The World Needs to Wake Up: At Risk the Survival of Humanity
At a time when the world, battered by COVID-19, is watching with dismay the rocky transition from Trump to President-Elect Biden, a group of 17 world scientists reminds us that maybe all our worries are futile. What is at risk is something far more important: The very survival of humanity. The prognosis is dire and it comes in a just-released major perspective paper: “Underestimating the challenges of avoiding a ghastly future” published in Frontiers in Conservation Science.
On the basis of a comprehensive yet concise assessment of the state of our civilization, these scientists – experts from major institutions including Stanford University, UCLA, and Flinders University – are telling us in no uncertain terms that the very survival of all species, ours included, is threatened.
And that the outlook is far more dire and dangerous than is generally understood.
The causes are well known: A loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change in the coming decades coupled with ignorance regarding the state of our environment and political inaction across the planet.
In the researchers’ view, world leaders need a ‘cold shower’ to come to their senses and plan and act in time to avoid a “ghastly future”. Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University noted that no political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action:
“Stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country’s priorities, trailing far behind other concerns such as employment, healthcare, economic growth, or currency stability.
While it is positive news that President-elect Biden intends to reengage the US in the Paris Climate accord within his first 100 days of office, it is a minuscule gesture given the scale of the challenge.
Humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for short-term economic enhancement today”.
A year ago, Paul Ehrlich was adamant that our civilization is about to collapse
Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Share the news, let me know what you think.
By the end of last year, as is the custom when a decade ends, I started thinking about the future. Obsessively. Climate change, environmental degradation, the collapse of democracy – if you project those facts into the future, you have to wonder: are we are living at the end of times? But there is an odd fact right under our nose, a small fact that sounds more like a piece of gossip than real news: The battle of billionaires.
Yet this is no fluffy gossip, it’s very real! We tend to discount the political role of billionaires. We shouldn’t. Consider that not all billionaires are bad news. Some fight for social justice and the preservation of the environment. A battle between the two kinds of billionaires is shaping up and could last well into the coming decade. I just wrote about this in an article for Impakter, here’s the opening:
The 2010s are coming to a close. Reviewing the decade, what can we say about the future? A tech person will look at technological progress (stunning). A sociologist will look at cultural diversity (explosive). My take (disclosure: I’m an economist) is that this decade, with growing income inequality, saw an unprecedented number of billionaires taking center stage. “Good” billionaires like Bill Gates concerned about climate change and equity, “bad” ones like Betty De Vos, defunding and dismantling America’s public education system.
This fact alone, the rise of the billionaires, will shape our future, for better (a peaceful, balanced world) or for worse (climate Armageddon).
Much depends on what kind of billionaire takes power. Some of them can be alarmingly aggressive, for example, Trump ordering the summary execution of Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani killed last Friday at Baghdad airport via a drone strike. A strike that could escalate dangerously in the Middle East’s explosive environment.
Unsurprisingly, the 2020 campaign for the US presidency is seeing the rise of left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders with declarations like this one (in Los Angeles on 21 December):
“Our campaign is not only about defeating Trump, our campaign is about a political revolution. It is about transforming this country, it is about creating a government and an economy that works for all people and not just the 1%.”
I am highlighting this because it is a remarkable statement. It marks the distance we’ve covered in a single decade: This is the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement that opened the decade in 2011. And now the once derided concept of the 1% against the 99% has gone mainstream. So much so that it can buoy a candidate in his bid for the White House (Sanders, as I write, is just behind Biden and ahead of Warren).
You see rants in headlines, like this one from C-Net’ s Jackson Ryan: “We see the effects of climate change and our leaders continue to ignore the science”. A rant coming not just from journalists but scientists too.
Now, in 2019, we can all agree that the “world is on fire” and that the 2010s have been a “lost decade”. Yet back in 2013, K.C. Green, a talented cartoonist could still joke about it in a stunning piece of black humor. This is the closing panel of his 6-panel piece(screenshot):
Just published my latest article on Impakter magazine, here’s the opening:
SUSTAINABLE FINANCE: HOW TO ADDRESS NATURE RISKS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
As our environment is undergoing ever faster collapse, with the rainforest burning in the Amazon, the ice melting in the Arctic and now California ravaged by fires, the goal of achieving sustainable finance appears ever more elusive. It is obvious that nature risks directly translate into financial risks. And with climate change accelerating, it is equally obvious that growing natural risks is the cause of equally growing financial instability.
While the relation between nature, climate and sustainable finance is obvious, the exact impact is not so clear. Natural disasters, from floods to air pollution events to wildlife species extinction, can impact businesses and whole economic sectors in variable ways, some more than others. And a small further rise in global warming, as small as a half degree centigrade, can make a stunningly huge difference:
To illustrate with the famous case of a highly valuable wildlife species threatened by extinction, i.e. bees whose pollination activities are fundamental for agricultural production. A prosperous European pharmaceutical company suddenly faced catastrophic financial losses after it had acquired in 2018 an agrochemical company accused of causing adverse impacts on bee populations that led to a series of health-related trials. Suddenly, it lost almost 40% of its market capitalization in less than one year, causing shareholders billions in losses.
To put a name on these firms: the pharmaceutical company is Bayer, the agrochemical is Monsanto and the cause of the bee-killing is, of course, a pesticide, the infamous “Roundup”. In short, Bayer is worth less today than the $63 billion it paid for Monsanto about a year ago.
As a first step to ascertain what the effects of nature risks are on the finance industry, a number of academics at the University of Hamburg have formed a Research Group on Sustainable Finance and analysed for the first time the existing academic literature which highlighted the relationship between nature risks and financial risks. The study has been financed by WWF Switzerland and will be uploaded to their website this month.
They identified 154 peer-reviewed articles published between 1966 and 2019. These articles covered four areas: banking, insurance, real estate, and stock markets; and nine nature risks: disease, drought, erosion, flooding, invasive species, oil spills, pollution/environmental contamination – of air, groundwater, soil/land and surface water -, solid waste, and bushfires.
“Destruction of ecosystems results in financial risks”
Overall, the articles confirmed that the destruction of ecosystems results in financial risks. They also found that nature risks are not adequately reflected in current risk models of financial institutions and therefore not priced correctly.
Incorrect pricing is a major concern. It means that financial institutions urgently need to identify how the activities they finance impact the natural world. Developing a framework for investors to analyse nature risks and integrating these systematically in their valuation models is crucial. It would be the first indispensable step to achieve sustainable finance.
What is interesting is how the literature reviewed by the Research Group on Sustainable Finance identified variable impacts depending on the sector and the kind of nature risk. The sector that tends to suffer the most from nature risks is real estate. The greatest threats to valuation in the real estate sector include flooding followed by air pollution (and environmental contamination in general) and bushfires.
That of course, is a massive financial problem – but it is a problem for individual property owners too. The house you just bought, or that you inherited from your parents, could be worth next to nothing in just a few short years.
Soon after Notre Dame in Paris went up in flames, teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, in a speech to the European Parliament, said she did not want to diminish the Notre-Dame fire, but wished there was an equal outpouring of funding support to combat issues such as climate change.
The outpouring of funding to rebuild Notre Dame was indeed impressive. Within 24 hours of the blaze, French luxury tycoons had pledged donations in the hundreds of million Euros: François-Henri Pinault (Kering) came through with €100 million; his crosstown rival Bernard Arnault (LVMH) with €200 million; the Meyer Bettencourt family (Oreal) with €200 million.
Add to that the €100 million announced by Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné
Is Greta Thunberg right? Is there not enough to fight climate change? I thought I’d investigate the question and if you’re curious and want to get the answer, read the rest of my article on Impakter, click here.
On 1 January 2019, the following article was published on Impakter. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is – and a Happy New Year to all (despite everything!)
2018 was a watershed year. The geopolitical table turned: The world changed from order to disorder. True, the ordered world we had known since the end of World War II till 2016 was far from perfect. It had many problems and inequities. And it had been slow – some say too slow – in moving towards a common sustainable development agenda and a climate control agreement.
By contrast, the disorder brought in by Trump’s America First agenda is fast-moving. As fast as the Internet, it travels on social media.
The World is Like A Racing Car Without a Pilot
With Trump, the Monroe Doctrine is back in a lethal 21st century variant. In the 19th century, if America chose to isolate itself, it didn’t matter that much. The world had a driver (the Great Powers of Europe). Today the world is like a racing car without a pilot. Local wars and mass migration are more likely than ever before. And in July 2018, the U.S. stopped cooperation with the UN on human rights matter – sending, as the Guardian argued, a “dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”
We’ll be lucky if we can avoid World War III and the climatic collapse of the planet.
The network of multilateral alliances created after World War II to contain the rise of Russia’s and China’s imperial ambitions is gone. Over the long run, as I have argued in a recent article, Eurasia is in our future, with a good chance that America is relegated to the sidelines.
Trump closed the year with a government shutdown. His aim? Always the same: To get the funding for the border wall he promised his fans. But one must question whether his end game is not something different and entirely personal: By raising the issue of “border security”, Trump is in fact deflecting attention from his looming problems with Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling of the presidential elections, a.k.a. “Russiagate”.
Over in Europe, there was another form of “shutdown” when British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked the can down the road asking Parliament to vote next year for the Brexit deal she had worked with the EU. Talk of a second referendum got louder though nobody seemed to agree on how to phrase the question. Also, the time left for organizing a referendum is getting squeezed, making it unlikely that the U.K. will in fact manage to reverse its decision and remain in Europe.
But it was Trump’s move – to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan – coupled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation on the same day that really shook up Europe – even though, as the Washington Post and Foreign Policy reminded their readers, he was a “deeply flawed defense secretary” with a questionable record.
Pulling out of Syria was universally viewed as a serious mistake. As French defense minister, Florence Parly said (on RTL radio) said, refering to ISIS, “the job must be finished.” And with Mathis gone, it won’t be – Mathis who was viewed by America’s allies in NATO, especially Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, as “as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to Mr. Trump” and the “adult of last resort” who could restrain an unpredictable president.
But Trump shook up Americans too – at least some of them, for example firebrand filmmaker Michael Moore admitted that this was the “the first time” he’s actually“frightened for the country”:
One thing is certain: Trump made Russia very happy, opening the way to revived Russian influence in the Middle East. Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst, exclaimed: “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving.”
The financial world perhaps understood best what happened as 2018 wound up: the past week in the stock market – from 18 to 21 December – has been the worst week since the 2008 crisis. Adding insult to injury, Trump discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Powell after the latest interest rate hike. Whereupon the dark shadow of a looming bear market caused the White House to retract. What was unprecedented was that both shares and bonds took a hit : normally they move in opposite directions.
What made 2018 a watershed year?
Politico asked American historians how History would remember 2018, asking the “smartest historians they knew” to write the paragraph about 2018 that History books in the future would include.
Some attributed a big role to Trump, others didn’t. The majority agreed on one thing: 2018 marked the end of American world leadership.
To give a sense of what they said, I will quote but one of them. Jacqueline Jones, professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote: “The traditional narrative of the United States as a noble world leader and defender of human rights was slipping away, and by the end of Trump’s second year in office, the country was in danger of sliding into a garden-variety authoritarianism.”
Others were concerned with more pointed issues, some specifically American (and Trump-related), others worldwide:
Actually, I’m not pessimistic: as the 2018 midterms showed in America, voters still have in their hands their own future – and that of our planet. A bad regime (Trump’s) can be castigated.
Brexit, as of now, appears unavoidable. The U.K., barring some unexpected referendum, will fall out of Europe and become some kind of super Singapore.
But let’s hope that European voters will show equal awareness and sensitivity s American Democrats did when they vote in May 2019 for the European Parliament. What we DO NOT NEED is a wave of populists taking over Europe! That would be the end of both Europe and the fight against climate change.
I don’t know about you but I’m suffering from Trump fatigue. He’s just too much – and tweeting too much. So this week I looked at another issue (which Trump is no doubt making worse): climate change. Just published on Impakter, here’s the beginning:
Will climate change and global warming eradicate humans? This summer, the worst scorcher to date, has become a season for panic: wildfires across the Western United States, Greece and Sweden, record temperatures in China, unprecedented floods in India and Japan, a surge in heat waves in urban areas that are predicted to get worse by 2080, killing up to four times as many people as they do today.
With Trump’s America leading the charge, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and pulling down every environmental protection rule, it looks like the battle for Earth and our survival is lost.
After all, America is still the largest industrial country in the world and a major polluter, on par with China. And while China “got the message” and is at least trying (though not always successfully) to curb its climate-destructive ways, America is not.
True, single American states, like California and a few others, as well as big cities like New York and San Francisco that have joined a world alliance of big C-40 cities, are trying their best to counter climate armageddon.
But that’s not enough. The problem is Washington and Trump. American climate deniers are having a field day, and they are winning.
Earth lovers and tree huggers are fighting back. The New York Times this week came up with an extraordinary piece of long journalism. In a single-theme issue of its Magazine, focused on climate change, it published an authoritative article with the striking title: Losing the Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.
The article is both a mesmerizing and heart-breaking read. It helps dispel the cultural amnesia we suffer from too often, the idea that the climate change fight is something recent. Or that the fuel industry wasn’t aware of the dangers of fuel emissions – it was well aware of them, as far back as the 1950s. And at first, it had even tried to play along and prepare for an alternative green energy future: Exxon financed honest, independent research…until it didn’t.
The article was put together over 18 months with support from the Pulitzer Center on crisis reporting. It was written by author Nathaniel Rich, whose apocalyptic novel Odds Against Tomorrow was an instant bestseller when it came out in 2013.
That book made Rich one of the young and rising stars of climate fiction, a new genre that went viral with the new century. This is a novel I read with great pleasure when it came out, a not-to-be-missed thriller with unexpected twists and turns that will bring home what it feels like when your town is flooded (in this case, New York).
The article is illustrated with stunning video and photo work from award-winning photographer George Steinmetz who specializes in aerial imagery.
The online version starts off with a long video shot of melting snow and the stark words:
“30 years ago we had a chance to save the planet.”
On Monday morning 16 October, I rushed to FAO, the opening ceremony for World Food Day was to be graced by Pope Francis who had agreed to deliver the keynote address: the theme was migration…Here is the article I immediately wrote for Impakter (it was published yesterday):
MIGRATION, CONFLICTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE: A NEW TURN?
World Food Day held yesterday at UN-FAO headquarters in Rome was full of surprises. An event organized since 1979 by FAO every year on October 16 to celebrate the founding of the organization in 1945, World Food Day is the occasion to draw the international community’s attention to a pressing issue in agriculture and rural development. This rarely excites the world’s attention, but this year’s theme was particularly well chosen: The focus was on what is undoubtedly the number one problem of our times, migration.
The numbers are staggering: UN figures show there are roughly 244 million international migrants – that’s more than the whole population of Brazil – while 763 million are migrants within their own country. Taking the two numbers together, that’s about one billion people, as much as India.
As the video FAO made for the occasion shows, the problem with migration is the lack of choice. And the solution to the migration crisis, is investment in the rural sector to give people a livelihood, so that they are not forced to migrate. Why the rural sector? Because that is where the problem starts, 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas.
In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict worldwide, and more than 19 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters – many triggered by climate change.
First, Pope Francis is different from other Popes in that he attends more readily UN events. He has come before to FAO and gave a notable address to the ICN2. Food security is clearly one of his major concerns.
To read the rest on Impakter, click here. You will also find there the video of the Pope’s speech (very interesting, worth seeing, it’s only 20 minutes) and I report on the remarkable position taken by the US Secretary of Agriculture: Since the Trump administration announced last week that the US was pulling out of UNESCO, everybody in Rome feared the worst. But the worst, surprisingly given Trump’s track record, didn’t happen. See what happened and rejoice!
Another one of my articles, just published on Impakter, here is the opening:
Famine was supposed to be a thing of the past. True, 75 million people had died from starvation in the 20th century, but we had learned from these tragedies, how to predict them and how to address them. The largest famines dated back two decades: in the Horn of Africa in 1984-85 and 1992, and in North Korea in the mid-1990s. There had been only one serious famine in the 21st century, and it had occurred in Somalia in 2011, killing 260,000 people.
Now, all of a sudden, the scourge of starvation is back. The news came out over a month ago: 20 million people facing starvation, including 1.4 million children at “imminent risk of death”. The United Nations famine alert concerned four disconnected countries, across Africa and the Arabian peninsula: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
IN THIS PHOTO: Photo was taken in Radfan village in Lahj city. It shows a young girl who is collecting water from a far distance due the water shortage in Yemen. PHOTO CREDIT: UNICEF/UN018342/ASKOOL
THE FOUR-COUNTRY FAMINE: 20 MILLION PEOPLE AT RISK
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not mince his words at the press conference he held on 22 February in New York. This was a humanitarian crisis in-the-making, it was without precedent in scope and a total of $ 4.4 billion would be needed by the end of March to “avert a catastrophe” (see full transcript here). The Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien and several UN agencies heads (or their representatives) participated in that conference, including WFP (via video), UNDP, UNICEF and FAO (remarkably, not UNHCR).
Even though this was the largest alert in the 21st century and nobody had heard of anything like this for decades, the UN Secretary General’s appeal fell on deaf ears.
On 23 November, just a week before the opening of COP 21, the Climate Change Conference in Paris, the United Nations issued a fascinating (and scary) report showing the unexpected toll of climate change over the past 20 years (see here). The author of the report is the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Headquartered in Geneva with 5 regional offices, UNISDR is an organizational unit of the UN Secretariat, headed by Margareta Wahlström and tasked to support the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 that was adoped by UN Member States in Japan in March 2015.
Margareta Wahlstrom, presenting the report. She is Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, appointed since 2008. A citizen of Sweden, she started her international career with the Red Cross (1995-2000).
The numbers are mind-boggling. Did you know that over the past twenty years, since the first Climate Change Conference (COP1) in 1995, over 600,000 people have lost their lives and over 4 billion have been injured in weather-related events? Losses to property are of course commensurate and enormous: 87 million homes were damaged or destroyed over the period of the survey; the total cost of property losses – including from earthquakes and tsunamis – is between US$250 billion and US$300 billion annually (a UNISDR estimate, noting that loss data is systematically under-reported).
Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that weather-related events account for 90% of disasters. We always think of disasters in terms of war and other human-related causes (and of course, those are the worst, on ethical grounds because they could be avoided) and we tend to accept passively disasters caused by climate change.
But we shouldn’t. The pace of climate-related events is increasing: An average of 335 weather-related disasters were recorded per year between 2005 and 2014, an increase of 14% from 1995-2004, and almost twice the level recorded during 1985-1995. That is truly scary.
Yet, there is a silver lining in all this. In the upcoming Climate Change Conference, we have a chance to finally do something constructive. This report proves that, in purely economic terms, engaging in measures to control gas emissions and reduce global warming results directly in lives and property saved. And that translates into an automatic reduction in the costs of controlling climate change. So it’s not a straight exchange, one on one, between economic growth and climate change control. By choosing to curb emissions, even developing countries would find that they are enjoying a better quality economic growth.
And then there’s the moral question. Do we really have the choice of sacrificing lives to the God of Economic Growth and the Golden Calf of Profit?
BOOK REVIEW – BACK TO THE GARDEN, by Clara Hume, published by Moon Willow Press (2013) Available on Amazon, click here
BREAKING NEWS: On the forum SFFWorld, there’s an on-going debate on climate fiction where Clara Hume intervenes as Guest Host, using her real name, Mary Woodbury, along with two more Guest Hosts, Brian Burt, author of theAquarius Risingtrilogy and myself under my pen name Claude Nougat. To see or join this stimulating debate, click here now!
Climate change usually inspires the direst of dystopian fiction: end-of-the-world situations, cities under water, people desperately seeking safety and fighting for survival while children and the elderly are the first to die…With Clara Hume’sBack to the Garden, you get that but you also get much more and something that is very different.
You get a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of hope even though in that book, as in all other climate fiction novels I’ve ever read, the world is overheated and overrun with lawless gangs as society as we know it has collapsed.
What this book tells us is: maybe mankind can survive after all…but at what price! Back to the Garden is like going back to square one, the start of civilization. All technological advances are lost, there is no electricity and little fuel left. This is a world of growing scarcities. But is that “garden”, the one in the book, a new, revised garden of Eden?
Maybe it is, and that is a comforting thought: what we have here is dystopia with a smile.
And that’s what makes Back to the Garden very different and really worth reading.
And pondering over.
This is the story of a trip across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America told from multiple points of view, one for each traveler, and each one is an engaging character. We soon find ourselves liking them, feeling their pains, their hopes, their loves. This is a very human tale, some die and we cry, others live on in spite of dreadful obstacles, and they all finally get “back to the garden” – but I stop here, I don’t want to give away the story and ruin the suspense, I will not tell you about this garden, pick up the book and find out!
One commentator on Amazon (see here), made the interesting comparison with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, noting that while Steinbeck depicted a cross-country trek of people driven from home by the Great Depression, Clara Hume’s characters are driven by Climate Change. The comparison is apt, although the story is in fact very different (as are the characters). But we are indeed at a literary level, this is a beautifully written novel.
The author (Clara Hume is a pen name) is a young woman deeply committed to fighting climate change and preserving our environment for future generations. She maintains a vibrant website Eco-Fiction that acts as a hub for a community of people eager to debate environmental themes, including climate change, in both literature and the arts.
Here’s the landing page, and you can glimpse a series of interviews of climate fiction authors:
The site is an outreach project run by Moon Willow Press, an independent small press in Canada (British Columbia) with a mission to “help sustain forests while celebrating the written word”. On the site, we learn that “MWP has planted over 1,000 non-invasive trees in ecologically and economically rough areas since 2011. The press prints only on recycled, hemp, and forest-certified fiber.”
Here’s their opening page (screenshot, there are three images that keep changing, I caught this one about the “Blue Dot Run Team”):
Well done, MWP, this is a social-minded business, it is currently open to submissions for both fiction and non-fiction books. And of course, MWP is the publisher of Back to the Garden and numerous other climate fiction novels – reads that anyone with an environmental conscience and a concern about man’s survival on this planet should not miss…