Monday 25 November 2019

This graph should terrify you!

30 years ago, we had the chance of a smooth transition to a sustainable and liveable future.  That was when the UK, along with most of the world, signed the convention on climate change.  There was going to be proper progress, we were going to cure climate change!   

Since then there has been 30 years of procrastination, dithering, denial and deflection.  World governments always found something better to do than address the most important issue of our age.

Since committing to “cure” climate change, what the world has actually done is emit more greenhouse gas than in the entire history the human race before 1990.  We are now at a level not experienced for 3 million years (when sea levels were 10 to 20m higher and temperatures 2 to 4 degrees higher).

And this graph illustrates the dire consequence of this failure of governance.

The black line shows the continually upward trend of our greenhouse gas emissions to 2019.  We know that we need to get down to zero by 2050 to stand even a 66% chance of keeping the climate below a damaging increase of 1.5 degrees C.  (Would you get on an aeroplane that had a 66% chance of not crashing!).  Even at 1.5 degrees the world is going to see major damage – we have lost the opportunity of stopping climate change.  The curves show how steeply the decline in emissions now needs to be to hit this vital target – with the slopes getting steeper the longer we leave it.

Had we started in the 1990’s, when we said we would, the change would have been smooth.  Starting in 2000 would have meant change at a rate of about 4% a year – quite manageable.  We have left it so terribly late, however, that we are truly in an emergency.  Major changes will now have to happen very quickly.  This is the message of the key scientists throughout the world.

Further dithering will make things unimaginably worse.  The later we leave it, the steeper the decline in greenhouse emissions will need to be.  Even if we just emit greenhouse gases at the same rate as we do today, it will mean we will have used up our carbon budget in 9 years; either disaster will be inevitable or, at that point, we will have to switch off greenhouse emissions overnight. 

We are now at a point where disruption is inevitable – indeed we must now demand disruption rather than end up making do with catastrophe.

Friday 15 November 2019

Money owns us

We are under the illusion that we own money.  We imagine that  it is our unit of exchange, a way of expressing and trading value.  It is not.  Money is a virus.  I do not mean it is like a virus I mean it is a virus. 

An organic virus (like a cold or flu) is a piece of genetic information whose prime aim is to reproduce itself.  Similarly, a computer virus is a piece of digital information whose prime aim is to reproduce itself.  Likewise, money is a piece of information – an idea - whose prime aim is to reproduce itself.

We imagine that we own money, that it makes us rich, so we can buy things, that makes us happy - so owning lots of money makes us happier.  Every step in this can be questioned, but especially the first – that we own money.  When we realise that money is a virus that owns us, then things start to fall into place.

Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, they can only replicate themselves by infecting a host. Viruses are parasitic.  Whilst they may sometimes appear to give the host an advantage, in practice the advantage is to the parasite, not the host.

Toxoplasmosis, for instance, can make a mouse (it’s host) more brave than normal.  It gives a mouse courage.  This seems like an advantage but in practice it just makes the mouse more easily caught by the cat, the second host for toxoplasmosis.  This enables the spread of the parasite. 

Some parasites make the host do the opposite of what is good for it.  For instance, a parasitic fly causes an infected snail to climb up a grass stem, away from the damp environment they usually favour.  The snail dies there but the emerging fly has a higher launch pad, so is able to fly off more easily. 

We are host organisms for money.  Money appears to give advantages to us, its host, giving a sense of advantage over others who have less money.  However, we all know the phrase “Money goes to money” i.e. those with money generate more money.  Money’s objective is to expand itself.  Conferring an apparent advantage to the host was just the mechanism of achieving it.  The parasite (money) grows and the host organism (a human) enables it.  If another host can grow money more effectively, then the first host is rejected in favour of another.  The advantage may appear to be to the host, but in practice the advantage is to the virus.

With this in mind, we could view those with a lot of money in a very different light.  Instead of appearing “rich” or “prosperous” (remember the brave mouse!), they can be viewed as the most heavily infected.  These individuals have been positively selected for characteristics that favour the parasitic money virus.  And their character will have been further altered by the parasite to the advantage of the parasite.  In the process their humanity has been skewed away from human values and towards a set of characteristics that support the spread of money. 

Over millennia, humans have evolved to be hyper-social animals with advanced characteristics of empathy, sympathy, co-operation, community, commons and society.  In contrast, it is to the advantage of money to favour competition, and favour those who are the most aggressive competitors.  There is evidence of selective pressure in favour of psychopathic tendencies in hard-nosed business leaders for example.  Those with the strongest ability to grow money at the cost of any other quality, are favoured.  The higher human qualities of our evolutionary past are not to the advantage of money, so these are degraded and viewed as irrelevant or weak by those who are most heavily infected by the money virus. 

Parasites also affect the behaviour of whole populations.  For example, the presence of a gnat in Finland will determine the way a vast herd of reindeer behave.  This biting insect is a weak flyer, so the reindeer avoid it’s impact by walking into the wind.  This determines the route reindeer take in migration, influencing their grazing behaviour.  A parasite has affected the direction of the herd, thus impacting on the whole ecosystem.  A similar line of reasoning could explain the recent rise of bigotry in many political systems.  Higher societal values of science and rationality are subordinated to money.  The stories associated with the growth of money are held dear even when clearly fictitious or shown to be basic untruths.  Money has affected our behaviour so much that we, as a population, willingly ignore inconvenient scientific fact in favour of a good story.  Look not only at the rise of climate denial, but also the degradation of the views of scientific experts.  By denying rationality in favour of fictions that support the concept of limitless growth, a parasite has affected the direction of society thus impacting (fatally) on the whole biosphere. 

To money, the environment is a source of raw materials for exploitation to enable its expansion and a dumping ground for its waste.  It gets away with this by persuading host organisms that these are externalities that need not concern us when considering the advantages the parasite (money) confers on its host (humans).  It matters little to money (which is after all only a concept) if the environment and humans are destroyed in the process.  Money persuades us that money is for humans and that the environment is a cost or external to “real life” (how often have you heard complaints on how much it costs to look after the environment?).  In fact, it is the opposite – humans and environment are the reality; money is a concept competing with reality.

As with most diseases, the solution must be to build up resistance and generate immunity.  We should recognise the characteristics demanded by the money virus as being different to characteristics required by humanity.  Money demands you to be a consumer, humanity requires you to be a citizen.  Money demands competition above all else, but in a well-balanced, healthy world competition must be subordinated to the higher values of citizenship, society and community.  Money demands freedom from any restriction enabling the host and its money to expand above all else.  However, freedom from restriction must fit within community and society and should be subordinated to empathy and sympathy. 

Just because you have money, however, does not mean you are evil!  So, for example, perhaps we can view strong philanthropists as part of the fight-back against the virus.  Those with money who are (often against the advice of financial advisors) using their money to support higher human values may be part of achieving population immunity.  Amazing things are done, here in Sussex and across the world, because of the support given by donors and supporters.   Like using a vaccine against infection, the application of money beneficially is part of building up resistance against the wider infection.

We need a reversal of our relationship with money.  Money cannot continually expand, continually draw all into its sphere or continue to override all other qualities.  Instead of money controlling humans, humans must control money.  Value exists and money is one way of expressing value, but only when it falls under human control.  Money must be there to deliver human benefit, with all the difficult decisions and democracy that that will involve. 

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Hopeful Earth Youth Conference

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to Ditcham Park School to be one of the speakers for their Hopeful Earth Youth Conference.  This brought together 10 local schools to start the conversation about how schools should respond to the global environmental crisis.  It was enabled by Mark Philips, Head of Seniors, but this was very much a student-led event.  I was immensely impressed with 4 students:  Zac Davidson (Head Boy), Sacha Fairweather (Head Girl), Nelly Bryan and Ben Vass who guided the whole event along and facilitated the workshop sessions.

The conference aimed to grasp the nettle of the current climate and ecological emergency.  These students will be in the thick of trying to rectify the problems we are leaving them.  They should be angry – to be honest, they should be angrier with my generation than they appeared to be!  But the conference was built around hope – not the vague hope of people just wishing things were different, but the progressive hope of people who are determined to act.

I was there to talk about rewilding.  It’s too late to stop climate change and we can no longer be comfortable just conserving what we have.  Nature must be rebuilt so it can respond to (and protect us from) climate change.  Rewilding is a great way of doing it. 

There was also a hugely inspirational talk from Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming.  He expertly brought together compassionate farming systems with ecologically sustainability.  These farming systems should replace the exploitative farming that dominates today.  “You are able to take action three times a day” was one of his memorable take-home messages.  “Every time you eat you can determine what goes onto your plate” and the choices we make determine the agriculture we support.

Mary Skuodas of Bohunt School gave an excellent presentation with crisp advice to fellow students on how to engage in environmental matters in school.  Her delivery was so professional and clear that it was unbelievable that this was the first time she had given a presentation to such a large audience!

It was, however, Jack Harries, climate activist and filmmaker, who stole the show.  He simply told the story of how he had become involved in Extinction Rebellion (XR) and how he got himself arrested.  This was not a boastful story or one that he encouraged students to emulate, but the commitment, passion and overriding concern shone through. 

The BBC were there all day.  However, they came with the sole purpose of covering XR.  None of the subject matter was discussed. 

And herein lies a problem……. 

Many (indeed most) people agree with XR’s concerns.  But some disagree with the methods used.  Understandable.  But this follows decades of environmental organisations (such as the Sussex Wildlife Trust) frantically trying to get the media to take seriously, report on and encourage discussion on the over-riding issues of our time.  Throughout, the environment has been relegated to the “and finally” slot on the news.  It has been marginalised, trivialised, prettified and degraded - no matter how urgent, important, scientific or persuasive the case.  XR have concluded that the only way to get noticed and force discussion is through non-violent civil disobedience.

BBC have proved XR right. Jack’s presence gave the whole event a presence - good for him!  The rest of us were invisible.  Some may not like the methods used by XR, but the media coverage shows clearly that the only time they engage is when there is the threat of non-violent civil disobedience. 

This is a very worrying message to give our young people.  The media must change.  Engagement must be based on the quality of the case, not the threat of unrest.

Fortunately, the young people at the conference are a level-headed bunch.  The discussion was about what they can do individually and with their schools, looking sensibly at the subject matter.  A Hopeful Earth Pledge was drafted, recognising the scale of the problem and demanding action.  This includes asking schools to play more of a leadership role, to talk more about the emergency in their curriculum and to do more practical things to reduce carbon emissions, source food ethically and reduce plastic.  They also want an environment programme in their own School Development Plan (hopefully to include rewilding of school grounds?). 

In their own words “We pledge to act; to change; to hope.”  I suspect the order of those words was carefully thought about.

Let’s hope the BBC are as keen to report on this as they were to profile potential social unrest.