Let me report… Of Nearly Everything: From Copenhagen, Durban, Rio+20 to Lima 2014), the conclusion remains the same: We need principles and accorded actions as this is the only way to tackle the grave problems of this planet.
We are lacking the elementary consensus in the Bretton Woods institutions, on Eastern Europe and Ukraine, on the WTO Doha Development round, on a nuclear non-proliferation (and NPT), in the IPCC, on the post-Kyoto negotiations, and finally on the alarming state of environment. Ergo, on a global scale we fundamentally disagree on realities of this planet and the ways we can address them.(1)
I am neither moralizing & idealizing nor agonizing. The world based on agreed principles and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.
Already some years ago, I noted in my writings (and in my lectures) that the confrontational nostalgia and academic inertia keeps recycling the Cold-War rhetoric, although the Soviet Union has disappeared from the geopolitical map over two decades ago. Hence, if these practitioners and thinkers are so fascinated with the simplified either with us, or against us logics – let’s keep it then! Adjusted to reflect our today’s realities (or as the grand Wiz of the EU, Jean Monnet used to say: if you have an unsolvable dilemma – enlarge the context), it would state as follows: either your socio-economic and politico-military policies and practices are for this planet and the very survival of human race or you are against the planet and every form of life inhabiting it.(2) What we have recently witnessed in MENA (including the unmentioned and unmentionable) and elsewhere, is highly disturbing and rather discouraging: as if the confrontational nostalgia, perpetuated by the intense competition over finite resources, in lieu of a real, far-reaching policy-making has prevailed again.(3)
We falsely believed, throughout the 20th century, that the nuclear holocaust will put an end to the entire human race. No! It will be a slow, nearly-unnoticed, gradual but steady construction of the global gas chamber (filled by the green-house gas emissions). And, this is not an environmental alarmism as the environmental nihilists, or to say lobbyists would like to water it down. The way we extract, produce, transport, distribute and consume, the way we keep all this running on a blind obedience to hydrocarbons, and finally the way how we do reflect, contemplate and study on all that (and live in denial of it), inevitably takes us right into the environmental holocaust.(4)
What we euphemistically call Climate Change is actually a brutal war against nature. It is a covert armed conflict since we are predominantly using the so-called monetizing-potent ‘technologies’ instead of firearms in our hands. (For this purpose hereby, the army units are replaced by the demolition-man of other name; ‘transnational corporations’.) This armed insurgency is waged against most of what is beautiful and unique on Earth – on the planet that gave us time and space enough to survive as species and to evolve as cognitive life. Thus, the known sustainability matrix of 3 maximums (of good, of species, and of time) becomes the maximum species, minimum time, and the maximum harm.(5)
Intentionally or not, it is a synchronized attack: We are steadily and passionately polluting our public sphere with the diverting banalities manufactured by the so-call social networks, reality shows, ‘celebrities’ and the like – trivializing the contents of our lives. At the same time, we are massively contaminating our biosphere (waters, lands, air and near outer space) with non-degradable and/or toxic, solid or aerosol, particles radiation and noise – irreversibly harming our habitat. We pollute the time as well, turning it into cross-generation warfare’s battlefield: Our dangerous patterns might seal off the fate for untold number of generations and sorts of species to come. No wonder, our corrosive assertiveness has (time-space) parallels: acidifying of oceans and brutalization of our human interactions, as well as over-noising both are just two sides of a same coin. What is the social sphere for society that is the biosphere for the very life on earth: the (space/time – content/form) frame we live in all.
Therefore, our crisis cannot be environmental, as it was never a financial – our crisis must be a moral one. This is a cognitive deficit crisis, which we would love to eagerly spend in a limbo of denial!
Are we intentional in persistently spreading climate-change denial? Has the human race already passed the point of no return of its survival? Frankly, we do not know! Very sincerely, we do not care!
In every OECD country, an ordinary plumber (with just a few years of formal education and of no expectation pressure) is of a considerably better income then the university professor or the hospital doctor with a higher medical specialization (both of the huge societal responsibilities and both with over two decades of studies through the rigorous selections). Per average, the bank clerk (with under- or Matura level) of any banking entity in the EU states earns 14 to 16 salaries annually (basically, creating no new value for the society), but is nearly – per definition – protected by a life-long employment contract. At the same time, the majority of the EU double-PhD top researchers (per definition, creating a new value for the society) have comparably lower total annual pay, and many of them are just happy to win a 2 to 5 years research contract with the murky hope that the funding might be extended.(6)
Nearly all football players in the European Premier League, as well as the Formula I drivers (essentially the modern age gladiators, usually with a little to no formal education whatsoever) have individually higher yearly income than many key research institutes in the OECD states can afford to spend annually. Besides the superficial entertainment (enveloped in the ovations of masses on a brink of collective orgasm à la Mussolini parades), it is actually a triumph of brutal competition or competing brutality (football) and a massive exhaustion of hydrocarbons (Formula I) – what added value do they create to be so disproportionately overpaid?(7)
Some may contra-argue by stating that the present-day football celebrates the sports and a healthy life though the triumph of the physical strength of a sportsman. The Antique Greece has celebrated its athletes, and nearly worshiped the contesters and winners of the Games paying a tribute to the all-mighty Olympus. Equally, the old Greeks largely encouraged and celebrated, promoted and (financially) supported its philosophers and scientists. It was the age when the consciousness blossomed, wisdom flourished and knowledge triumphed – the theoretical basis of all essential technological breakthroughs, that occurred in the course of subsequent centuries up to nowadays, are in fact originating from the Ancient Eagan world. Ergo, the Classic times knew about the important equilibrium between an intellect and human body.(8) Modern Age has forgotten, disregarded, abandoned, betrayed and tacitly ridiculed this evolutionary wisdom.
Irrespective of our wrongly placed priorities (and passionately sustained craving to re-channel and discourage, to derail and denounce any serious debate, far too often by hiding behind a superficial entertainment), of our obscure and encouraged greed and incompetence, of our silencing, of all our residual or imposed ignorance and arrogance, and of our paramount and loud anti-intellectualism, the real facts are immitigable and are inexorably defeating:
– There is not a single peer-reviewed international journal that has published even one scientific article in last 30 years, which reports on factual evidences that any organic (marine and conti- nental biota) or inorganic (soil, glaciers, water, polar caps, etc) system is doing better on this planet.
– There has not been a single RE or UN report in last 30 years that credibly denies a worrying increase in severity and frequency of “natural” catastrophes worldwide.
– Finally, there is not a single internationally recognized medical journal that has not been constantly reporting on an alarming increase in skin-cancers, respiratory and allergy related diseases for the past 30 years.
We are drifting, dissolving and retreating on all levels and within each and every organic or inorganic system. For the grave, burning planetary problems, our human race needs an urgent and lasting consensus which presupposes bravery, virtue, vision and creativity. All this will not result from fear of coercion, or from further military (nuclear) confrontations, but from the universally shared willingness to accord our common planetary cause. Cognitive mind can do it all.
(1) Additionally, we fundamentally disagree on a role to be played by technology, even on a very definition on what should be considered as technology. Technology is not a state-of-art of science; technology is a state of mind! It is not a linear progression in mastering the natural science disciplines, but a cognitive, emphatic cluster–mastering of the critical insight.
(2) As H. G. Wells once said in a different context: It is clearly the universe or nothing!
(3) Sagan, the great Cosmic Fugue’s storyteller, claims: “Up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perception awaits us. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic, religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars”.
(4) It is not only that our energy appetite is increasing. In a peak-time of what we call the ‘technological age’, our inability to achieve any global energy efficiency is widening as well. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), the total Primary Energy Supply (PES) in 1973 totalled at 6.107 Mtoe while the global Final Energy Consumption (FEC) for the same year totalled at 4.672 Mtoe. Still over 90% based on fossil hydrocarbons but already doubled in less than 40 years, the PES in 2010 was at 12.717 Mtoe while our FEC scored only 8.677 Mtoe. Ergo, we greedily demand more to burn but also to waste.
(5) The Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi has stated in its Report the following: „Climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 people, and economic cost rocketing to $ 600 billion.” Usually the confidential reports of the reinsurance industry leaders such as Swiss RE or Munich RE are less optimistic and more realistic than this one of the GHF.
(6) However, ignorance is bliss: In 2010, the GHF that authored such an indispensable report: Human Impact Report – Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, has shut down for lack of funds. The organization was unable to raise enough cash to stay afloat “because of the global economic crisis. On 31 March 2010 the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs announced that the Forum was over-indebted and obliged to cease its activity. “
(7) Finalists of different TV primetime tirades (so-called Reality shows) that mushroomed in the last decade are receiving generous paychecks and enormous media coverage. This is the way how these anonymous nobodies are overnight becoming prominent celebrities, societal roll-models with the wide influence, unquestionable authority and respect in the blink of an eye. In this constellation a subtle, yet message is clear: the education and to it related creativity, innovations, patents, and discoveries – notably a regular career path based on a diligent creation of new value for the entire society appears as a choice for the misfortunate youth, as the last resort for the failed segments of society.
(8) As Plato claims, the famous philosopher from Miletus Thales’ saying Νοῦς ὑγιὴς ἐν σώματι ὑγιεῖ – Healthy Soul in a Healthy Body (or in Latin: Mens sana in corpore sano).
1. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN FCCC/1992/84, GE.05-62220 (E) 200705 and the Kyoto Protocol to the UN FCCC of 1998, UN Office of Legal Affairs;
2. Final Document: Durban Climate Summit 2011, The Climate Institute;
3. IEA (2011), World Energy Outlook 2011, OECD – IEA Publications
4. Sagan, C. (1980), Cosmos Random House, NY /Carl Sagan Productions Inc. (page: 109)
5. Global Humanitarian Forum (2009), Human Impact Report – Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, GHF, Geneva
6. Dresner, S. (2002), The Principle of Sustainability, EarthScan London
7. Smith, L.C. (2010), The World in 2050 – Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, Dutton (by Penguin group)
8. Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Environmental Ethics, Lectures/Students Reader, Vienna (IMC University Krems), Austria
Increasing Frequency of Cyclones and Flooding Portends Worse Problems
Sixteen years ago on August 29th, hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast causing widespread damage that was estimated at $125 billion. This year, by a remarkable coincidence, hurricane Ida hit on the same date, again August 29th. The weather service holds the end of August though the beginning of September as the period with the highest likelihood of tropical cyclones hitting the Louisiana coast. In light of this, perhaps the coincidence is not quite as uncanny.
While not as large as Katrina, hurricane Ida was more powerful with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour. That is in line with climate scientists who now believe extreme weather events will tend to increase in both severity and frequency unless something is done about global warming.
Another example has been the heat wave last June in the Pacific Northwest in which hundreds of people died. Canada set an all-time-high temperature record of 49.6 degrees Celsius in the village of Lytton. The chance of all this happening without human-induced global warming is about 1 in a 1000. However, the warming makes the event 150 times more likely.
Following Ida was hurricane Larry. Also powerful, it formed in the Atlantic but luckily for the Atlantic coast chose a path straight north. These recurring extreme weather events have caught the attention of scientists. Thus Myhre from the Center for Climate Research in Norway and his coauthors find a strong increase in frequency and confirm previously established intensity. They collected data for Europe over a three-decade period (1951-1980) and repeated the process for 1984-2013. This historical data also allowed them to develop climate models for the future, and, as one might imagine, the future is not rosy.
Expanding their horizon, the authors note that historical and future changes in Europe follow a similar pattern. This does not hold when including the US, Japan and Australia which are likely to experience bigger changes. Given intensity and frequency going hand in hand and also that the study considered natural variability alone, we can only dread the inclusion of human forcing through climate drivers like greenhouse gases.
For coastal residents, sea level rise adds to the hazard. Worse, it is now a problem for people several miles inland. In South Florida, drainage canals are used to return water to the ocean after storm and flooding events; the difficulty now lies in rising sea levels that hinder the efficiency of the drainage canals.
Residents as far away as 20 miles inland have noticed water coming up their driveway, a new and frightening portend of the future. The South Florida Water Management District oversees the canals. It raises and lowers the gates controlling flow to the ocean or vice versa. Thus they can open the gates to release flood water from storms to the ocean.
The problem now is that the ocean level in the Atlantic during some storms is higher than the water level inland so they cannot open the gates — that would simply bring in more water.
All of these happenings are clearly not a happy future prospect … unless we take global warming seriously and act soon.
Human activity the common link between disasters around the world
Disasters such as cyclones, floods, and droughts are more connected than we might think, and human activity is the common thread, a UN report released on Wednesday reveals.
The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looks at 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, and finds that, even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.
A consequence of human influence
The study builds on the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment released on 9 August, and based on improved data on historic heating, which showed that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General described the IPCC assessment as a “code red for humanity”.
Over the 2020-2021 period covered by the UN University, several record-breaking disasters took place, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a cold wave which crippled the US state of Texas, wildfires which destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and 9 heavy storms in Viet Nam – in the span of only 7 weeks.
Whilst these disasters occurred thousands of miles apart, the study shows how they are related to one another, and can have consequences for people living in distant places.
An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced unusually high air temperatures, and the second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.
This warm air destabilized the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America, contributing to the sub-zero temperatures in Texas, during which the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.
COVID and the Cyclone
Another example of the connections between disasters included in the study and the pandemic, is Cyclone Amphan, which struck the border region of India and Bangladesh.
In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without any way to make a living, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.
When the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided the shelters and decided to weather the storm in unsecure locations. In the aftermath, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, compounding the 100 fatalities directly caused by Amphan, which also caused damage in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.
The new report identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.
The first of these, human induced greenhouse gas emissions, is identified as one of the reasons why Texas experienced freezing temperatures, but these emissions also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan, on the other side of the world.
Insufficient disaster risk management, notes the study, was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap, and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.
The report also shows how the record rate of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat: this demand has led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down.
“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour”, says one of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor. “Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”
Solutions also linked
However, Mr. O’Connor is adamant that, just as the problems are interlinked, so are the solutions.
The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
Blue sky thinking: 5 things to know about air pollution
Around 90 per cent of people go through their daily lives breathing harmful polluted air, which has been described by the United Nations as the most important health issue of our time. To mark the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, on 7 September, UN News explains how bad it is and what is being done to tackle it.
1) Air pollution kills millions and harms the environment
It may have dropped from the top of news headlines in recent months, but air pollution remains a lethal danger to many: it precipitates conditions including heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and strokes, and is estimated to cause one in nine of all premature deaths, around seven million every year.
Air pollution is also harming also harms our natural environment. It decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, makes it harder for plants to grow, and contributes to climate change.
Yet, despite the damage it causes, there are worrying signs that air pollution is not seen as a priority in many countries: in the first ever assessment of air quality laws, released on 2 September by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that around 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution, and almost a third of them have yet to adopt legally mandated outdoor air quality standards.
2) The main causes
Five types of human activity are responsible for most air pollution: agriculture, transport, industry, waste and households.
Agricultural processes and livestock produce methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a by-product of waste burning, which emits other polluting toxins, which end up entering the food chain. Meanwhile industries release large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and chemicals.
Transport continues to be responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, despite the global phase out of dangerous leaded fuel at the end of August. This milestone was lauded by senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, who said that it would prevent around one million premature deaths each year. However, vehicles continue to spew fine particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere; it’s estimated that treating health conditions caused by air pollution costs approximately $1 trillion per year globally.
Whilst it may not come as a great shock to learn that these activities are harmful to health and the environment, some people may be surprised to hear that households are responsible for around 4.3 million deaths each year. This is because many households burn open fires and use inefficient stoves inside homes, belching out toxic particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury.
3) This is an urgent issue
The reason that the UN is ringing alarm bells about this issue now, is that the evidence of the effects of air pollution on humans is mounting. In recent years exposure to air pollution has been found to contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.
On top of this, we have known for years that it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
Concern about this type of pollution dovetails with increased global action to tackle the climate crisis: this is an environmental issue as well as a health issue, and actions to clean up the skies would go a long way to reducing global warming. Other harmful environmental effects include depleted soil and waterways, endangered freshwater sources and lower crop yields.
4) Improving air quality is a responsibility of government and private sector
On International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the UN is calling on governments to do more to cut air pollution and improve air quality.
Specific actions they could take include implementing integrated air quality and climate change policies; phasing out petrol and diesel cars; and committing to reduce emissions from the waste sector.
Businesses can also make a difference, by pledging to reduce and eventually eliminate waste; switching to low-emission or electric vehicles for their transport fleets; and find ways to cut emissions of air pollutants from their facilities and supply chains.
5)…and it is our responsibility, as well
At an individual level, as the harmful cost of household activities shows, a lot can be achieved if we change our behaviour.
Simple actions can include using public transportation, cycling or walking; reducing household waste and composting; eating less meat by switching to a plant-based diet; and conserving energy.
The Website for the International Day contains more ideas of actions that we can take, and how we can encourage our communities and cities to make changes that would contribute to cleaner skies: these include organizing tree-planting activities, raising awareness with events and exhibitions, and committing to expanding green open spaces.
How clean is your air?
You may well be wondering exactly how clean or dirty the air around you is right now. If so, take a look at a UNEP website which shows how exposed we are to air pollution, wherever we live.
The site indicates that more than five billion people, or around 70 per cent of the global population, are breathing air that is above the pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization.
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