Issues

What can citizens do to help safeguard the habitability of our planet?

This page provides more detailed substantiation in support of [The Case: Issues]. A preliminary assessment considers that a deeply entrenched 'business as usual' ethos is the primary cause of unsustainable overconsumption, which either directly or indirectly is the primary cause of most of the major human-caused global problems.

The scope for citizen activism is discussed, and the urgency of the global warming situation stressed.



Identifying and understanding key issues TC

Understanding the political process TC

Awareness raising and developing solutions TC

No effective action on tackling major human-caused problems TC

Political and economic priorities TC



The titles in the above top menu correspond to the main section titles in [The Case: Issues], which can be cross referenced using the white link-boxes above labelled TC.


We live in a biosphere

In A Guide to The End of the World (McGuire, 2002) Bill McGuire describes natural geophysical hazards which would have a high impact on humans (and other living beings) if they occurred. Although, fortunately, such occurrences are infrequent, it is usually very difficult to predict their timing. Since there is little or nothing people can do about such risks at the present time, we must accept them as part of the human condition.

But we can - and urgently need - to do something about other major problems which also threaten to destroy the habitability of the planet for life, but for which humans are responsible.

A classic account of the origin and evolution of Earth to the present day, and consideration of the requirements for ongoing habitability is given in How to Build a Habitable Planet (Langmuir, 2012).


Unsustainability and the Anthropocene


Business as usual is destroying the habitability of our planet

In order to meet our perceived basic needs, our everyday activities of living, working, and wanting on a finite planet use natural and human resources, and create waste.


Part of an eco-system

To the extent that we live as if we are part of an Earth System, planet earth provides a comfortable and habitable home.  But we are not living in this way.

Earth System Science is a relatively new discipline. It addresses the complexity of interactions and feedbacks within an Ecosphere, which comprises the atmosphere, hydrosphere (oceans), cryosphere (glaciers, ice), lithosphere (earth's crust), and the biosphere. Since its origin the earth has evolved by means of all these processes to its present day form (MacKenzie, 1998), (Kump, 2000).

In just a few hundred years, a mere blip in planet earth's 4.5 billion year history, humans have squandered natural capital that took hundreds of millions of years to generate. These losses are not renewable on human timescales. A degraded planet is likely to be less robust at maintaining habitability through naturally occurring geophysical cycles. Urgent action is now necessary to halt a progressive decline in the habitability of the planet, before it becomes irreversible.

As an example, and put very simplistically, climate change risk exists because the rate of combustion of fossil fuels exceeds the rate at which the natural system can absorb the combustion products. So an accumulation of greenhouse gases occurs while natural processes assimilate them, which takes a long time in relation to human needs. Meanwhile the greenhouse effect occurs, creating global warming. Even if, or when, this greenhouse gas accumulation is finally stopped, it would still take a very long time for the absorbed atmospheric greenhouse gases and the acidification of the oceans to return to pre-industrial levels.

The term Anthropocene denotes the present period of Earth history during which Anthropogenic impacts have become so large and unsustainable that they are terraforming the planet (Ahmed, 2014a).

Notes: The terms Anthropocene and Anthropogenic.



Major Human-Caused Predicaments (MHCPs)

On this website such Anthropogenic impacts as are referred to as major human-caused problems (MHCPs). This is to mark a distinction from the term 'Anthropogenic risk', which has mainly become associated with risks which are perceived to adversely affect economic growth. Pro-growth 'semantic hijacking' is a common theme in politics and economics.

Notes: The acronym MHCP

At a common sense level it seems ludicrous for an intelligent species to be facing predicaments such as:


an ongoing threat of large scale annihiliation from nuclear or other weapon(s) of mass destruction(WMD);

increasing people displacement due to war; meanwhile weapons proliferate;

global insecurites arising from conflicts over access to resources; especially fossil fuels, meanwhile too high a rate of combustion of fossil fuels is causing climate change and acidification of the oceans;

increasing people displacement resulting from climate change;

serious depletion of natural resources, deforestation and loss of habitat, loss of biodiversity, degradation of soils, and a serious accumulation of pollutants in the environment;

a population unsustainability issue which is masked by obscene wealth inequalities. The untold human suffering among the poor caused by massive and escalating wealth disparities is likely to be substantially increased in the event of another global financial collapse. Such a collapse is likely to significantly extend the numbers of those classed as poor.


Despite such extreme exploitation of all these natural resources, global financial debt is massive and increasing. The international financial system has become so unstable that one author believes that a major systemic collapse is not only possible, but inevitable, and not that far off (Rickards, 2016, p.295).

That these predicaments are human-caused , and therefore potentially avoidable, is heartbreaking.



Analysing human impacts

The global implications of major human-caused problems may be regarded as features of globalisation. The widely acclaimed book Global Transformations  concludes that "..to explain contemporary globalization as simply a product of the expansionary logic of capitalism, or of the global diffusion of popular culture, or of military expansion, is necessarily one-sided and reductionist" (Held, 1999, page 437). At first sight Held's view appears to cut across the core thesis of this website, about the role of 'dark governance' and 'business as usual'.

This apparent difference of view is thought to be largely a matter of definition as to what constitutes capitalism. On this website a broad systems view of global 'capitalism' is taken. This embraces the physical/ mechanistic and socological aspects of major global human-caused problems. In order to understand the underlying driving mechanisms, it is necessary to consider psychological and philosophical perspectives. This approach may be "one-sided", but is certainly not reductionist.

In the context of the ongoing quest which gave rise to this website, the primary concern has been to identify the mechanisms by which humans cause environmental unsustainability. The common sense view is that economic growth is the key driver of overconsumption, planned obsolescence, natural resource depletion, waste, pollution, and either directly or indirectly many sociological problems. This view is further substantiated in the webpage [Power structure].


But while understanding the physical science of the key driver mechanism is certainly necessary, it is not sufficient.

Understanding how to tame aggressive capitalism requires analysis of the psychology of the protagonists, and of those of us who are overconsumers.


These aspects are addressed in the webpage [Life choices].


The economic growth paradigm

For humans to live as if part of an Earth System, human activities need to be sustainable. But current human activities overall are incompatible with the notion of living sustainably within an Ecosphere. They are no longer focused on meeting essential human needs. Instead human activities have become increasingly dominated by a dark form of business as usual (BAU), which drives economic growth at all costs. The economic growth paradigm is underpinned by the debt-based money system; corporate law; and the way cost-externalisation practices operate.

Mergers and acquisitions legislation ensures that there are only a few big players in any business sector, thereby maintaining effective power and control over each sector.

In the accountancy sector, for example, it is difficult to see how a truly independent audit can be obtained (Korten, 1999, p.43).

Collusion and opportunities for 'élite transfer' arise from a revolving door between government and think-tanks (Beder, 1997, pp.83-85), and between public relations and lobbying firms and government (Beder, 1997, pp118-119, p.201).

Economic growth has undoubtedly delivered for a tiny percentage of the global population, who have a shameful excess, and apparently tolerably for many others. But it has not delivered for a large number of people who are too poor to be game-players. From a human perspective it is profoundly unjust that a small number of obscenely wealthy individuals, a tiny percentage of the world's population, effectively hold the rest of the world to ransom; by exploiting the world's resources primarily for their benefit and not for the common good. Fundamentally, the system does not care about inequality; it is built into the way cost externalisation works. Profit is intentionally maximised by ignoring unwanted, deferred, or 'unforeseen' costs. Such ignored/ externalised costs eventually have to be borne by society at large, and usually more so by the poor.

Notes: Population and wealth inequality

Each year many people are displaced from their homeland for various reasons. Whether due to war, environmental degradation, or a search for gainful employment for example, the reasons are invariably linked either directly, or indirectly, with BAU. No doubt much of the current business interest in AI and robotics is linked to an expectation of ever greater profits through employee reductions. Given that this would result in ever fewer people having employment, or disposable income therefore, it is clear which sector of the global population is likely to be the primary beneficiary of such economic growth. This is discussed later. Benefits for the few come at a high price in terms of increased global insecurities and the growth of MHCPs listed above.


Scenarios

When investigating potential solutions to MHCPs, the technique of scenario analysis can be very useful for highlighting functional differences between possible courses of action. This helps to get an idea of some of the likely features of a workable compromise solution. In principle, scenario analysis using validated computer models which incorporate scientific knowledge can be used to inform complex political decisions. In general, particular scenarios can be constructed within a narrative framework for speculating on possible outcomes of political and/or economic policies.

One notable example was created by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). They "published a report, Exploring Sustainable Development, prepared under the direction of Ged Davis of Shell International" at COP-4 in Kyoto in 1997. The idea was to tell "..'stories of the future' in scenarios designed to help readers understand some of the challenges humanity can expect to meet in the years ahead and organise themselves to meet them" (Meyer, 2000, page 76). Possible responses to the challenge of sustainable development can be deduced from the way world history has evolved, in the form of patterns of habitual human behaviour. The WBCSD report identifies these patterns as 'myths'.

Notes: The myth concept

The dominant current such pattern is refered to in the report as The Economic Myth. In order to promote debate about future options, three scenarios were constructed, covering the time period 2000-2050: FROG, Geo-Polity, and Jazz.

FROG stands for 'first raise our growth'; Geo-Polity stands for Global Environmental Organisation Polity, which is favoured by those who believe that global citizens should act collectively to ensure all their futures; Jazz favours flexibility, de-regulation, and tradable quotas (Ibid., pp.76-78).

The concluding chapter of Global Transformations includes "Table C.1 Civilising and democratizing contemporary globalisation: a summary of three political projects" (Held, 1999, page 448), adapted from (McGrew, 1997, p.254). The three projects are described as (1) Liberal-internationalism (2) Radical republicanism and (3) Cosmospolitan democracy. Extending the narrative framework idea, these could form the basis of new scenarios. It would be interesting to consider the extent to which (1) and (3) might be regarded as variations of Geo-Polity, and (2) a hybrid of FROG and Jazz. Also to take stock periodically of how reality has evolved in relation to scenarios such as: FROG, Geo-Polity, and Jazz; and Contraction and Convergence.

Scenarios are so useful in addressing complex situations that they have proliferated, to the extent that it has become necessary to find a way of broadly categorising them and identifying the most important ones; for example (Hunt, 2012). (Anon., 2014a) depicts a 6 scenario stream, and outlines how each of these scenarios might develop in future (Website. Raskin. "The Tellus Institute").

An extremely sobering scenario is that of a hothouse earth, which is discussed at the end of this page.



Computer modelling of human impacts on the planet

Computer modelling of human impacts on the planet is an essential analysis tool, requiring quality data from scientific research. Computer modelling is now an integral part of political processes; such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Modelling, data acquisition, and model-validation techniques continue to develop. Some of the challenges of climate model validation are discussed in Laboratory Earth (Schneider, 1996, pp.84-100).

Detailed technical scenario modelling

The physical and environmental consequences of economic growth, for good and for bad, can be investigated using good science and computer modelling. Adverse socio-cultural consequences in general are more difficult to quantify, given the current level of scientific understanding of the human mind.


A bigger problem is the deliberate manipulation and control of information by those with vested interests (TwVI) in order to maximise economic growth.



Control of information by corporations

Corporations will tend to identify potentially profitable features, for subsequent marketing, but keep quiet about potential adverse side-effects, for example: smoking tobacco and cancer risk; and the combustion of fossil fuels and climate change risk (in particular see The Climate Deception Dossiers below). The secrecy situation has got worse as research funding is increasingly controlled by corporations, with scientific research protected by commercial confidentiality and Non Disclosure Agreements.

While adverse-side effects from, say a new drug, would be regarded by citizens as a potential health risk, to corporations they would be regarded as a potential risk to profits; see for example (Kim, 2018). Adverse side-effects are therefore ignored, and treated as externalities. To side step any awkward questions, and maintain the everyday normal façade of business as usual, corporations are prepared to engage in deliberate and pro-active dissemination of public misinformation (Anon., 2020i). This type of strategy has been deployed by the fossil fuel industry for decades, as discussed below in "Examples of BAU response to increased regulation".

The control of information by the status quo is discussed further in [Power structure].


The Club of Rome and Limits to Growth

[In this section, from this point onwards the text passages in bold have all been emphasised for the purpose of this website].

The following material about the Limits to Growth model, and its updates, are quite detailed; initially because the prototype Limits to Growth computer model was used to create the Anthem for Sustainability, and subsequently because of its particular significance for the core thesis of this website.

Over a period of fifteen years, starting in 1957, Professor Jay W.Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had developed the use of industrial dynamics  modelling techniques "as a way to understand and to design corporate policy". In June 1970 a private group, known as the Club of Romecor , held a meeting in Bern, Switzerland in order discuss whether the MIT systems dynamics modelling methodology might be suitable for the next stage of a project they had planned; about "The Predicament of Mankind" (Forrester, 1973, pp.ix-x).

cor   'An informal international group of distinguished businessmen, statesmen, and scientists' (Meadows, 2005, p.ix).

Forrester attended the Bern meeting, at which it was decided that the MIT methodology was, indeed, suitable. Forrester agreed to develop a preliminary computer model World2w2  as the basis for a subsequent conference in July 1970. Following the July meeting the Club of Rome commissioned the MIT team to develop a more complex model World3dtd , using the World2 methodology. World3 was used as the basis for the work described in the now famous book The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al, 1972).

w2   World2 is described in World Dynamics , which was first published in 1971.

dtd   The modelling assumptions in World3 are described in more detail in (Meadows, 1974).


Social limits to growth

In response to the international interest and controversyltgc  generated by World Dynamics and the successor book The Limits to Growth , Forrester published a second edition of World Dynamics in 1973. He included an additional chapter which discussed the importance of social limits to growth in relation to the physical stresses while society comes to terms with living on a finite planet (Forrester, 1973, pp.129-132). Of the three broad options he discussed, humans have largely opted for the use of technology to push back limits to allow more growth.

ltgc   For example (Vermeulen, 1976)


Social and environmental stress, "self-restraint", and the control of growth

About this route Forrester said "the consequence is not a higher quality of life but instead is higher social stress", and "If we use physical and social stress as the incentive to develop the forces of self-restraint, then growth can be controlled without direct imposition of excessive stresses" (Ibid., p.132). Also that "Self-restraint originates in the legal, ethical, and value structures of society".



Recognising the need for contraction and convergence

[In this section, the text passages in bold have all been emphasised for the purpose of this website].

A paper was produced by MIT Limits to Growth team authors Jørgen Randers and Donella H. Meadows, entitled The Carrying Capacity of the Global Environment (Meadows, 1973, p.333). In the context of facing the inevitable collision between rising population/ material growth and the physical limits of a finite planet, the authors stated that "It is overall growth that must finally stop, but that does not preclude redistribution of the world's existing material wealth".

They then suggested the possibility of a contraction and convergence type of mechanism, and perhaps even helping the nonindustrialised world to develop economically to "an acceptable level". The authors reasoned that the developed world would have to take the lead in the path towards global equilibrium, and that "the developing world would have serious responsibilities in attempting to stop its rapidly growing populations".

Several aspects of the above statements appear troubling. For example, the fact that the absolute contribution of poorer countries to natural resource depletion and environmental degradation, despite their population growth, had been very low compared to that of the rich countries was not mentioned. The authors of the paper also stated that "stopping the population explosion is becoming increasingly more accepted as an important task to be accomplished as fast as possible".

They expressed concern that if capital growth was stopped, then the poor would remain poor; hence the logic of their redistribution argument.


Towards global equilibrium, and a golden age?

Randers and Meadows concluded that to continue maximising material growth is futile, it will inevitably result in no acceptable future for any country or people. The goal should be to attain a state of sustainable global equilibrium. They refer to some of the challenges presented by this state, in particular citing (Daly, 1971) "...The stationary state would make fewer demands on our environmental resources, but much greater demands on our moral resources". They go on to suggest that the presence of global equilibrium could permit the development of a golden age for humanity, noting that the desirability of the steady state has long been recognised (Mill, 1857). More human energy could become available for developing human culture, and for improving the quality of life far beyond mere subsistence (Meadows, 1973, p.335). If only...

The paper concludes: "The changes needed during the transition from growth to global equilibrium are tremendous, and the time is very short. The first step must be to increase the time horizon of individual people and of social institutions. Strong leadership from those institutions already dedicated to ethical and moral concerns - the churches - may be the most effective way to initiate the first and most important step towards a sustainable equilibrium society".


Updates to Limits to Growth

These days people are familiar with the use of scenarios in computer modelling studies. Unfortunately when the Limits to Growth book was published back in 1972, many people assumed that the 'standard run' of the World3 computer model was predicting the most probable future. Development work on the Limits to Growth computer model has continued and project updates have been published periodically (Wikipedia: Limits to Growth). The authors set the record straight in Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update (Meadows, 2005, p.168).


Back from the brink

The main author of this update was Donella Meadows (known as Dana), who sadly died in early 2001, before the book was published (Ibid., dedication page). The book was completed by the co-authors; including her husband Dennis Meadows (Ibid., p.xvi). They said of her: "[She] was the unceasing optimist. She was a caring, compassionate believer in humanity." She believed that if "enough of the right information"... "was put in people's hands, they would ultimately go for the wise, the far-sighted, the humane solution-in this case, adopting the policies that would avert overshoot (or, failing that, would ease the world back from the brink)" (Ibid., p.xvi). [Bold emphasis mine].


We are running out of options

Donella Meadows pointed out that the longer proper action for global sustainability is delayed, the more we run out of options (Ibid., pp.248-250).


Still tracking the Limits to Growth 'business as usual' scenario - 40 years on

Author Nafeez Ahmed wrote a two part article in the Guardian (Ahmed, 2014a & b). In part 2 he referred to a 2009 American Scientist article (Hall, 2009) about a scientific review of the Limits to Growth model 'predictions', which was carried out in 2008. Nafeez reports that leading ecologists Prof Charles Hall of State University of New York and Prof John W Day of Louisiana State University, who carried out the 35-year review, commented "...We are not aware of any model made by economists that is as accurate over such a long time span" (Ahmed, 2014b).

A 40-year scientific review of the Limits to Growth model scenarios, using authoritative international statistics, carried out by the University of Melbourne showed "that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth 'business as usual' scenario. The data doesn't match up with other scenarios." (Turner, 2014).


The serious consequences of following business as usual growth are a major theme of this website. A plausible explanation for this 'long term model accuracy' is discussed in [Power structure].


To date, there is mounting evidence of social and physical/environmental stress.



The geopolitics of 'development'

[In this section, the text passages in bold have all been emphasised for the purpose of this website].

Two decades before the Contraction and Convergence concept became widely known about in the context of UN negotiations on climate change, the same concept was outlined in the paper (Meadows, 1973, p.333), mentioned earlier.

Contraction and Convergence [Artworks]

The opening words of a book written only a few years earlier (Meadows, 1970) by Dennis Meadows were "For international stability, few objectives are more important than that of narrowing the gap in standard of living which exists between developed and underdeveloped countries". As presented, this seemed very reasonable.


Developed or underdeveloped?

In his thought-provoking book Planet Dialectics (Sachs, 1999) Wolfgang Sachs provides a very insightful exploration of how the concept of 'development' was presented, after WW2, at President Harry Truman's inauguration speech before Congress on 20 January 1949 (Truman, 1950). Sachs describes how in a new world view, "... people and whole societies could, or even should, be seen as objects of development". "The degree of civilisation in a country could be measured by the level of its production". The US could now proceed on a trajectory "of world-wide domination: an anti-colonial imperialism", using the conceptual vehicle of 'development'.

The world was seen as an economic arena (Sachs, 1999, pp.3-5).


"Development meant nothing less than projecting the American model of society onto the rest of the world" (Sachs, 1999, p.5)


A systematically applied development agenda has certainly had significant ramifications for the evolution of societies. When Mohandas Ghandi (Mahatma) fought for (passively!) and finally achieved the independence of India, he "wanted to drive the British out of the country in order to allow India to become more Indian". But his hopes were not realised because the new Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, although admiring Gandhi, disagreed with his vision and instead "saw independence as the opportunity to make India more Western" (Ibid., p.16).

Life could be thought of as a succession of fleeting moments, but we do not tend to think much about what led to any given moment, unless it happens to be 'life-changing'. It is important for pivotal moments to be recorded as historical events. This allows for subsequent reflection and analysis as to their possible significance according to particular world views.

The present moment and lifestyle choices [Life choices]

A year later, in 1948, Gandhi was assassinated.


The development agenda: a society is an economy

Nehru bought into the mindset whereby "the economy overshadows every other reality; the laws of economy dominate society and not the rules of society the economy" (Ibid., p.17). As Sachs puts it, "whenever development strategists set their sights on a country, they see not a society that has an economy, but a society that is  an economy".... . In effect economies were ranked by their GNP performance on a league table (Ibid., p.28), and universalism (space -centred view) eroded the diversity of place -centred experience, culture and language (Ibid., pp102-103).

Sachs explains how 'development' subsequently evolved, and how the mindset and terminology was gradually reframed over the years in order to cover up problems while masking the pro-growth agenda. He identifies many important factors in the evolving chasm between sustainability and economic globalisation (Ibid., p.155). The impasse is exacerbated by the responsibilities of nation-states, for example in respect of balancing the costs of honouring environmental agreements against national economic interests, meanwhile trans-national corporations can operate without territorial constraints or state responsibilities.


It is evident that the framing as developed or underdeveloped looks a lot more like continued maximisation of material growth for the rich (economic growth), than the goals and sentiments expressed by Randers and Meadows in their paper (Meadows, 1973).

Notes: Manipulative reframing.


The mission to improve environmental sustainability became sidelined, or was used as a bargaining chip at future UN Summits (Sachs, 1999, p.37).



Concerned citizen response


Given the consequential implications of major anthropogenic risks which affect the continued habitability of the planet, such as nuclear weapons and climate change, it would not be surprising if many people adopt a 'there's nothing I can do about it' stance on life. They might believe that it is the role of governments to deal with the risks, but resort to denial when trust/ confidence in corporations and in governments is lacking.

The following narrative presumes that the concerned citizen is not involved in an ongoing warnaw , and/or is not a refugee.

With the caveat of normal/ peacetime conditions, and apart from prevarication, the basic choices facing a concerned individual appear to be (1) acceptance; (2) denial; or (3) do something - but what? Perhaps because the problems seem so insurmountable we have become numbed into perceiving these choices as not so different. Acceptance through ignorance, delusion, or apathy in effect becomes denial, which is believed to be no worse than doing something apparently constructive but which is really only conscience-assuaging. The issue of denial is discussed further in "The urgency of the situation" (below).

naw   The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that possible citizen actions by those immersed in such dire circumstances might be limited, but soon become apparent. Citizen actions by those not directly involved have been tailored to the situation, such as offering emergency and longer term accommodation to refugees.

Serving one's country as a pacifist [Power structure].


Doing something - but what?

If a citizen is genuinely concerned about a situation, but feels powerless to initiate change, a truthful and sustained intent/ attempt to engage with the problem is a step in the right direction. Engagement is a constructive stance, using the available knowledge and understanding of the problem at the time. Every citizen who can do something has a part to play. For example, to become sufficiently well informed about the issues to (a) exercise their democratic right to votecrv , and (b) be a discerning consumer.cdc 

crv   Notwithstanding the inadequacies of the political process. Voting system corruption from bribery to force is addressed in [Power structure].

Democracy is discussed further in [Positive steps].

cdc   Subject to the extent of personal circumstances, being a discerning consumer is discussed in [Life choices].

After making due allowance for the proliferation of fake news and opinion via social media, the large number of quality information sources available in the public domain on serious issues (public lectures, books, documentaries, articles, films, videos, podcasts, blogs...) indicate a high general level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, but also of a high general level of disempowerment to influence change.

As mentioned in the [Introduction], reading The Doomsday Book was an early formative influence; which much later led to this website project. One notable reference in Taylor's book was Rachel Carson's now famous and influential book Silent Spring, written in 1962, in which she wrote about the adverse effect new pesticides, especially DDT, was having on birds and animals (Taylor, 1970, p.127). The insecticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) is a cumulative toxin in food chains.

Environmental Solutions (Ehrlich et al, ed. Pole, 1972) was a collection of contributions from prominent environmentalists "in an effort to go one step further than the prophets of doom"..."who have awakened public opinion...given such momentum to the popular environmental movement". It was timed to coincide with the UN Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm 1972. Two of the papers were written for submission to the Stockholm conference. The 'environmental movement' had existed for many years (Wikipedia, Environmental Movement), but general public awareness of severe environmental degradation and of other MHCPs increased significantly during the 1960s through a variety of information sources and initiatives (Wikipedia, Timeline of history of environmentalism).

My perception of the status quo has changed significantly over the years. For example, around fifteen years ago I had started to collect together various thoughts on observable anomaliesogwd  within the system. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now apparent that these anomalies are just symptoms of what is to be expected from the status quo - now that its modus operandi are better understood.eosq  While this particular realisation doesn't change anything, it is possible to be less distracted by hand-wringing, and more able to focus effort towards that which might effect change.

ogwd   Notes: On UK government watchdogs

eosq   Keeping it under wraps [Power structure].

Doing and activism

'Doing' in the present context refers to responding to everyday life situations which require a principled decision to action . An example might be to become better informed about some social or environmental issue.

'Activism' in this context refers to a more focused commitment to tackle a specific problem, and which requires political engagement.

The usual starting point would be when a citizen becomes sufficiently concerned about a specific issue to want to do something about it. The adage 'every journey begins with a single step' is certainly applicable. Perhaps the most important first step is to try to quietly address the problem at a personal level. Subsequently, during conversation, difficulties and/or solutions may get discussed more widely, which can lead to a campaign by like-minded citizens who are also concerned about that issue. A project might start with researching information and developing ideas for subsequent communication. This might be via publishing a campaign newsletter; an article for a magazine, or for the press. It might take the form of peaceful direct action such as: attending or organising a campaign march; writing to an MP; or perhaps discussions with an employer. Information dissemination might be via social media; a blog; or even a website...

(Patel, 2022) discusses "ways in which the best campaigning organizations in the world effect change in democratic societies, how a citizen can engage with others who are like-minded, and how vibrant and participative action by the people makes democracy better and more responsive."

Individuals having relevant official responsibilities, or those in the fortunate position of being able to do something through their expertise/ occupation, can in principle make progress on understanding problem issues and perhaps on implementing possible solutions (see below).

The potential usefulness of scenario analysis and computer modelling has already been mentioned.


A fine example of what citizen collaboration can achieve

This is an inspirational example of what dedicated citizens can achieve; at their own initiative, albeit in their own time, and at their own expense. (Bullough, 2022) describes how an academic (H) and a detective (S), both retired and neighbours, each using his respective professional expertise, collaborated to investigate the decline in water quality of the river near their homes, and the observable drastic effect on local widlife. Their complementary skills led to investigating what the various UK Environment Agencies (EA)s were (not) doing. They uncovered widespread excessively frequent and routinely unreported (which is illegal) discharges of raw sewage into rivers. Since privatisation of the water industry in England and Wales in the late 1980s, EA monitoring budgets had been progressively reduced, as surmised in my note about UK government watchdogs. A recently retired EA inspector described it as "... death by a thousand Tory cuts...". Even if prosecuted, the fines are not a sufficient deterrent to the water companies. It is far more cost-effective for them to continue to pollute as they see fit.

The exceptionally well-researched case, based on expert analysis of data obtained from "Environmental information requests" (EIRs) was irrefutable. H & S had an opportunity to submit their findings to a parliamentary Environment Audit Committee inquiry into the state of rivers in England and Wales (Anon., 2021i). Major official investigations followed. The ruthless short-termism and/ or corruption of some high ranking corporate and government executives usually comes to light eventually. Unfortunately such misguided and irresponsible decisions can cause a great deal of long term environmental and sociological damage in the meantime, and they invariably seem to get away with it.


Awareness raising and developing solutions

Most MHCPs, for example environmental degradation, have been building up over a long time. Even when such problems are reported in the mainstream media, the news is unwelcome and depressing, and tends to cause denial to set in. The problems continue to worsen, but without people really becoming aware of them. The important issue of denialism is discussed later.

Despite an uphill communication struggle, enormous efforts have been made over the years by dedicated citizens from all walks of life to initiate a great many innovative and constructive proposalscpbc  for potential solutions to human-caused problems. Important contributions have been made by concerned citizens, campaigners, authors, NGOs.. towards tackling MHCPs. Some of these have influenced the agendas of International Institutions. (UNEP, 2022) lists some significant milestone UN events during the period 1972-2022. Significant conferences on the environment and sustainable development are outlined in (Website. "United Nations Conferences | Environment and sustainable development").

cpbc   Some examples of important contributions and excellent initiatives by concerned citizens are listed in the [Notes] below.


If best endeavours are ignored, or are ineffective

Unfortunately this seems to be the norm, given dark governance and human nature in general. It is soon observed that the odds are heavily stacked against those who are trying to do genuinely good work for society and/or for the environment, because the remedies usually involve impeding economic growth.

Great perseverance and inventiveness need to be sustained in order to stand any chance of making progress towards tackling the major HCPs. Ongoing creative engagement can hope to systematically reveal more about the reasons for lack of progress. Such revelations can be consolidated by responsible use of networking by many peaceful means.


Corporate resistance to activism

Political engagement is all about communication; initially between citizens of like mind, and ultimately with decision-makers. Chatting/ meeting/ networking can start at protests, campaigns, conferences. Opportunities for direct access to decision-makersgtd  for meaningful dialogue is much more difficult.dwdm  Some campaigners might become convinced that they need to get into electoral politics in order to have more influence. This is discussed further below.

gtd   See (Oxford Research Group, 1999), (Elworthy, 1997) on the topic of gaining direct access to decision makers.

dwdm   Corporate PR through stakeholder dialogue has become very slick. At first sight this does provide opportunities for citizens to discuss issues with corporate representatives. But dialogue means two-way communication, and corporations make sure that they obtain useful information from and about citizen-stakeholder groups. Corporate influencers carefully control the presentation of information to citizen-stakeholders, and to the media in general.

The topic of stakeholders is discussed further in [Power structure].


Use of unsavoury methods by 'the authorities' [General]

This section introduces some of the methods used by governments and corporations to acquire and control information about citizens, and how that information may be used. Some examples: state surveillance of particular citizen groups in the US (Anon., 2022q); undercover infiltration of citizen groups in the UK, for example (Dorey, 2013); and deliberate manipulation of public opinion (Anon., 2019j).


Lobbying by citizen-led non-governmental organisation (NGO)s and private citizens to try to influence change by normal democratic means, for example towards environmental sustainability, in comparison with the relentless and massive corporate lobbying effort, is like David versus Goliath.


It is often assumed that NGOs all work for the common good, for example charities, campaign groups etc.. However NGO is a generic term, and unfortunately many exist which masquerade as citizen-represented operations, but are actually well-funded corporate front-NGOs which seek to manipulate public opinion for commercial gain. (Beder, 1997) provides more information on this type of PR activity. (Gilens, 2014, p.575) shows that, in comparison with mass-based interest groups, organised groups which represent business interests in the US are "far more numerous and active; they spend much more money; and they tend to get their way" regarding US policy (discussed below).

Those with vested interests can use some very unsavoury methods to resist citizen activism. For example: the deliberate creation of doubt to feed citizen denial (Anon., 2020i); and lobbying of politicians with misinformation (Anon., 2021b). In 2015 a particularly chilling book launch lecture was given by Clive Hamilton (an author and professor of public ethics) during which he explained how the (then) Australian government was actively suppressing environmentalists, branding them as eco-terrorists, or worse (Sydney Environment Institute, 2017). (Deller, 2016) gives a review of the book Hamilton was launching; she concludes with the remark "... I hope someone can produce a companion volume, explaining how the state in Western democracies has sought to help corporations achieve their goal of delaying effective action on climate change mitigation". (Readfearn, 2016) describes the lengths one far-right Australian Senator went to deny climate science.

Climate denial-politics to feed citizen denial, and its exploitation by TwVI, are discussed further below.

In the light of these corporate PR techniques, it is not unreasonable to infer that in a similar way to exploiting citizen denial, corporations are also likely to exploit citizen activism.


It might be speculated that it would be a corporate win:win:win ploy to make money, obtain useful information about citizens (and voters), and to control the mode of dialogue.

So, instead of real face to face dialogue, and real individual letter writing to decison-makers, why not make it easier for citizens to assuage their pro-activist inclinations by creating social media and clicktivism ?


A particularly insidious way that corporations resist activism by citizens which actually results in governments trying to do the right thing, is by suing those governments for loss of future profits! This process is implemented through "Corporate Courts".

Corporate courts [Power structure]

Citizen activism against Corporate Courts [Power structure].

Methods used by governments and corporations to acquire and control information about citizens, and to use that information, are discussed further in [Power structure: Information and implementation control strategy].


Employer/ employee activism

If an employee is uncomfortable with some aspect of his/her work assignment, for example arising from a personal internal values conflict, then in the first instance the matter should be discussed with his/her line manager, as for any other matter. If the matter cannot be so resolved, the scope and effectiveness of a legal expression of passive resistance to the employer is limited, since "he who pays the piper calls the tune".

This is discussed further in the following link:

Conflicted values in the workplace [Life choices]

Whistle-blowing is discussed in the following link:

Just doing my job [Power structure]


Limits of activism

Unfortunately, citizen activism invariably struggles to make much headway on tackling the important issues. To the extent that reform is actually implemented, it often appears to correlate with some technological breakthrough which offers the prospect of money being made, or is perceived by the government of the day to be a vote-winning opportunity. Under such conditions certain citizen-initiatives might then be picked up.

This leaves most issues of concern unresolved, requiring great persistence from citizen activists. If such activism cannot be turned to a commercial or a party-political advantage, but becomes so effective that it is perceived by the status quo to be a threat, then the government of the day, and/or their agents, can be expected to retaliate. This is discussed later.

In the same way that the voting system is subject to corruption, now even the last bastion of democracy - the right to peacefully protest is being increasingly resisted, restricted or outlawed - see below, and in [Power structure: Rogue operator behaviour].


Fake news,
so-called conspiracy theories,
and hate-speech

We have entered an era of fake news in which so-called conspiracy theories are given equal weight in some media to quality journalism. But even the concept of a conspiracy theory [Inference] has now been commandeered to signify a short narrative which can make wild assertions, sometimes with potentially damaging associations, and which is presented in a falsely authoritative manner as factual information. Extremely unsavoury tactics are increasingly being used, both by radical activists and by authorities and/or their agents, to seed general public misinformation, and for electioneering purposes. Aggressive tactics in combination with public frustration at status quo-intransigence lead to impassioned exchanges and increase the chances of peaceful political protests escalating to violence, at which point a line is crossed.


Bad public behaviour,
citizen protests and
Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT)

If peaceful expressions of protest, or Gandhian-style passive resistance, become politically charged to the extent that the authorities invoke special legal powers then the point has been made. The campaign/ protest should be called off, long before anyone gets hurt, or property is damaged.

Escalations of violence result in authorities resorting to ever more extreme forms of "liddism" (Rogers, 2000, p.10) style law enforcement, for example to the extent that the police become militarised and authorised to use SWATaosw . Once US-style SWAT or similar tactics are deployed it is clear that the authorities have regressed to exercising primitive violent control, and that the possibility of civilised dialogue has broken down. This poisons society and is in the interests of no-one. Many examples of extreme manipulation and/or coercion are reported around the world wherever political corruption exists. Some of these are discussed further in [Power structure].

aosw   See (Rickards, 2016, pp.241-255).

As soon as any violence occurs, trust can break down concerning who instigated the violence; whether the instigation is by ordinary citizens, by aggressive citizen protesters, or by provocative aggression by agents controlled by the authorities (so-called rent-a-mob tactics). It can be very difficult to establish the facts in such situations. Any photographic or video evidence of aggressive acts which can be obtained is potentially valuablefbve . This approach to campaigning might lead to petty infantile disputes over the authenticity and interpretation of images provided as evidence. This would still be a form of dialogue, which would be much better than an escalation to violence.

fbve   In France a new law was proposed in November 2020 (Willsher, 2020) that would make it illegal to disseminate video-recorded or photographic evidence which could identify police [Power structure] and gendarmes engaging in such brutality.

Public Order Bill  In a similar vein in summer 2022 the UK government attempted to push through a "National Security Bill", which would significantly limit the right to protest, and curtail other freedoms in the name of 'law and order' (Bychawski, 2022). Despite citizen protests, legislation attached to a new Public Order Bill was forced through in 2023 - using statutory instruments. The Bill seeks to address the 'serious disruption caused by a small minority of protestors' by severely limiting the actions allowed during demonstrations. Some of these government measures are being challenged by Civil Liberties groups as they were added to the Bill despite being previously rejected by Parliament.

The standards of some behaviour in public is now simply appalling.

Some recent examples of bad behaviour by the public include: hate speech and trolling on social media; contravention of coronavirus restrictions by citizens, for example large rowdy parties; and alleged violence and property damage by Black Lives Matter  protestors (which pales into insignificance compared with atrocities committed by the authorities, such as bombing Iraq/ Syria).

Some examples of bad behaviour by authority figures and politicians over just a few years include: contravention of coronavirus restrictions by some UK government officials (travel by Dominic Cummings and Westminster MP Margaret Ferrier (SNP); "Partygate"); the UK Tory government attempting to prorogue parliament during the Brexit negotiations, and to break international law over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement; outragous electioneering tactics (data-mining etc) prior to the UK referendum on membership of the EU; alleged interference by other governments in the 2016 US elections; very aggressive conspiracy theory/ fake news/ hate speech by Donald Trump during the 2016 US election campaign; a completely dysfunctional first US presidential debate between then President Trump and the then prospective Democrat candidate Joe Biden; the conduct of the Chinese government over Hong Kong... etc.. Further such examples could no doubt be cited for more recent time periods.

What kind of an example does such behaviour set for the younger generation?


Electoral politics

As noted above, some campaigners might become convinced that they need to get into electoral politics in order to have more influence, in which case the next priority is self-promotion as a potential candidate in order to get elected. A candidate's energy and time then has to be divided between the election campaign, and addressing the originating issue. If successfully elected, in order to get things done, the rules of the game regarding networking, the 'right' [Power structure] contacts, money and power, soon become apparent.

Spotlight on democracy [Positive steps]

At some point an aspiring politician will invariably be obliged to choose between getting more power and influence for his/her agenda, or becoming resigned to the likelihood that the agenda will not materialise. A similar pattern arises in careers outside politics. Other things being equal, an ambitious and malleable yes-man will tend to become more 'successful' than an otherwise technically competent and honourable professional who is not prepared to sacrifice his/her soul in order to 'get on'. Or, to put it more diplomatically, "conformity with the system is rewarded". This remark was made by Noam Chomsky's interviewer Wladislaw Jachtchenko, in the context of indoctrination, and the establishment in general (Chomsky, 2022b, at approx 44' into the referenced video).

Some especially capable and malleable individuals will be more than keen to accept enticing salaries, and often our brightest young people are attracted to careers in the city. Important factors favouring success then include malleability and the mental toughness to commit to the 'amorality' of business. In my view, the so-called 'Peter principle', whereby an employee tends to 'rise to his level of incompetence' in terms of promotion reveals more about managerial criteria than about the competence of the employee; 'competency' being assessed primarily on performance against the bottom line.


It can be readily observed, from the state of the world, that of those politicians who attain élite power and influence, such influence does not translate into effective action for addressing the MHCPs. Often such politicians promote aspirational solutions for the problems of the world - but only after they have retired from Office.

What is it about the BAU system which renders them largely impotent while in Office?rob 


rob    Some rogue operator behavioural characteristics [Power structure]

Being held to ransom [The Case: Power structure];



The urgency of the situation

The urgency of the situation

Originally a Twitter banner [Purposeful art], entitled Before the tipping point.


Vested interests and climate-denial politics

Nothwithstanding the apparent successkac  of the COP21 Paris Agreement (Anon., 2015b) as a framework, and recognitiondca  of the urgent need to address climate change (and the ongoing nuclear weapons threat), there was a strongly contrasting lack of such recognition regarding climate change at Davos 2016wef . A relaxed official response, as (McKibben, 2015) put it.

kac   Paris Agreement - does it go go far enough?  Within ten days of COP21, a compilation of assessments of what was, and what wasn't achieved by the Paris Agreement, and of what the next steps should be, had been produced by [Glen] Anderson (Anderson[G], 2015).

[Kevin] Anderson, one of the world's leading climate scientists, describes the reality of the task ahead in (Anderson[K], 2015) and (Anderson, 2016a-d). In (Anderson, 2016c) he talks about the Paris Agreement within the background of climate science and what is needed to stop global warming at 2°C or even 1.5°C - as part of the 'Delivering on 2 degrees' talks and debate evening organised by the Carbon Neutral University Network.

dca   By an appropriate adjustment of the Doomsday clock
Notes: Nuclear weapons threat (Anon., 2023a).

wef   Davos is a location in Switzerland where the superclass (Rothkopf, 2008)  World Economic Forum delegates meet.


In other words, climate change was not then perceived - by those attending Davos - as a threat to business growth (Levitt, 2016).


Given the importance attached to the World Economic Forum, should we be on our guard about the clearly pro-growth bias of its constituency?


Examples of BAU response to increased regulation

Within less than a week of Paris the US had agreed to lift a 40-year ban on crude oil exports, and the UK had granted licences for onshore oil and gas exploration linked to fracking.

This is a more recent example of what the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt once said jps :

"When do you suppose that any world leader will ever summon up the courage to initiate a proper public debate about economic growth and the degree to which growth still does or doesn't do what it's supposed to do-namely, make us all happier? There are actually very few genuinely off-limits issues in politics, but this is the biggest of them all" .

jps   While chairman of the UK Commission for Sustainable Development, which was created by the Labour Government in 2002; its role strictly advisory (von Uexküll, 2005, paraphrased from p.61).

Nevertheless, as a result of the Paris COP21, more people are now aware of the reality of climate-denial politics, as noted earlier in "Control of information by corporations". Media reporting about the tactics used by the fossil fuel industry is now finally coming to light, for example:

The Climate Deception Dossiers (Anon., 2015e) provide proof that the fossil fuel companies have known since at least 1977 that fossil fuel combustion would cause climate change, and like the tobacco industry, have withheld their knowledge of the risks to life. They have actively seeded confusion about the problem through systematic and deliberate misinformation, and deliberately obstructed progress towards reducing the problem - in order to continue to make huge profits at the expense of all life on the planet.

See (Kasper, 2015), (Johnson, 2015b), and (Anon. 2015d).

The television documentary Climategate: Science of a Scandal gives a very revealing account of how powerful climate-denial influencers deliberately set back progress on tackling climate change just when it was beginning to happen (Anon., 2019g). Undercover reporting has provided video evidence of some of the lobbying tactics used by the fossil fuel industry (Anon., 2021b).

In an obituary for Sir John Houghtonsjh  Dr. Saskia Pagella recalled Sir John "recounting when he and his colleagues were briefing Margaret Thatcher's government about the risks of the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, how readily Thatcher had understood the science. Being a chemistry graduate, she initially took it very seriously and her attention only turned when those with vested interests (TwVI) pulled her and her cabinet's focus back to the economy" (Pagella, 2020, p.10) [my text emphasis].

sjh   Sir John Houghton CBE FRS FLSW (1931-2020) "was a major driving force behind the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, serving as chair and co-chair of the scientific assessment working group until 2002" (Ibid.).

Despite the urgent need for energy transition most of the fossil fuel industry still strongly incentivises staff to achieve production growth targets, despite climate pledges (Anon., 2022u).

The key corporate law underpinning economic growth is one of two 'tablets-of-stone' which are introduced in the [The Case: Power structure] webpage.


Denialism

Quite apart from climate-denial politics, the attitude of many ordinary people towards climate change risk seems puzzling, and papers have been published on the issue; for example (Gifford, 2011), (Markowitz, 2012) and (Anon. 2015a).

With all our intelligence as a species, are we doomed to behaving like boiled frogs? (Anon., 2016b).

Is our denialism being deliberately encouraged and exploited as a business strategy by pharmaceutical companies? The link below explains the highly 'successful' business marketing concept of "peddle the illness to sell the pill".

The Billion Dollar Deals and How They Changed the World [Power structure]


System justification, media framing, and propaganda

People need to have faith in the system (Shepherd, 2012).

Australian psychologist Lissa Johnson considers how denialism also impacts democracy (Johnson, 2015a). She asks why, despite the many very obvious major global problems, is there such a complacency over the situation among average citizens, even voting for those who are part of the problem? She refers to a concept called 'system justification' which addresses this conundrum. It turns out that succumbing to feeling disempowereddv  by the system drives some people into self-deception, as a protection against harsh reality.

dv   When first seriously engaging with political issues, the experience of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer intransigence of the status quo is what eventually resulted in the main theme of this website.

Disempowerment of ordinary citizens [Introduction]

Johnson refers to a research study in American politics by (Gilens, 2014) - see below, which investigated the extent to which different sets of actors had influence over public policy, and tested prediction theories for each of these sets of actors. The findings of this study help to explain why some people might feel disempowered by the system.

Johnson reports that researcher Irina Feygina investigated ways to overcome system-justifying barriers to change, and found that framing environmental action as "system-sanctioned", by deeming it patriotic and American, did just that (Feygina, 2010).

That some people feel so oppressed that they cannot face reality without the use of sophisticated media reframing techniques being applied is a strong indictment of the level of democracy within the status quo. Political and corporate leaders routinely use such techniques, together with semantic inversion, in order to try to disguise their deceits.

Arrogance and semantic inversion [Power structure]

The blatant rhetoric/ propaganda, and sheer extent of Russian state media control over its own citizens, became very apparent during the Ukraine invasion, with most Russian citizens appearing to believe what they were being told. Those who did understand, and protested, were firmly stopped.


But we are all affected by political rhetoric and media-framing.


For example, (Chomsky, 2022b) points out that western mainstream media reporting refers to the 'unprovoked invasion of Ukraine'. It does not refer to a provoked invasion, or to an 'unprovoked invasion of Iraq' by the US .


Some implications for legitimate citizen protest

The link between denial, virtue, and the power of collective action is addressed in an inspirational podcast by (Wells, 2021b).

However the pro-growth lobby can command greater resources for media reframing messages than pro-sustainability activists. Corporate lobbying fuels the increased use of social media by activists, which is then countered by fake-news - generated by proponents of the status quo; and so the erosion of democracy goes on.

Members of the general public appear to have a low threshold of annoyance at mildly socially disruptive behaviour by activists, such as that carried out by Extinction Rebellion (known as XR). If citizens had a better appreciation of the extent to which the status quo has limited the room for manouvre for legitimate protest, and of the true urgency and seriousness of the situation, they might be more tolerant of such inconveniences. To have to try to annoy citizens to some extent in order to get their attention is another sad indictment of the situation. Again, mild attention-grabbing stunts are no match for the enormously well-funded corporate PR machine.

The trend towards increasingly heavy-handed policing of citizen protests has been already been discussed. Citizen dissent at oppressive governance is problematic for all the above reasons. My own approach has evolved over a number of years, and is discussed in [Positive steps].


On who, or what, most influences public policy in the US

A research study in American politics by (Gilens, 2014) investigated the extent to which four different sets of actors had influence over public policy, and tested prediction theories for each set. It was found that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests (Biased Pluralism) have substantial independent impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence"asb . The theories of Economic-Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism were well-supported by the results, but the results did not support the theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and Majoritarian Pluralism. However the main factor in the effectiveness of Biased Pluralism groups over Majoritarian Pluralism groups is that the former are far more numerous and much better funded.

asb   The American spelling is retained in the direct quote. The bracketed item was added. The bold emphasis on the word 'independent' was added to draw attention to the existence of a number of complicating observed correlations. For example, the preferences of average citizens and economic élites were often found, coincidentally, to be similarbna , and some "membership groups take stands that are unrelated (pro-life and pro-choice groups) or negatively related (gun owners) to what the average American wants".

bna   But where average citizens happen to have different policy preferences on important matters, such as corporate regulation, tax policy and trade restrictions, from those of economic élites, then their preferences will have little influence.


Pre and post-COP26

The January 2021 version of this website questioned whether the widely publicised target of net zero by 2050 was actually a clever piece of PR. My concern was that this target, in effect, gives business a green light to continue fossil fuel extraction/ combustion at the same rate as at present, such that by 2050 the most lucrative reserves of oil and gas will have been depleted, yielding the desired returns on their investments. Also by then business will have had time to transition to non-fossil fuel energy technology and/or carbon capture technology which would use more natural resources to yield profits for business.

What does 'net zero by 2050' really imply? [Power structure]

It was revealed during the run up to COP26 that China was not going to sign up to even this target; their commitment to net zero by 2060 was confirmed at the COP. It was revealed that Russia and India were also not able to commit to the 2050 target.

Once again the fossil fuel lobby was able to control the agenda, and to scupper the prospects for keeping 1.5 (°C) alive by giving priority to realising value from their investments, and benefiting their respective national economies.

(Anon., 2022w) and (Anon., 2022x) provide assessments of the overall outcome of COP27. The fossil fuel lobby were again present in even greater numbers than at COP26 (Anon., 2022y) and no progress was made in facing them down. The key outcomes from COP28 are discussed in a webinar in (Anon., 2023b).

Despite the fact that it is the continued combustion of fossil fuels which is the core driver of the climate change problem, COP28 was convened in a "petrostate", and four times the number of people connected to the coal, oil, and gas industries attended the event than at COP27.


Environmental warning signs

The number of people who have have been killed, made homeless, or become refugees as a result of climate change-related events such as droughts, forest fires, floods, landslides, tornadoes.. is steadily increasing.

(Anon., 2021d) describes the scientific outcome of an IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop, which examined how climate change and biodiversity decline affect human futures. Part two of the authoritative UN IPCC sixth assessment report (IPCC, 2022), which focuses on the natural and socio-economic impacts of climate change, states that as many as 45% of the global population are already highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The situation can only worsen if the average global temperature rises further.

It is profoundly unjust that most of these 3.5 billion people live in regions which have contributed very little to global warming, while their lands have been looted for wealth and natural resources (Willis, 2022).

A link to the third part of the IPCC report (WG3) is included in the article (Anon., 2022m), which invited some of the contributing authors to the report to say what they think are its most important insights. WG3 focuses on the urgent action needed to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. Without immediate and deep reductions in GHG emissions, limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach.


Are we on course for a hothouse earth?

Recent developments in Earth System Science, in conjunction with stratigraphy, are being used to provide powerful insights into the nature and significance of human impacts on the planet. Recognising that the Earth System has already undergone a substantial transition away from the Holocene state, it has been proposed that a new epoch in Earth history - the Anthropocene - be defined (Steffen, 2016). The basis for defining the start time for the Anthropocene has been the subject of a specialist Anthropocene Working Group (AWG).

(Rockström, 2019a) outlines how fast global warming has been increasing and the effects on temperatures since the 1900s. He discusses the concern about reaching tipping point thresholds, with the possibility of a domino effect resulting in a trajectory of irreversible warming towards a hothouse earth. (Rockström, 2019b) uses the latest science to address the question as to whether we are at risk of destabilising the whole planet. (Steffen et al., 2018) explore the likelihood of moving into an inhospitable but stable hothouse earth state, which could remain for millennia.

(Anon., 2017b) reviews evidence from the fossil record for clues about what the conditions were like "the last time the globe warmed". This occured during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), at the very end of the Paleocene epoch 56 million years ago, after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

(Ward, 2013) reviews evidence from the fossil record at the time of mass extinction events. Apart from the extinction of the dinosaurs, which was caused by a huge asteroid, the general picture is that the mass extinctions are associated with rapid warming due to sudden increases in carbon dioxide and methane levels caused by massive volcanic eruptions, and basalt flooding. The fossil record reveals significant differences between the asteroid impact event, and the other mass extinctions. The latter events appear to take place over longer time periods, and the evidence suggests that the oceans become rather like stagnant ponds. Global warming occurs more at the poles than at the equator, which changes the mode of action of currents in the oceans, and in the atmosphere. Land-ice melt, particularly in Greenland and Antarctica, results in sea-level rise. Ward points out that, even with the present levels of carbon dioxide, thermal expansion alone will result in about three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century. This will have devastating implications for many food crops, which grow within about four feet of present sea level in big fertile river deltas like the Niger and the Ganges. Ward deplores the lack of public understanding of climate science, and remarks on the cultural difficulties associated with trying to change this situation in the US. One factor is the prominence of Christian fundamentalism in the US, which is briefly discussed in [Power structure: Notes].

Noting the correlation of non-impact mass extinction events with increased levels of carbon dioxide, and with 'Canfield oceans' in which deep ocean layers become anoxic, (Dyer, 2011, pp.256-260) discusses the mechanism by which these conditions produce hydrogen sulphide which kills marine life. When released to the atmosphere the hydrogen sulphide then kills land-based life - the 'greenhouse extinction' imagined in Under a green sky (Ward, 2007). As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, they become more acidic, and deep layers become more anoxic. As a deep layer expands and rises, the combination of more light and low oxygen causes bacteria to proliferate, generating vast quantities of toxic hydrogen sulphide which is released to the atmosphere.

Theoretical work representing these hostile conditions has been explored, for example (Kump, 2005) and (Hülse, 2021), but the extent to which hydrogen sulphide toxicity might render the planet uninhabitable is not known.


Ruined Planet



Previous non-impact mass extinctions typically appear to have been triggered by lower rates of global warming than humans are currently generating, but were sustained over long periods of time. (Dyer, 2011, p.263) writes that the last greenhouse extinction occurred when the atmospheric carbon dioxide level was around 800 parts per million. We are currently at about half of that level, but it is steadily increasing. No-one yet understands enough about the plethora of earth system tipping points (Pearce, 2022) to be able to reliably judge where the point of no return might be. (Steffen, 2021) describes earth system tipping points in more detail, and how these lead to a bifurcation where humanity either manages to come back from the brink, or continues towards a hothouse earth.

(AAAS, 2019) provides updated estimates of the earth's carbon content and about its natural rates of deep earth ingress and egress.

One ominous statistic from this reference:


"Humanity's annual carbon emissions through the burning of fossil fuels and forests etc. are 40 to 100 times greater than all volcanic emissions".


It is cautionary to note that collectively we are behaving like boiled frogs, and are already participating in a mass extinction event.




Notes



Notes: 'The terms Anthropocene and Anthropogenic'


Links to sections We live in a biosphere (and also to Are we on course for a hothouse earth?) which reference the notes below:


The term Anthropocene  was suggested by Paul Crutzen to denote a new geological epoch, and that the Holocene epoch ended as human civilisation began. See How to Build a Habitable Planet  (Langmuir, 2012).

The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) have been developing a suitable official boundary to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene, for example (Zalasiewics, 2015), (Steffen, 2015). Anthropogenic denotes 'human-caused'. When looking at geological timescales there is not much difference between the beginning of the industrial revolution, and the 1950s. The sharpest and most globally synchronous indicator of the 'Great Acceleration' (Steffen, 2015) of population growth, industrialisation and globalisation is made by the fallout from the testing of thermonuclear bombs from the early 1950s (Ibid.).

In 2019 a short list of possible candidates for a Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), a 'golden spike', was drawn up (Anon., 2019k). In 2023 a formal proposal by the Anthropocene Working Group was submitted to the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (Website. Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy: Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’). It proposed "that a Crawfordian Stage/Age and Anthropocene Series/Epoch should be part of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart (ICC), with its base at a level representing 1952 CE, marking a sharp upturn in plutonium levels as the primary marker and more generally aligned with the historical phase of the mid-twentieth century ‘Great Acceleration’ ".

However, the proposal for an Anthropocene Epoch as a formal unit of the Geologic Time Scale was rejected by the ICS Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS). The rejection vote was approved on March 26 2024.


The acronym MHCP

To the extent that major human-caused predicaments/problems (MHCP) are considered by the status quo, they tend to be framed as risks insofar that they are perceived to adversely affect economic growth. The term MHCP is used this website to mark a distinction from this economic growth biased reframing of Anthropogenic risk.

For example, extreme global wealth inequality would be unlikely to feature as a priority issue in the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual risk report, because it would not be seen as a threat to economic growth. On this website it would be regarded as an MHCP.

At the Davos 2016 meeting, climate risk was not regarded as a threat to economic growth.



Notes: 'Analysing human impacts'


Link to Analysing human impacts referencing the notes below:


Population and wealth inequality

The total human impact on the ecosystem might be judged to be unsustainable, but whether or not the earth can be regarded as 'overpopulated' is masked by obscene global wealth inequalities (Anon., 2012a), (Anon., 2013b). The ecological impact, or 'footprint', of one rich person would have to be balanced against the footprints of a large number of poorer people.

In principle, inequality could be reduced by the implementation of a generalised contraction and convergence policy, but this has not yet happened.

Human population growth is a rights and responsibilities issue. The right to choose whether or not to bring a child into the world comes with a responsibility to each unborn child, in terms of what sort of life the prospective parent can provide. But if a prospective parent is denied the possibility of providing a good life for their child through injustices such as extreme wealth inequality and/or bad consequences of cost externalisations, which are outside their control, then the perpetrators of those injustices should be held accountable.

On the other hand, if a prospective parent is in a position to provide very well for a child, in the present context it can be argued that there is a responsibility to be aware of the potential impact of that new, possibly large, environmental footprint.


The myth concept


Additional link to What is the nature of reality? [Moral compass] which references this specific note:


The term myth as used here is described in a World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) report titled Exploring Sustainable Development as: a habitual pattern of thinking which shapes who we are, whether or not we are consciously aware of such a pattern. More precisely: a belief or a subject of belief whose truth is accepted uncritically. Myths could alternatively be regarded as simplified world views.

Four myths are tabulated in the above report: Hero; Religious; Democratic/Scientific; and Economic. Each of these are represented by just three dimensions: Man, God, and Nature.

In the 'religious' myth God takes precedence, and God-Man is the most significant relationship. In the 'economic' myth, Man takes precedence, and Man-Nature is the most significant relationship, which is the inverse [Power structure] of what it should be.


Notes: 'The geopolitics of development'


Link to The geopolitics of 'development' - referencing this note:


Manipulative reframing

Despite reservations about trying to financialise the unquantifiable (discussed in [Power structure]), and therefore the need to use appropriate indicators, new accounting ideas and tools such as the Triple-Bottom-Line seemed justified because they appeared to facilitate engagement with 'sustainability-aware' businesses. NGOs starting to talk in financialised terms, and about indicators, in the belief that it was a way to acknowledge/ recognise and quantify the sociological and environmental cost externalisations inherent in capitalism. Innovative concepts like the Triple-Bottom-Line, natural and human capital, indicators, footprinting etc. were all part of the evolving language of sustainability accounting.

I depicted the Triple-Bottom-Line in a painting What have we done?, and represented the elegant concept Contraction and Convergence [Artworks] on a CD cover [Artworks]. At the time it seemed less overtly a tool for financialising the unquantifiable.

But after reading (Sachs, 1999) it became apparent that this elegant concept, mooted in (Meadows, 1973, p.333), directly embeds Truman's vision of the developed and the underdeveloped. Masking the pro-economic growth agenda under the guise of 'development' changed the rules of engagement. I began to notice examples of just how pervasive reframing can be, not then realising the sheer scale of pro-growth manipulation [Power structure: Notes].



Notes: 'Concerned citizen response'

Link to Concerned citizen response - referencing the notes below:


On UK government watchdogs

My perception of the status quo has changed significantly since my observation about government agencies in 2006:

It is all too common for citizens to assume that some government agency is monitoring compliance/ protecting the public interest in a particular area, only to discover that the situation has been found to be a shambles by an undercover investigative journalist - for example making a television documentary. Then typically the best that can be expected is that the culprit makes a bland public statement about their normally impeccable record, and/or the relevant 'lip-service' watchdog/ agency is obliged to try to provide assurance that it will follow it up and do everything it can to make sure that things improve.

The concerned citizen is left thinking - why isn't the agency doing its own undercover work/ random inspections? Or perhaps they are, and know that they have problems but don't want to openly admit it, in all probability because the problems have arisen through funding cuts to the agency.

More recent examples include: the UK monitoring of raw sewage in our rivers (Anon. (2021i); Suspicious activity reports (SARs) - issued by banks investigating money laundering (Anon. (2019f); NHS performance targets; etc..


Peacebuilding and conflict prevention

Founder and Director of the Oxford Research Group, Scilla Elworthy, describes how non-competitive, non-violent power can respond effectively when confronted by the abuse of power (Oxford Research Group, 1999), (Elworthy, 1997).

The campaigning organisation World Resisters' International celebrated its centenary year in 2021. (Anon., 2021k) includes an article highlighting notable achievements by its members over this period, and a directory listing over 1400 national and international organisations covering the breadth of the peace movement.


Company law reform

In 2002 Robert Hinkley proposed the following change to the wording of corporate law (Hinkley, 2002a&b):

"The specific change I suggest is simple: add twenty-six words to corporate law and thus create what I call the 'Code for Corporate Citizenship', Directors and officers would still have a duty to make money for shareholders,
...but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees".

Rebecca Spencer's briefing Corporate Law and Structures - Exposing the roots of the problem  describes some key areas of concern, and suggests some of the questions to be addressed in future changes to company law (Spencer, 2004). Daniel Bennett with Helena Paul have described some of the key tenets of corporate law, and a brief history of how these evolved from an early concept of the corporation created in England as non-for-profit for charities (Bennett, 2004). Both David Korten (Korten, 1999, pp.184-200) and Joel Bakan (Bakan, 2005, pp.161-167) have proposed ways to reclaim the rights and freedoms of living people over those of corporations.

Some important corporate law concepts [Power structure]

Only governments can change company law. Because company law is similar internationally, the prevailing nation-state based governance system massively complicates and enlarges the task of any fundamental legislative changes.


Monetary system reform, and the Simultaneous Policy

Some very interesting proposals for monetary reform have been made, for example to use quantitative easing directly for societal benefit, rather than for 'propping up the banks' as it is commonly perceived by the public at large. Henry Ford once said:

"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning".

It is safe to assume, on the basis of everyday experience, that those with the authority to control quantitative easing are unlikely to willingly relinquish their positions of power, wealth, and control.

Notwithstanding this apparently insurmountable difficulty, a joint initiative by John Bunzl and James Robertson was aimed at potentially breaking the hold of the markets across nation-states. Further information about this combination of Bunzl's Simultaneous Policy and Robertson's monetary reform agenda is given in the following link:

The Simultaneous Policy [Positive steps]


Tobin Tax

Another significant initiative was the wonderful proposal known as the "Tobin" tax (Korten, 1996, p.321):

'International Financial Transactions Tax  A 0.5 percent tax should be collected on all spot transactions in foreign exchange, including... ..as proposed by James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for economics....would help dampen speculative international financial movements but would be too small to deter commodity trade or serious international investment commitments...The priority for applying the proceeds from this tax should be to establish a debt repayment fund to retire those international debts of low-income countries....A second use of this tax should be to finance the operations of the United Nations and its specialized agencies'. .


Innovative concepts

Innovative and constructive concepts, tools, and methodologies have included: life choices/consumption (Elkington & Hailes, 1998), (Korten, 1996), (Korten, 1999); environmental footprinting (Wackernagel, 1998); social and environmental indicators (Macgillivray, 1995a), (Macgillivray, 1995b), (DETR, 1998), (DETR, 1999), indexes of sustainable economic welfare, for example (Jackson, 1997); the Triple-bottom-line (Elkington, 1999), and the Contraction & Convergence mechanism (Meyer, 2000).

In principle, taken together these could form the basis of a generalised Contraction & Convergence policy, utilising a wide range of footprinted sustainability indicators, which could be used to monitor the progress of individual nation-states towards sustainability.



Notes: 'The urgency of the situation' / Nuclear weapons threat


Link to The urgency of the situation - referencing the note below:


Nuclear weapons threat

Much important work has been done since the First World War on the concept/ project of general and complete disarmament, and the subsequent arms control process (Held, 1999, pp.132-133). But the issue is ongoing and the threat posed by WMD is ever-present (Hagger, 2018b, pp.xx-xxi, p.353) citing (Hagger, 2018a).

For example, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists hosted a live international news conference on January 26, 2016 to announce whether the minute hand of the historic "Doomsday Clock" would be adjusted. The decision was made by the Science and Security Board in conjunction with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 16 Nobel Laureates. At that time the clock setting remained at 3 minutes to midnight, to reflect the two most pressing existential threats; nuclear weapons and climate change.

On January 24, 2023 the setting was 90 seconds (Anon., 2023a).

Doomsday clock

Ironically, an Anthropocene Working Group have been developing a suitable official boundary to mark the start of the Anthropocene. As noted above, the sharpest and most globally synchronous indicator of the 'Great Acceleration' of population growth, industrialisation and globalisation is made by the fallout from the testing of thermonuclear bombs from the early 1950s. It would be tragic indeed if the geological markers of human 'civilisation' both begin and end with fallout from nuclear weapons.




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