The planet’s economist: has Kate Raworth found a model for sustainable living? #Polycrisis #DoughnutEconomics

The planet’s economist: has Kate Raworth found a model for sustainable living?


Consider the electric car. Sleek and nearly silent, it is a good example of how far the world has progressed in fighting the climate crisis. Its carbon footprint is around three times smaller than its petrol equivalent, and unlike a regular car, it emits none of the greenhouse gases that warm the planet or noxious fumes that pollute the air. That’s the good news. Then consider that the battery of an electric car uses 8kg of lithium, likely extracted from briny pools on South America’s salt flats, a process that has been blamed for shrinking pasturelands and causing desertification.

The 14kg of cobalt that prevent the car’s battery from overheating have probably come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where cobalt mines have contaminated water supplies and soil.

As the demand for electric vehicles grows, the mining and refining of their components will intensify, further damaging natural ecosystems. By 2040, according to the International Energy Agency, the global demand for lithium will have increased more than fortyfold.

Electric cars improve on the status quo without transforming its rapacious use of resources. Subsidised by governments and promoted by the automotive industry, they fit smoothly with the economic ideas that guide how policymakers think about reducing carbon emissions. According to the idea of “green growth”, whose adherents include the World Bank and the White House, so long as the right policies are in place, societies will be able to enjoy endless growth while reducing their carbon footprint. Growth, the process by which a country increases the amount of goods and services it produces, is supposed to raise people’s wages and provide governments with an income that can be invested into public services such as schools and hospitals. To proponents of green growth, new innovations such as electric cars will help “decouple” growth from carbon emissions and allow humans to live a life of plenty within the limits of the planet.

That’s the theory, at least. But there is little evidence that this will be possible on the timescale required. Global carbon emissions have risen to their highest levels in history. Recently, researchers have warned that the Earth may already be past its safe limits for humanity. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, preventing irreversible damage to the natural environment depends on holding the world below 1.5C of warming, and climate scientists calculate that the emissions of high-income countries need to decrease at 10 times their current rate to achieve this. Electric cars will be essential to this, but if nations are to meet stringent emissions targets and avoid soaring electricity demand, there will need to be fewer cars on the road. The problem is that there are few templates for an economy that radically shrinks the world’s carbon footprint without also shrinking our quality of life.

The economist Kate Raworth believes she has a solution. It is possible, she argues, to design an economy that allows humans and the environment to thrive. Doing so will mean rejecting much of what defined 20th-century economics. This is the essential premise of her only book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist, which became a surprise hit when it was published in 2017. The book, which has been translated into 21 languages, brings to mind a charismatic professor dispensing heterodox wisdom to a roomful of students. “Citizens of 2050 are being taught an economic mindset that is rooted in the textbooks of 1950, which in turn are rooted in the theories of 1850,” Raworth writes. By exposing the flaws in these old theories, such as the idea that economic growth will massively reduce inequality, or that humans are merely self-interested individuals, Raworth wants to show how our thinking has been constrained by economic concepts that are fundamentally unsuited to the great challenges of this century.

To Raworth, the ideal economy of the future can be captured in a single image: a ring doughnut. Its outer crust represents an ecological limit, while its inner ring represents a social foundation. To step beyond the ecological limit will damage the environment beyond repair. To fall below the social foundation will mean some people go without the things they need to live well, such as food, housing or income. Her argument is that economies must be designed so they operate inside this ring, enabling humans and the environment to flourish. The doughnut is premised on three central ideas: the economy should distribute wealth fairly, regenerate the resources that it uses, and allow people to prosper. None of this, Raworth argues, should depend on economic growth.

In the hands of another writer, this could feel technical and remote, but Raworth approaches it with nimble metaphors and a chatty, playful disposition. Part of the book’s appeal is its implied message that intractable problems could be resolved were they only framed differently. “By revealing old ideas that have entrapped us and replacing them with new ones to inspire us,” Raworth writes, the book proposes a “new economic story”. She mentions numerous pioneering experiments, such as the city of Oberlin, Ohio, which is trying to sequester more carbon than it produces, thus bringing its environmental impact within the doughnut’s ecological ceiling, or Bangladesh’s attempts to become the first “solar-powered nation”, gainfully employing women to install renewable energy systems in their villages. Raworth concedes that huge political changes, including clamping down on tax havens, will be necessary to keep economies within the ring of the doughnut. Her propositions feature “no immediate answers for what to do next”, she concedes, nor “specific policy prescriptions or institutional fixes”. The book is less of a political programme than a provocation to think beyond capitalism’s imperatives.

“Most things begin here. In the mind, in the mindset,” Raworth told a recent audience at an event in Amsterdam, tapping her head for emphasis. To her critics, a shift in mindset is all very well and good, but it is not enough. The reason we haven’t built a fairer, less destructive economy is not because of a failure to tell a better story, they argue, but because politicians bend to the will of corporations and elites, which have little interest in allowing the status quo to change. According to this view, change is not the product of new ideas so much as a political struggle to impose ideas upon the world.

Raworth is meeting these criticisms head on. In 2019, in an attempt to make her ideas a reality, she founded the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, a social enterprise that helps bring communities into the doughnut’s ring. It is working with local governments and communities across 70 cities, from Nanaimo on the west coast of Canada to Ipoh in Malaysia, to put the principles of doughnut economics into practice. Now, she faces the difficulty of turning a small set of experiments pioneered by well-intentioned and likeminded people into something far bigger and more transformative.

When Raworth arrived at Oxford University to study politics, philosophy and economics in 1990, the only mention of the environment on her course was in an optional paper called Public Economics. Whereas the economists of the early 20th century tended to see their subject as a social science, many of their successors regarded themselves more like physicists, whose job was to uncover the laws that supposedly governed how the economy worked. In her first year, Raworth studied with Andrew Graham, one of the few economists at Oxford to take issue with the narrowing purview of the discipline. Graham liked to ask students questions about real economic events, such as why city centres decline, or whether the “Thatcher experiment” had altered Britain’s growth prospects. “If you want to study economising, you can throw all the maths at it that you like,” Graham told me. “If you want to study economies, you have to embed yourself in the real world.”

In her second year, Raworth wrote a paper on the idea of development. “It struck me that it was the first time in my economics degree that we’d discussed what success looked like,” she recalled. “Until that point, it was just implicit that success was about economic growth.” In the early 90s, most people without access to life’s essentials lived in underdeveloped economies, and most economists agreed that growth was the best lever to improve their lives. As banks opened and businesses started investing, transport networks would emerge and education programmes would train workers to do new jobs that paid them higher wages, which governments could then tax back to pay for public services. Few considered the natural resources that all of this would consume, or that the Earth did not have the capacity to sustain endless growth.

In 1995, after graduating from Oxford, Raworth moved to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, to take up a development fellowship, part of a scheme that recruited young economists to work as civil servants in poor countries. At the time, Zanzibar was being transformed by tourists, who flew there to stay in the new hotels along its beachfronts. Visitors might have imagined Zanzibar as a landscape of tropical profusion, with its coconut palms, seafood and mango trees, but its ecosystem was delicate. The longer she spent on the island, the more Raworth was bothered by the waste created by the island’s booming tourist economy. Single-use plastic bags had recently been introduced, and their bright blue remnants became tangled on the beaches. “I didn’t have the framework to describe it, but this plastic was just arriving and arriving, and there was no system for collecting or managing it,” she recalled. “I had this real frustration that we were praising countries for their development, and yet saying nothing about the ecological damage that was going on in order to achieve that.”

After three years in Zanzibar, Raworth moved to New York to begin work as a researcher on the UN’s annual Human Development report, a project that ranked the world’s nations not by their GDP but by their citizens’ quality of life. While working on a report about consumption, Raworth read a book called How Much Is Enough? by Alan Durning, an American environmentalist. The book posed an urgent question: “Is it possible for all the world’s people to live comfortably without bringing on the decline of the planet’s natural health?” The only way to achieve this, Durning contended, was by buying less stuff – fewer fridge-freezers, tumble dryers, hair lotions and television sets. But few would be willing to accept the reduction in living standards that this would entail. “I remember reading about the data – our use of plastics, our use of materials – and I was like, this is what I’ve been missing,” Raworth told me.

In conversation, Raworth has a generous tendency to point towards the work of other economists and thinkers, as if showing you the cherished contents of a jewellery box. Sitting at her kitchen table in Oxford last autumn, she told me excitedly about the scientists who had first quantified how economic activity was exceeding the Earth’s capacity to support it. Earlier attempts to measure this impact were constrained by the availability of data, which was limited to specific events, such as acid rain or the depletion of the ozone layer. Then, in 2009, a group of researchers in Stockholm produced a circular diagram that identified nine of the planet’s life-supporting systems, from biodiversity to freshwater reserves. Each of these systems had its limits, which, if crossed, could cause irreversible damage.

Raworth came across the diagram in 2009, buried in a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation, when she was working as a researcher at Oxfam. She was living in Britain with her husband Roman Krznaric, an Australian philosopher who she’d met in New York, and had just returned from maternity leave looking after their new twins. “I remember sitting at my desk, and I was like, bam! This is the beginning of 21st-century economics,” she recalled. “It begins with this.”

Last autumn, I travelled with Raworth to the south-eastern outskirts of Amsterdam. She had been invited as the honorary guest at the second annual “doughnut festival” organised by a network of community groups based in the city, and I had tagged along in the hope of better understanding how her ideas might work in practice. From the vantage of the elevated metro, gabled Dutch terraces gave way to grey housing estates and the skyline gradually began to resemble any other European metropolis. Raworth was wearing a green puffer jacket to guard against the cold outside. Her uniform of dark trousers, durable shoes and block-coloured blouses is smart but muted, as if designed to strike a balance between the demands of a Ted talk and a climate protest. Necklaces are one of her few concessions to whimsy; today, she was wearing one in the shape of a sugar snap pea.

Raworth’s ideas have found a large audience in the Netherlands. In April 2020, Marieke van Doorninck, then Amsterdam’s councillor for sustainability, announced the city would be basing its sustainability policies on Raworth’s doughnut. The declaration suggested a radical departure from the status quo. The BBC released a video explaining how the Dutch were “reshaping their post-pandemic utopia”; Time magazine asked whether Amsterdam was about to replace capitalism. Yet the changes that have happened in Amsterdam are smaller than initial coverage implied. More businesses in the city are committed to reusing materials, and more buildings are to be made out of wood. There seemed to be a tension between the grand vision of Raworth’s book and the modest changes that bear its name.

Members of Amsterdam’s Green party, De Groenen, who I spoke with, along with members of its Doughnut Coalition, a network that is trying to put Raworth’s ideas into practice, shared a conviction that truly decarbonising the economy would mean not just cutting emissions but confronting inequalities of wealth and power. When I asked Van Doorninck how the doughnut differed from other sustainability policies, she explained by way of example. “I love the fact that I have a shop around the corner that sells sneakers made from old plastic bottles,” she told me. “But my first question should be: do I need new sneakers?”

Van Doorninck worried that the prevailing mode of sustainability involved simply buying different things rather than confronting the economic assumptions that brought about environmental and social disaster in the first place. It is all too easy to imagine a future in which the wealthy continue to buy recycled sneakers, offset their carbon emissions and live in air-purified homes, while the poor suffer the worst effects of food scarcity and wildfires. The prospect of such a future – less carbon-intensive, according to some narrow metrics, but by no means fair – is precisely why Raworth argues we must view social and environmental problems side by side.

Raworth’s itinerary in Amsterdam was an indication of how her ideas have travelled. When she first visited the city after the publication of Donuteconomie in 2018, she was invited to speak at cultural venues in the city centre. Today, we were going to Gaasperdam, a low-income suburb, for the opening event of the Doughnut festival. Later, Raworth was due at a city farm; the following day she had an appointment at a shopping mall to see a recycling plant, and a meeting with an artist who made sculptures in the shape of doughnuts.

As the metro sped across the city, I asked Raworth about whether she ever used other modes of transport. She had taken the Eurostar to Amsterdam, and when I had visited her home in Oxford a few months earlier, the parking bay outside was decorated with colourful chalk drawings – a celebration, she said, of her family no longer owning a car. Raworth doesn’t fly, though she made an exception in 2021 for a family trip to Australia to see her husband’s father. When she is invited to speak in places that can’t be reached by train, she dials in via Zoom. “The downside of not flying and only getting trains is that, of course, you then have a very Eurocentric perspective,” she acknowledged.

When we arrived in Gaasperdam, we were met by Anne Stijkel, a community organiser and former scientist who lives and works in the area. In 2019, Stijkel came up with a plan to translate Raworth’s ideas into tangible action. The first Doughnut Deal trained a group of women to sew curtains that helped insulate homes on a housing estate, ticking two boxes in the doughnut’s social foundation by giving local people paid work and cheaper energy bills, while reducing their use of gas and bringing them closer in line with the doughnut’s ecological ceiling. Today, the community was signing a pledge to create a generator that would turn waste – “shit”, as Stijkel repeated delightedly – into biogas.

In the foyer of a community centre, a table had been laid with doughnut-shaped cakes baked in a vibrant shade of green. Stijkel showed us to a hall where a piece of rope was arranged in the shape of a doughnut on the floor. At its centre was a flame powered by biogas that licked the sides of a glass tube. The circle, the flame and the rope gave a ceremonial, almost pagan impression. A group of people gathered in the hall and Stijkel told them to stand in pairs in the circle, back to back, and take turns reading out cards that had been placed in front of them. Each card listed one of the categories from the inner and outer rings of the doughnut: “gender equality”, “food”, “nitrogen phosphorus loading”. The purpose of the task was unclear to me, but everyone in the room seemed energised and hopeful.

A kind of childlike excitement, along with a relentless inquisitiveness, extends to everything in Raworth’s life. She asked questions of everyone she met in Amsterdam and never seemed to tire of the endless numbers of people who wanted to shake her hand, or tell her about the thesis of their PhD. This capacity to generate affection and make people feel seen belies an analytic intelligence and solitary focus. Raworth grew up in west London, and attended St Paul’s Girls, a highly academic private school. Her sister, Sophie, who is now a BBC newsreader, wrote in this newspaper in 2006: “As teenagers we didn’t understand each other or get on at all. Kate was painfully shy … She was very self-conscious and shut herself away, reading, playing the saxophone and doing art while I was going out to parties. I needed people more than she does. She doesn’t need anyone’s approval.”

In my conversations with economists and environmentalists who had worked with Raworth, her ideas were described as inspiring and quixotic. “Doughnut Economics is a real testament to her ability to tell stories, engage people and convey economics,” Tim Jackson, a sustainability economist at the University of Surrey, told me. But, Jackson continued, like any small and hopeful experiment in doing things differently, the doughnut will inevitably face larger obstacles, whether a privatised rail network so expensive that it forces people to drive cars, or a finance sector that continues to invest heavily in fossil fuels.

Tim Jackson’s ground-breaking book Prosperity without Growth stands as an eloquent summary of the key ideas and core vision of his research and policy work over three decades. It was first published as a report to the UK government in 2009 and rapidly became a landmark in the sustainability debate, translated into 17 foreign languages. Tim’s piercing challenge to conventional economics openly questioned the most highly prized goal of politicians and economists alike: the continued pursuit of exponential economic growth. Its findings provoked controversy, inspired debate and led to a new wave of research building on its arguments and conclusions.
This substantially revised and re-written edition updates those arguments and considerably expands upon them. Jackson demonstrates that building a ‘post-growth’ economy is a precise, definable and meaningful task. Starting from clear first principles, he sets out the dimensions of that task: the nature of enterprise; the quality of our working lives; the structure of investment; and the role of the money supply. He shows how the economy of tomorrow may be transformed in ways that protect employment, facilitate social investment, reduce inequality and deliver both ecological and financial stability.
Twelve years after it was first published, Prosperity without Growth is no longer a radical narrative whispered by a marginal fringe, but an essential vision of social progress in a post-crisis world. Fulfilling that vision is simply the most urgent task of our times.

Prosperity without Growth

Rather than speaking about political conflict and “us v them”, Raworth prefers to focus on “we”; rather than talking about parties or elections, she talks about “design”. She eschews terms such as socialism or communism and seems to put little faith in Britain’s current crop of elected politicians. This approach has drawn criticism from others in her field who see it as a sign of naivety about the way power works. In a review of her book, Branko Milanović, an economist who researches inequality, accused Raworth of “we-ism”, of presuming that everyone on Earth shared the same objectives. This, he argued, was why she was able to make claims that were unfeasibly optimistic. While Raworth acknowledges that growth is needed in poorer countries, Milanović thought it implausible that people in richer countries would ever vote for low or no growth. “Short of magic,” he wrote, “this is not going to happen.”

“Doughnut Economics is all about action. We’re not sitting having academic debates back and forth about the meaning of words,” Raworth said when I put these criticisms to her. “It’s time to be propositional, and sometimes the best form of protest is to propose something new.” To her supporters, the fact that no national government has adopted the doughnut as a substantive policy agenda is not an indictment of Raworth’s ideas, but of our governing classes. Despite plentiful evidence that the pursuit of growth has accelerated the climate crisis, contributed to rising inequality and failed to secure decent living standards even for many people in rich countries, politicians of all varieties still treat it as a panacea.

Like her avoidance of political labels, Raworth’s own position on growth seems formulated to avoid alienating potential allies. “She is very carefully on the fence,” Duncan Green, a former colleague of Raworth’s at Oxfam, told me. Raworth describes herself as “agnostic” on growth: she holds that economies should promote human prosperity regardless of whether GDP is going up, down, or holding steady. “She agonised over using that word, agnostic, because you could have just said, ‘Don’t go for growth,’” Nigel Wilcockson, her editor at Penguin Books, told me. “At one end of the political spectrum, people say ‘an economy without growth is impossible’, and on the other end, people say ‘that’s fine for this set of nations that are doing well, but what about everyone else?’”

After the event in Gaasperdam, Raworth returned to central Amsterdam for a meeting with civil servants from Grenoble. They had travelled from the foot of the French Alps to learn how their city, which received an EU award for its green credentials in 2022, could become even greener by applying Raworth’s ideas. Antoine Back, the city’s deputy mayor, seemed nervous, even starstruck, to be sitting next to her. On the table in front of him was his well-thumbed copy of La Théorie du Donut, which he later asked Raworth to sign. The civil servants sat around a long table and discussed doughnut economics over cups of peppermint tea. Back, a self-described “eco-Marxist” with a debonair haircut, told Raworth that they had mapped issues such as food poverty, air quality and car use in Grenoble, in an attempt to show how the city was failing to stay within the doughnut. “We have entered the Anthropocene,” said Back with a dramatic inflection. “This won’t be gentle; there will be ruptures, shocks.”

Raworth gently suggested that new, less doom-laden words and images would be needed to describe the future. Because there are so few models for a low-growth economy that do not entail returning to an era before industrialisation, it has been easy for critics to portray any attempt to shrink our ecological footprint as an assault on social progress. In the UK, one recent proposal to limit car traffic was accused of trying to “reinvent feudalism” and return humanity to an age when people never left their villages. The ease with which those sceptical of growth are treated as heretics or hair-shirted hippies is part of the reason Raworth treads delicately, and focuses on more upbeat visions of life in a low-growth economy. “There is a phrase I really like, which is ‘public luxury and private sufficiency’,” she told Back, pointing to Amsterdam’s generous bike lanes and tram system as examples of the luxuries that could be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

Over the past few years, a number of economists and academics have spoken out more forcefully against growth. Proponents of “degrowth”, a theory which has spawned its own sphere of conferences, journals and publications, argue that the world’s rich economies need to shrink, using less energy and fewer resources. To achieve this, consumption must be curtailed and wellbeing should be put ahead of profit. In rich nations, this would amount to a planned reduction of energy and resources to bring the economy back into balance with nature while reducing inequality.

These ideas are not dissimilar to Doughnut Economics. “It’s not the intellectual position I have a problem with,” Raworth wrote in 2015. “It’s the name.” She views degrowth as a “smoke bomb” that confuses more than it explains, redirecting conversations about where humanity is headed down a rabbit hole of debate. On a burning planet, we do not have enough time for such endless discussions, she suggests. “There comes a time for the smoke to clear, and for a beacon to guide us all through the haze: something positive to aim for,” she wrote.

The week after we met in Amsterdam, Raworth travelled to Birmingham to give a talk at a community centre about putting the doughnut into practice. We took the train with Rob Shorter, an employee at the Doughnut Economics Action Lab, and Raworth’s daughter Siri, an intelligent, quiet teenager. Raworth was carrying a reusable shopping bag full of props: a hosepipe, a rolled-up piece of pipe lagging and a geodesic Hoberman ball that looked like a toy from the 1980s. She and Shorter were planning on trying out a new presentation involving blue plastic balls and tangerines. The tangerines, Shorter explained, would symbolise the living, biological materials on Earth that naturally regenerate, such as plants and fruit trees. The blue balls would stand in for the resources whose production carried an environmental cost, such as plastics and metals, which need to be repaired and recycled so they can be used again. The idea was to show how the current “linear” economy – which burns up resources and spits out carbon – should instead become a “circular” economy, where resources are reused and nature is regenerated. Shorter suggested they could throw the tangerines on the floor to symbolise waste. Raworth wasn’t so sure: “Throwing balls is OK – but I don’t like the idea of throwing and wasting food.”

The event in Birmingham was hosted by Civic Square, a social enterprise that works with low-income local communities and hosts coffee mornings and community festivals organised by people with enticing job titles such as Doughnut Storyteller and Dream Matter Designer. “You can’t just keep shouting from the parapets, or relying on governments to legislate,” Imandeep Kaur, the founder of Civic Square, told me. “You have to put people at the forefront of the story, so they can actually take part in it.” In the future the enterprise intends to repurpose empty high-street spaces for the use of local communities, and to build a new public square. For now, they make do with a floating barge where visitors can read copies of Doughnut Economics over free coffee and cake; on the banks of the canal, they host regular events and a gardening club.

We arrived at the venue, where a conference room had been decorated with hand-painted banners that quoted lines from Raworth’s book: “Today’s economy is divisive and degenerative by default. Tomorrow’s economy must be distributive and regenerative by design.” The room seemed to rearrange itself as she moved through it. A beatboxing poet performed a song about the creation of a new economy, and Raworth watched intently, wearing an expression of transfixed delight. Then it was her turn to present. She pulled out the Hoberman ball, its colourful prongs scrunched in the shape of a star. The ball, she said, told a story about our “divisive” economy, which concentrated value in the hands of a few. Raworth tugged at the ball and it bounced into a sphere. The audience let out a collective “oooh”. “Think of that,” she said. “A system that actually shares value, opportunity … and wealth with all those who create it.” Then it was time for the tangerines. Raworth and Shorter handed them to the front row, who passed them backwards, until everyone’s hands were empty. “This is the linear model of industrial production – the ‘take-make-use-lose’ economy,” Raworth said, pausing on one of her signature phrases to let it sink in.

Raworth’s critics might have found plenty to be cynical about in this scene – a crowd of adults playing with tangerines in the service of somehow transforming the economy. But the purpose of the presentation, indeed the purpose of every event I attended with Raworth, seemed less about directing participants towards a particular set of actions than expanding their field of vision. When I spoke to Antoine Back via Zoom a few months after we met in Amsterdam, he told me the absence of solutions in Raworth’s work was one of its strengths. “I don’t use the word ‘solution,’” he told me. “It suggests that there is a magic bullet; that technology will come along and save us.” He feared that our tendency to search for irrefutable answers where there are none produces inertia, leading people to believe that it was always someone else’s responsibility to solve the climate crisis.

On the train back home from Birmingham, I thought about a conversation in Amsterdam with Ruurd Priester, one of the organisers of the city’s Doughnut Coalition. “Stories and narratives are at the basis of everything we do,” he told me. I asked him whether the popularity of Raworth’s ideas stemmed from the way they licensed belief – or hope – in the possibility of an alternative to what we have now. “I really like that way of putting it – a belief system,” he said. “It’s not just about the economy. It’s also about how economical thinking has started to dominate the ways you think about yourself, and what you think is even possible.”

On Wednesday 5 July, join Zoe Williams and a panel of leading thinkers for a livestreamed discussion on the ideas that can make our economies fairer. Book tickets here.

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A climate of betrayal #Polycrisis #EcologicalCrisis #ClimateCrisis #EconomicCrisis #PoliticalCrisis #TellTheTruth

A climate of betrayal

By Andrew Glikson

Jun 8, 2023

All grimly true, but they can be sure that they won’t be recorded for their crimes in history – because there won’t be any history” (Noam Chomsky)

No words can express the betrayal of humanity and nature as represented by the ease in which originally progressive parties and ‘leaders’ can reverse their original environmental credentials by supporting coal and gas production and export once they are in power. While claims are made of reducing domestic emissions, the export of coal, gas and oil from many parts of the world and the dissemination of greenhouse gases remains high or is rising (Figure 1).

No science fiction has been written exposing an elite of multi-billionaires, corporate executives, arms merchants, media moguls, megalomaniac lunatics and their political mouthpieces pushing humanity and species to extinction. The current promotion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) ensures neither human intelligence nor human sentiments would be able to stem cybernetic insanity.

Figure 1. The global rise in production of coal, oil and gas.

The inexorable rise of mean global temperatures to above 1.5oC higher than in 1750, at a rate exceeding those of the great mass extinctions of species and, according to the IPCC toward 4oC late in the century, renders extreme consequences for many life forms as a consequence of abrupt weather events and changes in the chemistry of the oceans, including acidificationand dissolution of carbonate shells.

As the electronic media diverts attention of people to trivial games, canned laughter, sport carnivals and petty crimes real criminals squander $trillions on looming wars and billionaire playboys spend the world’s dwindling resources on space rackets, out of the mouth of hungry children. The critical issues of war and peace, the fate of future generations and survival of species are rarely overlooked in ‘democratic’ elections.

A majority of the post-WWII generation and their offspring, trapped opposite fluorescent screens that scream canned laughter, and propagate commercial and political lies, are only dimly aware of the magnitude of even a ‘limited’ nuclear war, where radioactive emanations from a single large city cloud crops and induce famine for many weeks or months.

Consequences of global warming and a nuclear exchange include:

The closest analogy to the environmental disruption during the late Anthropocene (the period during which human had a significant environmental impact on the Earth) include the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary (PETM).

Meanwhile, the history of Anthropocene civilisations records regular bloodsheds between tribes and nations out of control, called ‘war’. Intermittent waves of hostility leading to violence and incessant fighting occurred repeatedly since the Neolithic, more recently, continuing since the 16th centuries, culminating with the threat of a nuclear war.

According to the clock of the atomic scientists it is 90 seconds to midnight.

Progressive parties and ‘leaders’ in positions of power must act now.

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An Inconvenient Apocalypse by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen #Polycrisis #EcologicalCrisis #ClimateCrisis #auspol #qldpol #EconomicCrisis

Review: An Inconvenient Apocalypse by Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen

By Frank Kaminski, originally published by Mud City Press

An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity
By Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen
184 pp. University of Notre Dame Press, Sept. 2022. $24.00.

The goal of An Inconvenient Apocalypse isn’t to try to convince people of the reality of humankind’s environmental and societal crises. The book’s authors know that’s a fool’s errand, given the powerlessness of facts alone to change minds. “A parade of statistics and studies,” they write, “rarely persuades those who have decided to ignore the threats to human communities and ecosystems.” Instead the book takes these threats as a starting point and spends the majority of its lean page count exploring their implications and how we might best respond to them. It succeeds commendably in this regard.

Authors Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen certainly have the bona fides to write authoritatively on the topic of this book. Jackson is a pioneer of sustainable agriculture and an all-around sustainability icon. Jensen is a professor emeritus of journalism and media at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a longtime collaborator and coauthor with Jackson on sustainability-related issues. Like all their previous books together, this one is founded on a recognition of the obvious but widely denied reality that Earth is finite, and that humans have to learn to live within its limits. Write the authors, “[W]e take seriously the biophysical limits of the ecosphere and human limits.”

Unfortunately, most readers are likely to misinterpret the book’s title. That’s because the word apocalypse has come to be equated in popular parlance with the end of the world. But Jackson and Jensen are using it in its traditional sense, which they paraphrase as follows: “a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden from most people, a coming to clarity.” Understood in this sense, it’s perfect to describe the change in consciousness needed for humanity to make meaningful movement toward sustainability. Still, it’s regrettable that those who aren’t familiar with this meaning of apocalypse are likely to dismiss this book as alarmist or fatalist. (To the authors’ credit, their original title, The Old Future is Gone, would have been much less prone to such connotations; alas, it was rejected by the publisher on the grounds of its poor search engine optimization value, according to Jensen in interviews.)

The authors make a crucial clarification early on in the book, namely to whom they’re referring when they use the word “we” in the context of humanity’s ecological predicament. They don’t use it to mean citizens of high-consuming industrial nations, as many others do; instead, they use it to refer to every human alive today. They go on to explain that while the industrial world certainly is responsible for the majority of today’s resource consumption and consequent environmental impacts, the path that has led us to this state of affairs is rooted in humanity’s species-wide tendency to seek out ever more energy-dense fuel sources.

Philosopher Bill Vitek calls this propensity of ours our “human-carbon nature.” As that phrase suggests, Vitek contends that our affinity for relentlessly exploiting every last source of carbon on Earth—from soils to forests to fossil fuels—is an essential part of human nature. And Jackson and Jensen build on this contention to argue that “while not every individual or culture is equally culpable, the human failure over the past ten thousand years is the result of the imperative of all life to seek out energy-rich carbon.” Ten thousand years ago is when humans invented agriculture and thus first began extracting carbon beyond replacement levels. Ever since then, we’ve been on an ever-escalating carbon binge.

In a chapter aptly titled “Four Hard Questions,” Jackson and Jensen do a fine job of bringing into focus the true dimensions of the change our species must make. The titular questions are size, scale, scope and speed. By size the authors mean the maximum sustainable size of the human population. In the absence of modern fossil-fueled technology, they estimate this number to be a fraction of the planet’s present 8 billion. They acknowledge the taboo surrounding the topic of human population, but stress that we must be willing to discuss it nonetheless if we’re to avoid flying blindly into the population contraction that lies ahead as we lose access to the energy resources that have temporarily enabled today’s bloated population.

Scalescope and speed refer, respectively, to the natural size limit of human social groups, the maximum technological level of a sustainable industrial infrastructure and the speed with which humanity must undergo its transition toward a sustainable society. The authors cite 150 people as the natural size limit of a human community, a figure rooted in human cognitive capacity and known as “Dunbar’s number.” They argue compellingly for an industrial infrastructure that is technologically simpler and far less energy-intensive than today’s. As for the speed with which we must shift our society onto a sustainable path, they say we need to do so “faster than we have been and faster than it appears we are capable of.”

Of course, many people stoutly believe that no such shift will be necessary, because technology and progress will somehow rescue our modern industrial way of life and allow it to continue indefinitely. Jackson and Jensen reiterate the oft-remarked observation that this belief amounts to a religious conviction. Borrowing a term from environmental author and thinker David Orr, they call it “technological fundamentalism,” defined in this book as “a religious-style faith in the ability of societies to solve problems with high energy and high technology, including the problems created by past use of that energy and technology.”

Adherents of this faith often point to feats such as humanity’s successful bid to save the ozone layer from ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 20th century as evidence that their faith is warranted. But the authors are quick to counter that the replacements for CFCs—hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—have themselves had to be replaced following the discovery of their catastrophic global warming potential. It is the tale of so many supposedly miracle technologies of our time.

Jackson and Jensen insist they aren’t nihilists, and indeed they offer plenty of suggestions for constructive action. The common feature of these suggestions is that they all involve a radical shift in our values and ways of thinking about ourselves and the natural world. They call for a new paradigm in which we accept the finite nature of planet Earth and our status as animals that crave energy-dense carbon sources. They demand that we drastically reduce our numbers, scale down our living arrangements and levels of social organization, and redefine what a good life is. They also entail a reenvisioning of the appropriate role of alternative energy resources, which are to be used not to prop up our current way of life, but to cushion our inevitable descent to a lower-energy society.

The authors have coined the term “ecospheric grace” to describe their vision of an ideal orientation toward the natural world. To show ecospheric grace is to humble ourselves before the rest of nature. It is to accept that we humans aren’t at the center of everything, that we’ll never completely understand the natural world of which we’re a part and that nature doesn’t favor us over any other species. It is thus also to reject the ideal of Earth stewardship, since stewardship implies authority and control. Our goal should instead be to return the biosphere’s favor of “the gift of life with no strings attached” by treating it well.

An Inconvenient Apocalypse excels at making difficult concepts easily understandable through skillful use of thought experiments. In one, we’re asked to imagine how history might have unfolded differently had the contiguous United States, rather than western Europe, been blessed with the conditions that first paved the way for the industrial revolution. In another, we’re given a scenario in which socialism, instead of capitalism, established itself as the dominant economic system of the industrial world. Both of these thought experiments make crucial points about the reality of geographic determinism in history and humanity’s susceptibility to “the temptations of dense energy,” and they do so in a simple, accessible manner.

No doubt there are many who will never accept the message or core tenets of An Inconvenient Apocalypse, so deep is their attachment to the lifestyles and amenities of our era. But for those who are able to brush the proverbial scales from their eyes, this book will serve as a useful guide to the starkly different future we face in the decades and generations ahead.

Frank Kaminski

Frank Kaminski is an ardent reader and reviewer of books related to natural resource depletion, climate change and other issues affecting the fate of industrial civilization. He lives in southwestern Washington state near the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

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Paediatricians urging NT govt to withdraw Beetaloo Basin fracking support #ClimateCrisis #HealthCrisis #NoNewCoal or Gas! #auspol @Mon4Kooyong Stop Genocide

Paediatricians sign joint letter urging NT government to withdraw Beetaloo Basin fracking support

ABC Katherine / By Samantha Dick

Dozens of paediatricians are pleading for the Northern Territory government to withdraw support for a full-scale fracking industry, citing direct and indirect health risks.

Louise Woodward is worried about the impacts of climate change on children. (Supplied: Humpty Dumpty Foundation)

The 45 medical specialists — supported by federal independent MP Monique Ryan — outlined their concerns in a letter addressed to NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, who approved shale gas production in the Beetaloo Basin last month. 

All signatories are either working or have previously worked as paediatricians in the NT.

The letter called on the NT government to “re-evaluate the health costs” of developing a fracking project, and to “embrace urgent climate action”. 

“The decision your government has taken is contrary to the warning from the United Nations secretary-general in March that ‘we are on a fast track to climate disaster’,” the letter reads. 

The letter also outlined the health risks of “extreme environmental conditions” driven by global warming, such as cyclones and floods.

Monique Ryan says she “applauds” the paediatricians who signed the letter.(ABC News: Nicholas Haggarty)

Dr Ryan, who has previously worked as a paediatric registrar in the NT, said it was out of character for paediatricians to take political action.

“Most paediatricians would walk away from active engagement with government on political issues,” she told the ABC.

“For these doctors to be doing this really, I think, reflects the extent of their concern and their worry about their patient populations.”

Louise Woodward, who drafted the letter, said it was “crazy” to open a new fossil fuel project amid mounting climate concerns.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” she said. 

“The UN has been very clear with their recommendation to not open any new coal and gas.”

Dr Woodward said residents in the Top End would be among the first to experience the worst impacts of global warming, such as heat stress.

The Beetaloo Basin is said to contain enough shale gas to power Australia for 200 years.(Twitter: Tamboran Resources)

Direct health impacts may vary in Australia

The letter signed by paediatricians referenced some direct health risks identified in the United States, where millions of people live within 2 kilometres of a fracked oil or gas well. 

“Studies have shown that children living near fracking operations in the US have higher rates of low birth weight, birth defects, childhood cancers, and respiratory conditions,” the letter reads.

Paul Bauert, who has worked as a paediatrician in the NT for more than 40 years, said such health defects were “almost certainly” caused by the toxins released through the fluids that are pumped into and released from the fracking wells.

“These are toxins which can contaminate soil and contaminate water, and importantly, can be carried through the atmosphere,” he said. 

“The concern that many of us have is the very high increased risk of worsening asthma or respiratory illnesses.”

However, gynaecologist Alex Polyakov, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said it was difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these health issues.

“We don’t know if fracking actually causes this,” he said. 

“It’s associated with these adverse outcomes, but it is entirely possible that any other sort of mining operation would produce the same outcomes.”

Dr Polyakov also said the potential direct health risks were much smaller in Australia, where fracking for shale gas is nowhere near as widespread as it is in the US. 

He said the NT government should invest in research to follow up any direct adverse health outcomes from a local fracking industry.

NT fracking regulations ‘strongest in the world’

In a statement, Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said the “onshore shale gas industry … is one of the most regulated and researched industries in the NT”. 

“Our regulations cannot be compared to anywhere else, because we made sure they were the most robust and comprehensive regulations in the world,” she said. 

Ms Fyles pointed to the completion of a major scientific study known as SREBA, which was a key recommendation from the 2018 Pepper Inquiry.

“This large body of data and research from the SREBA will be used to assess risks and help monitor and mitigate impacts on the Beetaloo region,” she said. 

Ms Fyles also said the NT government had strengthened water regulations and monitoring requirements. 

David Slama, the NT director of oil and gas lobby group APPEA, said in a statement that “health was covered in detail by the Pepper Inquiry”. 

“National guidance for human health and environmental risk assessment has been adopted by the NT and made enforceable by law,” he said. 

“The recently released SREBA has collected population level health data for the Beetaloo Sub-basin and there are strict controls to monitor air and water quality and ensure they are not impacted.”

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Climate Crisis Is on Track to Push One-Third of Humanity Out of Its Most Livable Environment #ClimateCrisis #Polycrisis demand #ClimateAction #SDG13

Climate Crisis Is on Track to Push One-Third of Humanity Out of Its Most Livable Environment

by Abrahm Lustgarten

As conditions that best support life shift toward the poles, more than 600 million people are already living outside of a crucial “climate niche,” facing more extreme heat, rising food scarcity and higher death rates.

In this sweeping work of science and history, the renowned climate scientist and author of The New Climate War shows us the conditions on Earth that allowed humans not only to exist but thrive, and how they are imperiled if we veer off course. Our Fragile Moment

Climate change is remapping where humans can exist on the planet. As optimum conditions shift away from the equator and toward the poles, more than 600 million people have already been stranded outside of a crucial environmental niche that scientists say best supports life. By late this century, according to a study published last month in the journal Nature Sustainability, 3 to 6 billion people, or between a third and a half of humanity, could be trapped outside of that zone, facing extreme heat, food scarcity and higher death rates, unless emissions are sharply curtailed or mass migration is accommodated.

The research, which adds novel detail about who will be most affected and where, suggests that climate-driven migration could easily eclipse even the largest estimates as enormous segments of the earth’s population seek safe havens. It also makes a moral case for immediate and aggressive policies to prevent such a change from occurring, in part by showing how unequal the distribution of pain will be and how great the improvements could be with even small achievements in slowing the pace of warming.

“There are clear, profound ethical consequences in the numbers,” Timothy Lenton, one of the study’s lead authors and the director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in an interview. “If we can’t level with that injustice and be honest about it, then we’ll never progress the international action on this issue.”

The notion of a climate niche is based on work the researchers first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020, which established that for the past 6,000 years humans have gravitated toward a narrow range of temperatures and precipitation levels that supported agriculture and, later, economic growth. That study warned that warming would make those conditions elusive for growing segments of humankind and found that while just 1% of the earth’s surface is now intolerably hot, nearly 20% could by 2070.

The new study reconsiders population growth and policy options and explores scenarios that dramatically increase earlier estimates, demonstrating that the world’s environment has already changed significantly. It focuses more heavily on temperature than precipitation, finding that most people have thrived in mean annual temperatures of 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should the world continue on its present pathway — making gestures toward moderate reductions in emissions but not meaningfully reducing global carbon levels (a scenario close to what the United Nations refers to as SSP2-4.5) — the planet will likely surpass the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting average warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and instead warm approximately 2.7 degrees. That pathway, which accounts for population growth in hot places, could lead to 2 billion people falling outside of the climate niche within just the next eight years, and 3.7 billion doing so by 2090. But the study’s authors, who have argued in other papers that the most extreme warming scenarios are well within the realm of possibility, warn that the worst cases should also be considered. With 3.6 degrees of warming and a pessimistic climate scenario that includes ongoing fossil fuel use, resistance to international migration and much more rapid population growth (a scenario referred to by the U.N. as SSP3-7), the shifting climate niche could pose what the authors call “an existential risk,” directly affecting half the projected total population, or, in this case, as many as 6.5 billion people.

The data suggests the world is fast approaching a tipping point, after which even small increases in average global temperature will begin to have dramatic effects. The world has already warmed by about 1.2 degree Celsius, pushing 9% of the earth’s population out of the climate niche. At 1.3 degrees, the study estimates that the pace would pick up considerably, and for every tenth of a degree of additional warming, according to Lenton, 140 million more people will be pushed outside of the niche. “There’s a real nonlinearity lurking in there that we hadn’t seen before,” he said.

Slowing global emissions would dramatically reduce the number of people displaced or grappling with conditions outside the niche. If warming were limited to the 1.5 degrees Celsius targeted by the Paris accords, according to a calculation that isolates the effect of warming, half as many people would be left outside of the optimal zone. The population suffering from extreme heat would be reduced fivefold, from 22% to just 5% of the people on the planet.

Climate research often frames the implications of warming in terms of its economic impacts, couching damages in monetary terms that are sometimes used to suggest that small increases in average temperature can be managed. The study disavows this traditional economic framework, which Lenton says is “unethical” because it prioritizes rich people who are alive today, and instead puts the climate crisis in moral terms. The findings show that climate change will pummel poorer parts of the world disproportionately, effectively sentencing the people who live in developing nations and small island states to extreme temperatures, failing crops, conflict, water and food scarcity, and rising mortality. The final option for many people will be migration. The estimated size of the affected populations, whether they’re 2 billion or 6 billion, suggests an era of global upheaval.

According to the study, India will have, by far, the greatest population outside of the climate niche. At current rates of warming, the researchers estimate that more than 600 million Indians will be affected, six times more than if the Paris targets were achieved. In Nigeria, more than 300 million citizens will be exposed, seven times more than if emissions were steeply cut. Indonesia could see 100 million people fall out of a secure and predictable environment, the Philippines and Pakistan 80 million people each, and so on. Brazil, Australia and India would see the greatest area of land become less habitable. But in many smaller countries, all or nearly all the land would become nearly unlivable by traditional measures: Burkina Faso, Mali, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Niger. Although facing far more modest impacts, even the United States will see its South and Southwest fall toward the hottest end of the niche, leading to higher mortality and driving internal migration northward.

Throughout the world, the researchers estimate, the average person who is going to be exposed to unprecedented heat comes from a place that emitted roughly half the per capita emissions as those in wealthy countries. American per capita emissions are more than twice those of Europeans, who still live a prosperous and modern existence, the authors point out, so there is ample room for comfortable change short of substantial sacrifice. “The idea that you need the level of wasteful consumption … that happens on average in the U.S. to be part of a happy, flourishing, rich, democratic society is obviously nonsense,” Lenton said.

Each American today emits nearly enough emissions over their lifetime to push one Indian or Nigerian of the future outside of their climate niche, the study found, showing exactly how much harm Americans’ individual actions can cause (1.2 Americans to 1 future person, to be exact). The lifestyle and policy implications are obvious: Reducing consumption today reduces the number of people elsewhere who will suffer the consequences tomorrow and can prevent much of the instability that would otherwise result. “I can’t — as a citizen of a planet with this level of risk opening up — not also have some kind of human and moral response to the figures,” Lenton said. We’ve all got to deal with that, he added, “in our own way.”

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Countries must put aside national interests for climate crisis, UN says #Polycrisis #EcologicalCrisis #StopEcocide #StopGenocide listen to the scientists!

Countries must put aside national interests for climate crisis, UN says

Simon Stiell tells conference in Bonn the world is at ‘tipping point’ and must fight together for common good

The world is at a “tipping point” in the climate crisis that requires all countries to put aside their national interests to fight for the common good, the UN’s top climate official has warned.

Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed to recent findings from scientists that temperatures were likely to exceed the threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within the next five years.

“Climate change is accelerating, and we are lagging behind in our actions to stem it,” he warned. “Remember the best available science, which doesn’t arbitrate on who needs to do what or who is responsible for what. The science tells us where we are and highlights the scale of response which is required.”

Stiell was addressing representatives from nearly 200 countries gathered in Bonn, the UN’s climate headquarters, to discuss how to forge a “course correction” that would put the world on track to meet the aspirations of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and limit global heating to 1.5C.

He urged countries to put aside their differences, after more than 30 years of negotiations since the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was signed in 1992.

“I believe we are at a tipping point,” he said. “We know that rapid change often follows a long gestation period. Goodness knows that the gestation period for climate action has been long enough. We need to bring that tipping point forward.”

The Bonn conference, a preparatory meeting intended to lay the technical groundwork for the much bigger Cop28 summit that starts in November, opened amid long-simmering contentions. The start of the conference was delayed by two hours as delegates wrangled over the agenda for the next nine days of talks, and the talks have had to start work with a draft agenda while arguments rumbled on.

The Guardian understands that the EU and many developing countries wanted an agenda item to discuss the “mitigation work programme”, which deals with countries’ commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while China fought for a mandate to discuss countries’ plans for adapting to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Other key sources of contention included a resolution to phase out fossil fuels, the role of renewable energy, the issue of loss and damage, which refers to funds to help rescue and rehabilitate poor countries struck by climate disaster, and the global stocktake, which is an assessment of how far off track governments are in meeting their Paris pledges.

Stiell did not name these issues directly, but urged governments to find common ground. “There is at times tension between national interest and the global common good. I urge delegates to be brave, to see that by prioritising the common good, you also serve your national interests – and act accordingly,” he said.

Madeleine Diouf Sarr, the chair of the least developed countries grouping at the UN negotiations, urged all nations to act in the interests of the most vulnerable.

“The success of Cop28 hinges on progress achieved at this Bonn conference. We have to lay the foundations for a Cop28 decision that leads to the curbing of global emissions in line with the 1.5C target and increased funds provided to our countries so we can address the impacts of climate change,” she said.

Alden Meyer, the senior associate at the thinktank E3G, told the Guardian that avoiding a permanent rise in temperatures to more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels was still possible. “New agreements and commitments by governments and businesses can bring about a transformational roadmap to modernise economies and put global climate action back on track this decade,” he said.

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“With six months to go [before Cop28], this meeting in Bonn is a pivotal point on the road. Governments must collaborate to set high expectations for Cop28 outcomes on the new policies and agreements Cop28 must deliver to put global action back on track, and they must build bridges with each other to get there.”

The host country of Cop28, the United Arab Emirates, would be under particular scrutiny, he added. UAE is a producer of oil and gas, which confirmed plans with Opec last week to expand its fossil fuel production next year. Sultan Al Jaber, who will act as president of Cop28, is the head of UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc, a dual role that has enraged climate campaigners.

Meyer said: “The UAE must use the moment as a chance to build trust, credibility, and confidence in its leadership of Cop28. What the UAE says and does, including any new initiatives they launch, will be a test of their credibility.”

Another pressing concern for Stiell, who took the reins at the UNFCCC last year, is the budget for the UNFCCC secretariat. It is already regarded as inadequate for the expanded work that is required in running the annual Cop summits and administering the 2015 Paris climate agreement, but many countries want the UN to do more to provide practical help. Stiell warned of a “massive funding gap”, and urged delegates to agree a budget increase, and for governments to pay what they already owed.

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How to Fix a Broken Planet: Advice for Surviving the 21st Century #StopEcocide #StopGenocide Stop stealing our children’s future! #auspol #EcologicalCrisis #Polycrisis

How to Fix a Broken Planet: Advice for Surviving the 21st Century

by Julian Cribb

Do you want to help save human civilisation?

If so, this book is for you.

How to Fix a Broken Planet describes the ten catastrophic risks that menace human civilisation and our planet, and what we can all do to overcome or mitigate them.

It explains what must be done globally to avert each megathreat, and what each of us can do in our own lives to help preserve a habitable world. It offers the first truly integrated world plan-of-action for a more sustainable human society – and fresh hope. A must-read for anyone seeking sound practical advice on what citizens, governments, companies, and community groups can do to safeguard our future.
How to Fix a Broken Planet


‘… nothing less than a luminous plan-of-action for a new human epoch which our grandchildren might not only survive but might flourish within, unleashing the glory of human creative potential, should we choose to fix our broken planet.’ Gordon Weiss, World Food Programme’s East Africa co-ordinator

‘… probably the most important book I have read. I predict it will be a world changer. It needs to be translated into every language on Earth and made urgently available to politicians and community opinion leaders everywhere … It offers the reader a sensible and practical path to rescue our human species from early extinction and offers detailed actions for individuals, community groups and governments.’ Bob Douglas AO, Australian National University

‘A blueprint for humanity surviving and thriving in the 21st century. This book provides the escape ramps for avoiding the dangerous problems facing our species.’ Lyle Lewis, Former Endangered Species Biologist, U.S. Department of Interior

‘How to Fix a Broken Planet is a masterpiece that will have a lasting impact on the culture as people seek ways to be effective planetary citizens. This book delivers a worthy prescription for humanity to embrace common purpose. Together, in gender equal partnership, that’s our best chance to save ourselves from ourselves’ Geoff Holland, author of The Hydrogen Age

‘How to Fix a Broken Planet is a must read for the future of the human species, and all the other species with which we share this one and only Earth.’ Dana Hunnes, author of Recipe for Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life

‘Julian Cribb continues to warn all on this planet of what we are doing to it and the risks. As usual, his work is meticulously documented and tells us what can still be carried out – if the will is there at all levels.’ John Kerin AO, Minister for Primary Industries and Energy in the Australian Hawke Government 1983-1991

‘Julian Cribb’s pathbreaking new book, How to Fix a Broken Planet, looks squarely at the existential threats to our life-support systems and suggests how individuals and governments should take remedial action. I only hope people will read him and act.’ Paul Ehrlich, author of The Annihilation of Nature

‘This book takes you on a chilling journey through the existential threats facing humanity. Essential reading for the 21st Century.’ Will Steffen, Australian National University –This text refers to the paperback edition.

About the Author

Julian Cribb AM is an Australian author and science communicator. His career includes appointments as scientific editor for The Australian newspaper, director of national awareness for the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), editor of several newspapers, member of numerous scientific boards and advisory panels, and president of national professional bodies for agricultural journalism and science communication. His published work includes over 9000 articles, 3000 science media releases and ten books. He has received thirty-two awards for journalism. His previous books include Earth Detox (2021), Food or War (2019), Poisoned Planet (2014), and The Coming Famine (2010). As a science writer and a grandparent, Julian Cribb is deeply concerned at the existential emergency facing humanity, and his latest books map hopeful pathways out of our predicament. –This text refers to the paperback edition.

Plibersek’s hands are tied over coalmine approval but Labor could’ve changed that years ago #ClimateCrisis #Polycrisis

Plibersek’s hands are tied over coalmine approval but Labor could’ve changed that years ago

Four separate coal projects have been greenlit in Australia in the past four days — three in NSW and one in Queensland.


Three more coal projects have been ticked off this week by the NSW government, all of which are extensions of Glencore’s existing coalmines — Mount Owen, Liddell Coal Operations, and Ravensworth Coal Operations. 

They follow Plibersek’s stamp of approval last week for the short-lived Isaac River mine, which got a five-year deadline to dig out metallurgical coal for steelmaking, a project her spokesperson noted received no submissions during its consultation period. 

The three NSW projects will “improve the management of water and waste across adjoining coalmines in the Hunter Valley”, a Planning and Environment Department spokesperson told Crikey, and showed “feasible” measures to reduce emissions.

It means four separate coal projects in four days have been greenlit in Australia.

The world’s top energy body, the International Energy Agency, has repeatedly advised that “no new coalmines or mine extensions” can be approved if we want a shot at limiting global heating to under 1.5 degrees.

Just six days earlier, Plibersek proudly tweeted about rejecting two Queensland coalmines over lapsed applications, declaring: “If companies aren’t willing to show how they will protect nature, I’m willing to cancel their projects — and that’s exactly what I’ve done.” 

Australia Institute research director Roderick Campbell replied asking whether she would be “willing to cancel a project due to climate impacts, not just overdue paperwork” — but got no response. 

Campbell tells Crikey there are decisions made every day that facilitate fossil fuel expansion in Australia, and “if we took climate science seriously, every one of the answers would be no”.

“It’s quite rare to see a yes or no decision from a federal government minister in the spotlight, but every week state planning agencies and federal environmental agencies are doing so,” he says. “It’s the hundreds of smaller decisions that build momentum within the many stages of project approval and that paints Tanya Plibersek into a corner where she has to say yes.”

Plibersek told ABC’s Radio National yesterday that her decisions were bound by national environmental law, and that the Isaac River mine met standards under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) “as it is at the moment”.

The current nature of the act does mean Plibersek’s hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean things couldn’t be different. In fact, they could’ve changed more than 20 years ago.

Devil is in the detail

In December, the Albanese government conducted a review of the EPBC Act, in its consultation stage with laws to be introduced later this year or early next. In a statement, the Climate Council questioned why coal approvals had not been put on hold in the interim.

“The environment minister has a responsibility to scrutinise all risks of harm to the environment, and it is irresponsible that she has refused to look at the immense and indisputable climate harm that all new coal and gas projects pose,” head of advocacy Dr Jennifer Rayner said.

The problem, Melbourne University Law School PhD candidate Ella Vines tells Crikey, is that Plibersek has to play the ball as it lies. Vines is researching whether the Paris Agreement is creating legal pathways to halt Australian coal extraction and consumption.

“The environment minister has only limited scope to consider climate change impacts of a proposed coal project under the EPBC Act and therefore cannot refuse a coal project due to the GHG emissions associated with the project,” Vines explains.

The reason lies in our EPBC Act — it says the minister must personally approve any project that will have an impact on nine “matters of national environmental significance (MNES)”, which include threatened species, migratory species, water resources, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and world heritage properties.

But crucially, a project that will cause high emissions is not an MNES in and of itself, Vines says, and coal projects are considered against the nine other MNES instead. 

“What this means in practice is that greenhouse gas emissions associated with a proposed coal project continue to be considered in ministerial decision-making under the EPBC Act but are insufficient grounds to refuse the development.” 

Also crucially, the government’s reforms did not include an all-important climate trigger — a piece of policy that has, across the past 23 years, been floated across party lines, and been killed each time.

The unlikely architect of the climate trigger

In November 2000, then environment minister Robert Hill surprised his colleagues by releasing draft regulations for a “greenhouse trigger” under the EPBC Act, despite his cabinet having sidelined the plan earlier that year after the concept of a possible application of a trigger had first been floated in a government consultation paper in 1999. 

In a media release at the time, the Liberal senator said that “under the draft regulations, the EPBC Act would be triggered by major new developments if they are likely to result in greenhouse gas emissions of more than 0.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in any 12-month period”.

The push received intense backlash from the industry which found it “grossly unfair”, and from then deputy prime minister John Anderson and industry minister Nick Minchin.

‘Time to act’, says Albo

In 2005 a certain Labor environment spokesman by the name of Anthony Albanese introduced the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger) Bill. It proposed a trigger would kick in if a project released more than 500,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

“The glaring gap in matters of national environmental significance is climate change,” Albanese’s rousing speech reads. “This bill closes that gap. The climate change trigger will enable major new projects to be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process and will ensure that new developments represent best practice.

“It is time to act. It is time for procrastination to end.” 

The private member’s bill failed.

The Greens take up the trigger

Fast forward to now and the Greens are pushing for a much lower cap of 100,000 tonnes of CO2 a year before the trigger kicks in, but they’ve also floated an emissions intensity threshold which basically proposes a “quality over quantity” approach to emissions.

2020 review of the EPBC Act by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel indicated a trigger would be effective if the onus was on businesses to publish their own emissions forecasts, but fell short of recommending that the minister should enforce it. Samuel’s position was that environment laws should not duplicate other policies meant to regulate emissions and the government continues to cite that reasoning. 

Plibersek broadly supported the Samuel review, declaring Labor’s “reforms are seeking to turn the tide in this country — from nature destruction to nature repair”, and in turn Samuel expressed “complete elation and unqualified admiration and respect” for Plibersek’s policy response. 

But a climate trigger, as it has for the past 20-odd years, remains a bridge too far.

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Broken record: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels jump again #ClimateCrisis #EcologicalCrisis #Polycrisis #CO2 424PPM

Broken record: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels jump again

Annual increase in Keeling Curve peak is one of the largest on record

After the access road to NOAA’s Mauna Loa observatory was covered by lava flows from Mauna Loa volcano’s November eruption, the University of Hawaii allowed the Global Monitoring Laboratory and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to install temporary greenhouse gas sampling sites at its astronomical observatory on the nearby summit of Mauna Kea volcano. This photo shows the air intake tube for NOAA’s Picarro analyzer, which was installed on the deck of the Maunakea Observatories building on December 8, 2022. (Image credit: NOAA)
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Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked at 424 parts per million in May, continuing a steady climb further into territory not seen for millions of years, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanographyoffsite link at the University of California San Diego announced today. 

Measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) obtained by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory averaged 424.0 parts per million (ppm) in May, the month when CO2 peaks in the Northern Hemisphere. That is an increase of 3.0 ppm over May 2022, and represents the fourth-largest annual increases in the peak of the Keeling Curve in NOAA’s record. Scientists at Scripps, which maintains an independent record, calculated a May monthly average of 423.78 ppm , also a 3.0 ppm increase over their May 2022 average.

Carbon dioxide levels are now more than 50% higher than they were before the onset of the industrial era.

This graph shows the full record of monthly mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitute the longest record of direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere. They were started by C. David Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in March of 1958 at the NOAA Weather Station on Mauna Loa volcano. NOAA started its own CO2 measurements in May of 1974, and they have run in parallel with those made by Scripps since then. (Image credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory)Download Image

“Every year we see carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere increase as a direct result of human activity,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, flooding, wildfires and storms happening all around us. While we will have to adapt to the climate impacts we cannot avoid, we must expend every effort to slash carbon pollution and safeguard this planet and the life that calls it home.”

Carbon dioxide pollution is generated by burning fossil fuels for transportation and electrical generation, by cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture and many other practices. Like other greenhouse gases, COtraps heat radiating from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space, amplifying extreme weather events, such as heat waves, drought and wildfires, as well as precipitation and flooding.

Rising CO2 levels also pose a threat to the world’s ocean, which absorbs both CO2 gas and excess heat from the atmosphere. Impacts include increasing surface and subsurface ocean temperatures and the disruption of marine ecosystems, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, which changes the chemistry of seawater, leading to lower dissolved oxygen, and interferes with the growth of some marine organisms.

This year, NOAA’s measurements were obtained from a temporary sampling site atop the nearby Mauna Kea volcano, which was established after lava flows cut off access to the Mauna Loa observatory in November 2022. Scripps’s May measurements were taken at Mauna Loa, after NOAA staff successfully repowered a Scripps instrument with a solar and battery system in March. –

The Mauna Loa data, together with measurements from sampling stations around the world, are incorporated by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory into the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, a foundational research dataset for international climate scientists and a benchmark for policymakers attempting to address the causes and impacts of climate change.

How were Mauna Loa observatory operations impacted by the eruption? 

Widely considered the premier global sampling location for monitoring atmospheric CO2, NOAA and Scripps observatory operations were abruptly suspended on November 29, 2022 when lava flows from the eruption of Mauna Loa volcano buried over a mile of access road and destroyed transmission lines delivering power to the observatory campus. After a 10-day interruption, NOAA restarted greenhouse gas observations on December 8 from a temporary instrument installation on the deck of the University of Hawaii observatory, located near the summit of Mauna Kea volcano. Scripps initiated air sampling at Mauna Kea on December 14, 2022 and resumed sampling at Mauna Loa on March 9, while maintaining their Mauna Kea observations.

Continuous daily samples were obtained from both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea by Scripps during May, the month when CO2levels in the Northern Hemisphere reach their maximum levels for the year. Scripps recorded a May CO2 reading from Mauna Kea of 423.83 ppm, which is very close to the reading of 423.78 ppm from the Mauna Loa observatory.

The Mauna Loa observatory is situated at an elevation of 11,141 feet above sea level, while the Mauna Kea sampling location is slightly higher, at an elevation of 13,600 feet. Scientists are able to sample air undisturbed by the influence of local pollution or vegetation, and produce measurements that represent the average state of the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere from both locations.

A longstanding scientific partnership

Scripps Oceanography geoscientist Charles David Keeling initiated on-site measurements of CO2 at NOAA’s Mauna Loa weather station in 1958. Keeling was the first to recognize that CO2 levels in the Northern Hemisphere fell during the growing season, and rose as plants died back in the fall. He documented these CO2fluctuations in a record that came to be known as the Keeling Curveoffsite link. He was also the first to recognize that, despite the seasonal fluctuation, CO2 levels rose every year. 

NOAA began measurements in 1974, and the two research institutions have made complementary, independent observations ever since. Keeling’s son, geochemist Ralph Keeling, runs the Scripps program, including the sampling at Mauna Loa. 

“What we’d like to see is the curve plateauing and even falling because carbon dioxide as high as 420 or 425 parts per million is not good,” Keeling said. “It shows that as much as we’ve done to mitigate and reduce emissions, we still have a long way to go.” 

To visualize how sea level rise may affect your community, visit NOAA’s sea level rise viewer.

‘Only going to get worse’: Asia’s record-shattering heatwaves raise fears over climate change | Euronews #ClimateCrisis #Polycrisis #BeyondGrowth

Countries across Asia have been hit by another round of extreme heat that has toppled seasonal temperature records throughout the region.

It has raised concerns about the region’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

After punishing heatwaves struck large parts of the continent in April, temperatures spiked again in late May – normally the start of the cooler monsoon season.

Seasonal highs were registered in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Experts warned that there was more extreme heat to come.

“We can’t say that these are events that we need to get used to, and adapt to, and mitigate against because they are only going to get worse as climate change progresses,” said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist with the University of New South Wales in Australia.

Where have temperature records been broken?

The heatwave in Vietnam, expected to last well into June, has already forced authorities to turn off street lights and ration electricity as air conditioningdemand threatened to overwhelm the power grid.

The country recorded its highest temperature ever on 6 May at 44.1C in Thanh Hoa province, about 150 km south of Hanoi. Another province came close to the record on Wednesday31 May, hitting 43.3C.

Vietnam’s national weather forecaster warned on Thursday of residential fire risks due to high power consumption. With temperatures set to range from 35C and 39C in the coming days, it also warned of the risks of dehydration, exhaustion and heat strokes.

In China, Shanghai endured its hottest May day in more than a century on Monday. A day later, a weather station in the southeastern tech manufacturing hub of Shenzhen also set a May record of 40.2C. The heatwave is set to continue across the south for a few more days.

India, Pakistan and southeast Asia already experienced a punishing heatwave in April, causing widespread infrastructure damage and a surge in heat stroke cases. Bangladesh was also at its hottest in 50 years, while Thailand hit a record 45C.

Seasonal temperature records also continued to tumble through May, with steamy Singapore at its hottest for the month in 40 years.

Is climate change to blame for heatwaves in Asia?

The April heatwave was “30 times more likely” because of climate change, a team of climate researchers said last month. The current temperature spike “is likely to be caused by the same factors,” said Chaya Vaddhanaphuti from Thailand’s Chiang Mai University, who was part of the team.

India and other countries have established protocols to deal with the health risks arising from extreme heat, opening up public “cool rooms” and imposing restrictions on outdoor work. 

But, Vaddhanaphuti said, governments need to plan better – especially to protect more vulnerable communities.

Researchers from the University of Bristol warned in a paper published in April that regions with little prior experience of extreme heat could be most at risk, identifying eastern Russia as well as the Chinese capital Beijing and surrounding districts among the more vulnerable.

But for countries like India, where humidity is already pushing “wet bulb” temperatures to unsafe levels, preparing for the worst might not be enough, said Vikki Thompson, the paper’s lead author.

“At some point, we get to the limit of humans actually being able to cope with the temperatures,” she said. “There could be a point where nobody could cope with them.”

As many as 2 billion people will be exposed to dangerous heat if the world remains on its current track to rise an average of 2.7C this century, with India likely to be the worst hit, scientists warned in another study published last week.

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