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Pacific Ecologist

Pacific Ecologist 16 Winter 2008

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Problems: exponential growth

  • Navigating peak everything to secure societies [370K PDF]
    The 21st century will see decline in many major resources including fossil fuels and an end to the growth which sustains current societies. We can avert the worst-case scenario of global economic and ecological meltdown, and the tragic consequences, by strengthening our sense of community, cooperation and solidarity and proactively reducing our reliance on oil, gas, and coal ahead of depletion and scarcity. Solving the task of energy transition is a future worth working for as it will contribute to solving many problems created by industrial society. Will societies contract and simplify intelligently or in an uncontrolled, chaotic fashion with resource wars, death and destruction? Richard Heinburg summarises his new book, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines.
  • Nine earths needed for rich-country development worldwide
    To avoid drifting to climate catastrophe, rich countries with their far deeper carbon footprints and historic responsibility must soon start cutting their emissions by at least 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels, reports the new UN Human Development Report. If they don’t, poor people in less developed countries with no responsibility for the ecological debt will suffer the consequences of rich world ecological debts. If people in the developing world generated per capita CO2 emissions at the same rate as people in North America (or other rich countries like Australia and New Zealand), we would need nine planets to deal with the consequences.
  • Beyond growth: The environment key to survival in the 21st century [330K PDF]
    We have developed an economic system over the past two centuries dominated by exponential growth of world domestic product, GDP, and world population, writes Geoffrey P. Glasby. Calculating continuing growth rates of GDP and world population through the 20th and 21st centuries shows we have the potential to create between 8 and 26 times more wealth in the 21st century than in the rest of human history. The unprecedented increase in resource consumption that will occur in the next 90 years, compared to the preceding 10,000 years of human history, will result in a massive environmental deficit by 2100. We are on course now in 2008 to overwhelm the natural environment on which we depend for life on Earth, which will cause severe problems for the more populous world of the late 21st century. Vigorous steps are needed to curtail resource consumption, world GDP, population growth, and global greenhouse gas emissions to improve human prospects for the 21st century and beyond. Humanity must learn restraint to survive.
  • What’s your consumption factor?
    The population in developing countries is growing, but since they consume so little, it’s not a burden on the world, reports Jared Diamond. The real burden lies in the consumption of the one billion people who live in developed countries, who consume and produce waste at rates 32 times higher than in the developing world. If the entire developing world were to catch up, world consumption would increase eleven-fold and it would be as if world population ballooned to 72 billion people. Yet we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle for only one billion people. We can resolve the ecological crisis when all countries agree to converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels.
  • Can Australia’s consumer society reduce climate emissions to safe levels? Questions for the Interim Garnaut Report [150K PDF]
    Can Australia reduce its greenhouse emissions to safe levels, as the Interim Garnaut Report claims, with little effect on the economy? Ted Trainer looks into the report and wonders how it will be possible to cut dependence on fossil fuels by 90% and move to alternative energy sources while the economy becomes four times as big by 2050, without significant consequences for the commitment to affluent living standards and limitless economic growth. As the report gives no indication where the energy to replace fossil fuels is to come from in such quantities, Trainer makes generous assumptions, and estimates but finds it would not be possible to draw up a 2050 Australian energy budget for anticipated demand within safe CO2 limits, let alone a 2100 budget. He challenges Professor Garnaut and critics to check his data and show where it’s wrong. With a stable economy and much less affluent ways, we can resolve the ecological crisis.

Remedies: Energy Transition

  • Energy transition: An international emergency
    Consumption of declining finite fossil fuels continues to rise in both rich and developing countries, and there are no ‘supply-side’ solutions to replace current consumption rates, let alone ever-expanding demand rates, Andrew Mckillop reports. Denial is a powerful cottage industry even as oil prices rise well over the ‘terror of the $100 barrel’ and greenhouse gases reach alarming levels. Shocks are needed to awaken decision-makers and the public to the fact peak oil and gas are not academic subjects and to the urgent need primarily for rich countries to reduce fossil fuel use, restructure the economy and society and energetically develop renewable energy resources worldwide. Market-based responses to long-term decline in oil and gas supplies and to global warming are ineffective and unrelated to the real challenge. It’s essential to remove oil and gas from the rumour-driven arena of market trading and to implement an International Energy Transition Plan.
  • Towards an international renewable energy agency: Nuclear power no solution to global warming [140K PDF]
    Insecurity is increasing worldwide with the global warming and energy crises, but estab­lishing an International Renewable Energy Agency to help bring a speedy transition to harnessing earth-friendly renewable energy resources would greatly assist in assuring stable, reliable energy supplies everywhere, reports Alice Slater. Nuclear power’s very limited ability to reduce greenhouse gases, compared to reductions that can be achieved using the same dollars for sustainable energy, and its enormously dangerous proliferation and pollution issues, combine to make nuclear an untenable, irrational energy choice.
  • Forum: Will tradeable energy quotas deal with climate change/peak oil crises?
    Gary Williams discusses why he thinks the Tradeable Energy Quotas, proposed by Ian Dunlop in issue 14 of Pacific Ecologist won’t deliver the big changes needed to resolve the energy and climate crises. Ian Dunlop explains why he thinks they can play a useful part, avoiding dangerous climate change and bringing greater equity in the world.

Remedies: Sustainable directions

  • Key report calls for shift to sustainable farming
    A major international project in its final report calls for a shift away from industrial agriculture to more sustainable methods, to address hunger, social inequities and environmental problems, reports Jan van Aken.
  • Banrock Station backs Eco Trusts: Carbon credits potential raised
    Peter Isaac, special correspondent.
  • How should we live?
    If you are looking for inspiration and relief from ‘post-petroleum stress disorder’ or ‘climate-change catatonia’, Joanna Santa Barbara recommends three books with plenty of ideas on how to create resilient sustainable communities able to face the growing problems of energy depletion, climate change and global financial instability.

Book & dvd reviews

  • Renewable energy cannot sustain a consumer society by Ted Trainer
  • Peak everything: Waking up in the century of declines by Richard Heinburg
  • How to save the world: One man, one cow, one planet (DVD)
  • The real wealth of nations: Creating a caring economics by Riane Eisler
  • The three trillion dollar war: The true cost of the Iraq conflict by Joseph E. Stiglitz & Linda J. Bilmes

Remedies: Food & agricultural crisis

  • Food security and sovereignty: Food for life
    Palliative emergency measures will not solve the structural problems causing the current global food crisis generated by today’s unfair, predatory international economic order, says Esteban Lazo Hernandez, Vice-President of Cuba. We must change the economic rules, defend everyone’s right to food, secure a decent life for the millions of deprived people and prevent the crisis from being an opportunity for corporate interests to merely pursue commercial objectives.
  • A matter of survival: Pacific Islands vital biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity and ethno-biodiversity heritage
    Biodiversity is the foundation for survival and sustainable development on Pacific Islands, with a high proportion of Pacific Islanders livelihoods coming from natural resources, writes Professor R. Thaman. But urbanisation and western development, deforestation, forest degradation, and loss of agrobiodiversity are proceeding at frightening rates, along with erosion of Pacific Islands’ sophisticated knowledge systems. Yet there’s great potential to reverse these trends. For food security and cultural and economic survival, the highest priority must be placed on preserving the ethno-biodiversity, agroforestry and agrobiodiversity models of Pacific Islands. This will require education and re-education to foster the understanding of existing trees, agroforestry systems and ethnobiodiversity before the knowledge dies out. The tools are in the trees and the dynamic existing traditional systems that have sustained Pacific Islanders over thousands of years. (Part two of a two-part article – Part one is available in Pacific Ecologist issue 15.)