Every Last Drop

It’s remarkable to note that the first prediction of climate change was made by a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896.  Maybe more remarkable, modern science seems to show that Arrhenius was not only right about the warming effect of burning fossil fuels but that his calculations are turning out to be accurate.   Arrhenius estimated that a doubling of C02 in the atmosphere could cause average global temperatures to rise by around 6 degrees.  So far, scientists think that he might be right.

But Arrhenius and his generation did make one large mistake – they believed that such enormous consumption of fossil fuels would take a very long time.  Instead, the next century saw growth so chaotic that it transformed the world, and, consequently, also brought it to the brink of destruction.

Take a moment and think about that world – or – if it’s easier, the world your grandparents told you about.  When global population was only a few billion and maybe a couple of people on the street had a car.  When you had to mend and make do, shop in your local street, when information came in the form of a letter, and things were washed by hand…  Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking we’re harking back to days that were easier – (simpler maybe, and I am of the opinion that there are benefits to living in a simpler world) – those days were harder.  So, when fossil fuels started doing the work for us we took advantage of it, and here, if you focus back on your surroundings, is the completely transformed world of today.  Fossil fuel consumption brought about almost unrecognisable change within a lifetime.

If we had forgotten, or were unaware of, Arrhenius’s warning maybe that was understandable.  But in the last half of the previous century scientists started ringing the warning bell again.  Over a hundred years after the original climate change prediction we have proved Arrhenius correct – and are well on track to 6 degrees average warming and another transformed world, but this transformed world will not make life any easier…

In our current easy world, something else has just got easier.  Melt in the Arctic has made it possible for oil companies to start drilling up there.  The great Arctic carve up has begun.  In greed and stupidity, members of our species are trying to exploit climate change to feed our addiction to oil.  The short term benefits of keeping our cushy post-industrial society going seem to take prime focus.  We’re taking advantage of climate change while we can, never mind the fact that people are already dying in their hundreds of thousands as a result of it.  We’re going to drill for every last drop.

If we could fast forward in time, what would we see?  The Arctic might become more habitable for man – some scientists reckon that, with the projected parts per million of carbon soon to be in the atmosphere, the poles will become tropical regions.  Good for drilling?  Well no, maybe not – because we might not still be here.

Maybe this sounds crazy… just too far fetched?  After all, how could things change that much so fast?  Surely, fossil fuel consumption couldn’t bring about an almost unrecognisable change within a lifetime…?  Can we really have harnessed that much power, to be able to change the world that fast…?

It seems we’re unwilling to learn from our ancestors.  Something about the human brain expects permanency.  Just as Arrhenius couldn’t have imagined our world of 7 billion people, cars, planes and fast food, we refuse to accept that something harder, violent and vicious looms in our future.  But the human brain’s attachment to the way things are isn’t purely negative.  I, for one, don’t want the Arctic to melt, or to be drilled in, although I will probably never set foot on it.  I don’t want it to change.

It looks like it’s time for us to make up our minds about which types of change we like and which ones we don’t, and act fast.  If you, like I, don’t want large and irresponsible multi-nationals to drill for oil in the Arctic, endangering an ecosystem already under pressure and driving the continuation of climate change, you might want to join Greenpeace’s new campaign to save the Arctic.  Their ultimate goal is to make the Arctic a protected zone – like the Antarctic already is thanks to their past efforts.  The oil companies seem determined to keep drilling.  If we want to try to preserve some of the world we love we’re going to have to do what we can to stop them drilling for every last drop…

Posted in Climate Change, Justification - and Morals | Leave a comment

World Environment Day: A Call to Arms

It’s World Environment Day – twenty years since the Rio Convention where, in 1992, it looked as if global governance might have been able to save the environment.  Since then, the slip-slide of global democracy has failed to make any headway on Climate Change – and here we are, twenty years later with time running out, questioning whether the ideal of democracy should be officially autopsied.  What went wrong, and when, that stopped us from being able to save our planet? Our race?  To fulfill our promises of a better life, of absolute rights for everyone?

And yet, environmentalists are still fighting, and scientists are still estimating that we might have the minutest bit of time left to make a difference.  Climate Change is happening but, hopefully, we can still avoid the worst-case scenarios.  Could there be anything more important to be fighting for than action to save our environment?  For those who think other issues might be more important, think again.  The worst predictions about Climate Change talk about the extinction of our race, or mass extinction like that of the Permian age where over 95% of life suffered the ‘great dying’.  Studying Climate Change day after day has become more like reading science fiction than reading about reality – yet here is our new possible future: a planet where ‘dome worlds’ with artificial environments are postulated as real answers to our problems.  If you’re concerned about poverty or human rights and think that these issues might be more important, look at it this way – Climate Change can only make these matters worse, not better.  Who are the people who get to live in the ‘dome worlds’ and who are the people left to starve outside, fighting over the depleted resources left to them?    What kind of martial state will have to exist within the ‘dome worlds’ to ration the limited resources and keep the peace among humans suddenly crowded into a small and unnatural state?  What kind of liberties will those people have, what kind of human rights?  And those people will be the ‘lucky’ ones…

How far down the line is this?  For those of you convincing yourself that this is a long way off, or that the things we do now won’t really have much of an effect – think again.  Some scientists have started to predict that we will reach 4 degrees by 2050.  If this doesn’t sound serious, Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre puts forth a good analogy comparing the atmospheric rise in temperature being caused by Climate Change with a person’s core body temperature.  ‘Your temperature rises by 2 degrees and you have a fever’ he says ‘it rises by 4 degrees and you’re dead.’  The truth is that a lot of people will be dead when we reach 4 degrees warming, and it’s not a long way off.  As for the things we do now not making any difference in the future – CO2 burnt now has the potential to still be causing global warming in 200 – 1,000 years time.  Everything we do is having a lasting effect – and therein lies the problem – most of us think of our actions as being fairly insignificant, but in reality our combined effects on the world are bringing about a catastrophic event that will be the most tragic and devastating thing to happen in the history of the human race – and possibly the history of the planet.  This is something we need global action on, immediately.  This is a call to action.  We need a mass social movement of people clamoring that this has to stop, a movement of people trying to change their lifestyles – sending out the message that we no longer want the fossil fuel industry to dictate our lifestyles, to dictate our politics and to be sending us into oblivion.  That we want change, and not to be the last generation that could have done something but instead walked the human race into an apocalyptic future.

If you’re reading this and you want to do something, start making a change – and start letting people know that you are making a change.  We have to spread the word and learn to live within our means, to be sustainable, to limit our footprint on the world.  And if you start making connections you will find plenty of passionate people out there to link up with who will support you and help you realise that you are part of a social movement struggling to come out on top.  We can make our voices heard, but we need strength in numbers.  This is a battle that needs to be fought, on all fronts, by all people.

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‘Food For Free’ and the Bees

I have a friend who is both a chef and a bit of a gardener and forager.  He runs a blog called ‘Food is Free‘ where he writes up recipes he has cooked using ingredients sourced growing wild.  Even though I’ve grown up eating food my parents grew themselves, I am still part of a supermarket generation.  This was really brought home to me by reading his blog and being suddenly reminded that food doesn’t just originate from a supermarket, it grows in the earth.  I realised that I wouldn’t know where to look to find things like the wild fennel that he was using in his recipes, and I started wondering why this kind of knowledge has been lost – and wondering whether a revival is starting to take place.

Answering the first question – ‘Why?’ – I came back to an idea that I’ve repeated time and time again through my blogs – a divorce from nature.  Richer lifestyles have meant we abandoned allotment living, picking food off shelves instead of out of the earth.  Our capitalistic agricultural world has distanced us from the process of growing food, so we associate food crops with famers, grown in militant rows as part of a business and brought to us in lorry loads.  In this way food has almost become unnatural – a product you might find in a superstore isle, but not on a stroll in the great outdoors.

The ethical problems attached to this kind of loss of attachment and disengagement in the production of food are rife.  Food travels hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to get to our plates – leaving a heavy carbon foot print behind it.  Food products are often harvested by people who are being exploited, sometimes involving child labour.  It can travel huge distances, not merely causing pollution but also sometimes travelling from a country experiencing famine to arrive in our obese, thoughtless nations.  In some countries, people are forced off their land – sometimes killed – so that the land can be used to feed the richer west.  This process often involves deforestation which adds to loss of biodiversity and to climate change.  In many countries GM crops are used, which spread across borders, infiltrating non-GM crops.  And most food is not organic, which means it is covered in pesticides which do untold damage on the environment.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to distance ourselves from these bad practices and rekindle our relationship with food and the land – things like my friend does at   ‘Food is Free‘.  It’s true that it takes time and effort, but it’s also very rewarding.  I had a ‘Food is Free‘ experience recently, helping harvest honey from an abandoned bee hive in my parent’s garden.  Bees are a ‘keystone’* species, but their numbers are rapidly declining** – a problem linked to excessive pesticide use.  We had previously decided not to disturb our bees, but they had disappeared from our hive so for the first time we collected the honey.  After a bit of manual work, we stood and watched golden liquid fill jar after jar.  The bees had done all the real hard work, but that didn’t seem to diminish the pleasure of eating honey on toast the following day and knowing it had come from our backyard – for free.  Supermarkets might sell everything, but they don’t sell that kind of satisfaction, that’s something you can only get for free.

*Many species are currently under threat, but when some go extinct it can have a catastrophic effect on other species.  Bees are such a species and human beings are reliant on them – so much so that it has been suggested that:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

(this quote is often attributed to Einstein.  Apparently this is a miscitation, yet the severity of the situation still stands…)

**Friends of the Earth and currently running a Bee Campaign.  Find out more at: http://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/the_bee_cause_35033.html

Posted in Biodiverstiy, Food Production | 1 Comment

In Support of Captain Paul Watson

We live in a strange world.  About a fortnight ago Captain Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, was arrested in Germany for actions taken in Costa Rica that he states occurred ‘over a decade ago’.  The event in question is caught on camera and documented in the film Sharkwater that was released in 2006 (past Ecotheme on Sharkwater). In Sharkwater, freelance journalist and biologist Rob Steward is asked to join Paul Watson as he sails to Costa Rica on invitation from the government who have requested Sea Shepherd’s assistance to help stop illegal fishing in the area.  On route, Watson and his crew spot a boat illegally trailing long lines, and proceed to arrest them, with radio confirmation from the coast guard.  As they lead the boat in to port, however, a gunboat is dispatched from Costa Rica to arrest the Sea Shepherd.  Whilst technically under arrest in the Costa Rican port, Rob Stewart and his film crew uncover a billion dollar shark finning industry, powerful enough to be pulling strings within the Costa Rican government.  Towards the end of the documentary, Captain Watson decides to make a run for it and the crew of Sea Shepherd escape into international waters.

Now, six years after Sharkwater was released, Paul Watson has been arrested in Germany on charges that Interpol dropped on the grounds that they were politically unsound.  Why Germany has decided to ignore Interpol’s ruling is unclear, but Paul Watson is currently on bail and expecting to be extradited to Costa Rica, where Sea Shepherd fear his life would be in danger.  The Taiwanese shark fin mafia has a bounty of $20,000 on Watson’s head – and Sea Shepherd fear that even in jail in Costa Rica, Paul Watson would not be safe.  All this for a man who protects sharks…

Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson also remark on the ‘coincidence’ that the new arrest warrant from Costa Rica was issued in October of 2011, around the same time the ICR* filled a suit against Sea Shepherd – connected to Sea Shepherd’s campaign to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.  Proceedings are also still underway in the UK against Sea Shepherd for damage done to the nets of tuna company ‘Fish and Fish’ in an operation to save endangered tuna (see previous Ecotheme).  As Watson stated from prison: ‘our efforts to protect life in our oceans have made us some very powerful enemies‘.

The industries that pillage of the sea are certainly very powerful.  In Sharkwater, Stewart states that the billion-dollar shark finning industry he uncovers is second only to the drugs trade.  Likewise, The End of the Line shows quite how subversively lucrative the tuna industry is – also revealing the shocking fact that one of every two fish consumed come from illegal fishing.  The seas need policing, and governments regularly state that the problem with creating marine protected areas is enforcement – policing waters is costly – yet they do little or nothing to halt the supplies of illegal, endangered, and sometimes toxic, marine products flooding into their boarders.  We need people like Paul Watson and his crew who are willing to devote their lives to protecting ocean life.  He should not be criminalised for policing the seas; he should have not only our support but also the support of our governments.

*Institute for Cetacean Research

Posted in Dolphins, Justification - and Morals, Marine Life and Extinction, Protests, Sharks, Tuna, Whales | Leave a comment

Too Big To Fail

Here’s a catchy phrase that’s become prolific in our media – “too big to fail.”  It has been, of course, used in conjunction with the banking ‘crisis’ and the idea that some of the major banks that ‘underpin’ our global civilisation were ‘too big to fail’.  They had to be helped out, to avoid some unimaginable situation.

Funnily enough though, I find this phrase running around my head when I read about environmental issues (and when I bandy about with the word ‘issues’ I do, in this instance, really mean ‘impending catastrophe’).  Having your eyes glued on the environmental predicament that has been gradually unfurling itself for decades now, with increasingly evident gravitas and severity, makes for a strange mix of emotions.  Yet one that dominates all my other feelings continues to be that of bewilderment.  How is it that we still do not seem to have grasped the desperate need for immediate action?  Why do we continue (at all levels – interstate, governmental, and individual) to continue with ‘business as usual’?  Why is it that, for a race that seems so interested in catastrophes and disasters and predicting the end of the world (think Rapture watch, or Armageddon), we live in a world of denial when it comes to a real and imminent threat that could wipe us from the world’s surface?

Never mind the banks being ‘too big to fail’ (and the fact that they play a root cause in most of our global problems anyway – from backing fossil fuels to profiting from food speculation) – what about the planet?  Now there’s a question.  Is the planet ‘too big to fail’?  Well, when the major banks were on the brink of faltering (because they were not literally, ‘too big to fail’) they were bailed out with other funds.  The banking crisis was eased by our ability to control our ‘liquid assets’ – to funnel funds, adjust inflation – and to invent money.  The banks were saved by an injection of fiscal resources – but we have no such option when it comes to the planet.  Ecology does not magically readjust itself at the whim of man when he suddenly realises he has made a catastrophic error.

Too Big to Fail.  I wonder what really is ‘too big to fail’?  It may turn out that planet Earth is ‘too big to fail’ (for the meantime anyway – not to go against the laws of physics) because, even if the ecological disaster we are heading for brings the end of the human race, or even if it brings the end of all mammalian species (a predicted consequence of global warming reaching 10C or above), it is likely that some life, even if it is only bacteria, will survive.  Life may continue, the Earth may readjust to its altered, hostile atmosphere.  But humankind might not.  So here’s an honest statement about things that are not ‘too big to fail’ – banks are not too big to fail, democracy is not too big to fail, civilisation is not too big to fail, and humanity is not too big to fail.

Posted in Climate Change | 2 Comments

Cider with Rosie

Recently, I was asked to write an essay on valuing the environment.  As someone who blogs about the subject regularly, it might come as a surprise that the essay wasn’t easy to write.  One reason for this was that it had to come from a philosophically rigorous basis, which, to some degree, prevented me from saying what I really think.  Getting all tangled up in the terms ecocentric/anthropocentric, intrinsic/instrumental etc. I held back from expressing myself in the manner I wanted to – which would have involved asking ‘what right do we have to act in a manner that does not value the environment?’

Not that this isn’t a valid opinion, and it’s a way in which many of us feel.  My basis behind asking this question didn’t have to get tangled in notions of environmental rights either, it could just be concentrated (in the more pragmatic way that makes so many environmentalist shudder) on humans.  What right does one of us have to subject another to a lesser living environment?  When environmentalist argue that basing environmental ethics on human values can be troublesome because; a) values change, and; b) different people value different things – I still don’t think they’re identifying critical problems.  Although values may change, everyone values fresh air, whether it is done consciously or not.  And although people might value different things, I would suggest that most thinking people put a fair amount of value in the environment – and, what’s more, that it is intelligent and rational to do so.

This claim might sound elitist of me, prescribing what might make us intelligent, but it comes from some standard ideas about human beings as creatures.  I live in a city now, and around me, everyday, I experience people living away from nature.  Although city living can, in many ways, be more efficient than other ways of living, it makes demands on your personal space and demands on your time.  Like chickens crowded in a barn, being shoulder to shoulder makes human beings stressed and aggressive.  Living on top of each other means viruses spread faster, while the pace of life shortens our tempers.  Fumes from the traffic and light and noise pollution become common place and the little things in life, like birds singing, go unnoticed.  Social pressures over boil in the form of riots that express revulsion and disrespect for the surrounding environment while those who can afford it take a trip away to get some space and fresh air.  This is not a wholesome way of being that is good for body or soul.  It is survival.

Many people practice yoga or meditation to try to deal with the stresses of life, and both can have extremely positive influences, but walking in the countryside used to be a free form of meditation, and it’s one that most people have forgotten or, worse, no longer have the luxury to access.  A little while back, while I was still living in the countryside, the bus dropped me off from work and I took the opportunity to walk the 3 miles home.  It was a route I would sometimes take from school, off the main road and suddenly onto a windy, hilly, dusty one-track lane, with hedges thrown up on either side of me.  I sauntered along, interrupted by the sight of blackberries in the bushes more often than I was interrupted by cars, and let the pace of life slow down.

Something about that walk always reminds me of ‘Cider with Rosie’ – although I couldn’t really say why.  But it reminds me of things we have lost value for that were actually good for us.  Modern transportation zips us from A to B without a thought, and social media keeps us in contact every second of the day, but what do they do for our peace of mind?  And what do they do for the good of the human body, or the soul – or even for our relationships with each other?  Buddhists sometimes engage in ‘walking meditation’, and, although we might not have been aware that the practice had a name, we used to engage in it on a common basis too.  Of course, nature had (and still has) an antagonistic role in our existence as well, but the virtues of nature remain uncompromised, and coming to realise them, and respect them, can lead to a fuller human life.

So, I return to the question I started out with.  What right do we have to destroy the environment and to lessen someone else’s quality of life?  And my answer, although it might not be philosophically rigorous, is: not one little bit.

Posted in Justification - and Morals | 1 Comment

Extending Values

Last week was the world week for the abolition of meat.  I have to say, it passed me by.  I had no idea there was such a week until I caught this article by Michael Mansfield in the Independent.  The article probably seems strongly worded to some, but there is a lot in it with which I agree.  Maybe, most importantly, Mansfield asserts that in response to the crises of the times, ‘our values and priorities must be reappraised’, something that was reflected in my last post.

So, what do values have to do with eating meat?  Mansfield gives a legal version of Singer’s famous argument of Speciesism, where our changeable behaviour towards different species is likened to racism or sexism.  Mansfield states: ‘[p]leading that we are entitled to snuff out a life in order to accommodate a fleeting taste is an argument that wouldn’t stand a chance in court were the victim human’ and goes on to say that ‘[c]ows, chickens, pigs and other animals raised for food are victims of our indifference. Because they are not as familiar to us as the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, their capacity to suffer is largely but irrationally ignored’.  In my opinion, this is a reasonable and sad reflection of our current reality.  Although I know a lot of people who eat meat responsibly*, fighting with their personal demons about the pain and fear an animal must suffer at the slaughter-house, the majority still seem to be absolutely indifferent to the plight of these creatures.

I am sure that part of this reflects how easy it is to get hold of cheap meat, but it also seems to reflect a failing moral character.  In the ethical idea of the widening circle, moral evolution is seen to involve increasing the range of beings to which we interact with ethical respect.  Where, previously, family, kin and country might have encompassed our narrow circle of moral duties, we have grown to see ourselves as morally responsible for our fellow man – no matter where he may be.  The globalisation of the world made it impossible for us to ignore the plight of man on the other side of the Earth – and we learned to care for each other, completely.  Many animal rights theorists and environmental philosophers see the natural world as the next step. Indeed, vegetarianism, veganism, animal liberation and the green movements show that this next step is being taken – but slowly.  Unfortunately, while technology may have helped us to see the suffering of man in another country, it has also allowed us to alienate ourselves from other things.  The majority of people eating meat are removed from the production process: they don’t have to breed it, care for it, or kill it.  They don’t see the conveyor belts that Mansfield is talking about; they don’t see the suffering in tiny cages.  I hope I would be right to say that, if they did, they would think twice.

Maybe this ‘next step’ of values is one of the most important things we could wish for in a time so fraught with environmental problems.  Unfortunately, we seem to have been out of step with ourselves – making massive progress in science and technology but without the moral advancement that should have gone with it.  This might, at first glance, seem like a fairly naive view of the world.  Instead, many probably think that the only reason we got this far is because we haven’t all evolved to be empathetic to animals and plants – and that our uncurbed development has been a natural expression of our human drive to survive.  Yet, we also naturally developed a conscience, one that has allowed us to formulate rules so that we can get along with one another, love and live together.  So why shouldn’t that conscience extend to the finite planet that sustains us?  And the animals upon it, without which we would not exist?

*Rarely, and buying from responsible sources.

Posted in Animal slaughter, Animal Welfare | Leave a comment