Friday, August 01, 2008

"100 months" to save the planet?

Always with an eye for a headline the "100 months" to save the planet certainly has more headline appeal than writing "just over 8 years to save the planet". There is even a to accompany this headline. Clever. Although this will be oddly out of date in 1 months time.

There is a curious appeal about round numbers - think the year 2000 end of the world cults that slowly came down from their mountain hideouts a few months later.

'100 months' to stop overheating [Guardian]

Rising greenhouse gas emissions could pass a critical tipping point and trigger runaway global warming within the next 100 months, according to a report today.

The estimate from the New Economics Foundation is based on when emissions will reach such high levels that it "is no longer likely" the world will be able to avoid a 2C rise in average temperatures. "We know climate change is a huge problem, but there's a missing ingredient of urgency," said Andrew Simms, policy director at the foundation.

I am sure that I can confidently predict that the planet will not avoid passing through the 450ppm level of emissions. Given the time taken for the current trade negotiations it will take 100 months just to get some sort of compromised, half baked climate change agreement.

Perhaps the 4 billion that are predicted to suffer severe water shortages and the ensuing migration and inevitable armed conflicts will speed things up. This article also gives me a chance to write about "potentially catastrophic" events.

Andrew Simms (one of the authors) discusses in more detail also in the Guardian. This is an article worth reading in full.

The final countdown [Guardian]

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.

All this is well known (or should be to G&E readers) as are the feedback mechanisms but Simms' description is a good one:

Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative), once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If that happens, the Earth's climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.

The other paragraph that caught my eye concerns those forward looking Cubans.

In terms of what is possible in times of economic stress and isolation, Cuba provides an even more embarrassing example to show up our national tardiness. In a single year in 2006 Cuba rolled-out a nationwide scheme replacing inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with low-energy alternatives. Prior to that, at the end of the cold war, after losing access to cheap Soviet oil, it switched over to growing most of its food for domestic consumption on small scale, often urban plots, using mostly low-fossil-fuel organic techniques. Half the food consumed in the capital, Havana, was grown in the city's own gardens. Cuba echoed and surpassed what America achieved in its push for "Victory Gardening" during the second world war. Back then, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, between 30-40% of vegetables for domestic consumption were produced by the Victory Gardening movement.

Time to go and harvest some runner beans and potatoes from my back garden.



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Anonymous said...

Definitely it is time to start looking at greener ways in our daily pursuits!

~Priyanka said...

How about choosing a new and sustainable way of organizing the global political economy?

August 8, 2008
Kelly Boatman, Chair, City of Bloomington Environmental Commission
(812) 287-0031


The City of Bloomington Environmental Commission has adopted a position statement and completed a report to increase awareness of growth and sustainable development. The statement, “Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States” is modeled on similar statements issued by the United States Society for Ecological Economics and over 40 other groups inspired by the work of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE). The statement advocates a steady state economy in which resource consumption and waste production are maintained within the environment’s capacity to regenerate resources and assimilate waste, emphasizing development as a qualitative, rather than quantitative, process.

“This position statement acknowledges that the human economy is contained within, and dependent on, a finite and depletable natural environment,” said Environmental Commission member Heather Reynolds. “Ever-increasing economic growth ultimately leads to resource consumption and waste production at rates greater than can be sustained by nature.” A steady state economy for the U.S. will depend in no small part on the efforts made by communities across the nation to achieve sustainable local economies. The first step is awareness and acceptance of the concepts, both of which it is hoped that the position statement will foster.

The report, “An Examination of the Costs Associated with Residential Growth in Bloomington” is modeled after similar studies in other communities. Such studies have shown that infrastructure costs to support growth often outpace the benefits of that growth to the city. A sustainable approach to development would mean ensuring long-term benefits outweigh costs.

The Commission’s report focuses on the City of Bloomington’s capital expenditures and how these expenditures are impacted by residential growth. The report is not intended to define the full costs of growth in Bloomington, but rather to illustrate that there are substantial costs incurred by the City to provide necessary infrastructure to residences. To fully examine costs, further analysis of not only facilities and infrastructure, but also social and environmental impacts is needed.

“The Commission’s report illustrates that the City incurs real costs that are associated with residential growth,” said Environmental Commission member Mike Litwin. “The Commission would like to see the costs of growth balanced against the benefits and incorporated into the decision-making process in order to promote sustainable development in Bloomington.” The report and position statement are available on the Environmental Commission website at

Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States

(Adapted from the Position of the United States Society for Ecological Economics on Economic Growth in the United States and adopted on May 22, 2008 in a 4-2-0 vote following two years of discussion.)


1) Economic growth, as understood by most professional economists, policy officials and private citizens, is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and;

2) Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the multiplied product of population and per capita consumption, and;

3) Economic growth has long been a primary policy goal of U.S. society and government because of the belief that it leads to an enhanced quality of life, and;

4) Economic growth is usually measured by increasing gross domestic product (GDP), although this is an incomplete indicator of quality of life that excludes the equity of income distribution, other social factors such as physical health and level of crime, and ecological health, and;

5) The U.S. economy grows as an integrated whole consisting of agricultural, extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors (and the supporting infrastructure) that requires physical inputs of non-renewable resources, land and water, and that produces wastes, and;

6) Economic growth occurs in a finite and depletable biophysical context, and;

7) Continuing non-renewable resource-intensive economic growth is having unintended damaging consequences for ecosystems and human societies…

Therefore, the Bloomington Environmental Commission takes the position that based on the above evidence:

1) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and ecosystem health (in such areas as biodiversity conservation, clean air and water, and atmospheric stability) and the ecosystem services deriving from healthy ecosystems that underpin the human economy (for example, regeneration of renewable resources, decomposition and recycling of wastes, pollination of crops and other vegetation, and climate regulation), and;

2) Although technological progress and unregulated markets have had many positive effects they cannot be depended upon to fully reconcile the conflict between economic growth and the long-term ecological and social welfare of the U.S. and the world, and;

3) A sustainable economy (that is, an economy with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption) is a viable alternative to a growing economy and has become a more appropriate goal for the U.S. and other large, wealthy economies, and;

4) A long-run sustainable economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of ecological and economic capacity (especially during supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages) to promote the efficient use of energy, materials and water, and enable an accelerated shift toward the use of renewable energy sources, and;

5) A sustainable economy supports economic development, an increase in human welfare through strategic changes in the relative prominence of economic sectors and techniques (e.g. renewable vs. non-renewable energy) that maintains the human economy within the regenerative and assimilative capacity of the larger earth system, and;

6) While establishing a sustainable economy, it would be advisable for the U.S. to assist other nations in moving from the goal of economic growth to the goal of a sustainable economy, beginning with those nations currently enjoying adequate per capita consumption, and;

7) For many nations with widespread poverty, increasing per capita consumption through economic growth and often via more equitable distributions of wealth remains an appropriate goal.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001