COP On The Long and Winding Road

If we needed an anthem for COP meetings here it is. A troubled song, written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and in McCartney’s view ruined by Phil Spector. Spector’s modifications angered McCartney to the point that when he made his case in the English High Court for the Beatles’ disbandment, he cited the treatment of “The Long and Winding Road” as one of six reasons for doing so. [Wiki]


It’s extraordinary that there was so much hype over COP26. Who in their right minds would have held out any hope of Boris Johnson and his side-kicks presiding over a successful international agreement? Or that 192 parties would reach consensus. In the event we had a muted end to a disastrous conference in which China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia, and at the last minute India, defied all attempts to save the planet. No surprise!


The goals and outcomes can be scored as:
Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. FAILED

Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. FAILED

Mobilise finance FAILED

Work together to deliver FAILED


While COP26 has been struggling to make sense, I was busy reading James Lovelock’s new and manifestly last book, Novacene. Always the optimist Lovelock (at the grand old age of 102!!!) encourages us to not be depressed with the apparent failure of the human species and the Anthropocene.

Lovelock looks forward to the next era of the Novacene – the age of hyper intelligence. The title of the last chapter is Envoi, his poem of farewell and we must infer his farewell to life. Lovelock reminisces on his time consulting to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1960s, where incidentally I myself followed in his footsteps in 2007. He recalls how the biologists asked the question, ”How do we detect the presence of life on other planets?” He replied that it was pointless to seek Earth-type life on other planets, especially at a time when we humans were largely ignorant of our own environment and almost wholly ignorant of other planets. This upset the senior biologists, who were convinced that the only possible form of life must be based on DNA. Accordingly he was summoned to speak to the senior NASA space engineer who asked, “How would YOU seek life on another planet?” He replied that he would seek an entropy (lack of order) reduction on the planetary surface. He had come to realize that Life in the broader meaning of the word, organized its environment. And it was from that exchange that the Gaia concept was born.


The theme of the new book is that we are now, in this 21st century at the point where the Anthropocene is ending; that the human species has left the world in crisis on many levels, but primarily man has triggered a level of global warming that will be very hard to reverse. Lovelock believes that the already exploding use of artificial intelligence will lead very rapidly, probably in this century, to the development of a hybrid species we might refer to as cyborgs. And that will herald the Novacene, the age of hyper intelligence. That it will be the cyborgs, with massively greater intellectual capability and discipline, facilitated by the Gaia global system, that will eventually bring the world’s environment back to at least to some level of sustainability.


This isn’t to say that the cyborgs will supersede humans, rather in Lovelock’s opinion, they will coexist and collaborate in, to use his phrase, entropy reduction. After the disgraceful display of entropy in Glasgow over the past two weeks, it’s hard to believe we can recover from that. However the last word must go to Lovelock. “We should not feel degraded by these, our offspring. . . . with the appearance of humans, just 300,000 years ago , this planet, alone in the cosmos, attained the capacity to know itself. . . . We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings.”


Novacene, The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. James Lovelock with Bryan Appleyard.
Allen Lane, 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0241399361

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Leads me to your door

Posted in Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change, COP26, Survival of the Human Race, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Methinks Ms Thunberg Protests Too Much!

“You can shove your climate crisis up your A**e”

There’s nothing wrong with protest. It serves a valuable purpose. But I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that Greta Thunberg leading tens of thousands of mostly young people in singing, “You can shove your climate crisis up your A**e” is not very helpful.


If we attempt to understand the protest it seems the general idea is that the “establishment” otherwise known as the UN, world governments, the scientific community, big business et al are not moving fast enough to save the planet. That the COP26 process is repeating the previous twenty five COP meetings which manifestly did nothing to achieve measurable outcomes of emissions or sustainability.


Naturally I (and I suspect everyone of a certain age) has huge sympathy with the youth movement. I have children, grandchildren and a great grandchild. I know the future outlook is incredibly scary. But experience tells us that blindly protesting against the establishment has never been a successful strategy. The fact is most of the world still marches to a democratic, capitalist model and making change is always going to be slow. Equally I have great sympathy with the idea that COP26 participants will make some level of commitment, but that a) the commitments are almost certainly going to undershoot the level that will ensure the planet keeps the global temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees, and b) even those inevitably less than inspiring commitments will not be met.


The commitments made in 2015 were in the most part completely ignored. Yes there’s a much greater understanding of the problem now, but we know all the stakeholders are constrained by their existing governance models. While most climate deniers have gone quiet, the lobbyists haven’t gone away, nor the legacy industries, nor all the competing demands for priority action, funding and resources.
The protesters want instant action. In the real world this isn’t going to happen. I suggest that the protesters, particularly school children find ways in each of their own countries, to maintain pressure on their governments by targeting their protests in a manner that keeps the topic in the public eye in a manner that brings the broader population along with them.


For example, there has been the hugely successful school protest since 2018. I suggest school children alter their protests to focus on getting concrete action in the very short term. How about refusing to go to school by car; requiring their own school and local authority to support safe travel to school by bus, by bike by walking. And as soon as this protest gets traction, require commitment to a deadline to introduce electric buses. This action could also be applied to travel to sports and other non-school activities.


Another example might be for again school children to create a scorecard for their local authority on climate actions and to publicise commitments and deliveries.


And most young people have parents and grandparents. We might hope that young people would be agitating amongst their family group which of course will comprise of members of all manner of professions, occupations, opportunities for influence. I would hope that all of these protesters could show us their own and their families’ plans for sustainability. It would be helpful if schools introduced climate relevant topics on the syllabus.


I fully expect the outcomes of COP26 to be underwhelming. But this shouldn’t be a moment for despair. It should be a time for the entire planet to put its shoulder to the wheel. And young people everywhere are intimately involved in communities worldwide and are in a perfect position to exert influence immediately. Maybe this is harder work, and probably less fun than simply protesting general negativity against amorphous government bodies or apparently clueless political leaders. But as we have shown in the last two pandemic years, concerted individual action is incredibly powerful. Most of us are members of wider family groups. It’s in our own interest to propagate positive thinking from the ground up. We know most of our politicians are ineffectual, assailed on all sides by competing influences and lobbyists. But if there’s a groundswell of popular opinion that says, we have to do this, and fast, our so called leaders might just do the right thing!

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Governance, Survival of the Human Race, Sustainability | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Prepare to Critically Assess the Hype Around COP26

I’m reading a very interesting book by William Catton called Overshoot. Amazingly this was first published in 1980, yet describes where our world is today, how we arrived at the current mess and what we need to do to extricate ourselves.


Catton’s primary thinking is that since the start of the Industrial Revolution we have lived in a world without limits. Our behaviour can only be described as “limitless”. Essentially we have used fossil fuels to create amazing technologies and power huge endeavours that would have been completely impossible without them. But we overlooked that fossil fuels have been millions of years in the making, are irreplaceable in their current form any time soon, and are causing an existential problem for the ecosystem that we are utterly reliant upon. Catton calls this “the Age of Exuberance”, in which growth is central to everything we do.


We can observe this limitless behavior in so many ways. Think of the airline industry that has grown in double digits every year since the second world war. Ryanair, formed in 1984 and has since led the transformation of air travel to the a modern equivalent of a bus service. And in the process facilitated an extraordinary level of intra-European travel capitalising on EU free movement as well as cheap holidays. Just this one example poses some huge questions – should we be aiming to simply replicate what we do today with a more ecologically sustainable technology, or should we be reinventing the way we live and work? Establishing limits on growth to ensure sustainability of our entire ecosystem?
Catton provides various models for understanding what’s happening. His Ecological Understanding Model categorizes people in terms of their opinions and understanding of the ecosystem impacts of our actions as follows:

OpinionsCategory
People that insist the assumption of limitlessness was and still is valid.Ostrich
People that don’t believe the science.Cynic
People that believe the way the world works today is just fine with minor adjustments.Fantasist
People that insist that technological progress, regardless of whether it is yet invented, will stave off major change.Cargo Cultist
People who recognize that today’s behavours are deeply harmful and that major change must happen urgently.Realist
Derived from William Catton’s Analysis of Several Modes of Adaptation


This limitless behaviour can be observed in all areas of our activity. Irish farmers have a home market of some €6bn but an export market of over €13Bn, exporting to over 160 countries worldwide. In yesterday or today’s world this is heralded as an amazing success. But in tomorrow’s world it’s a major problem because the Irish agriculture industry produces over 35% of Irelands green-house gas emissions, with a dangerously high level of methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertiliser and manure management. I listened to the chairperson of the IFA on the radio yesterday morning. His interview followed directly on from a piece covering the newly published climate budgets, which were not sympathetic to the agri-sector. His comment was that Irish farmers will not be reducing their herd size any time soon. The primary argument is that the agriculture industry is producing high quality food for the world because other countries cannot produce such high quality! Which is in fact a joke, because Irish farming is widely acknowledged as not living up to the “green” image of the Irish tourist industry. The bottom line is that the farmers will not accept significant cuts in their emissions. Which basically means all the other sectors have to massively over achieve in order to ensure Ireland as a whole meets its climate commitments. This is an exceptional example of Ostrich behaviour.


Now I have many farming friends. Sadly they have been seduced into over producing in order to enable largescale agriculture processing and marketing industries. Actually the farmers themselves have not done so well from the current economic model.

Many of us will have seen reports from Australia that the prime minister Scott Morrison announced that he will not be changing the emissions targets set in 2015, but he will commit to achieving net zero by 2050. But he refuses to release the modelling underpinning the 2050 plan, and is keeping secret the details of the plan agreed with his coalition partners who are keeping him in government. This is clearly Ostrich behavior with a strong overlay of Fantasist thinking.


Closer to home the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is as usual bombastically optimistic about the UK’s climate performance. To make the case, Mr. Johnson points to how Britain has decarbonized more than any other developed country, 1.8 times the average among European Union nations, and was the first major economy to enshrine in law a net-zero target for carbon emissions. Yet Britain is far from a climate hero. The country is committed to fossil fuels and private corporations, opposed to stringent regulation and unwilling to recognize its historical responsibility to the Global South. Even the lauded net zero by 2050 target relies on unreliable carbon offsets and unproven carbon sequestering technology. Mr. Johnson may claim the country leads the world on climate action, but we shouldn’t fall for the trick. (NY Times). In practice, the UK is pursuing policies that violate every single goal. In the recent trade agreement with Australia the UK dropped reference to any emissions and temperature goals. His government is prevaricating over a new, Australian backed coal mine in West Cumbria. More recently a large contingent of his Tory party MPs voted down an amendment to the environment bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers. It seems that Mr Johnson plays fast and loose with climate change matters that merely reinforce his reputation as a Fantasist.


In fairness we see similar positions in most of the large countries. Note that the G20 represent two thirds of the world population, and 80% of global economic output. Collectively these countries emit 75% of global annual greenhouse gases. We know that China is without question adopting the Ostrich position. They managed to persuade the 2015 COP meeting that they are still a developing country and have a right to continue massive growth rates based primarily on coal power. No sense of limits there! We can have much more sympathy with India. In fairness the average person in India emits just 2.5 tonnes of CO2 compared to the G20 average of 7.5 tonnes. And we should also mention the Canadian average per person of 18.9 tonnes!

Breakdown of G20 countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita 2019
Published by M. Szmigiera, Mar 30, 2021, Statista
I should also note that: Ireland’s per capita GHG emissions are 8.32 tonnes!

We can expect that the COP26 conference will eventually produce some form of agreement. It seems highly likely that in the likely absence of China and Russia, that there will be no clear breakthrough that will avoid the worst case. But some compromise will probably be cobbled together by this collection of Ostriches, Cynics, Fantasists and Cargo Cultists. We must remember that few countries have met their commitments made in Paris in 2015. In the chart below, of the 36 countries assessed, and the EU, only one nation was given an overall climate rating compatible with stabilizing global warming around 1.5 °C as per the Paris Agreement.

And of course we can expect the arch fantasist Boris Johnson to claim that he has saved the planet. But we should remember that this is the very same Prime Minister that signed an International (Brexit) agreement in January 2020 and then proceeded to deny the deal before the year was out. I still believe we should be following the ideas articulated by Kim Stanley Robinson in The Ministry of the Future. In my humble opinion, we cannot rely on politicians who are inherently short-term focused, subject to lobbying and incapable and unqualified to take on this huge responsibility. I am still believe we should be following the ideas articulated by Kim Stanley Robinson in The Ministry of the Future [2] by establishing a powerful UN based body to guide policy together with a new monetary system not based on gold but on the carbon coin.

References:

[1] Overshoot, The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, William R. Catton Jnr.

University of Illinois Press, 1980   ISBN 0-252-0018 18-9

[2] Happy XMAS (War is Over?)

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Survival of the Human Race, Technology and Society | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to Fix Facebook and Reinvent Social Media Futures

This week Facebook announced they are planning to invest massively in what they refer to as the Metaverse – supposedly a “massive reimagining of the social network”. Now if I was cynical, I might suspect this is just a ploy to distract and divert from early stage efforts by the US government to break up Facebook. But I wonder why they would even bother, because government breakup efforts are inevitably hugely protracted with very low odds of any successful outcome. But surely we should recognize the Facebook model has been the cause of many huge societal problems, and we should worry that a “massive reimagining” is more likely to compound those problems and introduce new ones, rather than fix them.


At its core Facebook is a money making machine based on advertising. A hugely successful one. However as we know, the “social” network is a disaster. Over two years ago I blogged, “We have crossed a threshold where Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act.”[1] More recently it’s become patently obvious that Facebook has by its inaction, been supporting all manner of fraudulent and criminal activity that have had catastrophic impacts on society. And Zuckerberg and Facebook have consistently refused to take responsibility and implement meaningful change. The money making machine continues to roll. And very recently we have seen the entirely credible whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who made the devastating disclosure: “Facebook has avoided or rolled back interventions for ‘groups’ and ‘narrow subpopulations’ that it knew reduced misinformation, violence, and incitement because those interventions reduced the platform’s growth.”[2]


In my experience as a senior software product manager, software companies are always driven by user experience. They work intensively to understand how the software product supports, facilitates and enhances the user’s activities. They employ all manner of devices, including surveys, user groups and councils, beta testers etc to get clarity on how the tool might work better in supporting known and unknown tasks and activities. But in Facebooks case it appears that the product management task is the complete opposite of the de facto industry approach. We can infer, they are myopically focused on manipulating user behavior and attracting and developing advertising revenues.


The other aspect to consider is that Facebook is not really inventive. They have acquired a lot of fully formed ideas by acquisition. While they have acquired some 78 companies, most of them have been procured for their people skills. But two products in particular have clearly been acquired for their ideas and capabilities – WhatsApp and Instagram. And what have they done with them? They have run them as separate software product lines! There has been no attempt whatsoever to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook into an efficient and effective platform capability. It’s all been about making money running the products entirely separately.


Imagine how WhatsApp could provide more effective chat capabilities in context with Facebook posts. How Facebook groups could be linked with WhatsApp groups to great effect. How messenger could be integrated with WhatsApp, and how Instagram could similarly be seamless with both the other two platforms. And how a common governance layer could underpin them all. Of course there would be reengineering, but the overall user experience could be massively improved. But they have done nothing!


We understand that Facebook has contracts with multiple companies in their attempts to exert some governance over undesirable content and or engagements. But where is the investment in AI in this area. Facebook should by now have developed world leading expertise in context recognition and behavioral guidance, built integral to their platform. But we have to assume they haven’t linked this to monetary gain, rather it’s a negative investment to fend off regulatory bodies or senate committees, so it doesn’t get the right level of investment.


I gather there are very early considerations of breakup; governments looking at spinning off WhatsApp and Instagram. If Facebook had brains and user focused product management, it would be looking at how it’s capabilities could be opened up – to develop industry standards for the integration and or collaboration between various forms of social media and communications. Industry experience is that standards based opening up of platforms is revenue positive for most participants. We have to conclude that the social media environment is still very, very immature.


I worry that a huge focus on the so called Metaverse would simply add yet another layer of unmanaged, ungovernable social capability with even more undesirable effects piled on top of today’s current mess. Talk about “reimagining”; just imagine youngsters unable to differentiate online reality experiences from real life and acting out their unconstrained experiences on real people.


Our problem is that Facebook is a huge monopoly. They can do what they like. Our opportunity is to encourage Facebook to come to recognize that their continued existence could be just as, if not even more lucrative, if it was socially responsible. At this point in time, I have to admit I am not optimistic.

[1] We have just crossed a threshold – it’s time to fix Facebook, Twitter et al.


[2] How Facebook’s Failures Line Up With Frances Haugen’s Whistleblower Docs

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Community Based Food Production is the Future

In Christiana Figueres new book [1] with Tom Rivett Carnac they explore what the world in 2050 will look like. The following is a paraphrasing of their view of the future of food production.


Homes and buildings all over the world are becoming self-sustaining far beyond their electrical needs. All buildings collect rainwater and manage their own water use. Renewable sources of electricity enable localised desalination producing clean drinking water on demand anywhere in the world. Although energy prices have dropped dramatically, we are choosing local life over long commutes. Many people work from home, allowing more flexibility and more time to call their own.
As a consequence we are making communities stronger. Things that used to be done individually are now done communally – growing vegetables, capturing rainwater and composting. Resources and responsibilities are shared now. At first this togetherness was difficult because we were accustomed to doing things individually and privately. But unexpected networks evolved that demonstrated the power of collaboration.


Food production and procurement are a big part of the communal effort. Initially the revolution in food production focused on transitioning large scale industrial food production to regenerative farming practices – mixing perennial crops, sustainable grazing and improved crop rotation. Over time there has been increasing community reliance on smaller, local farms that avoid flying in food from thousands of miles away. This localisation has become more and more practical as neighbourhoods and or larger extended families form food purchase groups, which is how most people buy their food now. As a unit they sign up for a weekly drop-off, then distribute the food among the group members. Distribution, finance, coordination and management are everyone’s responsibility, which often means weekly rotating assignments between neighbours. The advantage of this system is that local farms can negotiate annual quantities and prices with the groups, so they have known demand and therefore higher efficiency.
While the community approach to food production makes things more sustainable, food is still expensive. It’s a fact that organic, sustainable produce is effort intensive. So growing your own is a necessity for many. In community gardens, on rooftops and even vertical gardens on balconies, food seems to be growing everywhere.


In (my local) Cork City Council Strategic Development Plan, there is a high level of focus on community based food production. There is stated intent to enhance existing allotment facilities and to establish community growing areas integral to existing and new housing developments. We might expect that a natural evolution will be for food procurement groups to go the extra mile and form community food growing collectives. As discussed by Figueres and Carnac the evolution of community initiatives (in the wider sense) may be one of the most interesting developments as localisation becomes the dominant sustainability model.


In terms of food production, this signals a big change in the future of conventional allotments. Today, allotment plots are private spaces, mostly tended by single individuals. In my experience, the individual would work his/her own plot for many years. As a consequence, there would often be a very long waiting list for plots. But my more recent on the ground (sic) experience, which I accept may or may not be widely applicable, is that there is a higher rate of change of ownership. There are many reasons for this. First, in today’s world, perhaps fewer plot holders will have a vegetable growing background. So taking on a new plot can be a daunting exercise and I observe the drop-out rate of new owners is higher. Second it is noticeable that in today’s society individuals’ circumstances change more frequently for all manner of reasons including moving home, change in work and or family responsibilities, health and more. In today’s world, collaborative efforts are therefore likely to be far more sustainable, as well as sharing the load, there’s the sharing of knowledge.


Today in 2021, many people are frustrated that efforts to address climate change are not happening fast enough. Further that personal efforts are perceived to be largely irrelevant because the big items are all in the gift of major corporations or state bodies. And the contribution of smaller countries is insignificant in context with China, India and the USA, the major emitters of CO2. But it’s also true that new ways of working have to start somewhere. The ideas of localisation, community initiatives and personal responsibility, particularly in food production, provide very real opportunities for everyone to make a valuable contribution now. Naturally these ideas will take time to be widely adopted, but given the latent enthusiasm, it might just go much faster than we think.

[1] Christiana Figueres with Tom Rivett Carnac: The Future We Choose
2021 Bonnier Books Ltd ISBN: 9781786580375

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, Localisation, Organic Farming, Sustainability, Sustainable Food Productiojn | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ideas Load the Gun, but Instinct Pulls the Trigger

A UN climate report that predicts quicker global warming than anticipated just three years ago “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas and is “code red” for humanity.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 8/9/2021

A cursory looks at the political, financial or business news tells us that our main aim is still growth. Last week we learnt that China has agreed not to build new coal plants abroad. Whether this means no new plans for coal plants, or cancellation of existing projects is unclear. Let’s remember China represents more than a quarter of all global carbon emissions, and it has spent tens of billions of dollars to build coal power facilities in 152 countries over the past decade through its Belt and Road Initiative. Roughly 70% of the coal plants built globally now rely on Chinese funding. In 2020, China built over three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined – the equivalent of more than one large coal plant per week. In addition, over 73 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power projects were initiated in China, five times as much as in all other countries, while construction permits for new coal projects also accelerated. Death knell for coal? Code red for humanity? Who’s kidding who?

In his fourth book on the Gaia Hypothesis, The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock speaks about how we can fight back. The problem is the book was published in 2006 and since then we haven’t listened to a word he says.

Lovelock’s concept of Gaia is the idea of a living planet, not one that has intrinsic intelligence, rather a self-managing system that responds to environmental changes. All the advice from climate scientists over the past forty years and more has been about enabling the planet’s system to remain in a balanced state that supports life. Not just human life, but the unimaginable richness of all life forms on the planet.
Whilst we are all now acutely aware of the climate crisis, Lovelock tells us that awareness is insufficient. He asks, “how do we acquire, or reacquire, an instinct that recognizes not only the presence of the great Earth system but also its health?” That we always do the right thing for the planet Earth. We always put that overwhelmingly first, and we never compromise our planetary system in any way, large or small. The term instinct is important. Instinct is wired into our brains and is likely to be part of our genetic coding. But also it can be taught. Lovelock references the Jesuits who discovered a child’s mind could be moulded to accept their faith. But I would argue that a) we don’t have the time to instil right thinking into children, and b) we need to educate, persuade and convince everybody on the planet right now into acting in the best interests of planetary sustainability.

In any crisis we all look for leadership. What must we do? What has to change? How will we collectively address the crisis? Clearly China, with its 1.4 billion population is showing the Chinese people and the world that it will prioritize growth above all else. Similarly the UK, who are hosting the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow have not shown themselves to be leaders. Boris Johnson has a history of climate denial. For example in April 2021 he said, “It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging. “What I’m driving at is this is about growth and jobs.” At the same time we watch the US with bated breath as Joe Biden and the Democrats tear themselves apart in trying to reach agreement on the infrastructure (climate) bill. And we know that regardless of what Joe Biden achieves, there is odds on probability that the Republicans will gerrymander Trump back into office in 3 years time.

But there are other options for leadership. We mustn’t expect leadership from the current crop of politicians. We must look elsewhere for genuine leaders who can instil instinctive sustainability in everything that we do. Many people will say, “but I can’t do anything. I’m totally reliant upon energy providers, car manufacturers, food producers etc”. But if we all look much harder, we will find there are always actions that we can take that will make a difference.

We should look for cohorts that could create a critical mass of instinctive thought driving their every action. Back in 2015, Pope Francis published a very credible encyclical letter titled Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home. This is actually an excellent document that covers all dimensions of the planetary sustainability crisis. But I have to admit I only came across this excellent document by accident, and clearly there has been little or no effort from the Catholic Church to establish instinctive sustainability. But there are some 1.4 Billion Catholics around the world. Just suppose Francis declared that “Protect our common planetary home” must become a de facto 11th commandment and communicated that throughout the Catholic world.

Similarly we might see young people as a potential cohort. Greta Thunberg is widely credited as inspiring school children to carry out Friday protests across the world. And young people are widely credited as having strong support for actions to prevent or mitigate climate change as they become increasingly concerned about their future. We might hope that at some stage young people would stop generic protests and turn to specific and targeted actions. Remember children and younger people have families and are uniquely integrated into society worldwide. I note that Thunberg has collaborated with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and we might wonder how this potential cohort might evolve to become a powerful force in every country around the world?

Clearly and worryingly climate change has been an issue for decades without being addressed in any meaningful manner. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion in 2018 must have been out of sheer frustration at this lack of action. While I have huge sympathy with ER I detect significant irritation at their protest methods that deliberately inconvenience ordinary citizens. Again, like with the young people, I wonder why ER doesn’t move to targeted campaigns that aggressively attack and undermine the typical government and UN under performance. And as I show in the chart below, we don’t have to address the entire world. Just 18 countries account for 79% of emissions in 2019.

Let’s consider some example campaign opportunities that all of our cohorts could embrace :

  1. Top Emitters. As discussed, in 2019 79% of worldwide emissions were produced by just 18 countries. In fact 57% was produced by just 5 countries – China, the USA, India, Russia and Germany.
  2. Target China. Orchestrate a boycott of Chinese garlic. China is the world leader in garlic. It holds more than 80% of the global garlic production. China’s exports represent 70.3% of world exports for this product and rank first. The current supply of garlic comes from plantations in Jinxiang, Shandong, Peizhou, Jiangsu, Qixian Henan, Zhongmou, and Henan. What better way for ordinary people worldwide to send a message to the Chinese that they need to stop pretending to be a developing nation and take some responsibility for their unacceptable climate change footprint.
  3. Target COP26. We know how the storybook will unfold. World leaders will make promises to reduce emissions sometime way into the future. The promises are not worth the paper they are written on. Many are based on kicking the can down the road or offsets with developing nations. So not real reductions in emissions or improvement in sustainability. When the world leaders from the large countries particularly, led by the UK’s Clown Prime Minister emerge to say they have saved the world, we should ensure that the world knows this is simply lies.
  4. Family members. All cohorts, young people, religious groups or protest movements could be hugely influential as family members are encouraged to take action. All family members may be encouraged to make instinctive changes in personal and business or professional lives. But family members may also be key influencers of all sorts including educators, business managers and leaders, politicians, journalists, investors, employees, customers or suppliers to fossil fuel related industries. The larger the cohort, the more effective the action may be.

    To conclude, we mustn’t look to conventional politicians and business leaders. They are hopelessly conflicted and constrained by convention, advisors, civil servants, lobbyists etc. We need to empower numerous cohorts who become powerful by adopting instinctive thinking – where climate friendly decisions are the only option, and climate compromises are completely unacceptable on all levels. Bottom up leadership that over the years will naturally cause the current crop of leaders to become redundant and powerless. Hopeless dream? Well in the USA quite possibly. But I know, there are good people in the US. The real question is when will they stand up for truth?

References
Ideas Pull the Trigger, but Instinct Loads the Gun – with apologies to Don Marquis American Humorist

The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, Allen Lane 2006, Penguin Books 2007

Laudato Si, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015

Future Government? It’s Time to Handover to the Next Generation

Net Zero is a Con Trick?

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Last Night at the Poms

I admit this year’s promenade concerts at the Albert Hall mostly passed me by. I watched Handel’s Dixit Dominus which was amazing but that was it. And we normally skip the Last Night because it’s terribly jingoistic and increasingly nationalistic. But the programme was Piazzolla centric and not to be missed. And accordion player Ksenija Sidorova stole the show with a fantasie on a Piazzolla theme and then a performance of the famous Libertango.


As we watched we realized something was different! Instead of wall to wall Union Jacks there was a sea of blue EU flags which was just as prominent as the UK flag. As well as waved flags, there were banners hung from the balconies and people wearing very smart blue berets adorned with twelve five-pointed golden stars. Now the Last Night is always terribly nationalistic. After the interval there’s the time honoured sequence of old favourite music including Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Brittania etc. The audience sings along waving flags and generally having a great time. One wonders if they ever reflect on the lyrics that are glorifying Britain’s colonial past? This year was no different except that the sea of flags gave different messages.


Later we gathered that the Musician’s Union had supported a protest by musicians and supporters because of the post Brexit situation where musicians and associated trades people no longer have free movement across Europe. There has always been great collaboration right across Europe with musicians constantly travelling to events in both directions. Last year the Independent reported that, “Musicians have revealed how Brexit is already killing off their tours in the EU, as they warn the industry may not survive tough new immigration rules. No less than 71 per cent say their bookings for everything from classical orchestras to rock bands were drying up – even before coronavirus struck, closing down venues and putting concerts on hold. Some are being told “EU nationals only”, because of vast red tape and extra expense to be imposed by new visa rules when the UK leaves the post-Brexit transition period in January.
“British nationals have already joined other ‘third country nationals’ on the lowest rung of hiring desirability.

This is catastrophic for careers and livelihoods,” one told a new survey revealed by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).


Another said: “Noticeable drop off in bookings from EU27 countries since 2016. At present I have now no future bookings at all.”


So from early Saturday, EU supporters were out in force around the Royal Albert Hall explaining to the crowds of music lovers what their problems are and handing out blue flags, berets and banners. And they were clearly hugely popular.


I’m with Simon Rattle who said in a recent interview with the Radio Times that he avoided conducting the Last Night because of its “jingoistic elements”. The conductor – who announced earlier this year “he would be leaving the London Symphony Orchestra and relocating to Germany – said nationalistic aspects of the event left him “uneasy”.
Finally we note that it was reported that the BBC attempted to portray a balance. But they failed, and I am delighted to see the great British public recognising the huge harm being done by Brexit.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Technology and Society, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Future Government? It’s Time to Handover to the Next Generation

In a talk delivered at the Poetry Center, New York, on February 16, 1970, Noam Chomsky opined, “We have today the technical and material resources to meet man’s animal needs. We have not developed the cultural and moral resources or the democratic forms of social organization that make possible the humane and rational use of our material wealth and power.”


Boy, did he get that right! And that was 1970. What would Chomsky say today? We now have amazing technologies in medicine and health, information and communications, engineering and technology etc, yet as a species we have utterly failed to address gross levels of inequality in health and wealth within societies and between developed and developing nations, continuing and quite unnecessary wars and conflicts, and last and not least the protection of the ecosystem that is Planet Earth. I have commented previously that, a visitor from outer space from an advanced civilization would surely assess us as a primitive species.


There is much literature around the subject of forms of government such as socialism, communism, liberalism etc. But economics is about just one dimension of a governing model. I suggest we have two primary problems today in many countries around the world – representation and competence. Representation is about allowing ordinary people to have a voice and to be heard. Competence is about good people with skills and expertise that understand how to deliver solutions by policy formation, budgeting, legislation and communications.


Let’s be blunt – politics has become one of the least trusted professions. A survey taken by CV-Library in the UK in 2019 asked 1200 working people which profession they considered the least trustworthy:

Politicians   78.1
Journalists  37.7
Car sales27.4
Telesales  23.6
Bankers22.8
Paparazzi  21.6
Realtor 14.6
Recruiters  13.6
Lawyer8.7
Bailiffs6.7

At the core of both problems is the question of competence. While we have all watched the descent into chaos and farce in the USA and the UK, these two countries are merely leaders in the race to the bottom. Most (western) countries have similar problems including:

  • Domination of the political gene pool by media (journalists), third rate lawyers, populists and small businessmen, and political families.
  • Short termism based on media impact of any decision or announcement.
  • Corruption, whilst it would be entirely wrong to say all politicians are corrupt, it’s evident that many are swayed by self-interest.
  • Individuals with no or low real world experience. Current trend is to take political courses at university and then follow a career path of research assistant to elected politician.

    It’s self-evident that the most capable, highly qualified young people will not consider politics as a career. They prefer medicine, humanities, teaching, law etc. There was an excellent article the other day in the Irish Independent by Sophie White with the headline, “Nobody tells you that you will get to the point when you realise that you are legitimately smarter than the majority of people in power”. And she’s not talking about the outliers such as George W. Bush, but the majority of public elected officials. We have to conclude that politics is a power game, and that anyone attracted to politics should be denied entry until they have demonstrated qualifications, skills, competence and integrity in a significant profession prior to even being allowed to run for public office. But you may say, dream on!

    But can we allow this current situation to persist? We have an existential climate crisis looming; we (the politicians) have ignored all the warnings for 30 or more years, and are still most likely to listen to the powerful lobby groups rather than the public and scientists. Of course the politicians will say they are setting new targets. They will “claim” their new targets will save the world. But we know they are only short term focused. And they will be diverted by the next local problem, lobby group, fossil fuel industry story, and change focus and priority back to business as usual.

    I suggest we need to turn to the next generation NOW.

    With notable exceptions, young people have never been really interested in politics. However this has changed. We know the younger generation are energised by the climate crisis. They have been involved in school protests around the world. And young people are in most families and they can exert influence that spans political parties, countries, religion and race. They also have some thought leaders and embryonic organization. Importantly they are all very good at communicating on social media, and can form groups and organize in a heart-beat.

    I would never try to tell the younger generation what to do. But just imagine for a moment how a worldwide organization could emerge, almost overnight. And imagine if that organization provided high profile communications on how individual countries are performing (or not) against climate and sustainability targets, and supply the media with material (ammunition) to challenge the existing political hierarchy. And imagine how such an organization might develop virtual, worldwide expertise groups around policy formation, pro forma legislation, apps to track individual commercial and government organizations’ performance against target etc etc. And how such an organization might develop as a worldwide virtual organization with country chapters that, as natural demographic change happens (young people get older) they form dominant political forces that encourage highly skilled individuals to get involved and take charge.

Maybe that’s just my dream. Maybe it will happen over time; but if we seed that thought into a few young heads, perhaps we can encourage the acceleration of this process. God knows, we need it now!

Posted in Climate Change, COP26, Democracy, Governance, Policy Making, Politics, Technology and Society | 1 Comment

Magical Mystery Tour

Back in the 1960s there was an extraordinary energy among young people. It wasn’t just the Beatles and music scene, or the drugs (not that I personally ever smoked anything stronger than a woodbine), rather it was the post war era in which education and jobs were encouraged and available. And rather than following in our parents footsteps we were able to follow our dreams. And this was true right across the western world. As a “baby boomer” I accept I was privileged. I found a career in the early days of computing that allowed me grow with an emerging industry, to pursue work that captivated and motivated me throughout a long career that took me through numerous roles and allowed me to travel and work all around the world.


But I wonder today whether young people feel the same. It’s true there are huge opportunities opening up in climate and sustainability, but the pandemic has been tough on young people in so many ways making education and socialising really hard. At the same time there is growing concern that climate change will be a real disaster, orders of magnitude greater than the pandemic, and that getting all the advanced countries to address their emissions will be incredibility difficult. Are we leaving today’s generation a burning planet? Then just to add fuel to the fire, I see today that Elon Musk has announced he’s working on a humanoid robot which will be targeted at manual labour. And I recall he’s also working on a human computer interface! Even if his robots work as well as his self-driving cars, it’s still yet more evidence that the world of work is going to undergo huge change.


In fairness if we look back at the 20th century, if has to be said that there was unbelievable change. And that things weren’t that bad. So why should the 21st Century be any different? But it’s very true that the first two decades of this century has not treated everyone well. Lots of young people are doing work they are massively over qualified for. Employers such as Amazon are setting de facto standards of work that would have been made illegal in the last century. However unionisation has failed to take hold in many modern workplaces. And increasingly right wing governments haven’t cared. Also pressures on housing are ever increasing, and unlike us baby boomers, today’s youngsters find it harder to purchase a house.


I will fully accept that if I was say 18, or in my early twenties I would be nervous, worried and concerned about the future from all of these perspectives. Several young people have asked me the question, “What subjects should do, how do I prepare for what will probably be great change?” And my answer has always been stick to basics, maths, sciences, languages and critically just as important, get experience. See the world, but not as a tourist. Don’t stay too long in education, get out there and get experience and plan to keep learning formally and informally for your entire life.


I hold with this advice, but today in light of recent experience and events I would say that focusing on key areas of economic opportunity would be sensible such as energy production and distribution, ecology, advanced agriculture environments including regenerative organic and hydroponics, carbon capture, eco transport management, disaster management, water management and specifically flood management and relief. You get the idea. All of these fields are going to be huge growth areas.


However I would also counsel young people to travel in a purposeful way. Get out to Africa or Asia and get involved in all types of charitable or medical projects. Not just famine relief, although that’s important work, but consider also project management around shelter, water systems, broadband provision, agriculture as well as education. Increasingly there will be whole populations on the move, migrating away from areas that can no longer sustain life because of fire or drought and there’s going to be great work needed to help these efforts and guide against conflict.


I would like to see governments everywhere incentivising young people to get real experience either immediately before or after university or apprenticeship. Of course these project experiences must include appropriate education and mentorship in order to make the experience meaningful. Armies and navies have a huge part to play in this area. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate conscription, it would make sense to create real incentives to join one or two year programmes with the option to select the broad type of experience and learning involved.


Throughout my working life and into retirement I have continued learning. Today approaching my mid seventies I am working on my French language and horticulture skills. Life will always be a magical mystery tour. No one can predict the future. But we do need to help young people to be positive and constructive and to confront the challenges we face head on. So far, young people have mostly addressed the climate emergency as a protest group. No problem with that. But moving forward the younger generation needs to take charge, to ensure the world takes the right decisions and gets out of the mess we baby boomers have created.
I wish them luck.

Posted in Climate Change, Covid19, Life Long Learning, Organic Farming, Skills Development, Technology and Society, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Climate Change is Reversable, But “WE” need to take responsibility. Otherwise governments and vested interests will prevaricate with inevitable consequences.

The IPCC report affirmed there are no factors beyond human control that prevent us from limiting the temperature rise. We know what to do and we know we can do it. Why aren’t we doing it? Because “we” is a lie. It conflates individuals with fossil fuel companies.
“We” echoes the logic of “personal carbon footprint”, a term British Petroleum (BP) invented in 2004. The company launched an individual emissions calculator as a marketing device to distract from the need for industry-level change. I’m not saying individuals share no responsibility for the climate crisis; companies don’t burn carbon for the hell of it, but to satisfy demand.

Naoise Dolan, Irish Independent, 14th August 2021


We have become accustomed to blaming others for all our problems! But we are consumers and voters. Individually we have little power. But collectively we might just turn this super tanker around.


The fossil fuel companies are only able to prevaricate because we consumers continue to behave as normal. I include in this the entire fossil fuel supply chain from coal and oil producers to energy, transport, plastic and fertiliser providers. Similarly governments will prevaricate because they depend on tax revenues from the same industries, that of course also have the ear of governments. And governments are formed by politicians who instinctively operate on a short term basis relevant to their electoral cycle. They are not qualified for this type of crisis which demands longer term thinking. We cannot expect them to lead.


That means starting with ourselves.


The message on the wire is our lives are going to change dramatically. If we don’t do it ourselves, climate related catastrophes will do it for us. And it’s already happening in Madagascar, Alaska, Australia, The Alps, and very recently in Germany, Belgium, North America, Greece, Turkey etc. If this means moving house, changing job, getting new skills, becoming an activist, getting involved in local climate actions, then surely it’s better to take the initiative rather than be on the receiving end. Of course there are big ticket items we as individuals can’t influence, but if populations en masse take actions the results are going to be significant. Remember, we are all consumers; if we vote with our feet big business is going to listen.

  1. Consider if you really need a car. Or two or more? Whether other modes of transport are feasible? If you need a car switch to an EV. They are going to save you money. Don’t listen to the negatives, the fossil fuel and car manufacturing industries are deliberately spreading negativity to slow adoption. EVs work; it’s just they work slightly differently. But they do SAVE YOU MONEY! Transport is 16% of all emissions and an area we can all make an impact with right now!
  2. Consider where you need to live long term. Now! Lots of people are already doing it, but it’s something EVERYBODY needs to consider. Can you cut your emissions and transport costs by moving to reduce travel, cut your costs, move to a location with a lower disaster risk. Don’t automatically go back into the office and the commute. If working for home is difficult, build a home office or use a local hub, or negotiate a hybrid contract.
  3. Closely related, consider your skills, job or profession. Are your skills going to be in demand in 10 years’ time? Consider that demand for skills in new areas is going to escalate dramatically. How about renewable energy supply chain including tidal, wind and solar, building modernisation and insulation, distributed home energy systems, home rain water harvesting systems, disaster management and recovery, flood management, ecology, online learning, climate action group project management, and so on.
  4. Reinvent how you holiday and travel. Cut air travel to the bare minimum. Use trains, buses, ships, EVs, bikes but not planes except in extremis.
  5. Work out your own carbon footprint. Know the sources of emissions and pollution and cut them in whatever way you can, switching suppliers, changing technology. Don’t expect to make major reductions immediately because most of your emissions are locked into energy suppliers. But look forward and have a plan for how you individually will get down to 1.5 tons CO2e (CO2 equivalent). Bear in mind the real emerging target is going to be 1.0 ton per person. Make a plan to reinvent your home energy consumption. Maximise use of government grants.
  6. Grow (at least) some of your own food. Preferably organically.
  7. Involve young people. The next generations will be those most impacted; they have been protesting but sadly heard, but not listened to! If we are not careful young people will switch off. We need to motivate and energize them in a way that is really meaningful. For example, guide gap year students to get involved in local climate action or ecology projects. Encourage students to demand their schools and universities fossil fuel free, now. And themselves to ensure their travel to schools and colleges is also as fossil fuel free as possible. Beyond that, why don’t governments or local councils establish schemes to support young people in travelling to developing countries to get involved in climate projects. But most of all, guide young people to acquire skills that are relevant to the new areas of work outlined above in point 3.
  8. Prepare for disaster. Look at trees, undergrowth, rivers, drains and powerlines, and assess risk from very high wind storms and or possibility of intense rainfall, or fire. Also consider carefully how independent of shared services you will be in times of crisis. Remember fossil fuelled generators should be banned! But standalone batteries could become life savers. Similarly gravity fed home rainwater harvesting could be essential in a crisis. No panic, just sensible preparatory thinking. Of course some may decide to move home on the basis of the assessment.
  9. Become a climate activist in any and all ways you can. There are local climate action groups forming [see example below], with government assistance here in Ireland. I expect same worldwide. Be prepared to name and shame corporations and politicians that are compromising our shared future. Work to ensure fake news and conspiracy theories are squashed. Believe me, this is going to be the next battle. We must expect dark forces to attempt to slow progress to protect their interests.

    Inevitably as major changes happen to our way of life there will be winners and losers and the levels of protest, lobbying, fake news and conspiracy and blame will become deafening. Further, there will be invidious yet direct comparisons between countries. Some countries will do better than others, many will fall behind and may lose heart. But this isn’t a competition, or race, rather we’re all frogs in the same pot of boiling water. To save the planet we have to bring everybody with us!
    Clearly as individuals we have limited leverage. But as consumers, if we work en masse, we do have power. I don’t pretend this list is exhaustive. Please let me know your thoughts on how this could be developed further.

Corca Dhuibhne 2030: a sustainable future for the Dingle Peninsula by 2030

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, Electric Vehicles, EV, Skills Development, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | 1 Comment