will take away from my work experience there was being allowed into the lemur enclosure with a bucket of grapes. The little fur balls climbed all over me, as if I were a tree and stuck their fingers up my nose and in my ears whilst stuffing their faces, gratefully, with grapes.
The other memory I will take to the grave from this trip was the short video presentation in the auditorium where Gerry speaks about his raison d’être. The analogy is one that speaks to me more and more as I get older and I muse upon it most days:
“The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider’s web. If you touch one thread you send shudders through all the other threads. We are not just touching the web, we are tearing holes in it”
Brave new world?
There comes a point when we must realise that we have gone too far. The interglacial period of the last 8.5 thousand years, that has given us a stable climate between hot and cold, is now over. It was called the ‘holocene’. Life, not just humans but all life, prospered in the holocene. Every time we get to the edge of the temperature boundary, bad things happen. Crops fail, weather goes crazy, species (including humans) die.
We are now so far advanced in our systemic changing of the Earth’s climate that events are now taking care of themselves. Weather extremes are being felt around the globe. Droughts, floods etc. are impacting us on a daily basis. The mainstream media doesn’t even bother to report them anymore. Those effected are wishing them away but they are stubborn, and worsening. The Earth is doing what it has always done throughout its 4.5 billion years of life: responding to forcings.
The carbon emissions from human industrialisation have now saturated the atmosphere and are causing some major feedbacks. The Arctic summer sea ice loss is the most visible. In the normal world no one really acknowledges it, except to say that “an ice free Arctic presents opportunities for resource extraction of fossil fuels and minerals”.
The reality is that the loss of the Arctic polar ice-cap is the trigger that will bring about the biggest tragedy that people of my generation and the next will have to witness. At 0.85 Cº we are outside the temperature range of the holocene. Politicians and big business corporations have created a “target” of 2 Cº as the limit for how much the world should heat before climate change becomes dangerous.
IPCC and the 2Cº "target"
2 Cº is not safe. It is a lie to say that we can adjust the Earth’s temperature to 2 Cº and leave it there. It is a gross deception on a scale that even dinosaurs will understand.
The bottom line is that the Earth is heating up and emissions reductions are miles away from being a meaningful cure. Yes, we should stop burning fossil fuels but in order to restore the biosphere and avoid the catastrophic global heating that is already coming our way from emissions to date, we will have to remove 1 trillion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. The only sensible way to do that is to increase the global biomass in order to remove the greenhouse gas from the carbon cycle.
Happy Earth day!
Is it doable? Who knows. There is talk and even conferences dedicated to it but will it happen within the timeframe needed? If it does, then it will be nothing short of a modern day miracle and only then I will inflate the balloons for Earth Day.
The excellent documentary ‘Last Call’ focuses on the team of scientists who worked on the ‘Limits to Growth’ research over 40 years ago. It was recently screened at the British House of Commons (the irony was not lost on the audience), the silence that reigned in the ancient room was palpable. This is not a feel good movie but it is certainly one worth watching, perhaps several times.
After writing my review, I was still feeling very moved by the whole notion that such an important warning had been ignored by a so-called civilised global population. It is fairer to say the warnings were derided and ridiculed in favour of corporate, political and individual greed, that has, over the decades, consumed us all.
I then emailed Dennis Meadows, one of the key authors, and asked if he could supplement my review with a few words intended to encourage my generation, who are left with a future that is as uncertain as it is daunting. He joked at the outset that even if he knew the answer, he could unlikely condense it into one short email, however, he did send a few paragraphs that I am pleased to be sharing below:
Humanity now faces an existential crisis:
Old patterns of thought and action used to produce improved welfare; now they do not.
Some alternative paths of development could be attractive in comparison with the current one; but our culture is so focused on growth that any suggestion of alternatives is automatically understood to be a counsel of doom.
We have moved into a period of crisis that will last decades. The larger the crisis, the more pressure there is to think short-term. But fundamental solutions to problems like climate change or the growing gap between rich and poor require long-term thinking and the capacity to sacrifice now for gains later. Our political systems are quite inadequate for this.
It is no longer realistically possible to entertain the notion of indefinite progress. Rather than give up their fantasies and search for alternatives, people tend just to ignore the problems, or view them only through the lens of self interest.
All the above not withstanding, there are options for action now that will give us better outcomes than we will get otherwise. Finding those options and motivating people to pursue them is the challenge.
It means the problem is not essentially one of technology. No doubt new technologies will be developed and some of them could be helpful. But the main issue is to develop cultures, norms, institutions that are more compatible with a steady state. I hope your work might help achieve that. I worked on it for 40 years, and now I am passing the baton.
Trailer for the documentary 'Last Call':
The discussion was streamed live by Nick Breeze (Envisionation) as part of the festival and also as part of the 'Solar Radiation Management Science 2015' conference.