The Problem

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

 

This page summarises key points from [The Case] which identify the main driving forces underlying the most serious global problems.

The results of the analysis explain how 'business as usual' is destroying the habitability of the planet, and why global citizens cannot wait for the authorities to halt global warming and solve other major human-caused global problems.




Time period  Post-COP21 [2015] to the present





The ProblemContext


Of the many major human-caused global problems reported by the mainstream news media, for example the BBC, the pattern seems to be saturation coverage on a hot topic for a period, followed by a fairly sudden shift to the next hot topic. In 2020-2021 it was all about the pandemic and how the UK government was handling it. In 2022 it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Towards the end of 2023 and into 2024 the Israel-Gaza war became the main topic.

However very serious ongoing global threats - such as global warming and the potential risk of nuclear war - rarely reach the headlines. An aim of this website is to identify what ordinary citizens can actually do about such serious global problems.

Global warming, which is causing climate change, is one of the adverse consequences of the countless externalised costs inherent in the prevailing governance system. For those unfamilair with the important concept of externalised costs, it is outlined in [Power structure]:

Subsection: Cost externalisation [Power structure] 3

Although it is uncomfortable to admit, those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to be consumers, or overconsumers, have largely contributed to the climate problem through having become used to unthinking, and unnecessarily wasteful, lifestyles.

Following the commitments made in the Paris Agreement in 2015 at COP21, many felt a sense of relief that the problem was finally being addressed by the authorities. During the subsequent six year period leading up to COP26 in 2021, governments and businesses reassuringly announced their latest commitments to tackling climate change. The general impression given was that the official target is 'net zero by 2050', which would 'keep 1.5 (°C) alive'.

1.5°C - interpreting global average data at a local level [Positive steps] 1

Some climate analysts pointed out that achievement of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to keep the global average temperature increase to within 1.5°C relied upon the availability of carbon capture technology, which was non-existent at the required scale. They also warned that commitments made to emissions reductions were not mandatory. Some climate activists expressed concern that 'net zero by 2050' was too slow.

Paris Agreement - does it go go far enough? [Issues] 1


Nevertheless, 'net zero by 2050' became the generally accepted basis for policy planning


If this scenario date had not been proposed, by those addressing the climate change issue, we would be even more oblivious about the seriousness of the situation. Subsequent research and computer modelling studies are confirming the difficulties in 'keeping 1.5 (°C) alive', and backcasting scenarios are revealing the infrastructural and societal challenges ahead which are posed by 'net zero by 2050'. A recent UN report states that as many as 45% of the global population are already highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Environmental warning signs [Issues] 1

The stance taken on this website is that 'net zero by 2050' has been adopted by 'the authorities' as a convenient compromise position. The public think something is being done, meanwhile business has in effect been given a green light to continue extracting the most lucrative known oil and gas reserves. Panic over, it is back to business as usual (BAU).

What does 'net zero by 2050' really imply? [Power structure] 4

But the panic is absolutely not over. The behaviour of the fossil fuel industry at and post-COP26 confirmed the urgency of the situation.

The urgency of the situation post-COP26 [The Case] 1


The ProblemWho is in control?


Much of the website narrative has concentrated on this question; in particular the [Power structure] page, a summary of which is given in [The Case].

Significant factors:

In principle, progress could be made towards tackling the major human-caused global problems.

Major Human-Caused Predicaments (MHCPs) [Issues] 4

In practice the necessary actions have been blocked by a small number of immensely wealthy and powerful élite individuals - those with vested interests (TwVI). In order to maximise their profits, TwVI particularly target the 'comfortably-off' population sector (privileged consumers). A recent example of this during the Covid-19 pandemic is described in:

Targeting those who can afford to pay [Power structure] 1

TwVI in fossil fuels have great power, wealth and control. Control of the global energy supply is a top priority for them, as it underpins all economic growth. Despite climate change being of such pressing global concern, they are more than happy to continue selling us their products, and to market enticing lifestyles which encourage over-dependence and even greater use of energy.

As noted above, their business plan for the period to 2050 (and beyond) is understandably to just carry on realising their assets. In so doing they have 'got us over a barrel', as there is not yet enough non-fossil fuelled energy generation to meet current and projected demand. This demand is, of course, systematically and continuously stimulated by government policies which are totally reliant on consumption and growth in order to operate at all.

Business as usual [Power structure] 1



Faceless Capitalism (2018). A stone carving by Deborah Harrison

Faceless Capitalism (2018)

A stone carving by Deborah Harrison
(image reproduced with kind permission of the sculptor)



The need for societal engagement and vigilance regarding AI developments

Whether or not a technology is helpful depends on who is developing it and for what purpose. The current enormous interest in artificial intelligence is attracting massive financial investment. It seems to be recognised that the risks of AI require global cooperation, with the nuclear and aviation industries being cited as good examples. But such cooperation can be severely tested under adverse conditions; for example during the Russia/Ukraine war in the case of the nuclear industry, and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry.

Brief introduction to the website author [General] 2

On the basis of what I have learned about the modus operandi of those with powerful vested interests, I am not reassured about the future trajectory of AI. This is not because I am anti-AI, but because I do not believe that those with massive vested interests care about safeguarding the common good. Business has always invested in technology where it is seen to improve profitability - while ignoring external costs as already noted. AI has the potential to displace employment of people. As it does so, some sort of universal basic income system will have to be introduced en masse. In future then, who will be able to afford to pay for products and services? Who will pay for the massive environmental damage resulting from decades of accumulating externalised costs in the pursuit of business profitability? What leverage will citizens have in a world where only money talks, if they have little money?

Vested interests and general purpose AI [Power structure] 1

Although strong advocates of Artificial Intelligence (AI) talk animatedly about how it will lead to future technical solutions to global problems, those who have invested heavily in AI will want to maximise their profits. The fact that development of general purpose AI is perceived to be extremely lucrative virtually guarantees that TwVI will already be in control of it, and driving intense lobbying during the formulation of any legislation which could affect the definition of goal-setting for AI systems.

The behaviour of the fossil fuel business should leave us in no doubt about the selective 'amorality' and self-interested priorities of those with large vested interests. The despicable legal concept of the 'Corporate Person' mandates business to detach itself from direct control or responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its externalised costs, while ensuring full rights to the profits.


Who the beneficiaries are will depend upon who controls the AI goal definition.


We should be under no illusions about how AI legislation will be similarly framed. Whatever reassurances the AI community might offer about respecting the need for dialogue with ethicists, social scientists, and those from the humanities disciplines about the rules for their algorithms, at best this will take longer than we can afford to wait.


It is realistic to assume that the nature of future promised provable 'benefits to humans'

will be primarily tailored to the preferences of the biggest investors.


The issue of claims by TwVI about AI solving the major human-caused problems (MHCPs) which most need to be addressed is raised in [The Case: Positive steps], and concerns expressed.

We do not need AI to halt global warming, and we certainly cannot afford to wait for it before making massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We need to make these reductions now. If the present path of business as usual continues, there will be no habitable planet, nor any future for AI or anything else.


The ProblemA reality check (II)


Modern lifestyles have for far too long largely ignored the fact that we live in a biosphere.

We live in a biosphere [Issues] 2

We ignore this reality at our peril, as the 2020 coronavirus pandemic should have reminded us. Through a bio-feedback process we were obliged to realise that 'the economy' needs to adapt towards a new normal. Many of us have had to review our job situations.

Covid-19, temporarily at least, brought humans to heel globally regarding our overconsumption and our travel habits. But the unsavoury emergence of vaccine-nationalism, and the penchant of people for global travel, raises the ongoing threat of inadequate protection through the spread of new virus strains.


A penchant for global travel


During the pandemic such risks existed for as long as there were countries whose citizens had not been mass-vaccinated. It might have been hoped that recognition of this would lead to a more global perspective for governance priorities. Instead we saw ever-expedient business as usual, in the form of extreme profiteering and unethical practice by parts of the pharmaceutical industry.

Targeting those who can afford to pay [Power structure] 2

A lack of public awareness of the seriousness of global warming

Lifestyle restrictions arising from Covid-19 took their toll, and people from many countries rushed to 'get back to normal', especially regarding their socio-cultural activities, and travel. While the strength of this desire is understandable, it provides a graphic illustration of the level of entrenchment of our overconsumption habit, and the spectrum of reasons we may have, either consciously or unconsciously, to justify our positions.

An overall interpretation is that most people in affluent societies do not actually appreciate quite how serious our present predicament is. Some individuals console themselves by doing what they reasonably can. Some get depressed, 'what can I do, it won't make any difference'. Some absolve themselves of any personal responsibility to do anything, "it's the government's job to sort it out". Others recognise that pro-growth government policy is part of the problem, but feel conflicted and go into denial, 'well, we all need jobs don't we'; and so on. Some people seem completely unaware; some just don't appear to care, "life's too short, I'm going to enjoy myself while I can".

The increasing frequency and severity of climatic events is gradually resulting in a general acknowledgement that humans are causing them, mainly through massive fossil fuel combustion. But this has not yet translated into us changing our consumptive habits on the scale necessary. This would be 'bad for the economy'. For example UK BBC news coverage during Storm Eunice (February 2022) acknowleged 'climate change' (almost for the first time), and that it was likely to get worse. But then the focus of interest was hurriedly moved on to the topic of building in resilience for future such events.

While it is obviously necessary to be able to get the infrastructure back to normal as soon as possible, the point which keeps being (deliberately) missed is that 'back to normal' equates to carrying on doing the very same things which have caused, and continue to cause, the progressively worsening problems!


This is business as usual.


But don't we need economic growth in order to pay for our sovereign debt? The financial debt incurred during the 2020/22 pandemic might be even more severe than that following the 2007/8 financial crash, and that resulted in years of austerity.

People seem to have fairly short memories for unwelcome life events, such as have occurred during the pandemic era. Now is a good time to take a reality check.


We live in a biosphere first; within society second; and within an economy third.

Not the other way around.


An economy based on overconsumption is fundamentally flawed, and not fit-for-purpose.

It is inappropriate for business to dominate and dictate human societal activity and values, and to disrespect the biospere; by plundering the earth's non-renewable resources for profit, and by treating the environment as a waste dump.


Correct Hierarchy

Underneath the smoothly delivered advertisements and everyday 'have a nice day' media persona, business as usual behaviour does not recognise its proper place within the embeddedness hierarchy shown in the above schematic. With prevailing corporate legislation, and the imposed straitjacket of creative financialisation and the market, business cannot engage meaningfully with society through genuine human values-based language.


While some people may perceive the acquisition of money and power to be the pinnacle of life achievement,

a habitable planet is a prerequisite for life.


How bad do events have to get before the authorities recognise the urgency? What has to happen for business to refrain from greenwash, and genuinely recognise its place in the embeddedness hierarchy? The longer we evade right action, the more we will have to deal with ever bigger crises. Despite the typically bullish stance of the business ilk 'if the sea level rises, I'll invest in boats', business will not escape.



At some point, all must recognise that money and 'the economy' are not fundamental.

They are human constructs, and the system could be changed.

The loss of habitability of the planet would be catastrophic;

a vastly bigger crisis than any financial melt down, whatever the bankers might think.



....oOo....


The Challenge   - Constructive action by individual citizens to help safeguard the habitability of the planet.




Top  [The Problem]




Last updated 17-06-24 [day-month-year] | ul 48f if.na.w3y [Revision code]