Paul Hawken has edited Drawdown, a comprehensive review and analysis of tangible actions that can mitigate the destruction of the natural environment which is now being precipitated by anthropogenic pollution and is most visible in global warming. Drawdown is the work of many professionals collaborating to synthesise practical mitigation actions.
Yesterday was an unusual day filled with seemingly inane chores that had to be done. I was arriving back home in the afternoon with groceries for guests and planned to turn the hay. I drove past a field adjacent to our where a tractor was spraying and turned in to the drive to be greeted by a distasteful, though recognisable, toxic smell.
Usually I’d just accept that that landowner had to spray to make a living, but I didn’t like the idea that our hay was being contaminated while it was looking so good. Unusually, I decided to take another angle, dropped the bags on the kitchen floor, said “Hi!” to guests and spun the car around back up to the field.
After working out which row the tractor was in I walked up to the driver, who kindly stopped and helped me get n touch with the landowner.
The driver said the spray was only to stop “disease”.
The landowner said it was only to stop “disease”.
They both said it was “OK”.
The contractor couldn’t come back on a still day because he had to empty the tanks since the pesticide had been paid for. The wind might die down so he could wait a bit. I knew the spray would still be sprayed, and would drift. Hopefully little would drift, though you could see a 20 metre tail behind the tractor and smell it quarter of a kilometre away.
I asked what it was. “I dunno. Let’s have a look.”
So we did. It was Imtrex.
“Wow. Look at the labels on it! Dead fish. Dead tree. Heart attack. C’mon! This can’t be good.”
It’s weird though. It’s being sprayed right on the ears of ripening barley, and we’re going to eat it. There’s poison on it , and we’re going to eat it. We’re killing ourselves and enjoying it.
We don’t make the connection between our demand for cheap, convenient food and lifestyles and the consequential impairment of diet and lifestyle. Our monolithic food chain, standardised automated production, controlled by capitalists is withering our soul and costing our health. Apart from the increased incidence of cancer which only affects a third or so of us, almost everyone is affected by the lower quality of food – processed, refined, packaged with a fraction of the dietary health benefits of real food, but extra poison.
Yet we all buy in to it. We all live the lie. The farmer can’t make ends meet if he doesn’t. (Ironically, I found out since that this “T3” third treatment for “disease” was being applied too late, as the ears were grown, and so wouldn’t improve yield, although the farmer could prove he sprayed the “treatment”.) We can’t make ends meet f we don’t play the pyramid consumption game. So we all turn a blind eye to our gradual suicide. It’s fairly painless anyway.
But it could be different. It would be different if we all chose differently. It doesn’t have to be much at first, but even little thoughtful choices make a difference. And they lead to bigger thoughtful choice. And when everyone starts choosing differently, the world changes fast. So whether you’re in the tractor, in the shop, regulating the chemical, making the chemical, or financing the chemical, don’t turn a blind eye. Think, and choose to change a little.
Because dying can be easy or hard, and withering from poison is not easy.
Over 500 experts contributed. The consensus is that progress and attention is lagging the need for change. If data is restricted to those with a decade or more of experience the picture is worse.
Progress is dominated by social entrepreneurs and NGOs while national governments’ and corporates’ performance is considered poor.
The lack of attention by governments and corporates is underpinned by their “clients” – voters and consumers – so clearly there remains among people generally a lack of awareness of the need and opportunity for system change. People don’t perceive the dangers of failing commercial and social systems and the disintegration of Earth’s natural environment upon which we rely.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Except for change agents and social entrepreneurs, people are not engaged with the problems of the world but instead stick to traditional mindsets and routines. (The SDG’s themselves are fundamentally flawed in their promotion of growth, as opposed to working within natural laws and the capacity of the biosphere.) Continue reading Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs→
If you are an expert in your field you have a good idea of what is going on in that area. That’s how you make a living. Most of us express views about news and events that are outside our area of expertise especially if we think that they might effect us in some way, like politics and economics. The Presidency of the United States of America is one of those things.
Everyone will be talking about the new US administration in America today. Some will be earnest, some dismissive, some joyful, some sad or angry. Irrespective of your emotions or political leanings, its impact will affect you. Continue reading Where the world is going, today.→
Yeah, but … you’re still part of the problem. We all are.
Here’s a piece of the big picture puzzle:
Soda and chips … sugars and fats … vegetable oil … palm oil … slaves and rain forest exploitation.
That food chain is run by big companies, big banks and rich owners. (You might be one without even realising it!)
It’s fuelled by people buying foods made with industrially grown vegetable oils. That means most products on the supermarket shelves, including all the big brands owned by companies like Nestle, Unilever, Pepsico, Heinz, Cargill, CocaCola, Kraft, P&G, … And the food chain is financed with money from big banks like Citi, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered, Mizuho, Rabobank, …
In 20 years we’ll be facing Big Stuff. Climate change, weather volatility, species loss, clean air, clean water, … that whole environment thing will be getting much more serious and everyone will be dealing with it in some way or another. I’m hoping it’ll make Ireland a bit more like the south of France, and it might, but whatever else, it’s going to make the simple things in life more difficult. For most of humanity that will include feeding themselves and getting clean water.
So that will make food and land more important.
In 20 years we may well have passed “The Singularity“. That’s a term coined by futurists, often with a trans-humanist bent, which denotes the inevitable point at which technology development starts happening “by itself”. This occurs as humanity’s understanding of physics and biology enable the creation of thinking machines (computers) that emulate the brain, and then androids and cyborgs begin to be used in place of people.
Certainly in 20 years technology will have changed our world even more than in the past 20. Do not imagine The Singularity to be fantasy. We are close already. The mobile phone/computer in your pocket is old technology compared with neuro-computers being tested in laboratories. Robots are already becoming remarkably similar to C-3PO in looks and mobility at least. Today the consequences are being felt in most professions as AI (artificial intelligence) takes jobs away from humans. This is what we all wanted – automatic checkout, automatic cashier, automatic accountant, automatic lawyer, automatic vehicle … The challenge now being solved is automatic creativity.
The solstice passed today at 4 in the morning (UTC).
For most people, it is ignored or unknown, while for a few it is recognised as the event that gives rise to all the other seasonal holidays at this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Saturnalia, and the calendar new years like Hogmany and New Year … I used to be in the former group, but now, living closer to nature, find that recognising the solar cycle helps me stay in touch with the reality of our world.
While you celebrate the traditions of your culture it is fun to recognise the foundation for them. Solstice, Yule, saturnalia and so on might be labelled pagan, but that is not as bad as it sounds. It merely means “of the countryside”. Well, isn’t that just nature?
If you’re fond of Christmas, this year is a good one to recognise our connection to nature because Pope Frank’s encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise be to Him), is all about respecting nature and treating the gift of nature with appropriate Christian humility. Spare a prayer for nature which is so squashed by humanity that even cynics are now admitting the fact of human induced climate change. (Even state media reported that 2015 temperatures are 3° above normal and the manager of the largest state nursery is startled by rain intensity he hasn’t experienced in 40 years.)
In nature there is no beginning or end. At least not practically speaking. The cycle continues around and around. When we have the shortest day (today), with the sun directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, our antipodean friends have the longest. As our days begin to lengthen, theirs begin to shorten. The date is an illusion but the perspective of the sun on our planet is not. The sun is the timepiece of nature and one of the signals for plant life to regrow. Other signals, like cold weather, also tell plants when to regrow, and they are changing, but the solar cycle does not. The sun stands still (sol stice) and then bounces back in the other direction (of course it is Earth that is tilted as it spins around the sun which is stationary relative to Earth, making one circuit every year).
What does the coming year hold? The trends of weather volatility and climate change will continue, so now we plan for a different growing cycle, a more Mediterranean one. The impacts of civilisation continue to increase and the future of current economic, industrial and social systems is limited – they will change by force or choice because there are limits to the capacity of nature to absorb pollution and limits to the capacity of people to be cheated.
People are becoming more thoughtful as social media spreads memes and as access to education grows so the brainwashing of traditional mores becomes less persuasive and the natural curiosity of people to ask “does it have to be like that” is enlivened. That is evidenced by the popularity of conservative politicians around the world, like Trump, who express people’s dissatisfactions. (Sadly their solutions are ignorant and ineffective but since more moderate leaders are not supporting enlightened system change, the radical populists are drowning out all others.)
For our part we will continue to explore new, whole systems. Ways of living that engage body, mind and spirit. Lifestyles that give us the delights of human culture and the bounties of nature, as one. It is not always easy to retrain the cynic, but even I have started to do yoga regularly (5 minutes a day) so there is hope even for the most egregious suits among us.
COP21 comes to a close as the wind howls and Jaspar’s rugby game is cancelled because so much water fell on the pitch last night. Climate change is great, but it’s not good. I love the warmer weather so here in Ireland it’s almost as warm as Hong Kong in the winter; you can go jogging and enjoy the breeze. But the volatility of weather is a symptom of broken systems. Both civilisation and nature.
The consequences for the breakdown of nature and civilisation will be different. Nature will change – once nature was a burning ball in space, now it’s a paradise become decadent and failing. Civilisation will simply disappear – and might never come back.
For some the idea that the human systems are dysfunctional and the weight of humanity is crushing nature is familiar. For many of them, it is a new realisation and the response reflects where they come from: community driven people tend to activism, strategic operators tend to business solutions, organisers tend to regulation, and so on. For a few the notion of integral solutions is a dawning awareness.
All of these people are connected by social organisation and media. We all communicate with each other and ideas circulate quickly as nuggets of information on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, websites, journals, TV shows, … We tend to communicate with like minded people. It is not easy to cross over. But the filtering of from one group to another happens because in each of our circle of family and friends there are always a few “strange ones” who bring unfamiliar concepts to the conversation. (I might fit that description for many of my family and peers!)
Social media allows this cross-fertilisation of ideas and it reveals the homogeneity of your group of friends. Who shares ideas about politics, art, religion, business, .. and so on?
While there has been a great deal of activity related to COP21, it has been predominantly among the same people: People who want to see system change, or people who have a vested interest in things staying as they are.
The outcome of COP21 is not going to be remarkable. Sadly, the depth and breadth of understanding among leaders, and followers, is shallow and narrow. For example, even I was a little stunned, on the way back from picking Richard up from the airport, to calculate that we had released a quarter of his body weight of 60 odd kilos in CO2.
A litre of fuel releases between 0.6 and 0.7 kg of carbon, which grabs another two molecules of oxygen to make carbon di-oxide, bringing the weight to around 1.8 kg. So for a 150 km round trip at 45 mpg (15.8 km/litre) we needed 150/15.8 or 9.5 litres which create 17 kilos of CO2. Just that one event produced nearly the same weight of CO2 as you find in a bag of cement. It’s heavy! And it’s just one event on one day.
So even people like me can be stunned by the challenges we face.
The problem nature faces has much to do with energy and our gratuitous use of fossil fuels. The reality is that humanity must live within the laws of nature, including not consuming more energy in a year than that captured by photosynthesis in a year.
Civilisation is breaking down because the systems we have in place are unethical. Every crisis comes about because of moral failure. Corruption insinuates business, politics and religion. There are cries for change and some who show the way, but the establishment finds it hard to give up power. If evolution is not chosen, revolution erupts.
So while you are part of the establishment, spare a moment for the alternative view that is shared by the fringes of your social circle. It’s not about equality it’s about equity. Be open to finding a way for systems to evolve. The system is a result of everybody’s choices. We must all choose better. We must aim to do the right thing the right way.
Is the scale of marches for change today a significant number? They are certainly the largest individual marches and the largest globally coordinated march, and the first to include a virtual march which allowed people to participate without travelling long distance.
They say about 600,000 marched (excluding virtual marchers) around the world. That’s a lot of people bothering to go out to do a chore.
Maybe the number is higher. There are more on virtual marches. And many who were there in thought and spirit if not body.
It might not be enough. Politicians listen to money. Businesses might see opportunities, but are good at greenwash and we’re good at being blind-sided by advertising and mod cons – phones to cars, fast food to fast clothes, … must haves?
So we must remember tomorrow that we must still say no to more than enough. Less consumption. Less flying and driving. Less packaging and chemicals. Less deception and greed. It’s easy. We all know what to do if we think.
Does it matter?
Yes, in many ways. Climate is just one. Everything is connected. We must change the system to bring dignity to humanity, fix the financial system, clean up the food system, stop the waste of corruption and redress the pain of war.
Looking at climate alone, the temperature rise since 1850 has been 1 o C, while 2 o C is agreed ‘gateway’ to dangerous global warming. We’re well on the way to tipping point, if not there already.
We can emit up to 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. At this rate we’ll have done that in 15 years. That means we’ve got 15 years to stop, not we’ve got to stop in 15 years. By the way, oil companies have in their current reserves 2,795 gigatonnes worth of carbon dioxide – so they have an incentive to sell that stuff, which will kill the planet as we know it. (Living on Mars might be better…) And just so you know how much they want it the CEO of Exxon gets paid $100,000 a day, yes a DAY. And you’re paying it.
There’s been a 4% decline in Arctic sea ice per decade since 1979
9 out of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000
It’s not a debate. If you’re smart it’s immoral to question whether humans are the cause or if fossil fuels are the problem.
There are other important facts. Like that the human population has doubled while half the wildlife has been wiped out in my life. Like the 30 million millionaires owning more than 3 billion people. Like the suicide rate among farmers. Like not being able to afford the food you buy. It’s not about religion. We’re all in this together. It’s crazy. We need common sense. We need to take a breath and do the right thing the right way.
We need to say no to the bad things and use alternatives. Drive less, travel less, turn the thermostat down, eat less junk, throw away less (and don’t buy it in the first place), cheat less, … Eat more veg, run and bike more, say sorry, say I’m wrong, be with family and friends more. And if we’re in charge, we’ve really got to do better. We all are part of the system and we need to change the system.
There has been an outpouring of love and solidarity because of the tragic and terrific blood-letting in Paris this weekend. It has been a synchronous focus on thought, feeling and action by millions around the world. That is good.
The answers proposed have ranged from black to white, from vengeance to forgiveness. (My preference is at the “healing the wounds” end of the spectrum, rather than at the “ripping more flesh apart” end.) The personal grief is inevitably traumatic. The reasons for young people to wreak blood and havoc and kill themselves are difficult to imagine, let alone comprehend. But there are answers – there must be: we are humans and we can do it all.
So what will we choose?
Walking around the garden as the light fades and the wind builds to another stormy night, it seems clear that the warnings are coming thick and fast. It seems as though everyday another report comes in of violence, terror, corruption and injustice, and of storm, drought, flood, habitat destruction and species loss. You can see, hear, feel the immorality of human systems and the pain of nature. Do we look, listen, touch?
There are two kinds of people: People who can see what’s going on and do something about it (i.e. you, people with access to media, educated etc). The more resources they have, the more they can do something about it. The other kind of people who are those who are too poor to be able to know what’s going on (most people know corruption when they see it and crazy weather when it passes), or if they do, live subsistence lives so have fewer choices.
It is increasingly evident that of those of us who can act, some act and others don’t. Some have realised that the system must change and others continue to turn a blind eye. Those who have realised it start with awareness and gradually start to change their behaviour, from diet to lifestyle to job to investment, commitment and philanthropy.
Others who turn a blind eye, should open them. Elites – the people who influence and control human system (millionaires etc) – seem to be predominantly in the blind eye department. That’s bad.
It must be that rich people are ignoring the obvious because they are the ones that determine the system, which is not working, and they remain largely ignorant of how to change the system and what to change it to. Even when the how and what are obvious, admission of the need and course are slow, implementation is sluggish and patchy.
Here’s a quick example: behaviour change is nurtured with education, but education systems are well behind the curve. (Many observe that terrorism is inculcated by misinformation which would be hindered if critical thinking, even thinking, was a basic product of universal education.)
And a biosphere dysfunction example: 2015 is the hottest year on record and climate has risen 1 degree already yet fossil fuel companies are still subsidised and the so called “Sustainable Development Goals” are still talking about growth.
That’s the situation in a nutshell. Things are bad. We know how to change. Too few of the people at the top are changing.
That’s a dangerous recipe. You, like me, can make a difference. Let’s all take a step in the right direction. Slow down. Take a breath. Say sorry. Change the system from fear and greed to love and sharing. Do it now. May be we’ve still got time.