5 past 12 for a living planet Earth?

9 min

In November 2018 an item from WWF appeared in the news: the global populations of fish, bird, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.
From their website: ‘the rate of species extinction is 100 – 1000 times higher than nature intended’. The UN warns that a threefold of current effort is needed, if the intentions of limiting global warming under two degrees Celsius, are to be met. On January 21, 2019, the World Economic Forum issues an even more staggering message.

Oceans filled with plastic soup. Huge deforestation. A planet heating up. Animals loosing their habitat. Sudden extreme weather. Rising sea levels. Melting ice on the poles and the Himalayan mountains. Insects disappearing. Some factors contributing to these figures: agriculture, mining, industry, urbanisation, fishery, pollution, burning fossil fuels.
That can be seen. And what is going on out of our sight? Just think about computer software gaining influence, the introduction of artificial DNA in the biosphere, polluted soil, and fracking.

All very depressing. And it makes one feel ashamed to be part of it.
Reason to me, an ordinary citizen of this planet, to start a humble, independent website dedicated to a living planet Earth. Interested? Read some pages of text, below.

Bare planet, lost in space?

The past
Scientific evidence makes clear that another mass extinction on this planet is going on. From a geological point of view, not unique. Former five waves of mass extinction were a result of volcanism, a big meteorite or unfavourable chemical conditions. Research is considered to be showing that total extinction at those occasions was limited between 20 to 80 percent of the species.
Global warming has happened before. 56 million years ago a ‘thermal maximum’ occurred. At its start, global temperatures were 10 degrees higher than today, the amount of carbon dioxide was 2,5 times current levels. These temperatures caused methane to erupt from the seas. In tropical seas water temperature went up to 37 degrees Celsius, with high amounts of hydrogen sulphide. Not a very pleasant place to stay! Photosynthesis of algae stopped. Yet, a lot of organisms managed to survive by adequate adaption. The recovery from these circumstances took about 200 thousand years.

Mankind
This time, it is different: mankind is a multi-headed geological force.  It is evident that planetary changes in nature will occur, but which, where, when and how is largely a big guess. How will ecosystems change or move, which organisms will manage to adapt? These ecosystems have developed within complex, dynamic, balancing processes during millions of years. Until mankind appeared, not aware of its own influence. Many are reluctant to admit this influence, up to date.


Economy
Mankind added its own ecosystem: the economy.  Pretence, deception, seduction are all part of it. Economy is the leading factor of importance between humans and their societies (read: politics) and at the same time deprives wild nature of its habitat. There is one ‘little’ problem to this economy: it is based on (endless) growth. It is irrational to maintain  such a system on a, for the time being, limited playing field: planet Earth. There is one economist (in the end, 50 years too late) who dares to address this phenomenon: Kate Raworth with her model of doughnut-economy. An economy based on circular processes: ‘waste is source material’. The value of products is based on durability also. And to me, rationally, a sound production system should be able to survive, running on an, on average, stationary level. Thriving without growth.


I was learned to first save money before you can spend it. This is not the current way of practise in economy. A lot of money is spent with the intention of paying somewhere in the future.  This means a lot of current activity is going on with future generations being offered the bill. The bill in money, but also the bill of an out-of-balance nature. And money is ‘created’ by banks in the process of offering loans. ‘Redemption of monetary debts forces us towards economic growth’, the Dutch professor in economics and sustainability Herman Wijffels states.
Economy is characterized by individual and collective greed. It requires speed to be interesting to an individual within his lifetime.  What happens? Long-term effects are often ignored. And what about collective interests, what about interests of generations to come (not to speak of organisms)? 
Long-term interests can often only be studied by taking a sufficient time span.  Think about safe medicine, safe food,  resistance of organisms, spreading DNA by travelling and transport, introducing modified DNA in the biosphere, effects of chemicals used, the possible effects of extraction from the underground. What about dumping radioactive waste that has to be guarded and concealed from the biosphere for several thousands of years. The latter can be considered practically, physically impossible to be guaranteed anyway.
Let’s hope general, planetary, common interests will receive the overall attention they deserve! And that these common interests of all living creatures on this planet, including mankind will prevail above individual interests of countries, companies and individuals.
Future generations will probably characterize present generations as ‘craven, irresponsible and selfish’ (according to PM of Fiji at an UN conference in Katowice, Poland, 2018).
Mankind: a mammal with unaware, reckless behaviour. Individual as well as collective. Despite of the so-called intellect of this species. Introducing all kind of artificial materials and processes into the utter veins of the biosphere. Often irreversible. Chemical waste, artificial DNA, radioactive waste, (micro) plastics in fish, chemicals in drinking water, large scale infrastructures, monocultures, to mention a few. At the same time not being able to address ‘basic’ problems like overpopulation, refugees, hunger and poverty.
But economy has never been a moral issue. Ironically, if something is technically possible and money can be made with it, it likely happens already. Whatever the consequences may be.

Climate
At the moment, attention is focused on climate change. Anyone can see it: extreme weather, not witnessed before is occuring all around the globe. ‘This cannot be coincidence’.  The cause for climate change is considered (by most people) to be a result of increased amounts of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide and methane in particular) in the atmosphere. How to deal with that problem?  Who is going to pay for that? What can be expected, happens: the leading fossil fuel powers don’t support the conclusions of climatologists about a human caused climate change. A tax on carbon dioxide emissions seems logical and to the point to me to start addressing this problem.


It is hard to understand that flying is cheaper than travelling by train. In theory, aviation has to start flying on bio-fuel, start being more efficient or we have to fly less at all. The justification of aviation companies for their behaviour is characteristic: ‘or I grow, or my competitors will’. This shows the crux of the global problem with growth.

Scientists obviously are not capable of convincing politicians of the seriousness of the problem. Or are politicians deaf on this issue? UN issued on november 27 2018: ‘to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, a threefold of current effort is needed’ (that was based on the ‘Paris agreement’, 2015).
At the Katowice summit 2018, UN boss Guterres stated: ‘to waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would be immoral, it would be suicidal’.
PM of Fiji Bainimarama: ‘risk of going down in history as the generation that blew it- that sacrificed the health of our world and ultimately betrayed humanity because we didn’t have the courage and foresight to go beyond our short-term individual concerns: craven, irresponsible and selfish’.
Al Gore: we are facing ‘the single most important moral choice in history of humanity’.
And this is just the climate-issue! To me, it is doubtful if ‘the trust in technology being able to solve anything’, can be maintained. For all the parts of nature that have already been vanished irreparably, it is too late anyway!
David Attenborough at the World Economic Forum, Davos 2019: ‘the garden of Eden is no more’.


We face all kind of problems that are apparently exceeding the current state of science.
Or should I say ‘the current state of politics’? Or should be concluded that the authority of the applied sciences has been lacking?

 

Politics
Politicians often do not consider future beyond their time in office. It is short-term interest they practise, with power, money or voters at its base. The fossil fuel industry is almighty for the time being (also in a political point of view, think about all those lobbyists), just because of the amount of money involved. Unlike politicians, their scope goes beyond ‘the short term’. Large global companies have a role to play: they have the money (from exploitating the planet and the needs of its inhabitants), the means, the knowledge, the long-term interests and the access to politicians. Thus, they have a moral task to do something about a living planet, because of their past, their influence, their public image and their key position in the climate-change debate. And that cannot be limited to ‘window dressing’ by simply buying ‘green companies’ or expressing ‘nice looking words’ in Davos. It’s in the deeds.  Unfortunately, apparently we have to wait for even more convincing, conclusive evidence (read: humanitarian disasters) that ‘something is wrong with the planet indeed’,  before established powers are inclined to switch position.

One problem that arises in discussions: who is going to pay for that? A lot of poorer countries state that the current alarming global situation is mostly caused by the rich countries. Politicians of those rich countries listen to lobbyists and keep an eye on the wallet of their voters. ‘We are not that crazy as to go ahead of the (international) group’. Despite of the fact that alarming news on climate change and its consequences appear almost daily.

Politicians are considered the wisest persons, with a clear ‘point on the horizon’ as long-term vision and driving force. In my humble opinion, the bare existence of this living planet should be part of it. Today, as a matter of fact, it seems that some of the biggest so-called leaders seem to have an ego surpassing the importance of vitality of the planet.
To quote the Dutch professor Herman Wijffels: ‘the present political system has been bought by capital. Not profit and creation of capital should be considered first now, but the planet should’.
On a planetary scale, at least several thousands of years should be considered to study and monitor human effects. Thousand years means a time span of 30 human generations! The global actions of man, currently about 250 years, occur in an instant of time, in a flash, within this global, geological perspective. All kind of indicators rise exponentially, sky-high on a planetary scale. Principal geologist Colin Waters (British Geological Survey) states ‘the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age. This is a big deal!’…’it justifies being called an epoch’. (Anthropocene, for instance). He thinks that ‘peoples awareness is lacking because information is not available to show them the scale of changes’.
It can be questioned if all these changes, these worldwide processes, will be manageable. This time it is not volcanic eruptions or meteorites but the mammal ‘homo sapiens’ at the base of a mass extinction. Maybe we can speak of an ‘Anthropocene Cataclysm’ in the future.



And now?
Again: let’s hope general, planetary, common interests will receive the overall attention they deserve! And that these common interests of all living creatures on this planet, will prevail above individual interests of countries, companies and individuals.  Katowice was characteristic: the wallet of individual members holds hostage the importance of all other interests. The analysis of Kate Raworth, as twittered in November 2018, can be considered a good step to start with. Countries can take the pulse of each other.
Pure nature means capital, environmental damage means loss. The right to demand clean water, clean air, and clean land should become crucial. Just like the right of access to clean, renewable energy and work.

Examples of good behaviour exist. For example: offering rest to nature by closing a heavily threatened tourist island to tourists for a year. Cleaning it up. Or reforestation projects:

And all those people who try to live in balance with nature and those studying nature and trying to conserve the environment. They deserve more attention and respect.
And, environmental awareness is not new. In the seventies of the previous century, schoolchildren carried their books in yute bags with the text ‘anti plastic’. The Club of Rome was founded in 1968 and published ‘the Limits to Growth’.
That message is taken seriously by economist Kate Raworth in her model of ‘Doughnut Economics’ (2017). She envisions ‘a global economy that creates a thriving balance thanks to its distributive and regenerative design’… ‘Ours is the first generation to properly understand the damage we have been doing to our planetary household, and probably the last generation with the chance to do something transformative about it.’ In her doughnut-model she emphasises the boundaries: a social foundation as the inner boundary and planetary limits as the outer boundary. Away from the mantra of established interests: ‘economy has to grow to thrive’.

The huge flight telecommunication has taken, creates more possibilities to restrict travelling. People can be rewarded if living close to work, for instance making cycling possible.
Consciousness by good informing becomes crucial, for example on issues like energy consumption or food.

On January 17th 2019, the Lancet published an article about global food consumption, written by a multidisciplinary team. 800 million of people suffer undernutrition, 2 billion suffer overnutrition. Restricting the amount of meat consumption has a great effect: a lot of present agriculture is taking place to feed cattle. Governments can enhance boundary conditions for forestry instead of agriculture. A more sustainable agriculture system, attributing to nature conservation, the stimulation of biodiversity and preventing waste of food can contribute to a healthier global planet in the battle against ‘ecocide’. The authors call it ‘The Great Food Transformation’, in order to keep up food production with the growing number of people in the future.
The Netherlands is proud of its level of agriculture and market gardening. It has a price: ‘the countryside has become an ecological desert of methane and all kind of pesticides’, according to agriculture  professor Frank Berendse (Volkskrant, January 24, 2019)… ‘A clean agriculture can only develop with robust fiscal measures, such as raising prices for food that has not been produced in a sustainable way. Lowering taxes on biological food can be a first step’..

It is a sad fact to realise that mankind reached the ability to destroy rather than maintain or regenerate  life on this planet. The ever-occuring conflicts of interest do not contribute to optimism. Let’s hope peace and the ability to work together will prevail!

 Anyway, these actions of man and their consequences deserve attention and awareness! Awareness of the pricelessness and vulnerability of this living planet and the nature it accommodates. To date, this is the ‘playing field’ on which we have to manage.
So, enjoy nature and protect this planet from the recklessness and greed of one mammal. Speak about it. We lack the ability to understand the voices of the organisms around us.  If we had, we would realize the deafening noise of death struggle everywhere.

And what can the ordinary inhabitant do to avoid creating a huge footprint on this planet and at the same time surviving the ratrace?
Making art to address these problems maybe.  Create awareness, despite of the fact that it is already too late for a huge part of the biosphere. Enjoy nature and be aware of its sheer value.

 With this text I hope to pull my little weight to that awareness, expressing my humble opinion, not academic, elite probably, but realistic and not optimistic. Forcing to act, after thinking about it. Children, ask your parents: why? Adults, ask your politicians: why?

 

 

Deventer, February 7th,  2019

Heico

 

further reading on Kate Raworth and her doughnut model further reading: proposals based on this story