There is no escaping the reality that the cost to feed a family has risen significantly over the past year or so. Food prices along with energy costs are now the major drivers of inflation. In fact, food is becoming unaffordable for many even in developed countries – but it’s much worse for poorer nations. For years, it looked as if hunger around the world was declining. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide has climbed to 811 million as of 2021. Approximately 50 million people are facing emergency levels of hunger across 45 countries. What is going on?
All our food systems – agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture – are buckling under the stresses of climate change (floods, droughts, fires, and more), lack of crop diversify,supply chain issues and waste. Consider the information presented below and then ask – is our global food supply stable – and sustainable in the coming decades? The facts are discouraging but having the facts is a starting point. With the requisite investment along with bold leadership, the situation is solvable. The main vulnerabilities of the global food supply are discussed below. More specifics and solutions will then be presented in the next series of articles.
MUCH OF THE PLANET’S LAND IS NOW FARMED
The graphic below clearly depicts the global situation. Seventy-one percent of the land on earth is theoretically habitable for humans. A massive fifty percent of that habitable land has already been converted for agricultural use. This includes – 70% of the world’s grasslands, 50% of the savannah, 45% of the temperate deciduous forest, and 27% of the tropical forest, according to a report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
This conversion of land accelerates the loss of biodiversity. As areas of grasslands and forests and other wild ecosystems are cleared to create farmland, there is continued loss of crucial habitat, making agriculture the most significant driver of wildlife extinction. Recent research has revealed that humans have wiped out 70% of the animal population in the last 50 years. Livestock animals now make up over 60% of all mammals on earth.
Making matters even more untenable, livestock (including the growing of feed) takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories (as shown in the visualization). This means that what we eat is more important than how much we eat in determining the amount of land required to produce our food. If people all over the world were to adopt the average diet of the United States and Canada (due to high meat consumption), we would need to convert all our habitable land to agriculture, and we’d still be 38% short.
Farming methods along with increasing frequencies of drought and flood episodes are also greatly impacting crop yields. A recent report has revealed that soil is vanishing ten times faster than it can be naturally replenished. As a result, 500 million people are now living in regions that are essentially transforming into desert.
THE MEAT INDUSTRY – AN OUTSIZED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
The entire system of food production, including the use of farming machinery, spraying of fertilizer, emissions from animals, and the transportation of products, is responsible for about 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. This is more than double the entire emissions of the United States. Currently, meat production produces twice the carbon emissions than growing and processing plant-based foods. Beef is the worst – responsible for 8.5% of human-induced climate emissions. To quote an editorial in the Guardian – “By cooking meat, people are cooking themselves”.
The overall impact of the industrial meat industry is made even worse because of its association to deforestation. A football pitch-sized tract of forest is lost every second somewhere around the world because of agricultural expansion; meat production is the single biggest cause. These forests are ‘the lungs of the world’ given their ability through photosynthesis, to sequester carbon dioxide.
DIMINISHING CROP DIVERISTY (MONOCULTURE)
Can we learn from history? The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a mold known as Phytophthora infestans caused a destructive plant disease that spread rapidly throughout Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one-half of the potato crop that year, and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years. This crisis was the result of mono-culture – the reliance on one plant species as a food source that was nearly wiped out from plant disease.
Since the start of the Agricultural Revolution, scientists believe that humans have cultivated more than 6,000 different plant species. Over time though, farming practises gravitated toward planting those with more desired properties such as yield, appearance, taste, growth rates, etc. Today – just four crops – wheat, rice, maize and soy – account for almost60% of the calories grown by farmers.
As learned from history, such a reliance on a small number of crops has made global agriculture vulnerable to pests, plant-borne diseases, and soil erosion, which thrive on monoculture. It has also meant losing out on the resilience of other crops that may have a better ability at surviving drought and other natural disasters.
The production of these crops is now highly concentrated in a handful of “bread-basket” nations. These include Pakistan – where one-third of the land has been flooded, along with Russia and Ukraine, now at war.
Adding to the concern of the global food supply is consolidation of corporate control – and thus the lack of competitiveness. These few monopolies seem to be a powerful, unique, and poorly understood sector. There are four major corporations (Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus), that control as much as 90 per cent of the global grain trade.
It’s clear that the global food supply is vulnerable to system failures. The production of food world-wide is a significant contributor of carbon emissions, but also drastically impacted by the resulting climate change. There are solutions – and these will be addressed in the next series of articles – that will cover:
How reducing meat consumption will be one of the most significant ways to reduce global carbon emissions with the added benefit of better health outcomes.
Changing the approach to agriculture – soil management, reduced use of fertilizers etc.
Water issues – sustainable food production requires much better water management systems.
Food waste – About one-third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste.
Some Reasons For Optimism In The Battle For The Planet
Let’s start 2023 with some positive news for a change.
It’s amply clear that the current global economic systems are not at all sustainable. Business as usual is not an option. “It’s the economy stupid’ now seems to be the most unfitting of political statements in that the most common notion of “The Economy’ is decoupled from extreme externalities such as environmental degradation, impacts on global health and social upheavals.
A famous Einstein quote is applicable – “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” To me – this implies that whatever situation we are facing, we need to rise to a new consciousness — a new way of thinking. This means saying NO to business as usual. Fortunately, there is a growing cadre of scientists, economists, political leaders, activists, conservationists, indigenous groups, farmers, foresters, engineers and more that are applying knowledge to attain solutions for the crises we face.
Christiana Figueres is the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010-2016). In a 2021 editorial piece she wrote “History will remember this decade as the climate turning point, the moment we finally woke up to the fact that despite (and because of) shocks like Covid-19, decarbonization — the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions — is now inevitable. The only question is how fast we will achieve it.”
Loss and damage – COP27 – the annual conference of the parties on climate change did achieve something. The new loss and damage fund promises to finance the rebuilding of poorer, vulnerable countries hit by increasingly severe climate impacts that they have done little to cause. It is a long overdue acknowledgment of the moral responsibility the big polluters have for the climate emergency.
Deforestation – A ground-breaking EU (European Union) deal to ban the import of goods linked to deforestation should set a global benchmark and will hasten the passage of a similar law in the US and hopefully other jurisdictions. This will in effect prohibit the import of commodities such as beef, soya, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, rubber, charcoal and paper, and derived products, unless their origins can be verified as not being associated with deforestation. This is an imperative given the fact that a football pitch-sized tract of forest is lost every second somewhere around the world because of agricultural expansion. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/05/eu-ban-on-deforestation-linked-goods-sets-benchmark-say-us-lawmakers
Politically – In Brazil, the defeat of right-wing president – Jair Bolsonaro means a return to policies to save the Amazon (considered the lungs of the earth), or at least halt the pillage that Bolsonaro enabled. And in the USA – the mid-term elections did not result in a projected ‘red wave’ that would have given the Republican Party the political power to potentially reverse the progress that the current administration has initiated on the climate front. Likewise, Australia elected the Labour Party who, with the support of the Green Party and independents have ushered in bold climate plans and regulations. Strangely – conservative parties around the world seem unwilling to face the urgency of planetary destruction.
Advocacy– Collective action is a global imperative. There have been many mega projects cancelled or put on hold due to collective action. Indigenous leaders are now realizing some long-overdue credit and recognition. Moreover, financial support for climate activists is growing and is accelerating change. For example, there is a new initiative called HERO, which aims to provide a basic income for 10,000 climate activists in the next five years. HERO is a subscription-based platform where people can support activist groups around the world working on pressing policy issues, and thereby turning the climate crisis into humanity’s most unifying ethical moment. https://herocircle.app
The EU – seems to be the leading jurisdiction in tackling environmental issues. For example, up to 12,000 substances could ultimately fall within the scope of a new law, which would constitute the world’s “largest ever ban of toxic chemicals”, according to the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). In the US – investors are now pressuring the top firms to halt production of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ due to the potential for lawsuits over toxic compounds linked to cancer and other diseases. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/25/eu-unveils-plan-largest-ever-ban-on-dangerous-chemicals.
Plastics – The EU has the most wide-ranging single use plastics ban. For example, in France – even fruit and vegetables will be sold without plastic packaging. There will no longer be small toiletries in hotels. In Canada – effective December 20, 2022, the manufacture and import for sale of the following harmful single-use plastics, will be prohibited: checkout bags/cutlery / food service ware made from, or containing, problematic plastics that are hard to recycle/stir sticks/and straws (with some exceptions).
These are but a few examples that demonstrate some degree of progress towards the battle for Planet Earth. Much more is needed if untenable environmental devastation is to be avoided. The solutions require technological advances, new economic models (circular economy), rigorous regulations, international accords, massive capital investments (some of which must come from the big polluters) and for certain – political courage.
“When we get our story wrong, we get our future wrong” – David Korten
There is a saying that a pessimist is an optimist with years of experience. I have been following a variety of environmental issues for over 45 years now and this saying neatly sums up the degree of my frustration concerning the lack of progress on crucial environmental matters. For me – it’s also personal. I have grandchildren and I worry greatly about the future they will face.
AN ENGINEERED FAILURE
I acknowledge the negative tone of many of my articles. I wish it were not so. But the reality is indeed dire, and this must be stated clearly. It’s of no value to gloss over the facts. The past few years have seen a drumbeat of climate-driven disasters all over the world. Climate scientists are using words or phrases including – ‘scary’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘unstoppable’, ‘beyond extreme’, “time is running out’ and ‘frightening tipping points’ – just to name a few. Even more unsettling is that social scientists seem as, or even more alarmed in terms of assessing the upheaval that is already occurring and will undoubtedly get worse.
One role of science communication is to counteract willful ignorance. Science often develops inconvenient facts. Science communication takes this knowledge, translating the complexity into everyday language. If the message is inconvenient, unpalatable, disturbing, or even downright scary, the story still requires telling. This is what I attempt to do with my blogs, joining the chorus of thousands of other science communicators who are sounding the alarm of a catastrophic future if carbon emissions continue their current trajectory.
From what I can ascertain, we (a majority of humanity) are in a collective delusion about our current and impending impact on life on this planet. As such, science communication is not enough. This is not a matter of rationality. Proper science communication is continually obfuscated by false information. The fossil fuel industry has known since the 1970s that their products cause climate change but took the course of denial and delay by seeding misinformation fed to the public through a variety of “think’ tanks using phony science. Social media greatly aided these efforts.
The failure to halt climate change has been engineered from day one. We know that the licence granted to fossil fuel companies by 50 years of failure has enabled them to make stupendous profits – estimated to be 2.5 billion dollars per day (averaged over 50 years and corrected to today’s dollar). This kind of money provides big industry the power over every political decision they require. Even more perverse, -governments continue to supplement this financial grab by granting oil and gas companies 64 billion dollars per year in public subsidies.
So – while I acknowledge the negative tone of my articles, I don’t apologize for that. My frustration is warranted. This year’s CoP (Conference of the Parties) conference in Egypt – confirms this. When the history of the climate crisis is written, in whatever world awaits us, CoP 27 will be seen as the moment when the dream of keeping global heating below 1.5C died. Little wonder, there were over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attending, more than the delegates of any single country and more than the delegates from all African countries. The words “fossil fuels” do not even appear in the final text. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/nov/20/world-still-on-brink-of-climate-catastrophe-after-cop27-deal
For over 50 years we have all been witnessing an engineered failure and even paying into it. But – we are not beyond hope. In fact, it is impossible to function without hope. The fact is, the 1.5C target is not a threshold beyond which all hope also dies.
RAYS OF HOPE
“Hope is stubborn. It exists within us at the cellular level and works up from there, as the urge to live. So, hope will persist. The question is, can we put it to use.” Kim Stanley Robinson.
Despite the continued force exerted by powerful lobbies funded by big money, there are rays of hope around the world.
The past decade has been one of slow but steady progress with carbon emissions starting to flatten. Countries representing 88% of global emissions have announced plans to get to net zero in the latter half of the 21st century
CoP27 did achieve something. The new loss and damage fundpromises to finance the rebuilding of poorer, vulnerable countries hit by increasingly severe climate impacts that they have done little to cause. It is a long overdue acknowledgment of the moral responsibility the big polluters have for the climate emergency.
Another reason to be hopeful is that clean energy became cheaper much faster than expected. The cost of both solar energy and batteries fell tenfold in the last 10 years and the cost of wind energy by two-thirds. Solar is the cheapest form of new electricity to build in much of the world today, and electric vehicles now represent 13% of new vehicle sales globally.
Politically – Brazil – The defeat of right-wing president – Jair Bolsonaro means a return to policies to save the Amazon or at least the pillage that Bolsonaro enabled. As well as containing 25% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, the Amazon plays a crucial global role in storing billions of tons of carbon and releasing billions of tons of water each year.
Politically – USA – the mid-term elections did not result in a projected ‘red wave’ that would have given the Republican Party the pollical power to potentially reverse the progress that the current administration has initiated on the climate front. Sadly – conservative parties around the world seem to be tone deaf on the urgency of planetary destruction. This applies to Canada as well.
Price on carbon – As of 2020, sixty-four carbon pricing (carbon tax or cap and trade) initiatives have been implemented in forty-six countries worldwide, representing over 22% of global emissions. British Columbia was one of the first jurisdictions to introduce a carbon tax (in 2008). Since then, carbon emissions decreased by more than 17% in just 5 years, personal income tax dropped to the lowest in Canada and the BC economy performed well. Carbon pricing works.
Advocacy – Collective action is a global imperative. There have been many mega projects cancelled or put on hold due to collective action. Indigenous leaders are now realizing some long-overdue credit and recognition. Moreover, well-informed young people such as Greta Thunberg, Delany Reynolds, and Xiuhtezcati Martinez are often the adults in the room and have been turning the climate crisis into humanity’s most unifying ethical moment. It was unfortunate that the most recent CoP was in Egypt as the opportunity for mass protests was prevented by the authoritarian government. The protests help drive the process.
Legal action – is increasingly effective, using the courts to hold governments and industry to account – much like what was achieved to fight ‘Big Tobacco’. Recently, climate change activists secured a major legal victory against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.
Grass roots efforts – Energy poverty is real – 770 million people lacked access to any form of electricity as of 2019. Solar Sister is a non-profit whose goal is to support rural women in creating their own energy businesses. With sufficient funding an organization like this can help rural areas to ‘leapfrog’ to sustainable electricity as opposed to relying on the traditional business as usual model of fossil fuel-based electricity. https://solarsister.org
These are some examples that can give us hope. These kinds of efforts must now be exponentially enhanced with monumental conviction. The deeply flawed economic theory that has been driving this disaster must be radically altered. Everyone has a role to play. I highly recommend watching the following 15-minute video. It was made just prior to the most recent CoP in Egypt.
Climate Change: Facing Reality and Debunking Misinformation
Recently a dear friend remarked that it must be so very frustrating for those of us in the environmental field to know how dire things are and yet see such inertia at the political level. My reply to this comment – “Absolutely – I’ve been following this issue since the mid-1980s and the outcomes of global warming are becoming reality even faster and more severely than the earlier predictions”.
In this article, I have attempted to address this inertia that can be so readily enabled by misinformation and disinformation (aka – BS).
SPECIAL NOTE – some of the links I provide in this article are from mainstream media and others are the full reports. In each case, for those interested, there are links that can be followed that will take the reader to the complete published literature – some of which required a fee. I have followed all the needed links to prepare this summary
THE CLIMATE CRISIS IS NOW
The climate crisis is no longer an abstract future or a news article about a far-off country. It’s here – it’s now. The world has witnessed a summer season marked again by historic heat waves, widespread drought, deadly wildfires, and torrential rains. More than 1/3 of Pakistan is currently under water displacing millions of people. The southwest of North America is experiencing the worst drought in over 1000 years with several states perilously low in water for irrigation and consumption. Rivers in Europe were too low for shipping goods. The Atlantic hurricane system is late this year but is impacting with devastating consequences.
Both NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) affirm 2022 will almost assuredly rank in the top 10 warmest years on record with Europe and China both recording their warmest meteorological summers. The world already sees twice as many days in which temperatures exceed 50C, compared to 30 years ago. This level of heat is deadly for humans, and hugely problematic for buildings, roads and power stations rendering these locations unliveable.
With the stark facts outlined above (and this is only a partial listing), it would be assumed that there would be a wide acceptance of the reality humanity is facing. But no! Climate change denialism is still out there even though the messages have been evolving.
Complete denial was the earliest tactic. It is very well documented that it was a multi-million-dollar endeavour in which professional public relations firms fought science with junk-science. But their message stuck thereby providing the salvation for politicians who lacked the courage to confront the global warming threat. https://environmentmatters.ca/climate-change-industry-knew-this-was-coming-2/
Over the past decade, the “complete denial strategy” by industry has crumbled in the face of the many dramatic realities of climate change along with the revelations that the fossil fuel industry had been warned decades ago this was coming even from their own scientists. For this reason, the fossil fuel industries have been settling on a new tactic to avoid being properly and necessarily regulated. That tactic? DEFLECTION – using misinformation and disinformation. Social media and email chains then provide inexpensive deliveries of such false or misleading messages.
DEBUNKING THE BUNK
Here are some of the more common misconceptions that I continually come across in various forms.
CLAIM RE: NO CONSENSUS – global warming and the resulting climate change are apparent but there is no real consensus as to the cause. This claim is incorrect. The consensus is almost 100%. Here is a list of 200 scientific organizations all over the world (science academies and associations) that hold the position that Climate Change has been caused by human action. https://www.opr.ca.gov/facts/list-of-scientific-organizations.html
This is not a trivial list and covers almost all relevant science around the world. A late comer to this list is the US national association of physicists. In 2015, this association hedged somewhat. This year however, the society of 50,000 physicists adopted a new policy without any caveats concluding that ‘anthropogenic greenhouse gases have become the dominant driver of global climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century.”. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11112021/american-physical-society-climate-change-statement/
The collapse of the Greenland ice cap (now melting at a rate of 10,000 cubic meters per second) is one of the tipping pClioints that may already have been passed.Photograph: Ulrik Pedersen/Getty Images
CLAIM RE: NATURAL AND GEOLOGICAL CYCLES – The climate has always been changing so how can the current warming be attributed to human activity? Afterall, the claim continues, earth has experienced ice ages and warm interglacial eras over millions of years. There is no doubt that Earth’s climate has fluctuated through deep time, pushed by several different causes or “forcings”.But none of these can explain the warming over the last 100 yearswhich is why the consensus among scientists is almost 100%
Firstly, solar activity and volcanos were initially (1980s and 1990s) identified as possible causes but have now been clearly discounted as factors as they demonstrate trends that do not correlate. In fact – volcanos are more responsible for global cooling. As well, natural variabilities have been well documented but not correlated to the current warming. These variabilities are due to ocean current oscillations – the most well-known are El Nino and La Nina. Natural and more localized variations also explain what is known as the so-called Medieval Warm Period over the northern Atlantic. “So-called” because at the same time there was also a Medieval Cold Period in Siberia.
There is almost 100% consensus among scientists linking global warming with CO2 emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels.
Ice Ages – A more complex discussion centers around the various orbital cycles. By the early 1900s, scientific investigations were able to identify the causes of ice ages and interglacial warmer periods. Over time (thousands of years), the varying gravitational pull of the larger planets in the solar system stretches the Earth’s orbit from a circle to an ellipse and back again. These orbital changes create cycles of about 100,000 years – the same length as the longest ice age. They are also called Milankovitch Cycles named after the scientist that first published on this finding.
CLAIM – EARTH HAS ALWAYS HAD CLIMATE DISASTERS (heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, etc.) before – how can these current ones be any different? The facts – global warming is making these events worse.
Rise of Billion-dollar disasters – Perhaps economic impacts are more convincing to some sectors of society than climate change measurements and attribution science. For example, in 2021 climate disasters cost the USA an estimated $145 billion. The costs are increasing rapidly. Over the previous 4 decades, the country experienced an average of around 7 disasters annually that resulted more than a billion dollars of damage. But in the past five years, that average has jumped to nearly 20 such events each year with 2020 and 2021 being the worst on record. And this is just the US – it’s happening everywhere. Moreover – Insured losses from natural catastrophes have increased 250% in the last 30 years. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2022/billion-dollar-disasters/
So – getting back to the original comment – YES – it is so very frustrating that after all these years and with mountains of evidence, and a very broad scientific consensus, there is still a need to combat misinformation and political inertia. And there is no mistaking that it gets even more frustrating and more damaging when reviewing the unfounded attacks on renewable energy and electric vehicles. This will be the focus of another blog this Fall.
There are several reasons to be somewhat hopeful though. Awareness of the risks is at an all time high. Young people around the world are mobilizing and even sounding like the adults in the room. The major automobile companies are phasing out gasoline and diesel-powered engines. Big industry groups (oil and gas, petrochemical) are facing major legal battles and are even having difficulty getting insurance to cover the costs of defending themselves. As well – there have been some positive developments politically – particularly in the USA. Let us hope reason and good science will eventually prevail.
As a final comment – I highly recommend the documentary – ‘Breaking Boundaries – The Science of Our Planet” – now available on Netflix and U-Tube. It explains the science in a very clear and concise manner and also offers hope that good science has solutions. Here is a link to the Trailer. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14539726/
This article is in response to frequent comments I receive acknowledging the usefulness of the science around environmental breakdown but also a feeling of helplessness as to what each of each of us can do.
After a devastating year, a looming question emerges – can environmental collapse still be prevented? The answer! The world as we now know it – the age of fossil fuels – must come to an end. There is no time to waste.
The past year left no doubt: Climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) projects a record of 275 million people will need humanitarian aid in 2022 – a rise of over 60 % from last year. As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die, it becomes clearer than ever before: The deadly flaws of our economic structures have been ruthlessly exposed.
It can be easy to despair at the climate crisis, or to decide it’s already too late. But that does not have to be the case. We have the knowledge and the technology to transform our energy structures. As well, there is a rapidly growing awareness worldwide about the severity of the numerous crises we face, especially among the vocal youth. Some in positions of power are listening. There was progress at the last COP (Conference of the Parties) held in Glasgow. At a minimum there was a decision that the COP meetings would now be held every year instead of every 5 years. However, it was clear that most national leaders were held back by vested interests and “their own attachment to the status quo – and thus the profits from continued destruction” (Rebecca Solnit – Dec 2021).
The anxiety that is building concerning the looming environmental crises and the institutional inaction, is best met by having a clear understanding of the facts and the possibilities for a truly sustainable future. Here are a few thoughts and suggested readings.
CAN WE PREVENT A CLIMATE DISASTER?
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
CAN WE PREVENT A CLIMATE DISASTER?
TWO NUMBERS – 51 billion and zero. The former is the number of tons of greenhouse gases typically added to the atmosphere each year because of human activities. The latter is the number of tons we need to get to by 2050 to avert a climate crisis.
What this means is that carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 and halved again by 2040 to achieve the goal of net zero by 2050. It also means that deforestation must stop immediately. As well an international agreement on preserving biodiversity must be signed before next year’s COP meeting and thus be integrated into the international pledges.
Moreover, there is a dire need to ensure that justice and equity are at the heart of these massive campaigns. After the COP conference, some of the harshest condemnations were reserved for wealthy countries, which have released the bulk of greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere but have resisted mandates to provide financing for developing nations. It is well documented that poorer nations, despite very low carbon emissions, are more heavily impacted by climate change. Critical financing is thus needed to help these nations address loss and damage, adaptation, and damage mitigation.
Addressing these over-arching goals is massive – but as individuals we are left exasperated as to what we can do.
WHAT CAN WE DO – INDIVIDUALLY
Everything we do, from having a shower, eating a hamburger, driving to work, to buying things, has an environmental impact. With the clarity of this understanding, we can lessen our impacts – at least to a degree. To be clearer, over-consumption is at the root of the planet’s environmental crisis. We (globally) are using up the planet at a rate of 1.7 times faster than it can regenerate. If everyone consumed at the rate of the average American or Canadian it would be 5 times faster. Consuming less is a must. Also – how we consume such as knowing the source of the product, is a factor. For instance, at present, buying meat produced in Brazil will most certainly be associated with destruction of the Amazon rain forest. Much of what comes from China is manufactured using energy from coal.
There is a multitude of sources that provide information on reducing environmental impacts of our lifestyles. They all, more or less, emphasize the same steps – buy less, avoid unnecessary packaging, eat less meat (or better still no meat at all), eliminate food waste, ensure home energy is not wasted, reject bottled water, drive less, ditch big cars (or better still drive a low or zero emission vehicle), recycle properly, fly less, etc.
For those interested, here is one link among many that can be viewed online that present ways we can lessen our impacts.
Youth climate strikes – from National Geographic – 2021
THE COLLECTIVE FOR A BIGGER IMPACT
Consumer choice and individual action are needed and can make a definite impact. But climate change policies, from the local level to the global level, often collapse on the lack of “political will” — the unwillingness or inability of governments to enact policies that will reduce carbon pollution at the scale and speed required. Public will, especially as expressed through citizen activism, therefore becomes crucial. Global climate change is a massive collective action issue.
Author Rebecca Solnit – posted recently on her Facebook page the following about Bill McKibben a well-known American environmentalist, author, and journalist: “ I was sitting on the floor of an auditorium in Paris with Bill McKibben, while the Paris Climate Summit was in session. Someone wandered up to him and asked him, “What’s the best thing I can do as an individual, for the climate?” He replied, as he often has with the best possible answer, “Stop being an individual.”
By this he meant join something, support something, look for the strength in numbers and coalitions and organizing. Alone, most of us can’t do much, and can feel helpless; together we have the capacity to change the world for the better. Some thoughts:
Informed Discussions – Read documents, watch documentaries, or read books and discuss these with family members and friends. Some recommended reading is listed at the end of this article. As well, there is a link to a short video that is informative.
Vote for our future – Politics matter. Consider the 4 wasted climate denial years of the Trump administration resulting in the USA exiting, for a time, the Paris Accord. Brazilians will do the world a big favour by ousting the environmentally disastrous Jair Bolsonaro as their president. Simply put – I recommend that one of the highest priorities in casting a ballot should be based on the candidate’s stance on environmental protection.
Advocate – Write letters to political representatives and inform them to take action or they will lose your vote. Or better still, take part in some form of activism. Collective action works. There have been many mega projects cancelled or put on hold due to collective action. Here are some:
Donate – I realize there are many organizations worthy of donations and it is difficult to choose which ones to support. However, given the various crises we are facing, it is well worth considering supporting organizations that are lobbying to eradicate fossil fuels, revolutionize agriculture, call for a halt in deforestation and loss of habitats, or are advocating loudly for climate justice.
One area of great interest to me is the use of the courts to hold governments and industry to account – much like what was achieved to fight ‘Big Tobacco’. Recently, climate change activists won a big legal victory against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. A Dutch court ruled that the company must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, based on 2019 levels. This could set a precedent for similar lawsuits against huge oil companies that operate across the globe. See also the link below about the organization – Urgenda holding the Dutch government to account.
Pictures of plaintiffs fly outside the court in The Hague, Netherlands, before a ruling ordering Royal Dutch Shell to rein in its carbon emissions. Thousands of citizens joined the suit charging that Shell’s fossil fuel investments endanger lives. Peter Dejong/AP
In summary – we do not have to feel helpless facing the threats of environmental collapse. The knowledge and technology are there but politics is being unduly influenced by big industry. We can take our own steps but also join the voices of many to demand change.
The following is a few of many sites and literature sources for those interested.
I find The Guardian to be one of the best – it’s international edition has a section devoted to climate change and publish new items each day. It’s very current and fact based. I also like Science Daily.
CLIMATE CHANGE – INDUSTRY KNEW THIS WAS COMING Allan Maynard, MSc. August 5th, 2021.
Sometimes a picture can express many words. This graphic does just that. Many believe it’s already too late to stop the warming that was predicted decades ago.
There is little doubt now. Climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die, the question looms louder than ever this summer: What will it take for leaders to finally act? Consider the following recent extreme events – many unprecedented.
• In late June 2021, it was a deadly heat wave in the north-west Americas that smashed Canada’s all-time temperature record by more than 5 degrees C and caused around 500 to 600 heat related deaths in each of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington. The World Weather Attribution Organization (see link below) reports that this was the “the most anomalous heat event ever observed on Earth.”
Burnt-out cars stand in front of a ruined building in Lytton, B.C., on July 9, 2021. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC News). In late June 2021, Lytton recorded Canada’s highest ever temperature of 49.6 degrees C (121.3 degrees F).
• About 10 days later, it was devastating floods that turned streets into rivers and trapped people in cellars in Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the UK. • A few days after that, we observed horrifying visions of Chinese commuters trapped in Zhengzhou subway trains as flood waters pushed air out of the carriages. At least 33 people died in the city after a year’s worth of rain fell in four days. • Other heat records were recently set in Turkey, Finland, Estonia and elsewhere, while savage forest fires in North America continue to rage, filling the skies with toxic smoke over a good portion of the continent. • Massive floods are also deluging Nigeria, Uganda, and India in recent days, killing hundreds. • More than a million people are close to starvation amid Madagascar’s worst drought in history. • In Siberia, tens of thousands of square miles of forest are ablaze. New data is now showing that the drastic warming in Siberia is unleashing methane stored in the frozen ground below. Methane is 84 times stronger than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
Forest fires in Siberia. The resulting smoke from forest fires such as this one and other fires and others around the world are highly dangerous to human health.
The U.N. climate officials are pleading for the world to heed the alarm bells, pointing out that these catastrophes are simply the latest in a ghastly string of warnings over decades, that the planet is hurtling down a treacherous path. Most alarming of all is that the science is now showing that climate change is making parts of the world too hot and humid for humans to survive.
PREDICTED LONG AGO (even by Industry)
In 1896, Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius created what was, in effect, the first model of climate change. After years of work and hand computations he made a striking prediction. He stated that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled it would raise global temperatures by 5 to 6 degrees. Today – that prediction holds up reasonably well. The CO2 concentration has almost doubled and warming in the arctic areas has increased over 7 degrees C.
Since the 1960s there have been plenty of modern warnings from scientists around the world. I can clearly recall one important warning more than 3 decades ago (1988), when James Hansen—then a NASA scientist, told the US Congress – “the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” Another early prediction – a 1972 MIT study predicted that rapid economic growth would lead to societal collapse in the mid 21st century. A new paper shows we’re unfortunately right on schedule (see link below).
But consider this prediction from JAMES F. BLACK – SENIOR SCIENTIST FOR EXXONMOBIL – in the 1970s no less. – “There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels … There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert. (Some countries) would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed. Man has a time window of 5 to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical. Once the effects are measurable they might not be reversable.”
From this and other unearthed industry documents as well as highly credible research studies in the public domain – there is no escaping the fact that the fossil fuel industry knew this was coming.
INDUSTRY TACTICS – BILLIONS SPENT ON DENIAL AND DELAY
So – what was industry’s response to these dire and well-founded warnings, many from their own scientists? DENIAL AND DELAY. For the fossil fuel industry, climate change denial has been a multi-million-dollar endeavour. After all, trillions of dollars of assets will have to be left in the ground as the world moves towards renewable energy and away from energy based on fossil fuels. It is well documented that the public relations firms used to undermine climate change science are the same kinds of companies (along with their so-called ‘scientists’) that were hired to deny the truth linking lung cancer to cigarettes, industrial discharge to acid rain and CFCs (chloro-fluoro carbons) to ozone depletion. In all of these cases they have been soundly proven wrong. They fought science with junk-science but their message stuck. The denial reports, even though wrong, became the salvation for politicians who lacked the courage to confront the global warming threat, or even worse bowed to the wishes of their mega-donors.
LATEST INDUSTRY TACTIC – BLAME THE CONSUMERS
In the past few years, the denial strategy by industry has crumbled in the face of the many dramatic realities of climate change. For this reason, the fossil fuel industries have been settling on a new tactic to avoid being properly and necessarily regulated. That tactic? DEFLECTION – TO BLAMING THE CONSUMER.
You may recall my second article of the plastics series (The Myth of Plastic Recycling) describing the “Crying Indian” (played by an Italian actor) ad (see link below). The ad was a fraud. The ad was funded by the “Keep America Beautiful” organization founded and still mainly funded, by the beverage and packaging industries. While anti-littering campaigns should certainly be lauded, the sinister reality behind this campaign was to shift blame for packaging waste in the environment towards the users of the products rather than the manufacturers.
This tactic has now been embraced by the fossil fuel industries, factory agriculture and more. Michael Mann – the respected and widely published climate scientist has called this the Great Deflection Campaign in his new book “The New Climate War”. The idea, as with the packaging waste, is to shift the blame to consumers –buy smaller cars, fly less, eat less meat, buy clothes from recycled fibres, etc. It’s us consumers who are to blame – not institutions, manufacturers, or sub-standard government policies. Sure – consumer choice and individual action are needed, but these will not result in high-speed transport, funding for renewable energy research, or regulate toxic and greenhouse gas emissions.
WHAT THEN MUST WE DO?
This heading – the actual title of the Leo Tolstoy book dealing with poverty, exploitation, and greed as perennial aspects of the human condition, seemed appropriate to summarize. We are now facing a very rough road ahead. We have left it too long. Our biggest enemy is no longer climate denial but now it’s climate delay. The most dangerous opponents of change are no longer the shrinking minority who deny the need for action, but the supposed supporters of change who refuse to act at the pace that the science demands. Unless the world cuts emissions in half in this decade, we will probably lose the chance to avoid warming of significantly more than the 1.5C set out in the 2015 Paris Accord.
There is no way we will get out of this crisis without a massive intervention that is even grander in scope than the recovery from World War II. As Michael Mann points out – “there is no escape from climate change catastrophe that doesn’t involve policies aimed at societal decarbonization”. It will take behavioural change, incentivized by appropriate government policies, strict regulation, intergovernmental agreements, and massive technological innovation. Business as usual (in other words laissez-faire or hyper- capitalism) and the accompanying politics (bought and paid for by major corporations) is no longer an option. The politicians that are standing in the way of massive change and the accompanying investment must be voted out of office.
The actions we take defy the normal rhythm of political cycles. As Ed Miliband correctly points out in The Guardian “What we do in the next few years will have effects for hundreds of years to come”. Let us hope these actions take our world in the right direction as opposed. Otherwise, our children, grandchildren and future generations face an unthinkable terrifying future.