a DUTY of CARE – to our children

On May 27, 2021 the Australian Federal Court found something it never has before: a Duty of Care by the Minister for the Environment to Australia’s young people not to cause them physical harm in the form of personal injury from climate change.  Conservationists lauded it as “a landmark judgement on climate change, marking an important moment in our history”.  

Laura Kirwin, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ava Princi and Liv Heaton pose for a photo outside The Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Thursday, May 27, 2021

The language used in the judgement is graphic:

“It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. 

As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well.

The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme and devastatingly brutal when angry. As for the human experience – quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper – all will be greatly diminished.

Lives will be cut short. Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.

None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what might fairly be described as the greatest inter-generational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.

To say that the children are vulnerable is to understate their predicament.”


PLEASE NOTE: I am not a lawyer!  I advise anyone interested to read the full text  and some extracts at end of this post.

The Case

The class action case was brought on behalf of all Australian children and teenagers, against the Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley (and Vickery Coal Pty Ltd as a second respondent) .

Their aim was to prevent Ley from possibly approving a coal mine project, near Gunnedah in New South Wales. They argued that approving this project would endanger their future because of climate hazards, including causing them injury, ill health, death or economic losses.

The case – “Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021]” was heard by Judge Bromberg of the Victorian Registry of the Federal Court of Australia.

Judge Bromberg’s summary of the case is at the end of this post.

The Result

The judgement is narrow in one sense; it orders the parties to come back to court to answer questions and make suggestions. It denies the children’s request to stop development of the mine and leaves that decision to the Minister.

But the breakthrough (in my non-legal opinion) is in the following points:

The judge has formally declared that the Minister (i.e. the Government) has a Duty of Care to the children of Australia.  “By reference to contemporary social conditions and community standards, a reasonable Minister for the Environment ought to have the Children in contemplation when facilitating the emission of 100 Mt of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere.  It follows that the applicants have established that the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury to the Children when deciding … to approve or not approve the … Project”.

The scientific basis for the findings is part of the judgement and now becomes legal precedent.  It is also a good primer on climate change for anyone still not convinced of the science.  (The diagram below is one of many in the judgement)

The Minister for the Environment (i.e. the Australian Government) did not challenge any of these scientific facts:  “Looking to the future, the Minister accepts that under all future emission scenarios, it is very likely that: (a) average temperatures will continue to increase and Australia will experience more heat extremes and fewer frosty days; (b) extreme rainfall events will become more intense; (c) southern and eastern Australia will experience more extreme fire-related weather; (d) the time in drought will increase over southern Australia; (e) sea levels will continue to rise throughout the 21st century, with increased frequency of storm surge events; and (f) oceans around Australia will warm and become more acidic. The Minister also accepts that the projected effects of climate change vary depending upon the extent of global emissions of greenhouse gases in coming years.

By logical extension the Duty of Care extends to ALL CHILDREN: “although the applicants did not press for relief in relation to children residing outside of Australia, those children remain represented persons in the proceeding”. 

And finally; the legal precedents for this judgement have been researched and recorded. I have not read this section of the judgement and do not intend to 🙂

The Future – Options – (Please note again; I am no lawyer!)

The Minister may approve the mine extension anyway. Certainly the company sounds optimistic. The minister may also be influenced in this decision by more immediate political reasons: “One of the Coalition’s most senior women, the federal environment minister Sussan Ley, is expected to face a challenge in her rural New South Wales seat of Farrer amid allegations of “toxic” branch-stacking by far-right conservatives in the seat” (from this article)

A possible appeal to the High Court of Australia

Some other agreement after the responses requested by Judge Bromberg.

The meme “Duty of Care” will remain !


The 1bio story is:  “We have a “Duty of Care” to the children of today”

I simply took the words of the judgement and extended it in two ways; first by including all children (which is already there) and second by including all adults as the holders of that duty.  Sure it is the Minister and her equivalent, elected or appointed, officials who have the power to make these decisions.  But it is us who have the power, through voting and other civil action, to influence the elections and appointments.

Time is short

The second half of this century, going into 2100, seems a long way off.  That’s how it feels.  Plenty of time to look at alternatives, develop new technologies, and do some more studies.

But it’s less than 80 years away!  Most of us expect to live close to, or beyond, our 80’s. In 2100 the children of today will be old and will have children and grandchildren.  All of them will have to cope with the decisions we make today. Today they are essentially powerless.  We owe them this Duty of Care and use our power to make the right decisions for them.  We adults are expected to care for our children and prepare them for life in general.  So clearly we also need to leave them a viable biosphere.

Looking backwards we are shaped by the decisions made 80 years ago.  1940 is not so long ago for those of us who are nearing, or in, our 80’s.  All of us are shaped by the decisions of those days; from Katyn, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dunkirk to Daisy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Captain America.

The adults of 2100 will be shaped by our decisions now, but in an additional dimension because the effects will not be confined to the universe of human ideas like nations, politics and economics, but will result in changes to “Nature” – to the biosphere.

The “trail of proof” for the story is the detail of the judgement and the extensive references to basic research and analysis.  It is telling that this scientific basis was not challenged by the government of Australia!


Other legal stories that came up as I was writing this post:

A duty of care similar to the Australian case  was found in the Netherlands in 2015, as a global first. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld that duty – the Dutch government owed its citizens a duty to reduce emissions in order to protect human rights.  The Australian case follows that lead.

A report indicates that a proposed post-Brexit trade agreement between Australia and the UK includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) scheme, which allows firms to sue governments when they believe policies have left them out of pocket. ISDS is a system of private courts convened in private and arbitrated by judges, allowing firms to bypass domestic civil courts. The original intent was to protect international companies from seizure of their assets in the aftermath of a coup or by a rogue state, for example a mine being nationalized without reasonable compensation. Recent ISDS cases include a Swedish energy firm suing Germany for policies that cut water pollution; a US drugs firm suing Canada for trying to reduce medicine prices; a French multinational suing Egypt for increasing its national minimum wage and the Dutch government is being sued in these courts for phasing out coal power

A California politician is taking steps to declare a fish legally extinct. The Delta smelt originates in the San Francisco Estuary and grows to about 4 inches.  They are considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  The fish is at the center of a battle between farmers and environmentalists. Smelt species protections mean a larger water flow through rivers and eventually to the Pacific, and less for farmers. The fish has teetered on the edge of extinction for years. The politician argues there is no reason to wait any longer to call the fish extinct, not when water is so important in the central San Joaquin Valley.  “We can’t let a technicality or government regulation get in the way of what our whole economy relies on,” he said. “Our economy relies on water.”

Declaring a species legally extinct so that it needs no further protection is truly dystopian in scope. I leave it to you to explore how far that thought can be taken…


Note 1 – Quotes from the Judgement

[In 2016]”…, Whitehaven applied to the Minister to expand and extend the Approved Project in accordance with s 68 of the EPBC [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act. Vickery replaced Whitehaven as the proponent of the Extension Project on 17 July 2018. If approved, the Extension Project would, amongst other things, increase total coal extraction from the mine site from 135 to 168 million tonnes (Mt).  When combusted, the additional coal extracted from the Extension Project will produce about 100 Mt of CO2.

The Minister has before her the decision to approve or refuse the Extension Project under s 130(1) and s 133 of the EPBC Act. This proceeding concerns that decision.

In this proceeding the applicants claim that the Minister owes each of the Children a duty to exercise her power under s 130 and s 133 of the EPBC Act with reasonable care so as not to cause them harm. That duty of care is said to arise by reason of the existence of a legal relationship between the Minister and the Children recognised by the law of negligence.

The applicants apprehend that the Minister will fail to discharge the duty by exercising her discretion in favour of the approval of the Extension Project. The applicants seek declaratory and injunctive relief designed to preclude the Minister from failing to discharge the duty of care they claim she has. 

The particular harm relevant to the alleged duty of care is mental or physical injury, including ill-health or death, as well as economic and property loss. The applicants assert that the Children are likely to suffer those injuries in the future as a consequence of their likely exposure to climatic hazards induced by increasing global surface temperatures driven by the further emission of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere. The feared climatic hazards include more, longer and more intense bushfires, storm surges, coastal flooding, inland flooding, cyclones and other extreme weather events

The applicants allege that such harm will occur in the future and mainly towards the end of this century when global average surface temperatures are forecast to be significantly higher than they are currently. Broadly speaking, it is at that time that, unlike today’s adults, today’s children will be alive and will be the class of persons most susceptible to the harms in question. Indeed, the applicants say that today’s children will live on Earth during a period in which, if CO2 concentration continues to increase, some harm is very probable, serious harm is likely and cataclysmal harm is possible. This seems to be the basis for the proceeding being directed to providing relief to children, as distinct from all persons. On this basis, the applicants say that the Children are vulnerable to a known, foreseeable risk of serious harm, which the Minister can control, but they cannot. In addition, the applicants say that by her position in the Commonwealth Executive, the Minister has special responsibilities to Australian children.The applicants say that if the Minister approves the Extension Project, carbon presently stored safely underground at the mine site of the Extension Project will be extracted, combusted and emitted as CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere and will materially contribute to CO2 concentration.

The Minister does not dispute that climate change presents serious threats and challenges to the environment, the Australian community and the world at large. However, the Minister denies the existence of a duty of care as alleged.

The risk of harm to the Children is not remote, it is reasonably foreseeable and it is therefore a real risk for reasons already explained. The Minister has direct control over the foreseeable risk because it is her exercise of power upon which the creation of that risk depends. To my mind, there is therefore a direct relation between the exercise of the Minister’s power and the risk of harm to the Children resulting from the exercise of that power. The entirety of the risk of harm flowing from that exercise of power is therefore in the Minister’s control.” 

Note 2 – Minister for the Environment

Given the different political systems in the USA and Australia it is difficult to draw an equivalence between the Australian “Minister for the Environment” and the corresponding position in the USA.  The closest may be the United States Secretary of the Interior. However Sussan Ley, the current Minister for the Environment, is also the elected lower house member of parliament for the rural New South Wales seat of Farrer. As such she is subject to the same election pressures as any other member of the Australian parliament.

Note 3 – Sister Arthur

As a result of the age of the applicants, the proceedings were brought by their representative, 86 year-old Sister Marie Brigid Arthur, who is a Sister of the Brigidine Order of Victoria.  She has been an activist in a number of cases including refugees, the treatment of juvenile offenders, solitary confinement and other matters.

Note 4 – Justice Bromberg

Justice Bromberg is part of the Full Federal Court (similar to a US Federal Court of Appeal).  The High Court of Australia, equivalent to the US Supreme Court, is the highest and final court in the land.

Judges on the Australian High Court, and the Federal Courts, have a mandatory retirement age of 70 (vs. lifetime appointments in the US).  There are formal qualifications for appointment and the process is similar to that in the US; i.e. nomination and, effectively, appointment by the government in power. However the Australian process has wider input and is a far less public process than in the US.

Note 5 – the case in Justice Bromberg’s words

“In a nutshell, the applicants’ case is that the scientific evidence demonstrates the plausible possibility that the effects of climate change will bring about a future world in which the Earth’s average surface temperature (currently at about 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperature levels) will reach about 4°C above pre-industrial temperature levels by about 2100. Supported by unchallenged expert evidence, the applicants contended that a 4°C future world may come about in one of two ways: first, where the greenhouse effect upon the Earth’s increasing temperature is driven by an approximately linear relationship between increased human emissions of CO2 and increased temperatures, and second,  in circumstances where continuing human emissions of CO2 will result in ‘Earth System’ changes, which diminish the Earth’s current ability to reflect heat, absorb CO2, and retain CO2 currently held in carbon sinks, triggering ‘tipping cascades’ which propel the Earth into a 4°C trajectory.”


Net Zero by 2050 – the mob rule of climate activists

“The IEA has surrendered its integrity to the mob rule of climate activists” was one response to a report released by the International Energy Agency on the 18th of May 2021.

Ah, yes, the mob, painted in druidish symbols, waving “∃!Ⓑ” banners, storming the concrete ramparts of 9 rue de la Fédération and smashing urns of priceless vintage crude until the IEA surrendered its integrity…

But seriously; given the IEA’s historically close association with the oil industry and the stark nature of the report – “Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector” – some strong reactions had to be expected.

Taken together, this Roadmap, the Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper  paint an excruciating picture of the problems we have created and also offer a path to solve them.  However success will call for major and urgent behavior change from the personal to the international level.  We have done it before – but only at times of war.  This fight for the biosphere is a step beyond.

In 224 pages, the Roadmap lays out a path for getting to Net Zero by 2050.  To me it appears like a Rorschach test; we all “see” something different.  Climate champions welcome the sense of urgency and call to action, while questioning a number of specifics.  Fossil fuel people react in more or less polite anger. The nuclear guys like what they see but want more. (See Note at end)


Let the Roadmap speak for itself:

“…the pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C

“…clean  energy  transitions  must  be  fair  and inclusive, leaving  nobody behind.  We  have  to  ensure  that  developing  economies  receive  the financing  and  technological  know‐how  they  need  to  continue  building  their  energy  systems to  meet  the  needs  of  their  expanding  populations  and  economies  in  a  sustainable  way.  It  is a  moral  imperative  to  bring  electricity  to  the  hundreds  of  millions  of  people  who  currently are deprived of  access to it, the  majority of them in Africa”.   

The  transition  to  net  zero  is  for  and  about  people.  It  is  paramount  to  remain  aware  that  not every  worker  in  the  fossil  fuel  industry  can  ease  into  a  clean  energy  job … Citizens must  be  active  participants  in  the  entire  process,  making  them  feel  part  of  the  transition  and not  simply  subject  to  it.”

“Priority Action” items from the Roadmap are:

  • Make the  2020s the decade of massive  clean  energy expansion – All  the  technologies  needed  to  achieve  the  necessary  deep  cuts  in  global  emissions  by 2030  already  exist,  and  the  policies  that  can  drive  their  deployment  are  already  proven.
  • Prepare for the next phase of the transition by boosting innovation – Clean energy innovation must accelerate rapidly, with governments putting R&D, demonstration and deployment at the core of energy and climate policy.
  • Clean energy  jobs will grow strongly  but must be  spread widely – Energy  transitions  have  to  take  account  of  the  social  and  economic  impacts  on individuals and  communities,  and treat people  as active participants.
  • Set near-term milestones to get  on track for long-term targets – Governments  need  to  provide  credible  step‐by‐step  plans  to  reach  their  net  zero  goals, building confidence among investors, industry, citizens and  other countries.
  • Drive a  historic surge in  clean energy investment – Policies  need  to  be  designed  to  send  market  signals  that  unlock  new  business  models and mobilize private spending,  especially in emerging economies
  • Address emerging energy security risks now – Ensuring  uninterrupted  and  reliable  supplies  of  energy  and  critical  energy‐related commodities at  affordable prices will only rise in importance  on the way to  net zero.
  • Take international co-operation to new heights – This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions.

NUMBERS from the Roadmap:

[EJ = exajoule – 1018 joules, CAAGR = Compound Average Annual Growth Rate, CCUS = Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage]

  • Total energy supply – going down! IEA expects everybody in the world to have access to electricity, while saving enough through “behavioural” changes to have a net reduction.  [What a great goal. Is it realistic?]
  • Renewables – a big increase in all renewables (except Hydro).
    • Solar – “For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day. To reach net zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion”.  [Wow…]
    • Bioenergy – this increase has drawn criticism from a number of sources.  [Can it be done and also ensure biodiversity, long term soil health, community integrity? See my previous post on biomass.]
  • Traditional biomass: “Some  40%  of  the  solid  biomass  was  used  in  traditional  cooking  methods  which is unsustainable, inefficient and polluting, and  was linked to  2.5 million  premature deaths in 2020.  The  use  of  solid  biomass  in  this  manner  falls  to  zero  by  2030 …”. [A laudable goal and in line with the goal of providing access to electricity to all.  Can it be done in less than 9 years?  In the face of tradition and poverty?]
  • Nuclear – The IEA has been a supporter of nuclear energy through its history and does not change in this report.  The word “nuclear” appears some 90 times in the report (to be fair so do the other fuels).  However the word “waste” does not appear anywhere near “nuclear”.  The report does state: “The  large  fleet  of  ageing  nuclear  reactors  in  advanced  economies  means  their decommissioning  increases,  despite  many  reactor  lifetime  extensions”.  [What happens to the waste from these reactors? The nuclear waste issue is not solved.  Of all the countries using nuclear power only Finland is in the actual construction phase of a High Level/Long Term Waste storage facility.  Many countries, including the USA, China, France and Sweden, have identified and planned sites. But all have run into roadblocks preventing construction – from my previous post on nuclear power]
  • Fossil Fuels – As expected these take the greatest hit in the roadmap.  Adding the “unabated” (i.e. with direct GHG emissions) and the “with CCUS” numbers the drop from 2020 to 2050, in exo-joules, is: Gas; 137 to 60, Oil; 173 to 42 and Coal; 154 to 17 – with the attendant loss of revenues and employment. [The problem here is that although CCUS is known technology, “rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”]

KEY UNCERTAINTIES called out in the Roadmap are: “…behavioural  change,  bioenergy  and  CCUS  for  fossil  fuels.  These three  areas  were  selected  because  the  assumptions  made  about  them  involve  a  high  degree of  uncertainty  and  because  of  their  critical  contributions  to  achieve  net‐zero  emissions  by 2050″.

  • Behavior – This is mostly in flying, driving and heating/cooling behaviors
  • Bioenergy  – “….there  are  constraints  on  expanding  the  supply  of  bioenergy:  with  finite potential  for  bioenergy  production  from  waste  streams,  there  are  possible  trade‐offs between  expanding  bioenergy  production,  achieving  sustainable  development  goals  and avoiding conflicts with other land uses, notably food production”. [As stated before this does not address concerns re biodiversity, species loss, quite apart from the aesthetics of “wild places”]
  • CCUS – “The use of CCUS with fossil fuels provides almost 70% of the total growth in CCUS to 2030 in the NZE. Yet the prospects for the rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”

Others, in my opinion equally uncertain are:

  • Innovation – “Innovation is key to developing new clean energy technologies and advancing existing ones. The importance of innovation increases as we get closer to 2050 because existing technologies will not be able to get us all the way along the path to net‐zero emissions. Almost 50% of the emissions reductions needed in 2050 in the NZE depend on technologies that are at the prototype or demonstration stage, i.e. are not yet available on the market
  • International Cooperation – “Take international co-operation to new heights. This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions”. 

BOTTOM LINE: Massive, urgent, international and personal change is needed to meet global warming goals.  Can it be done?  Yes.  Will it be done?  The probability is: No.  But let’s surprise ourselves.


Note 1 – The IEA NZE Roadmap

Note 2 – IEA history note

Note 2 – IEA history note

As an example of previous IEA positions here is a June 2014 report: World needs $48 trillion in investment to meet its energy needs to 2035 – News

  • “Of the investment in energy supply, $23 trillion is in fossil fuel extraction, transport and oil refining”   (Fatih Birol was the IEA Chief Economist at the time)
  • Comparing the 2014 statement ($23 trillion) to now “no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development” shows why the new Roadmap is such a departure for the IEA and why it has prompted such strong responses.

Note 3 – Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper

The “Dasgupta Review” may be found at Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review and is also discussed in my previous post; It’s the biosphere, stupid! – 1biosphere.net

The “Ghastly Future” paper refers to Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future – by Bradshaw Corey J. A., Ehrlich Paul R., Beattie Andrew, Ceballos Gerardo, Crist Eileen, Diamond Joan, Dirzo Rodolfo, Ehrlich Anne H., Harte John, Harte Mary Ellen, Pyke Graham, Raven Peter H., Ripple William J., Saltré Frédérik, Turnbull Christine, Wackernagel Mathis, Blumstein Daniel T.  in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

The abstract from this paper, [with my bulleting and highlighting] is:

  • “We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. 
  • First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. 
  • Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action
  • Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. 
  • We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.”

Note 4 – War

For whatever reason we are capable of banding together, even across national boundaries, to kill each other and cause as much destruction as we can during times of war.  Individual behavior can change to an extraordinary extent and somehow the money always seems available.  Sure, there are the profiteers and others who sit at the sidelines benefiting from the carnage all round, but they will always be with us.

This fight for the biosphere will need similar levels of behavior change and similar international cooperation.

But we need a leap of the imagination.  We have no problem demonizing enemies, providing they are human, in thrall to some perverse ideology or cowed by some monstrous dictator and his apparatus.  What if the demon enemy really is us and the perverse ideology is that of consumption, growth, waste and personal indulgence?

In my previous post I discuss the 6 world regions (China, USA, EU (including the UK!), India, Russia and Japan) that are most important to any healing of the biosphere.  Given the internal political status of those regions and the animosity between some of them them I wonder how they can come together with one goal.  There are some tentative moves.  Will they be enough?

Note 5 – Responses to the IEA NZE Roadmap

From the nuclear guysWorld Nuclear Association response to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 report (18 May 2021)

“The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 report, released today, concludes that nuclear energy will make a “significant contribution” to their Net Zero Emissions scenario, and will provide an “essential foundation” in the transition to a net-zero energy system.

[The IEA’s Net Zero Emissions scenario] “puts too much faith in technologies that are uncertain, untested, or unreliable and fails to reflect both the size and scope of the contribution nuclear technologies could make”. WNA notes that the NZE scenario’s projection for nuclear growth sees the share of nuclear energy in the global electricity mix falling from 10.5% to 8%. “Given that more than 60% of the world’s electricity is currently generated by fossil fuels, if we are to eliminate them in less than 30 years, the IEA’s assessment of the role of nuclear is highly impractical.”

“WNA notes that, in addition to electricity, nuclear energy can generate zero-carbon heat. “This is an opportunity that the IEA’s report barely touches on. Existing reactors are already being used to provide steam for district heating systems and to produce fresh water. New reactor designs under development and deployment could provide heat and feedstocks for industry (chemicals, steel, concrete, cement), fuels for heavy transport (shipping, aviation) or generate hydrogen directly.”

From the oil and gas guys (American Petroleum Institute) – API | API Statement on IEA Report on Pathway to Net-Zero by 2050

“IEA itself regularly acknowledges that half the technology to reach net zero has not yet been invented. Any pathway to net zero must include continued innovation and use of natural gas and oil, which remains crucial to displacing coal [way to go guys; kick coal while it’s down] in developing nations and enabling renewable energy. Our industry is committed to shaping a cleaner future by advancing technologies and policymaking to reduce emissions while providing the affordable, reliable energy modern life depends on.”

From Forbes –  New IEA Net Zero Roadmap Undermines America’s Energy Security

From the BBCClimate change: Ban new gas boilers from 2025 to reach net-zero

[I find it interesting that this analysis uses the issue of gas boilers as the headline.  But it is a very good example.  Today an entire industry segment – from gas suppliers, pipeline people, boiler manufacturers to the local plumber are selling and servicing high efficiency gas boilers as a cost effective heating solution.  To bring that industry to a full stop in 4 years is a big ask.  Of course, with 20/20 hindsight, if we had pushed (even more efficient) heat pumps 15 years ago life would be easier now. As part of the article the BBC simplifies items from the report, which I repeat here for background]

  • Fossil fuel use falls drastically in the net‐zero emissions scenario by 2050, and no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development. No new coal mines or mine extensions are required.
  • Emissions from electricity generation fall to net‐zero in advanced economies by 2035 and globally by 2040. Renewables drive the transformation, up from 29% of generation in 2020 to nearly 90% in 2050.
  • The number of public charging points for electric cars rises from around one million today to 40 million by 2030, requiring an annual investment of $90bn by the end of the decade.
  • By 2035, nearly all cars sold globally are electric, and by 2050 nearly all heavy trucks sold are fuel cell or electric.
  • Per capita income from oil and gas in countries that rely on fossil fuel production falls by around 75% from $1,800 to $450 by the 2030s
  • “The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.  “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world on to that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”

Back to Basics – why 1biosphere stories are different

Isn’t it something to get on your bicycle at Carrowmore Beach and strain to climb the hill behind, knowing that in a year, or a few, you will be in Singapore.  There are dangers of course; weather, illness, wild animals, breakdowns.  But the way is open; no borders, no organized mass murder, no roaming bands of refugees.  You have the choice of going south, meeting the people, tasting the food, marvelling at the cultures and treasures of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.  Or you can choose to go further north, through the vast southern edge of Russia, into Mongolia and south through China.

There’s nothing in the way but geography.  The biosphere has no borders. People worked together and came through the greatest crisis ever faced by humanity.  What made it possible?  Stories of course. Simple little stories, like “There’s just one biosphere”, “We’re part of it, it’s part of us”, “We’re all here together”. 


Yeah, right – that’s not going to happen.

But, just maybe, 1biosphere can be a tiny push toward that chimeric future. Let’s look at it once more under the following headings:

  1. Purpose and Goals1biosphere – To generate Action – To halt, and, if possible, reverse, the damage to our one biosphere – Working for and with existing Environmental Organization.
    • Current Status – better than last year, but a long way to go.
    • Generate Action – from positive, but currently inactive, groups in the population
    • Needs Political Action
  2. Action means Politics
    • Individual action is not enough
    • Countries
    • Our audience
  3. Stories for Political Action
    • Pro stories
    • Con stories
  4. 1biosphere Stories
    • The Story
    • The Foundation of “Numbers” [where 1biosphere needs help from Data Experts and Mathematicians]
      • Network Analysis
      • Databases
      • AI and Pattern Recognition
      • Visualization
  5. Beliefs, Filters, Points of View

. 1 .

Purpose and Goals

The goals of 1biosphere have been set out elsewhere on this site – in The Idea and The Basic Story, among others.

Here is a restatement: 1bio wants to craft stories to move people, who agree that the biosphere is in crisis, towards action. Action at an individual level, but more important at a political level.

“You know the biosphere is in trouble. Do something about it: VOTE.”

. 2 .

Action means Politics

Voting? That’s it?

No, of course individuals must take meaningful direct action (Recycling, insulation, water use, public transport…).  But action at the scale needed to make real progress has to be at a national and global level.

We have a mini example in the Covid19 pandemic. There we have an invisible threat, we find it difficult to grasp exponential growth, there is much expert opinion, life is weighed against money and in the end political decisions ranging from wise to ludicrous determine the outcome.  In a situation like this “An individual can only go so far to protect themselves from something like Covid.  People actually need to be supported by an enabling state”, (Rebecca Wells, professor, Lancaster Environment Center).

The same can be said of the much larger, more threatening, Environmental Crisis. Compared to Covid19 it is a slow moving beast.  But the effects, unless we treat it with more urgency, will be worse, for us humans and all other life on the planet.

Countries, Regions, Entities – There are 6 absolutely necessary entities that need to be covered.   They currently emit nearly 70% of the world’s total CO2. They are: China, USA, EU (including the UK!), India, Russia and Japan. (More detail in Note 5)

Historically, from 1751, the top three GHG emitters are the USA (410 Billion tons CO2), EU (354) and China (220).  Germany (92) and UK (78) top the European countries.

The Audience

The 1 bio intended audience is outside the “bubble” of environmentally active people.  It is intended for those who are aware there is a problem, but who have taken only very minor steps to help solve it.  The #1 goal is to have this group “vote” for “pro-environment” office holders at all levels and in all areas where such an appointment is possible. In addition to the political sphere at local, state and country (or in the EU at multi-country) level I include all other elected positions; union reps, judges, sheriffs, company board members, community associations, the PTA etc. etc. Even in countries where direct democracy is not possible the voice of the people has an impact and can be carried upward by the selection of lower echelons. 

Ideally 1bio can be a framework for stories everywhere, but the comments from here on are most applicable to the USA.

I set out some thoughts on the audience and some of the reasons why they have not acted on the stories created so far in a previous post.  

The diagram shows a possible distribution of people in a population; 

  • EA (Environmentally Active),
  • Mid+ (the primary 1 bio audience – Aware of the crisis and receptive to calls for action, but too busy, distracted etc. to comb through and evaluate floods of information), 
  • Mid? (Aware of the crisis, but have other priorities), 
  • ER (Environmentally Resistant.  Not willing to change course, for multiple reasons).  

We want to tip the balance.

In the US, a third of eligible voters did not vote in 2020.  If we convince just a small fraction of those abstainers to vote on the side of environmental action it would create a landslide result.  Of course every other interested party has the same idea.  So there are many alternate stories to overcome.  A further complication in the US is that these extra votes need to come in key sections of the country.  Extra votes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston or New York are nice, but will not change things.  Very few votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maine can make an outsize difference.

The US, as the #1 or #2 polluter, depending on definition, and still the #1 world economy, can set an example to the rest of the world.  What happens here matters.

. 3 .

Stories for Political Action

There are countless stories on the Environmental Crisis, with more added every day.  Each one of them can be construed as a message for political action. I split this section into pro and con stories. The basic question is; how can we get pro stories to our intended audience and how can we identify, resolve and counter the con stories?

Pro Environmental Action

We, inside the environmental action “bubble”, are more or less familiar with these stories.  The volume is such that nobody can read them all.  They range from slogans like “Water is Life” (more on that later) to the hundreds of pages of formal reports.

Let’s be honest; most are written for consumption inside the bubble; academia, government, environmental NGOs and environmentally aligned business.  Which is totally necessary of course, but much of the message does not get through to our intended audience. The same is probably true of stories created for wider appeal; news articles, videos and so on. I oversimplify, but we are not getting to that key swing audience.

My hope is that 1bio stories can be a little more effective.

Con Environmental Action

Stories discouraging environmental actions take many forms, some pretending to be pro-environment but, intentionally or in error, a mask for something else. Con stories tend to be simpler, more emotional and more accessible. I try to place them under some headings below (and welcome any suggestion for a better classification):

Money: 

  • “It’s the economy, stupid”.  
  • We can’t spend the amount of money needed because it will cripple the economy.  Everybody will suffer. 
  • I will have less money, and less money means less power, less respect, less things that make me feel good. 
  • Or weasel words, like “Australia is taking real action on climate change and getting results.  We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and economic future.” (Translation: we will approve new coal mines and gas fired generators if it means more money)

Technology:

  • Cheap, safe, clean nuclear power
  • Geoengineering, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Clean hydrogen, Clean Coal
  • Greenwashing
  • Technology is being used and will be needed to achieve the environmental goals.  The problem with some technology stories is that by promising solutions they delay other necessary action.  Delay will lead to doubtful and expensive technologies as the only choices left.  And some technology stories are just money stories in disguise.

You go first:

  • Country or region or individual X has to go first.  
    • Mostly X = China, being the largest emitter.  Often X = USA, as the historically largest and currently richest.  X can be any developed nation as seen from the developing world.  
  • If we do this, then our competitors will have an advantage.  We can’t change until they do.
  • I’m going to keep watering my lawn unless X, the guy next door, stops as well.
What water shortage?

Anger / Fear:

What will happen to me, my family, my community when “they” close the mine, feedlot, logging operation, fishery?

Power:

It’s a left wing hoax, trying to establish a central government and take away our freedoms.  They’ll take away your diesel pickup, your boat and your RV.

Higher Power:

  • Aliens will save us (Not illegal aliens…)
  • This is foretold.  It’s Armageddon. The chosen will be saved.

Trolling:

  • Mischievous fun, or deliberate sowing of discord and confusion?  Maybe/probably in support of some of the motives listed above.
    • You have to admire some trolls; one managed to start a long name-calling online argument by observing that 400ppm was only 0.04% and therefore all the climate nuts were liars.

Many articles in the mainstream media try to be even-handed.  Which leaves our audience with no clear signal for action.  1bio stories must be fact based, but they must also be a clear indicator for action.

. 4 .

1biosphere Stories

The most basic 1bio story:

We have “exactly one biosphere”.  There isn’t another in all reality. Or, if there is, none of us will ever reach it.

“There exists (∃) – exactly one (!)- biosphere (Ⓑ)”

You need to preserve it.  Vote!

(See Note 2 for my definition of biosphere)


Every 1bio story consists of 2 parts:

  1. The “Story” itself – needs to be clear, vivid and polarizing
    1. Clear – short, sharp, accessible, relevant (to the country, region, community, individual)
    2. Vivid – in any medium, in any form; anecdotes, slogans, symbols, pictures, sound bites, memes…
    3. Polarizing – taking a position, presenting a clear path to action
  2. The “Numbers” – a chain linking the story back to underlying analysis, data and eventually basic scientific principles.  Why do we even need this?  If the story is so clear and vivid isn’t that enough?  Will adding heaps of “proof” get us back to the thousand page reports that nobody reads?  To use a quote from a Covid skeptic; “When someone pushes something really hard, I sit back, because I don’t like people telling me, ‘This is what you need to do,’ “I need to do my own research.”  (Quoted in this article) For similar biosphere objectors we need to facilitate that research and lay down a trail through the masses of data and analysis, again in a clear, accessible manner.

We need to do the same for opposing stories and either expose the hard decisions to be made or show they have no foundation in fact.

Here I ask for help from the theorists and technologists.

  • Can we build a trail without expending a huge amount of valuable labor? 
  • Can we string together known technologies and present a trail that is accessible to our intended audience?

We need to do the hard work to make the 1bio story rock solid. It’s the invisible 90% that needs to be made clear, and accessible, to our audience.  Starting from the bottom of our iceberg model:

  • Standards – in measurements and comparisons. Given the US does not use the metric system we need to show dual measurements. If the context demands it we also need to give some guidance on more difficult measurements (e.g. ‘1bbl oil ~ 5.8 MBtu / 1,700kWh of energy’, and ‘How do you get from inches of rainfall to acre feet of runoff’?)
  • Basic Science – the intent here is to provide a link to the basic science relevant to the story (e.g. How come that such a small amount of carbon dioxide makes such a big difference.  Is going from 0.03% to 0.04% really significant?)
  • Database Technology – Organizing the underlying data is a database technology job. I am sure there are many such databases in existence (see Note 3).  Can they be used for our purpose?  Can a newer approach be used to help automate the classification of data?  
  • Can artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, automated language analysis be used to classify and label research papers, analysis and reports? (e.g. pick keywords from papers and also identify words, in their context, that suggest the intent of an article).  What about formal verification methods?  Can blockchain technology keep the trails clean and spot attempts to corrupt the data or the analysis?
  • Network Analysis – an analysis of how data from various sources is linked.  Such analysis exists as part of separate research (diagram below) and from analyzing the citations of published articles.  Is there a way to further automate such analysis?  How can we introduce other, more social, concerns such as impacts on communities, social aspects and individual psychology?

above from Biofuels: Network Analysis of the Literature Reveals Key Environmental and Economic Unknowns

  • Visualization – intended as a supporting part of the 1bio story and a guide to traverse the underlying material.  This could range from simple block diagrams to more detailed designs or descriptive drawings. Ideally the visualizations will be derived from the network analysis (automatically as far as possible?). Just a few examples:

above from “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” by David JC MacKay


above from “Table of the nine planetary boundaries”

(My diagram above of the Central Valley, CA, will be used in a future post on water use)

(Please see Note 4 for more detail on the visualization diagrams)

. 5 .

Beliefs, Filters, Points of View

In a post on The Idea for 1biosphere I laid out a diagram of the interaction between the biosphere, humans and the whole imaginary universe of human ideas.  The main deduction from that diagram is that our beliefs come not from the biosphere (or “Nature” if you prefer) but from this construct of ideas. I have used ℂ, the mathematical symbol for complex numbers (often called “imaginary”), for this invented universe we live in.  Calling it “Society”, or “The Economy”, or “Faith” does not cover the complexity of this thing.

What we do in the biosphere is guided by those stories, coming from ℂ, that get past our beliefs, past our filters. And those beliefs are incredibly strong.  What could possibly convince the Easter Islanders to chop down every tree? What convinces us, over and over, to kill others in the name of religion or nationality or ethnicity?  Why do we foul our planet because advertising campaigns encourage us?  Why do our governments make, and we abet, conscious decisions to let refugees drown, or live in ghastly camps? And so forth…

So that’s the modest aim of 1biosphere; to change the belief systems of the world to accept that we are part of Ⓑ as much as we are of – and then act on that realization.


Again; Yeah, right – that’s not going to happen.

But yet…


Note 1

GHG emissions per capita

To be fair we should list our target countries in order of emissions per person and tackle the worst offenders first.  If we do that we get:

  • Palau? Population 18,000. What are they doing? Possibly a large cement plant?
  • New Caledonia? A coal power plant to support nickel mining? A French overseas territory!
  • Qatar ( with Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia) we can understand. Huge energy expenditure to create cool luxury in the desert.
  • Curaçao? Oil refinery it seems.  Curaçao is a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

Note 2

The Biosphere

My definition is probably wider than most.  I include everything that we humans can reach using our tools.  (In faux math symbols: ℝH∊Ⓑ , see The Idea).  If you want you can include space capsules and the like, because they are just tiny containers of biosphere hurled out of the gravity well at huge energy cost.  It’s lots of fun, but trivial in the immediate future.

Everything in the photos above is biosphere, as is the coal in the ground and the electricity flowing through the cables, as is the computer where you are seeing the photos.  As are we and the remains of all our ancestors. It’s (almost) a closed system.  The oxygen atoms I breathe are the same ones that your great-grandfather, Leonardo, Confucius and the velociraptors breathed – it’s trite, but fascinating to think about.

A book of laws, the judge who rules on the law, the gavel and the bench, the prisoner, the cell and the bars are all biosphere.  But the idea of laws and judgement, the idea of punishment and rehabilitation are something else.

Our ideas about the biosphere will shape it. If we want to live in concrete and glass, with air conditioned luxury for the few, we will have it.  If we want diverse nature available to all we can have that.

The biosphere will not care. It just is. The human minds of the future will have ideas and those ideas may not be kind to us. Do we care?

Note 3

Database Technology

Databases are necessary to the foundation of a 1bio story. There appear to be gaps and inconsistencies among the databases technologies available to fully draw in the widely differing data into a consistent action plan. Especially if the connection wanted is between something like “soft” community impact and “hard” like technology replacement. There are of course many efforts to close those gaps. My personal knowledge is quite insufficient to make a judgement between them. There are also database standards and practices needed to make stories accessible and relevant at the local level. I briefly list those at the end of this note.

Below are some sites re databases I found of interest :

Ecological Metadata Language (EML), from https://eml.ecoinformatics.org/  This includes a schema which may be of interest.

Databases – Earth and Environmental Sciences – Subject guides at University of Manchester is a list of databases of interest. I assume many other universities offer a similar index. 

The following quotes from A relational model for environmental and water resources data are very relevant to the needs of 1biosphere;

“When scientists and engineers want to search for and use environmental observations data, they are generally faced with the following problems …: 

  1. data are not sufficient or do not exist; 
  2. data are not published and are hard to locate; 
  3. data are not easy to access, they are either private or expensive, or require costly preprocessing before they can be used; 
  4. data are not easy to use because they are inconsistent or noncompatible; and 
  5. data are not adequately documented. 

Addressing these issues is one of the main challenges influencing recent developments in environmental information systems, which include water resources and hydrologic information systems…”

Standards and practices within database design to facilitate local access and relevance:

  • Probably trivial, but units need to be local. So databases will need to carry 2 sets of numbers; SI and local. That is especially needed because the audience we need to reach in the US is not comfortable with SI measurements. Of course conversions can be done at the point of presentation/visualization, but will that be done? And the reverse holds true; e.g. AcreFeet is the common measure of water resources in the US. We need that number, quickly, in SI for other audiences. “Local” may also mean audience groups that have their own preferred system of units which mean little to outsiders, like barrels, container loads, cords etc.
  • Internationalization – (I like the abbreviation “I18n”) – refers to a database (and code) that is structured to make Localisation (“L10n” below) easy. e.g. Unicode, additional fields for local units as above, etc.
  • L10n – Local language, use of local examples, local metrics, sensitivity to local challenges

Note 4

Visualization Diagrams – more information

(From Biofuels: Network Analysis of the Literature Reveals Key Environmental and Economic Unknowns )

The abstract of the paper is: “Despite rapid growth in biofuel production worldwide, it is uncertain whether decision-makers possess sufficient information to fully evaluate the impacts of the industry and avoid unintended consequences. Doing so requires rigorous peer-reviewed data and analyses across the entire range of direct and indirect effects. To assess the coverage of scientific research, we analyzed over 1600 peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2009 that addressed 23 biofuels-related topics within four thematic areas: environment and human well-being, economics, technology, and geography. Greenhouse gases, fuel production, and feedstock production were well-represented in the literature, while trade, biodiversity, and human health were not. Gaps were especially striking across topics in the Southern Hemisphere, where the greatest potential socio-economic benefits, as well as environmental damages, may co-occur. There was strong asymmetry in the connectedness of research topics; greenhouse gases articles were twice as often connected to other topics as biodiversity articles. This could undermine the ability of scientific and economic analyses to adequately evaluate impacts and avoid significant unintended consequences. At the least, our review suggests caution in this developing industry and the need to pursue more interdisciplinary research to assess complex trade-offs and feedbacks inherent to an industry with wide-reaching potential impacts.”

(The network diagram clearly illustrates the concentration described.  The same is a key concern of the Dasgupta Report; that the issue of Green House Gases and alternative fuel sources overshadows attention given to biodiversity, human effects, soil degradation, aquifer depletion, pollution etc. etc.)


This very simple diagram shows bird kills by wind turbines, cars and cats. Bird kills by turbines are often used as an argument against their erection. While the numbers shown massively refute that argument (or argues for the banning of cats) there are some complications. Firstly the numbers for turbines and cars are from Denmark, while cats are from the UK. Where there no comparable numbers at the time of publication? Are UK cats more ferocious than Danish ones? Secondly there is a valid argument that the types of bird killed by turbines are rarer, larger, migratory birds. I have not seen any numbers on that.

from “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” by David JC MacKay

This book was a starting influence on my thinking about the biosphere.  Sadly Dr. MacKay died in 2016.  I like his deceptively simple approach:

  • Here are the numbers
  • Here is where the numbers came from
  • Here is what adds up, and here is what doesn’t

The detail in his book is largely confined to the UK.  I posit the development of a world-wide equivalent set of data, and it’s clear presentation, as one of the deliverables of 1biosphere. Dr. MacKay’s conclusion, which he maintained in one of his last interviews, was that nuclear energy was the only feasible solution for the UK. While we may not agree with that conclusion we do need to acknowledge the numbers.


from “Table of the nine planetary boundaries”

“The planetary boundaries concept presents a set of nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come”


There is no way I can do justice to the complex, important and emotional story of water usage in the Central Valley of California (let alone California in general). I do hope to post a more detailed comment soon and show how two stories; “Water is Life” and “No Water. No Food” represent totally different views of the same reality.

Note 5

China – 1.4 billion people, 1 party rule, taking large green steps, but also set to remain the single largest GHG emitter.  #4 in GHG/head in our “Group of 6”.  We can’t use China as an excuse not to do things in our own backyard.  It’s pointless to treat them as adversaries.  We need continued engagement at every level.

USA – 0.3 billion people, 2 party rule. #1 GHG/head. A political system where both ruling parties are committed to capitalism and, compared to western Europe, are conservative.  This conservatism, built on a history of success and wealth, has created a system of unequal representation and legal polarization. Current steps toward greater engagement in a world-wide response to the environmental crisis could be halted or reversed at any time. (Hence the countdown to 8 Nov 2022 on the home page)

European Union – 0.5 billion people, 27 countries + the UK.  All are democracies, with varying interpretations of what that means. #5 GHG/head 

India – 1.3 billion people, and with current growth rates set to overtake China as the most populous country in the world.  The world’s largest democracy, but… The lowest GDP/head (#6) of the nations we are looking at.  But they have the expectation to raise their standard of living.  We must support that and we certainly have no right to oppose it.  What we need to do, for our own preservation quite apart from any humanitarian instincts, is to ensure this happens without catastrophic environmental effects.

Russia – 0.1 billion people, the largest country in the world in terms of area (more than 4 times the size of Europe, and almost twice that of China or the USA).  With Canada it is the country most likely to benefit from global warming, in terms of additional land available for farming and settlement. #2 GHG/head

Japan – 0.1 billion people. Highly industrialized. #3 GHG/head  

(See Note 1 about some strange GHG/head statistics)

Relevant to any discussion of the biosphere is the fact that of our 6 all but Japan are nuclear armed (EU represented by France and UK). The USA, China, Russia, France and the UK also have veto power on the UN security council.

We also need to be aware that the figures in the table shown earlier are only CO2 emissions. Other equally troubling aspects such as destruction of habitat, pollution, water use, topsoil degradation and so forth are not included.  If we include these factors then many more countries enter the list we need to address – Brazil, Canada, Australia, Indonesia etc.


Squared Paper

Schools, at every level, should change from ruled to square paper.

It will help to broaden thinking, from 1 dimension to 2. It will help in basic math and practically everything else. Scientific facts will become easier to understand, poetry easier to write, drawings easier to draw and doodles will reveal meaning.

In short; squared paper is a first step to conquering the environmental crisis.

And you think I’m joking?

Stop burning wood to generate electricity

A recent article describes the shipment of wood pellets from the USA to Europe and, soon, to Asia.

My initial reaction, echoed in many comments by others following the article, was; How can cutting trees in the US, turning them into pellets, shipping them to Europe and burning them to produce “carbon neutral” electricity make any sense? That’s the initial 1bio story: Burning trees to produce electricity makes no sense!

Let’s look more closely:

We cut a 25 year old tree, and plant a seedling at (A), turn the tree into pellets and burn it to generate electricity at (F).  Over 25 (+) years the seedling extracts carbon from the air (H), but the excess carbon released up front (G) hangs around for the full 25 years. [See Note 1 for more detail on the diagram.] The idea is more forcefully explained in a letter from 500+ scientists to the leaders of the USA, EU, Japan and South Korea sent in February 2021. [Note 2 for excerpt]

It’s a bad deal. It’s like saying; ‘Give me a thousand dollars today, if all goes well I’ll pay you back, at zero interest, over 25 years”.

If it’s such a bad deal why is it happening? Why are European countries subsidizing pellet burning power plants, with Japan and South Korea planning to follow suit? How can this be termed carbon neutral when greenhouse gases are expended at every point of the cycle?

It’s an “accounting error”The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was a major achievement of international cooperation, but still a political exercise.  The counting of greenhouse gas emission and capture in the protocol is subject to intricate rules. The accounting reference manual itself is a 130 page book. In effect none of the emissions (B, C, D, E) count against any country’s total. Logging and pellet manufacture (B and C) are largely covered by “forest management” exemptions. Shipping emissions are lost in the complexities of ownership, registration and so forth. 

The major emissions, when the pellets are turned into electricity (E), are carbon neutral on the basis of good forestry practice in the supplying countries.  That means a country can burn wood, instead of coal, oil or gas, and claim emission reductions, when it is really adding large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Clearly the problem was recognized.  In 2003 IPCC published the Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry [see Note 3 for some thoughts on this document]

In 2009 Timothy Searchinger and others published a key article titled “Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error – Rules for applying the Kyoto Protocol and national cap and trade laws contain a major, but fixable, carbon accounting flaw in assessing bioenergy”. One snippet from the paper: “The straightforward solution is to fix the accounting of bioenergy. That means tracing the actual flows of carbon and counting emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks whether from fossil energy or bioenergy.” [Further articles on the issues of biomass burning are at Note 4]

More recent developments are:

The IPCC released “Climate Change and Land. An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems” in January 2020 [see Note 5 for some detail and links]

In July of 2020 an advisory board to the Netherlands government warned that burning biomass is not sustainable.  More details are in news reports from Euractiv and Dutchnews.  This advice fits with an overall European review of the practice, based on the IPCC special report.  However, ”Whether or not forest biomass will still legally be considered as a carbon neutral and renewable source of energy by then [when the review is complete and EU laws altered] remains to be seen.”

In summary then; it makes no sense to use trees to generate electricity! BUT – despite all this data, analysis and eloquent advocacy it is likely that the opposite will happen. More countries will use pellets, with subsequent higher demand for the fuel, because wood pellets do make excellent sense to many people; 

  • National policymakers who are faced with a requirement to lower emissions and stay within a budget see the “carbon neutral” burning of biomass as a way to achieve both.  They rely on the suppliers of the fuel to ensure carbon neutrality.
  • The lumber industry sees an income, or at least an eliminated cost, when they can dispose of “waste”, such as dead trees, sawdust, offcuts and branches.
  • Landowners see opportunities, beyond dimensional lumber, in forest maintenance paid for by selling low value trees and understory and/or in conversion of low value land to higher value timber stands
  • Some environmentalists are in support of clearing the “trash” from the forest floor to prevent a buildup of flammable material and so reduce the incidence and severity of wildfires, which cause much more damage than responsible management activities.
  • The pellet manufacturers point to jobs and community support (plus profits of course).
  • The shippers are happy that investments in ships and port facilities give a good return..
  • Local politicians are content because the industry pays taxes, creates jobs and keeps the community alive.

Decisions about our biosphere are never easy.  At least we can still make them.  As time goes by we will have less choices and these decisions will only become more disruptive, more expensive, more gut wrenching. (see The challenging politics of climate change)

Just based on the facts above we should stop the large scale use of wood to generate electricity.  And we have not even taken into account other biosphere concerns such as biodiversity (see my previous post on the Dasgupta review), ecosystems, monocultures, habitats, water conservation or local pollution.

However we live in an imperfect world; rules will be bent, loopholes explored, laws not enforced. 

Accountants will move accounts and lawyers will argue law.  The biosphere does not care about any of that; we need to play by its rules not ours.

The overview so far leaves a lot of questions unanswered [Some are in Note 10]. But that’s OK. I hope I have left a sufficiently solid trace to explore both the pro and con sides of this industry.  I do think there is room for wood pellets in private use or in situations where carbon neutrality is more evident and controllable [Note 11].

The 1bio story becomes: Burning trees to produce electricity makes no sense! Stop!

To reiterate the 1bio story is not intended to repeat the data gathering, analysis and reporting already done.  It is meant to be a “meta narrative” [Note 9] with a short headline, a few paragraphs of background and then a trail of evidence to support the story [Note 6].

Bottom line: I believe the evidence strongly supports the story.  As always I will appreciate thoughts on how to make that support line stronger and easier to develop.


Notes

NOTE 1:

More Detail On The Initial Diagram

We cut a 25 year old tree and plant a new seedling at the same time (A) [In the USA this is likely to be a loblolly pine – see Note 7 below], logging operations and transport (B) generate emissions, as does the manufacture of the pellets ( C). Transport overseas creates more emissions (D). The pellets are then burned (E) and electricity finally distributed (F). That electricity is termed to be “Carbon Neutral”.  The red stepped line shows the increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Let’s say it takes a year for that cycle. The seedling we planted at (A) has started to capture CO2 from the air, but very little – it’s only 1year old..  But all the CO2 from its 25 year old, very much larger, predecessor is in the air.  Let’s now draw a 25 year picture in the lower part of the diagram.  The year (A to F) is compressed to the start. The red area (G) is the CO2 emitted, the green area (H) is CO2 captured.

So, we’re all good, the carbon got recaptured, it’s carbon neutral.  What’s the problem?  The problem is that for those 24 years after the major emission (E) the excess CO2 has been hanging around contributing to global warming

Anyone studying the diagram will point out some major ERRORS – which I will try and explain (or excuse?) briefly:

  • 25 year old trees don’t get cut for biomass, they get used for dimensioned lumber! Yes, in most cases. However as demand for biomass increases cutting of mature trees will happen.  If not in the US or western Europe, then in less regulated countries.  Also the scale of the diagram does not matter; if we cut 10 year old trees, then the regrow time will be 10 years (plus – see next point)
  • The regrow time is too short, the emissions generated by felling, transport and processing are not included! Yes, that’s a mistake.  I tried back of envelope calculation but rather than guess I left them out.  Anyone have numbers?
  • The slope of the carbon capture line is all wrong! Young trees absorb carbon faster than old ones and very old trees take up practically no carbon! Not so. Young trees absorb a higher percentage in carbon (much like young animals grow very fast) but as the tree matures the absolute amount of carbon stored each year increases.  For one data point see this practical study.
  • In practice we plant much more than one seedling to replace a mature tree.  We then cut some of those new trees when semi-mature for biofuel while leaving others to grow to full “commercial lumber” size.  So the payback time is much shorter than your 25 years! I don’t have enough knowledge to counter that claim. If correct, and carried out under careful forest management, it will shorten the carbon recapture time.  But there will still be a time lag and for that time the free atmospheric carbon will do damage. I suspect that this point has been analysed somewhere in the mountains of studies I mention. Any input?

NOTE 2:

500 Scientist Letter: The following excerpt is from the February 2021 letter from 500+ scientists to US, EU, Japan and South Korean leaders: “The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions, creating a “carbon debt,” which increases over time as more trees are harvested for continuing bioenergy use. Regrowing trees and displacement of fossil fuels may eventually pay off this carbon debt, but regrowth takes time the world does not have to solve climate change. As numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are fundamental. Forests store carbon – approximately half the weight of dry wood is carbon. When wood is harvested and burned, half or more of the live wood in trees harvested is typically lost in harvesting and processing before it can supply energy, adding carbon to the atmosphere without replacing fossil fuels. Burning wood is also carbon-inefficient, so the wood burned for energy emits more carbon up smokestacks than using fossil fuels. Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.

Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them”. [my bolding]

NOTE 3:

Comment On IPCC Best Practice Guide: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry [This guide contains 590 pages, including 4 pages of reviewers, typically government scientific organizations and one person from the World Wildlife Fund.  I am curious why there were no reviewers from other organizations, like the Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Alliance, Greenpeace, Native Forest Foundation, Natural Resources Defence Council and so forth?]

NOTE 4:

Further Reading On Biomass Burning : A number of articles about biomass burning are presented on Mongabay.com. Also, “Carbon debt and payback time – Lost in the forest?” is available through sciencedirect.com. A telling sentence from the abstract is: “Narrative reviews demonstrate that the payback time of apparently comparable forest bioenergy supply scenarios vary by up to 200 years allowing ample room for confusion and dispute …”

[BTW: As an independent viewer, without the backing of an academic organization or commercial corporation I find the costs for reading full articles like this one a major impediment.  I could spend hundreds of dollars chasing just one fact through the mesh of publications.  Just another reason why I hope 1biosphere.net will, one day, in some form, take on a more organizational shape].

NOTE 5:

IPCC Special Report, Climate Change and Land (SRCCL): The summary of this report is 41 pages. Chapter 4 of the report on Land Degradation is 186 pages.

An excerpt (from page 66 of Chapter 4) reads: “Moreover, assessments of climate benefits of any mitigation action must also consider the time dynamics of atmospheric impacts as some actions will have immediate benefits (e.g. avoided deforestation) while others may not achieve net atmospheric benefits for decades or centuries.  For example, the climate benefits of woody biomass use for bioenergy depend on several factors such as the source and alternate fate of the biomass, the energy type it substitutes and the rates of regrowth of the harvested forest (Laganière et al. 2017; Ter-Mikaelian et al. 2014; Smyth et al. 2017).  Conversion of primary forests in regions of very low stand replacing disturbances to short-rotation plantations where the harvested wood is used for short-lived products with low displacement factors will increase emissions. In general, greater mitigation benefits are achieved if harvested wood products are used for products with long carbon retention time and high displacement factors.” [My bolding]

NOTE 6:

The Iceberg Diagram: The key to the 1bio story lies in the 3 step trace; Verify, Publish, Annotate.  

  • The “Verify” stage is complex.  To dig through the data would take a big team and time.  That is why I come back to the question; can this be done at least semi-automatically by tracing references to basic research and comparing economic factors?
  • After that it is relatively easy (not trivial by any means) to “Publish” 
  • I see “Annotations” as asking some of the meta-questions [😉] raised by the story.  What do we really want to/need to do and what are the alternatives?

NOTE 7:

Loblolly Pine: The most likely tree to be felled for wood chips in the US is the Loblolly Pine. It is the second-most common tree in the United States and is regarded as the most commercially important tree in the Southeastern U.S. “Left to grow, this tree can reach 100 or more feet and over 4 feet in diameter. The largest was found in Georgia – 185 feet tall and 11 feet across! Sadly, it was cut down 35 years ago.” [1985?]  

Photo: Woodlot, CC BY-SA 3.0

NOTE 8:

Albedo: is a measure of surface reflectivity.  A darker, less reflective, surface (lower albedo) means more heating and worsens the climate change problem.  Pine trees are typically darker and so absorb more sunlight, while hardwoods tend to reflect more sunlight. The differences are small but significant.  In winter pines stay dark green, while hardwoods lose their leaves.  In areas where it snows the albedo will be higher in deciduous forests (hardwood) because more snow will be visible through the naked branches. Admittedly snow is rare in the SE USA regions mentioned in the news report (NYT) that triggered this post.

NOTE 9:

Meta-Narrative: I came across this term in “The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One (Metamodern Guides 1)” by Hanzi Freinacht.  Much as I am suspicious of any phrase starting with “meta” I do think “meta-narrative”, a story about a story, does fit 1bio.  I will hold off any comment on the book as a whole until I finish it.

NOTE 10:

Unanswered Questions: As I was writing this post a number of questions came to mind. Some have been answered, or at least approached an answer, within the post. Some are open  The devil, as always, is in the details and those are hard to find. 

  • Does the carbon neutrality definition take time into account?  We burn the pellet product now, but how long will it take the newly planted tree to reabsorb the released carbon? 20 years? 40?  Longer?  Will we pass a trigger point that starts a carbon feedback loop within that time? [Answered, I think; it depends on the age of the base fuel e.g. a ten year old tree will have a 10 year grow back time PLUS the pay-back time for the emissions during transport and processing.]
  • How much of this process is accounting and legal argument versus actual reduction in emissions?  The pellet producers can claim their industry creates minimal carbon output in the US, because the Europeans do the burning.  A very similar argument is used by Australian coal exporters; how can they be held accountable for carbon emissions, when it is India and China who burn the coal? (Just a reminder: the biosphere has no borders nor does it do accounting) [Answered, I think]
  • Under the laws of most countries can there be or should there be control over logging on private land? Is it legal, ethical and practical to even ask that question? The treatment of contracts between owners and commercial or governmental entities is a separate, but equally valid, concern.
  • Should dead trees and undergrowth remain, at least in part, to provide animal habitat?
  • What are the effects on the soil of removing the “trash” rather than having it rot into the ground? Two articles give some background: Can Soil Help Combat Climate Change? and The Effects of Forest Management on Erosion and Soil Productivity
  • Are new plantations diverse or monoculture?
  • Will planting pines versus hardwoods change the albedo significantly? (see short explanation in Note 8 above)
  • What is the political will to verify compliance to the terms of the various contracts?  That question applies at both ends.  What is the mechanism for the European users to verify what happens at the US (or other suppliers!) end?  Equally, how much supervision is there on the supply end, especially at the local level, where both the benefits (jobs, income, taxes) and risks (pollution, environmental damage, health effects) occur?
  • Can we define small scale biofuel users based on size, proximity of fuel to user and genuine, verifiable, forest management?  Can we then differentiate between small scale use and large scale use for electricity generation and apply different measures to each?

NOTE 11:

Personal Experience – admittedly very slight;  

Customers in more remote parts of New Jersey, where there are no gas lines, were unanimous in praise of their pellet burners; inexpensive fuel, easy to maintain and giving comfortable heat.  But they were rare in comparison to users of oil or propane fuel.

The photos below show a biofuel plant owned by a Bavarian abbey.  It supplies heat to the abbey itself, plus accommodation buildings, a butcher’s shop and restaurant.  In addition there is high pressure steam for the abbey’s brewing and distilling operations. It is fuelled by wood chips from their own forest and has been in operation since 2005.  Although it is a carbon emitter the claims for environmental neutrality are somewhat more convincing.  The forest supplying the material is owned by the abbey, is close by, and has been under their stewardship since 1119.  It is unlikely to be clear-felled or damaged while the abbey retains that control. The abbey also uses extensive photovoltaic areas to supplement their electricity use. 

(Photos above and the translated excerpt below are from the web site of the Benedictine Abbey at Scheyern, Germany)

“In contrast to the combustion of fossil fuels, biomass plants do not cause any additional pollution, but are considered environmentally neutral. When wood is burned, only the substances bound during growth are released again. They form the basis for the growth of other trees and plants. The biological cycle can begin again. Therefore this process is CO2 neutral. The balance of carbon dioxide savings of 2,751 tons per year compared to a conventional oil-fired system should also be emphasized” 

I do think there is a case for biofuels in personal and limited examples like this. However given the content and direction of this post I can only attest that the restaurant was warm and the beer good.

Change is coming – Preserving Coal Country

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not. Too many inside and outside the coalfields have looked the other way when it comes to recognizing and addressing specifically what that change must be, but we can look away no longer. We must act, while acting in a way that has real, positive impact on the people who are most affected by this change. 

The UMWA is prepared to work with members of Congress, the Biden administration, community organizations, NGOs and other labor unions to achieve these principles. To do otherwise would be to abandon our responsibilities to the people we represent, their families and their communities”

Those are the final paragraphs of a document released by the United Mine Workers of America this week. It is just five pages long; the cover above and four pages of text. One can argue some of the points made, but most seem to be common sense and just. The excerpt below states a very plain requirement that I have noted on this site before:

“Secure adequate resources to create a true transition for workers and communities in the coalfields. This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term.”

And to be “fully-funded and long-term” there has to be economic and political adjustment. For that to happen there need to be votes. (You can see where this is going…). For votes there need to be stories to generate political action. Stories like 1bio stories.


If you want to check out further comment and economic background please look at this article by Paul Krugman.

Earth Day Short Stories

Today, the 22nd of April, is EARTH DAY and articles of interest are everywhere.  Here are some headlines and short comments.

On TV, Spend Earth Day With David, Greta … or Cher?

“This year’s specials include a Greta Thunberg documentary, a David Attenborough extravaganza, James Cameron on whales and Cher rescuing an elephant.”

“In (a discussion between Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough from) “A Year to Change the World, ”Thunberg is unfailingly polite, but you can see what she’s thinking. When she asks if he has ideas for how to “activate” older people into environmental activism, he has nothing to offer, other than to praise her.” (New York Times)

Yes, that’s the issue; how to “activate” people?  Older or not.  Just maybe 1bio stories can do their little bit to help in that?


The Climate Crisis Is Poised to Make Huge Swaths of America Totally Uninsurable

(The Daily Beast)

No comment needed.  Fire in the (USA) west and water in the east…


United Nations releases 2nd World Ocean Assessment

The report lists impacts on what UN secretary general António Guterres said was the planet’s “life support system”. Sea levels are rising, coasts are eroding, waters are heating and acidifying and the number of deoxygenated “dead zones” is rising. Marine litter is present in all marine habitats and overfishing was costing societies billions. About 90% of mangrove, seagrass and marsh plant species were threatened with extinction.

(The report authored by UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, excerpts above from The Guardian)

The report is downloadable in 2 volumes – totalling 1090 pages! It clearly is a comprehensive document and of value to professionals in the field.  But for most of us the length and complexity make it essentially inaccessible.  That is why we need stories woven from the findings of these reports, and solidly linked back to them.


Changes to giant ocean eddies could have ‘devastating effects’ globally

“Researchers fear increasing energy in these eddies could affect ability of Southern Ocean to absorb C02” ‘“The world’s oceans soak up most of the carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere. The Southern Ocean in particular absorbs about 40% of the entire ocean uptake and much of that uptake is achieved by ocean eddies”  Any change in the ocean eddies in the Southern Ocean can … “potentially impact the carbon sink and the ability to uptake carbon that we might continue to emit in the future”

(The Guardian)

So much we still don’t understand


“Some say we can ‘solar-engineer’ ourselves out of the climate crisis. Don’t buy it.”

“What could go wrong with this idea? Well, quite a lot”

(Ray Pierrehumbert and Michael Mann, The Guardian)

Some of these ideas are called “geoengineering” elsewhere.  My fear is that inaction (or inadequate action) now will force us into these risky projects in future.


There Are Massive Chemical Dumps In The Gulf We Know Almost Nothing About

“In the 1970s, the EPA allowed chemical companies to dump toxic waste into the deep sea. Now, oil giants are drilling right on top of it.”

(Huffington Post)

No comment


Earth Day has embraced hysteria and abandoned science

(Fox News)

Fox News is the leader in primetime viewership (in the USA) according to Nielsen Media Rating. Just one more reason why the trace supporting the 1bio stories needs to be accurate and complete. We will not sway the opinion of the committed Fox viewer by factual analysis, but we do need to solidify the opinion of the silent majority.

It’s the biosphere, stupid!

It’s the biosphere, stupid! “Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature” (from “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”)

That meets the guidelines for a 1bio story; a clear, vivid, polarizing message and style.  It is also short, sharp and clear.  And it is based on fact – lots of facts.  That’s where things get more complicated and where I need the help of mathematicians and data experts.

This came to my attention by an article in the mainstream media.  If you link to it now you may see this warning:

Which shows just how quickly news becomes history.  (Which is part of the problem. We get distracted by the next headline. But I digress). This headline is: “Economics of biodiversity review: what are the recommendations? Landmark report says GDP should be ditched as measure of wealth and nature valued to protect wildlife and humans“ The Guardian, Tue 2 Feb 2021 

If we then look for the underlying report we easily find it: Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review

(Note: The actual report is not the subject of this post – I am only using it as an example. For more information I have some quotes at the end) 

From the link above we can choose what level of information we want:

“Headline Messages” (each one capable of being a 1bio story.  The full “Headline Messages” document contains 5 pages of text (10 pages with covers etc.)  Well worth reading – but how many people read 5 pages of text these days?

Or the full report – 610 pages! Very, very few people are willing to work all the way through this (I am working at it – slowly).  There is also an abridged version of only 103 pages.

Of the 610 page report 88 pages are references to other papers and reports. No doubt each of those will have a further list of references, all backed by masses of data.

Below that again are the foundations of science, economics, mathematics, logic, standards and so forth.  Things we take for granted, but which are often either misunderstood or deliberately misused in constructing counter arguments.

Here is our iceberg diagram around this particular story:

I need help from mathematicians and data scientists. Why?

Because I see 1biosphere.net doing 2 things: 1. Creating 1bio stories AND 2. Backing those stories with a clear link starting from the press release, the headline messages, the report itself, the sources, right through to the foundations.  Clearly that second point is a massive effort if “done by hand”.  Ideally there should be a way to create that trace and present it to the lay reader.  The key issues being:

  • Computer aided “tracing”, involving data management, possibly machine learning and other mathematical tools.
  • Presentation in a clear and accessible (probably visualized) manner
  • Annotated and updated with 
    • Both concurring and opposing viewpoints
    • Areas of certainty and areas needing further work

If we can create an unbroken trace the story becomes credible.  It may not sway minds, but is a brick in the total message. On the reverse, if we see a story and we can show breaks in the trace, or the trace ends before reaching a lower level (e.g. a story copied and embellished endlessly on a loop of social media) then we can discount and, hopefully, replace that story. 

In this example the “trace” appears obvious.  All the hard work has been done already. However individual points will still need to be clarified.  However if we tackle a more specific, local issue, (say water usage in central California) the story, the data and the trace all become more difficult, more emotional and more political (i.e. more Real-Life). (I will try and develop this or a similar example “soon”)

Bottom line: The support work behind the story is as, or more, important than the story itself.  It needs specialized methods and skills to do it well.


I do not intend this post to be about “The Dasgupta Review”. But seeing you are here I have added some excerpts to give a glimpse of what it contains.. However I strongly urge you to look at the review directly. It is a rich source of information and analysis.

In large part it contains technical / mathematical economics material. But as you can see from my extracts the author makes many efforts to illustrate the concepts and make them accessible. In addition to the “Headline Messages”, I attach the complete foreword by Sir David Attenborough and then some other random items that caught my attention.

THE HEADLINE MESSAGES

Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature.

We have collectively failed to engage with Nature sustainably, to the extent that our demands far exceed its capacity to supply us with the goods and services we all rely on.

Our unsustainable engagement with Nature is endangering the prosperity of current and future generations. 

At the heart of the problem lies deep-rooted, widespread institutional failure

The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it

We need to change how we think, act and measure success:

  • Ensure that our demands on Nature do not exceed its supply, and that we increase Nature’s supply relative to its current level
  • Change our measures of economic success to guide us on a more sustainable path.
  • Transform our institutions and systems – in particular our finance and education systems – to enable these changes and sustain them for future generations.

Transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.


FOREWORD 

“We are facing a global crisis. We are totally dependent upon the natural world. It supplies us with every oxygen-laden breath we take and every mouthful of food we eat. But we are currently damaging it so profoundly that many of its natural systems are now on the verge of breakdown. 

Every other animal living on this planet, of course, is similarly dependent. But in one crucial way, we are different. We can change not just the numbers, but the very anatomy of the animals and plants that live around us. We acquired that ability, doubtless almost unconsciously, some ten thousand years ago, when we had ceased wandering and built settlements for ourselves. It was then that we started to modify other animals and plants.

At first, doubtless, we did so unintentionally. We collected the kinds of seeds that we wanted to eat and took them back to our houses. Some doubtless fell to the ground and sprouted the following season. So over generations, we became farmers. We domesticated animals in a similar way. We brought back the young of those we had hunted, reared them in our settlements and ultimately bred them there. Over many generations, this changed both the bodies and ultimately the characters of the animals on which we depend. 

We are now so mechanically ingenious that we are able to destroy a rainforest, the most species-rich ecosystem that has ever existed, and replace it with plantations of a single species in order to feed burgeoning human populations on the other side of the world. No single species in the whole history of life has ever been so successful or so dominant. 

Now we are plundering every corner of the world, apparently neither knowing or caring what the consequences might be. Each nation is doing so within its own territories. Those with lands bordering the sea fish not only in their offshore waters but in parts of the ocean so far from land that no single nation can claim them. So now we are stripping every part of both the land and the sea in order to feed our ever-increasing numbers. 

How has the natural world managed to survive this unrelenting ever-increasing onslaught by a single species? The answer of course, is that many animals have not been able to do so. When Europeans first arrived in southern Africa they found immense herds of antelope and zebra. These are now gone and vast cities stand in their stead. In North America, the passenger pigeon once flourished in such vast flocks that when they migrated, they darkened the skies from horizon to horizon and took days to pass. So they were hunted without restraint. Today, that species is extinct. Many others that lived in less dramatic and visible ways simply disappeared without the knowledge of most people worldwide and were mourned only by a few naturalists. 

Nonetheless, in spite of these assaults, the biodiversity of the world is still immense. And therein lies the strength that has enabled much of its wildlife to survive until now. Economists understand the wisdom of spreading their investments across a wide range of activities. It enables them to withstand disasters that may strike any one particular asset. The same is true in the natural world. If conditions change, either climatically or as a consequence of a new development in the never-ending competition between species, the ecosystem as a whole is able to maintain its vigour. 

But consider the following facts. Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else – from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk. 

Putting things right will take collaborative action by every nation on earth. It will require international agreements to change our ways. Each ecosystem has its own vulnerabilities and requires its own solutions. There has to be a universally shared understanding of how these systems work, and how those that have been damaged can be brought back to health. 

This comprehensive, detailed and immensely important report is grounded in that understanding. It explains how we have come to create these problems and the actions we must take to solve them. It then provides a map for navigating a path towards the restoration of our planet’s biodiversity. 

Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core and provides the compass that we urgently need. In doing so, it shows us how, by bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute – and in doing so, save ourselves.” 

David Attenborough


EXTRACTS

“Global climate change attracts attention among intellectuals and the reading public not only because it is a grave problem, but perhaps also because it is possible to imagine meeting it by using the familiar economics of commodity taxation, regulation and resource pricing without having to forego growth in material living standards in rich countries. The literature on the economics of climate change … has even encouraged the thought that, with only little investment in clean energy sources over the next few years (say 2% of world GDP), we can enjoy indefinite growth in the world’s output of final goods and services (global GDP). That is a thought that should be resisted…”

“We are embedded in Nature; we are not external to it. No amount of technological progress can make economic growth as conventionally measured an indefinite possibility … Although there has been some recent recognition among a few economists and ecologists of these issues … this understanding remains far from widespread.

[from pages 27-28 of the full report] – [square brackets indicate my comments]

“Nature is mobile. We weaken the Antarctica ice sheet without ever going there; phosphorus discharge from farms in Minnesota contributes to a deadening of the Gulf of Mexico; emissions of soot from kitchens in the Indian sub-continent affect the circulation patterns of the monsoons; the Green Revolution’s demand for water, fertilisers and pesticides pollute the rivers and ground waters of the Indo-Gangetic Plain; fish in the North Sea eat microplastic originating in markets in the Bahamas; and so on.”

“Much of Nature and the processes governing it are also silent and invisible. The three pervasive features – mobility, silence and invisibility – make it impossible for markets to record adequately the use we make of Nature’s goods and services” 

[from pages 30-31 of the full report]

“Figure 2.1 [shows that]…Ecosystems are capital goods, like produced capital (roads, buildings, ports, machines). As in the case of produced capital, ecosystems depreciate if they are misused or are overused. But they differ from produced capital in three ways …: 

  • depreciation is in many cases irreversible (or at best the systems take a long while to recover); 
  • it is not possible to replicate a depleted or degraded ecosystem; and 
  • ecosystems can collapse abruptly, without much prior warning.”

[from page 52 of the full report]

“Human induced habitat destruction is today the leading cause of species extinction. A quarter of all tropical forests have been cut since the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was ratified [in 1993]… generally speaking, many of the species found across large areas of a given habitat reside in small areas within it. That means habitat loss initially causes few extinctions, but the numbers rise as the last remnants of habitat are destroyed. At current rates of habitat destruction, the peak of extinctions may not occur for a long while, even decades…

….Species numbers cannot be observed directly. So, it is not possible to place bounds on species extinction rates as policy targets when the number of species lies within a large range (perhaps 8 to 20 million). In contrast, habitat destruction can be observed and verified. The approach taken by the CBD in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 1992, which was to set limits on habitat destruction and specify Protected Areas is in line with this reasoning. That the targets are far from being met is not a fault in reasoning, it is, as in the case of international targets on carbon emissions, an inability of countries to design an enforcement mechanism.”

[from pages 105-106 of the full report][Bold emphasis is mine]

[from page 182 of the full report – I just like the diagram]

“Job Opportunities From Nature Conservation and Restoration … Compared to other sectors in the economy, investing in Nature may have higher employment returns. Investments in ‘Nature-based solutions’ (NbS) create jobs that typically have low training and education requirements, are fast to establish and require relatively little produced capital for each worker. This means on average, for every US$1 million invested in NbS, close to 40 jobs are created, which is equivalent to around 10 times the job creation rate of investments in fossil fuels.”

[from page 459 of the full report – I am not entirely happy with this analysis.  As we phase out fossil fuel related jobs we owe it to the individuals, and communities, to replace the jobs with equally meaningful and remunerated positions.  The reference to low training and education may make sense economically but intensifies the justifiable fear of loss of income, meaning and self respect felt by many in the threatened industries, e.g. mining, fishing, logging and the like]

“Every child in every country is owed the teaching of natural history, to be introduced to the awe and wonder of the natural world, and to appreciate how it contributes to our lives. Establishing the natural world within educational policy would contribute to countering the shifting baseline, whereby we progressively redefine ourselves as inhabitants of an emptying world and believe that what we see is how it is and how it will continue to be. This shifting baseline has been termed the ‘extinction of experience’

[from page 498 of the full report]


8th November 2022

Why is there a countdown to that date in the sidebar?

1 Because there will be a total lunar eclipse. 

It will be visible from Asia, Australia, North America, parts of northern and eastern Europe, and most of South America.  Click for more information with an animated map and lots of other interesting information.

2 Because on that day some 167,238 people will die and another 382,630 will be born. (Notice the discrepancy?)  Roughly 21.8 million will celebrate their birthday. Among them:

3 Because an election will be held in the USA.

“During this mid-term election, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. Thirty-nine state and territorial gubernatorial and numerous other state and local elections will also be contested. This will be the first election affected by the redistricting that will follow the 2020 United States census.”

THIS ELECTION MATTERS

Sure it is “just” for the USA, but the tone set (t)here will affect decisions in other countries.  The promising steps taken by the Biden administration will most likely be blocked if either the House of Representatives or the Senate change hands.

Historically mid-term elections have seen less voter turnout (voting in the US is not mandatory) and have swung against the party of the president.

The odds of Republican control from 2023 on are very high given the senate is held by a majority of just 1 (actually 0, but a majority of 1 with the casting vote of the vice president) and the House by 7 (out of 435 – Wikipedia)

Let’s look back at the 2020 election results; some 158 million people voted. Of those 81.2 million for President Biden, 74.2 million for the ex-President.

But there are an estimated 239 million eligible voters in the US. That leaves the 2020 tally, in rounded numbers, as follows:

  • 81 million – No Vote
  • 81 million – Democrat
  • 74 million – Republican
  •   3 million – Other

Despite the complexity and biases of the US system there is an obvious answer, and many very, very smart people are trying to make it come true:

We need to get some portion of the 81 million “No Vote” voters to vote, and to vote our way.  It only needs a fraction of them, in the right locations, to create a landslide result and so set the conditions for real Environmental Healingor not.

There are very few days to make a difference > see sidebar

Climate Emergency

Emergency? Really?

“We are in an emergency. California is on the brink of drought, prompting fears of a new wave of devastating megafires later this year. Rising temperatures could soon make the planet’s tropical regions unlivable for humans. Yet a Guardian investigation recently found that only a small number of major countries have been pumping rescue funds into a low-carbon future.”

The above quote is from “The Guardian” of 12 April 2021.  It continues:

“Two years ago, the Guardian announced it was changing the language it uses to talk about the environment, eschewing terms like “climate change” for the more appropriately urgent “climate emergency”. Today, we are joined by others in the news industry, organizations that recognize that a global catastrophe is already here, and that without immediate action, it will get unimaginably worse.

These organizations are part of Covering Climate Now, an initiative founded in 2019 by Columbia Journalism Review and the Nation, with the Guardian as the lead partner, to address the urgent need for stronger climate coverage. More than 400 newsrooms from around the world – with a combined audience nearing 2 billion people – have joined Covering Climate Now”

On the same day the paper published the following, which just underscore the urgency:

Endangered US rivers at grave risk from dams, mining and global heating. New report lays out dire situation facing the most imperiled rivers but environmental activists say situation is salvable”

(…which is another supporting fact to my What Environmental Crisis? post  – file under Fresh Water)

Airborne plastic pollution ‘spiralling around the globe’, study finds. Rising levels of microplastic pollution raise questions about the impact on human health, experts say”

(…file this under Air)

Fukushima: Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea. Environmental groups and neighbours condemn plan to release more than 1m tonnes of contaminated water in two years’ time”

(…see my Nuclear Energy Story – the waste problem is not solved! Of course the ocean will hide it, like it does so many things – sigh)

For a slightly, only slightly, more lighthearted look at the whole issue look at “First Dog on the Moon”, an Australian cartoon (also published in The Guardian):

And then we have this tangentially related headline:

US CEOs think Biden’s corporate tax rate hike will have negative impact – survey. President’s proposed hike would raise corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to pay for his $2.3tn infrastructure plan”

Surprise, surprise; CEO’s think paying more tax is not a good idea.

Bottom line: Great move by the Guardian and all the other associated media organizations. My point re 1biosphere remains;  These stories are not influencing enough of the people we need to reach – that silent majority who can move the political and social dynamics.  That needs your help.