pollution

Ban the Bag!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/12/2019 - 7:41am in

One hundred twenty-seven countries have introduced regulations like bans and fees to cut down on single-use plastic bags… the kind every deli and bodega still hand out here in New York where I live. This is great news. Plastic bags aren’t just an eyesore — they cause major environmental damage. Thankfully, there is evidence that these bans and fees have begun to have an effect.

One of the most ambitious of these initiatives had been in India, which vowed just last year to eliminate single-use bags entirely by 2022. But in October, officials called off the bag ban, apparently caving to industry pressure. Workers who believed their jobs were threatened by the ban also pushed back. I saw this sign when I was in India this past December:

Credit: David Byrne

There’s no debating that India desperately needs to ban plastic bags, and its sudden reversal shows how political and economic pressures can derail even much-needed efforts. Here is the beach near Mumbai… catastrophic. 

Do the plastic profession workers actually have a point? Couldn’t the plastic containers and bags be replaced by other packaging — paper or reusable bags — and jobs be created in the process?

This is not merely a cosmetic problem. Plastic bags are doing serious harm to all kinds of life on the planet. Even domestic animals like cows die from ingesting these things. In Kenya and other places, where cows are a measure of one’s wealth, there is a huge incentive to prevent your life’s savings from vanishing due to a plastic bag. Plastic bags also clog drains, which causes flooding, and the damage they’re inflicting on ocean life is disrupting the whole food chain. 

Plastic is not just a water problem, it gets caught in trees, endangers wildlife, clogs drains and causes all sorts of ecological and health hazards. Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle (who has walked untethered on the ocean floor at a depth no one else has ever matched) has written extensively about the intertwined fates of humans and the ocean: “Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” 

Many kinds of plastic eventually break down and flow into the soil and the oceans as microplastics — tiny shards of plastic less than five millimeters big. Fish eat these particles, and we eat the fish, which means that just like the cows and the turtles, our bodies are filled with plastic bits.

Manufactured microbeads from exfoliants are only one type of microplastic. Credit: Greenpeace

 Malene Møhl of the Danish Ecocouncil says:

“Microplastics are more jagged and porous than large pieces of plastic, making them like little sponges that soak up toxins from the seas. When animals mistake microplastic for food—like fish eggs or plankton—they also ingest the chemicals the plastic contains. If the plastic doesn’t stop up their digestive systems and cause starvation, the chemicals in the plastic kill them slowly over time.”

These microplastics affect the whole of ocean life, from the organisms lowest on the food chain all the way to the ones at the top. According to the Guardian, mussels are coming unstuck because of microplastics:

When blue mussels were exposed to doses of non-biodegradable microplastics over 52 days, they lost about half their power to stick to surfaces…If mussels are losing their grip in the wild…the effects will be felt beyond the mollusc population. Mussels cling together and form reefs, which help them to breed, and shelter myriad other marine animals and plants, playing an important role in the marine ecosystem.

At this point, at the scale humans are using and discarding plastic, it is no longer the “cheap” option. From a report produced by the World Economic Forum:

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the costs arising from single-use plastics, together with those of the greenhouse gases emitted during production, to be $40 billion. This staggering figure exceeds the current plastic industry’s profit pool and further strengthens the arguments for why current plastic production and consumption must be curbed. It simply no longer makes financial, social or environmental sense.

Single-use plastic bags are not essential to us. They cost us money and are detrimental to our way of life, so it’s time to get rid of them.

Who is getting rid of plastic bags?

Countries like England, Scotland, Wales and Italy are trying a bag tax rather than a complete ban. Shoppers who ask for a bag in those countries pay extra. This strategy has been proven elsewhere, including in a growing number of U.S. cities and states.

From One Green Planet:

Research has shown that whenever such a levy was introduced in other countries, plastic bag usage tends to decrease quickly. When Ireland introduced a 20 cent levy on plastic bags in 2002, usage of the bags declined by 90 percent (that’s about one million fewer plastic bags), with customers now more inclined to bring reusable bags with them to the store.

A few of the many countries banning or taxing plastic bags:

Eritrea 

Eritrea banned plastic bags in its capital back in 2002, and followed up with a nationwide ban three years later. The result has been a dramatic decrease in use—most Eritreans today use nylon, cloth or straw bags—and a subsequent drop in drain blockage. Keeping drains clear helps prevent health hazards from excess sewage and wastewater, which pools to create breeding grounds for bacteria. (Yuck.)

Morocco

Before Morocco banned plastic bags in 2016, Moroccans used more plastic bags than any other country besides the United States. Since the ban took effect, however, the consumption of raw materials used in the manufacture of plastic bags in Morocco has fallen by half. Authorities seized 421 tons of plastic bags in the ban’s first year, proving they’re serious about enforcement.

China 

China began restricting plastic bags in 2008. A decade later, enforcement and scale issues remain. Though a survey conducted in the ban’s first year found a 60 to 80 percent decrease in their use in supermarkets, more recent studies have found that up to 78 percent of Chinese retailers don’t fully comply with the restrictions.

New Zealand

This country has one of the world’s newest plastic bag bans—in August 2018, Kiwis were told they would be phased out, and the ban officially took effect on July 1, 2019.

Kenya 

Kenya is home to the toughest penalties of all. Cattle are currency for some farmers in Kenya, so seeing your cows die after eating plastic bags is like watching your nest egg vanish. As of August 2017, Kenya has enforced a total ban, with fines and a four-year jail term (!) for making or importing plastic bags. Wow.

Given the ubiquity of single-use plastic bags, banning them is a major effort, but it seems the momentum is there and even growing. In our lifetimes, we may even see these bags eliminated from the Earth. This is as much about changing social norms — what constitutes acceptable behavior and practices — as it is about a harmful product. As  more bans take hold and the word gets out it will soon be socially unacceptable to be seen using or giving out single-use plastic bags. As with other habits that have become unacceptable, they will eventually vanish and become a memory.

The post Ban the Bag! appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Texas Man Invents Machine that Creates Drinking Water from Air

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 2:17am in

This is pure Dune technology. This short video of just over 2 minutes long from RepsUp 100 channel on YouTube is a news report about a former ranger, Moses West, from Texas, who has invented a device that creates drinking water from the air. He invented his Atmospheric Water Generator back in 2015. West says of his machine that they’re at the point where they can talk about creating 50,000 – 1,000,000 gallons of water. The energy consumption is incredibly low. According to West, it’s far cheaper than groundwater and desalination. He has so far made eight of these machines. They’re in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan.

According to West, the machines are federally approved and the water quality is tested by the Colorado Water Authority. Most of West’s devices were manufactured in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The news broadcast says that the townspeople should be proud, as one unit provides the town with hundreds of gallons of clean water. It also appears that it doesn’t cost the residents anything, as West works with organisations like the Water Rescue Foundation to cover costs. He also says that people were very happy that somebody actually cared enough to jump over the bureaucracy and do this on a private piece of land. His concern now is to plant these in Flint, Michigan, to help the people there.

I don’t think West’s idea is particularly new. It seems to be a variant on the domestic dehumidifiers that are used to clean the moisture out of people’s homes. Some of these, like the one in the video below from Unbox Therapy on YouTube, manufactured by Ecoloblue, create drinking water from the moisture collected. West seems to have just created a larger, industrial scale version.

It’s a great device, and West is right when he says that there’s a water crisis coming. Back in the 1990s the Financial Times ran an article about how climate change and increasing demands for water are creating conflict. It predicted that in the 21st Century, most wars would be over water. When I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D., I also went to a seminar by a visiting professor, who had researched the effect climate change had through the human past on civilisation. He too was concerned about a coming water shortage. Machines like this could help solve some of those problems.

However, the use of these machines also demonstrates glaring iniquities in the American water supply system. Flint, Michigan, became notorious a few years ago because the local council had allowed companies to pollute the town’s drinking water to truly disgusting levels. People in a superpower like America, the world’s richest country, should not have to rely on charities for their drinking water.

It is, however, very much like something from Science Fiction. I’m reminded of the technology in books and films like Dune and Star Wars to bring water to the desert planets there. Like the system of underground cisterns and windcatchers in Dune to irrigate Arakis, and the moisture vaporators on Tattooine.

Now if only someone would invent something else from Dune – the stillsuit. A suit that collects water from the wearer’s own sweat and urine, and purifies it, turning it into drinking water so that they can survive weeks, even in the deepest desert. And in the 1980s David Lynch film, looked really cool too.

Here’s a brief video from Dune Codex on YouTube explaining how these fictional suits work.

 

Sorry but It Really Is Too Late to Save the World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 6:59pm in

Even if humanity slams on the brakes, stopped emitting carbon dioxide and goes back to horses and buggies, global warming will continue for at least a few more decades. So although Donald Trump and his rolling back of air pollution emissions standards are annoying, it’s probably too late anyway.

Jacob Gitman on Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/11/2019 - 8:22am in

Many people are unaware or unwilling to accept the fact that climate change is making an irreversible impact on planet Earth. According to NASA, the global temperature has risen by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. It may seem like negligible temperature rise, but it has caused changes in weather patterns and caused ocean levels to…

The post Jacob Gitman on Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy appeared first on Peak Oil.

Copenhagen: Life in the Slow Lane

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/10/2019 - 5:41pm in

Colin Todhunter Indian cities are in crisis. Spend any length of time in a large city there and you will notice the overcrowding, the power and water shortages and, during monsoon, the streets that transform into stinking, litter-strewn rivers. At times, these cities can be almost unbearable to live in. And, not least of course, …

No Class

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/10/2019 - 3:37am in

John Steppling In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.” Mao – On Practice (1937) That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who …

Multi-Millionaire Right-Wing Corporate Donor David Koch Dies

This weekend the papers reported that David Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers family of oil billionaires had finally dropped off his perch. He had become an ex-Koch. He had ceased to be. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had gone to join the choir invisibule.

I know it’s poor form to speak ill of the dead, but the Koch brothers are an utterly malign family, and their political legacy is absolutely toxic. I dare say that individually they may be absolutely charming men. But they were also greedy, rapacious, and dedicated to attacking almost every progressive advance in American society and economics since the 19th century. They were one of the main founders and ardent promoters of Libertarianism, and founded a network of extreme right-wing think tanks and pressure groups to push through their noxious agenda. And as oil billionaires, they were most notorious through their campaigns denying climate change, attempting to discredit or suppress proper climate science and remove environmental legislation so that they could continue dumping carcinogen sludge into America’s rivers and waterways.

The video below by the Rational National, presented by David Doel, concisely shows how deeply unpleasant the Kochs were and are. And this was personally as well as politically. David Koch and two of his brothers joined together in a plot to blackmail a fourth brother into giving his share of the family business to them. This brother had never had a girlfriend. They thought he was gay, and threatened to tell their father about his lifestyle. Yes, they really were that low and scummy, ready to stab their own brother in the back just for a share of the corporate profits. They were an example of why Ripley says in the James Cameron film, Aliens, why the xenomorphs are better than humans. Or at least the corporate types. Because ‘you don’t see them fucking each other over for a percentage’.

The Rational National then goes on to show how the Koch brothers were instrumental in getting the anti-union legislation passed through one of their political groups, AFP. This stands for Americans For Prosperity. In the case of the US’s working people, the blue collar Joes and Jos, who really built the country, the name should be called Americans For Poverty. As the Rational National argues, the unions were one of the major forces bringing prosperity to working men and women. When their power was broken, there was a massive transfer of wealth upwards to the rich.

The video then shows a tweet from the Sunrise Movement about how the Koch brothers blocked environmental bills going through Congress, promoted fake science denying climate change, and attacking the environmental legislation preventing them from dumping carcinogens into the water. Thanks to them, Americans’ health in this regard is being affected for the worse. There’s also a clip of the report Christopher Leonard on The Morning Show discussing how the Koch brothers derailed America’s last best attempt to introduce regulations against climate change and greenhouse emissions in 2010. He compares them unfavourably with other big oil companies like Exxon, who were prepared to accept some legislation, including a carbon tax. But their influence wasn’t just confined to America. They also back Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the Fascist maniac now torching the country’s forests and threatening us all with runaway global warming and extinction. Bolsonaro was funded by the ATLAS Network, another Koch pressure groups, which exists to spread Libertarianism globally.

Doel also cites a tweet by Rational National contributer Keith Boykin, about the other subjects he can’t go into in this short video. These are the Koch brothers’ desire to abolish state schools, social security, rent control, Medicare and Medicaid. He funded the Tea Partyand groups that denied climate change . They also used dark money to fund right-wing causes and Republican politicos. 

Doel also makes the point that the Kochs also weren’t philanthrophists in any sense of the word. All their funding was entirely in their own selfish interests. He cites an article from the New Yorker that quotes the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, who found that the Kochs’ donations were to organisations that directly affected their profit margins. And Koch didn’t even try to hide. He admitted that the family issued tight ideological control. If the organisations to which they gave didn’t do what they wanted, then the money was withdrawn.

Doel concludes by summarising David Koch’s career, stating that he was a horrible person. And I can’t see any reason to argue with that. 

One of the beneficiaries of the Koch brothers’ money over here is the infamous Spiked magazine, which was given $300,000 by the millionaire dirt-wads. And so editor Brendan O’Neill smears the international concern about the destruction of the Amazon as racist and imperialist. O’Neill was torn to shreds for his shameless lying and gross propaganda on twitter, by people strongly criticising him for his patronising attitude towards the working class as well as his defence of the destruction of the world’s supply of oxygen. One, Alex Tiffin, said of O’Neill that if Corbyn demanded tougher sentencing for child abuse, O’Neill would immediately write an article demanding its legalisation. See Zelo Street’s excellent article on about this sorry piece of spurious journalism at

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brendan-oneills-david-koch-memorial-dump.html

He concludes: ‘Brendan O’Neill spouts his climate change denial garbage because those who have fucked the climate pay him to do so. End of story.’

I’m left wondering what other right-wing groups in the UK are also being funded by the Kochs, not least the Tory party. I’m sure the surviving Koch brothers are absolutely delighted by BoJob. 

 

Brendan O’Neill Claims El Paso Mass Murderer ‘Eco-Terrorist’

Is there no lie so low that Brendan O’Neill and Spiked won’t stoop to? Spiked magazine, as has been pointed out by various left-wing blogs, is completely unrelated to the satirical magazine of the same name that briefly appeared in the 1990s. That was an attempt to compete with Private Eye, but rather more left-wing and much more scatological. It had a cartoon strip spoofing Clinton with the title ‘Clinton’s Got Aides’, for example, which was presumably a pun about both the presidential staffers and the disease. The modern Spiked is frantically right-wing. It’s what happened to the net work around Living Marxism magazine after Communism collapsed. Instead of carrying on the ideological struggle for equality and workers’ rights, the former Revolutionary Communists decided to throw on in their lot with capitalism and became extremely right-wing. And one of their latest pieces of drivel is very unpleasant indeed.

On Thursday, the Sage of Crewe put up on Zelo Street a piece taking apart an article by Brendan O’Neill, one of Spiked’s hacks, who decided to vent his spleen and try to smear the left with the El Paso massacre last weekend. You’d have thought this would be difficult, as the murderer was a White supremacist with a bitter hatred of immigrants. Like the White terrorist a few months ago who shot up the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, because they were Jews, who were heavily involved with a charity for immigrants. But no, for O’Neill it was because the mass-murderer was an ‘eco-terrorist’. O’Neill’s piece began

“In his alleged manifesto, the killer, alongside his racist rants about Hispanic people and the ‘replacement’ of whites, attacks modern society for being eco-unfriendly. Westerners’ lifestyles are ‘destroying the environment’ and ‘creating a massive burden for future generations’, he says. He seems obsessed with the core element of green thinking.

He then went on to state that the murderer in his manifesto was also strongly opposed to urban sprawl, consumer culture for producing thousands of tonnes of plastic and electronic waste, and humanity’s decimation of the environment. He also alleged that the murderer targeted a Wal-Mart as an act of ‘eco-Malthusianism’. O’Neill speculated that he not only wanted to kill Latinos, but also shoppers. He also claimed that the butcher, who opened fire on the worshippers at the mosque in Christchurch said that he was an ‘eco-Fascist’ not a Nazi. The Zelo Street article effectively tears O’Neill’s nonsense to shreds, quoting a comment by Zubaida Haque:

“Brendan O’Neill’s piece is utterly dishonest. I’ve seen the manifesto thru a journalist. It’s almost entirely focused on immigrants and barely mentions environmentalists. And there’s a whole section on guns, how it’s great that US have them and how the killer needed to adapt his”.

Zelo Street notes that, strangely, O’Neill’s article doesn’t mention that. He also skewers the article’s attempts to appear mildly even-handed by throwing in a few ‘perhaps’ and ‘it seems’ when the title of the wretched article asserts that ‘El Paso was a vile act of eco-terrorism’. He concludes that O’Neill is a massive charlatan, ‘so no change there then’.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brendan-o-neill-out-trolls-himself.html

There are several points of interest about the article, and how it tries to divert attention from the attacker’s real motives. One is O’Neill’s careful avoidance of informing his readers that the El Paso terrorist was a gun nut. The Republican party gets a considerable amount of funding from the NRA, whose leadership get donations from the gun and munitions companies. Most Americans, including the rank and file members of the NRA, would actually like tougher legislation on certain types firearms to prevent atrocities like this occurring. Or at least, preventing the killers from having access to military-grade weaponry. But because of the power of corporate sponsorship, this is ignored in favour of the fanatics, who believe that every American should have the right to own the type of guns and armaments wielded by professional soldiers. In the name of freedom, of course.

The argument here is that a free people need guns in order to defend themselves from an oppressive regime. The Holocaust is often cited as an example. If the Jews had guns, it’s argued, they could have successfully fought off the Nazis. This ignores the fact that the legislation permitting and demanding their persecution was gradually enacted, so that it is difficult to tell when German and eastern European Jews could have rebelled before it was too late. Furthermore, while the Jews were disarmed, the Nazis were also very firmly in favour of ‘Aryan’ Germans owning firearms. And in many cases, Jews did not go passively to the gas chambers, but rose in heroic revolt. But this didn’t help them, because they were pitched against the massively superior force of the German armed forces. No matter how incredibly bravely they fought, it was inevitable that, with the exception of the Russian Jews, who banded together in that country’s forests, they’d lose.

Guns don’t guarantee freedom. And the availability of military-grade weapons to the public just makes atrocities like El Paso possible, regardless of the views of doubtless responsible weapons hobbyists.

There’s also the attempt in O’Neill’s article to smear Green politics with the taint of Fascism. The Republicans in America have been doing that for a very long time. I remember coming across this type of argument in the 1980s. This argues that because the Nazis were very ecologically aware, environmentalism itself is somehow automatically Fascist. This obviously ignores the central features of Fascism – dictatorship, extreme nationalism, racism and militarism. It also ignores the fact that the roots of the modern Green movement lies in the increasing appreciation of the threatened beauty of the natural world from the 19th century onward by thinkers and social movements that had nothing to do with Nazism or organised anti-Semitism. One source of the American Conservationist movement, for example, is working class huntsmen. The same people the American Right tends to celebrate and defend. In fact much of the early Conservationist movement in both America and Britain came from the first few generations of factory workers, who yearned for the beauty of the countryside their parents and grandparents had left in search of work. At the same time, local authorities and the wider public in Britain became concerned about the threat to the countryside from urban sprawl and the dangers to health from industrial pollution, lack of sanitation and overcrowding. One early example of this new sensibility in art is Cruikshank’s 1829 cartoon, London Going Out of Town, which shows the capital, represented by decaying buildings, and personified by marching, anthropomorphic buckets and spades, invading a terrified, equally anthropomorphised countryside.

O’Neill’s piece also shows how desperate the Anglo-American Right are to divert attention from the role of nationalism in the rising racism and the resulting atrocities. Remember how Candace Owens, when she appeared over here to promote Turning Point UK, tried to distance nationalism from the Nazis? She notoriously claimed that, in her opinion, Hitler wasn’t a nationalist. He was the opposite of a nationalist, she claimed, because he didn’t want what was right for his own country. He imposed it on others. She was rightly torn to shreds for this piece of utter bunkum by people, who pointed out that her wretched comment seemed to suggest that it would have been all right for Hitler to exterminate the Jews, if he had just kept to those in Germany. They also pointed out that Hitler actively said that he was a nationalist. It was in his party’s name: the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Conservatives, not just in America, like to claim that he was a socialist on the basis of the party’s name, despite the fact that the Nazis weren’t and were actively hostile to it, whatever they said to the contrary. But they really don’t want to face the fact that he also rightly claimed to be a nationalist.

O’Neill’s article is thus absolute rubbish, designed to protect nationalism and the gun lobby by throwing the blame instead on the Green movement. It’s an example of Spiked’s absolute mendacity, and is pretty much in line with the Right’s hatred of environmentalism and its increasing concern to defend racism and extreme nationalism. And unfortunately, as governments in America and Britain move rightward, I fear we can expect more of this dangerous nonsense.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

The Connection Between Population, Income, and Health

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/07/2019 - 6:38am in

By Max Kummerow

For hundreds of years, economists have debated whether population growth is good or bad. Malthus said exponential population growth increases labor supply, so wages fall until starvation, war, or plague stops growth in numbers. Marx said capitalism causes poverty and hunger, so population growth is good, because “every stomach is born with a pair of hands”, bringing revolution and justice closer.

Nearly 200 years later, Garrett Hardin and Julian Simon were still debating the same question.1 Hardin insisted that individuals’ decisions whether to have children without considering the tragedy of the commons could add up collectively to overpopulation and environmental catastrophe. Simon responded that human ingenuity is “the ultimate resource”. Shortages lead to new inventions that benefit the collective whole. Simon cited 300 years of falling commodity prices, indicating less scarcity, not more, despite population growth from 500 million to 5 billion.

The debate is ongoing, with most mainstream economists supporting population growth, while ecological economists warn about “overshoot” and collapse as the earth’s resources are used up.

One reason this debate has taken so long to settle is that both sides are right. Economies of scale and technological progress mean bigger cities, businesses, machines, and farms can often be more efficient, raising economic output. But with too many people, there are negative externalities—pollution, traffic congestion, crowding, and resource shortages. Above optimum size, cities, businesses, machines, and farms get less efficient.

Graph showing that optimum population maximizes incomes.

Optimum population size maximizes incomes.

The ideal level of population depends on preferences. How rich do you want to be, and what lifestyle do you wish to lead? Do you want to live in a McMansion (or even a “regular” mansion)? How much space should be reserved for other species? How much space should be reserved for the functioning of ecosystem services such as water purification, carbon sequestration, and nutrient recycling? Do future generations count in these calculations? How much traffic congestion can you tolerate? These questions aren’t asked often enough by sufficient numbers of people.

However, data already exists to settle the long-running economists’ debate about population growth’s effects on incomes and health. Countries that achieved “demographic transitions” to less than 2.1 children per woman enjoy dramatically better economic and health outcomes. The table below compares the most relevant figures associated with four levels of fertility.

 

Table 1 Better outcomes with lower fertility rates (TFR, children/woman)

In 2015, the low-fertility countries (<2.1) had average incomes nine times higher than those of high-fertility countries (>4.1). Infant mortality was 47 per 1,000 births lower, and life expectancy was 18 years greater. Of course, many other factors determine incomes and health outcomes: education, natural resources, health care systems, rule of law, improved status of women, and other factors. But the constellation of factors that helps countries prosper strongly correlates with low birth rates. Persistent high fertility rates leave countries treading water, while lower fertility rates make improving the other variables easier. The graph below shows falling global fertility but the substantial discrepancy in fertility between low- and high-income countries..

Fertility rates for world, high and low income countries, 1960-2015

Fertility rates for world, high and low income countries, 1960-2015

When birthrates fall, a country faces less tax burden because there is less need to expand infrastructure, education, and health care. A “demographic dividend” comes from increased labor force participation by women, more educational expenditure per child, and freeing of capital for investment. Slower growth in population moderates demand and prices of scarce commodities such as land, housing, food, energy, and other commodities.

These effects can also be seen at an individual family level. USDA estimates the cost to raise a child to age 17 at $233,000.3 Women who delay childbearing to get more education have higher lifetime earnings. If parents choose to have fewer children, they can have significantly improved standards of living and higher retirement savings. An only child will probably inherit more than four times as much as a child in a family with four children. In a subsistence farming community, a four-child family-size as the norm halves land per capita every generation. One child doubles per capita family land.

These recent data should end the long-running economists’ debate. In our present world, having fewer children improves economic and health outcomes for individual families and for countries. As the world moves toward steady state economies, reversing population growth improves lives for everyone.

In summary:

  • World population still grows by 80 million per year, headed from 1 billion in 1800 to 10 billion by mid-century.
  • Nearly half of the world’s countries have accomplished “fertility transitions” to birthrates that, if continued, would begin to decrease populations after the fifty years of further growth that results from “population momentum”.
  • Increased efforts to promote family planning in countries with persistent high birthrates will be required to complete the transition to a steady-state population.

[1] They were literally debating. I attended one of their debates, moderated by a history professor in Madison, Wisconsin in 1983.

[2] World Bank’s World Development Indicators. Income is a “purchasing power parity” comparison.

[3] https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child

 

Max Kummerow, Ph.D., is a retired business school professor and population activist who researches demography, ecology, and economic development. He has presented papers at ESA, PJSA, NCSE, PAA and EAERE meetings showing the benefits of accelerating the world’s stalled demographic transition toward lower fertility rates.

 

 

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