Wednesday, December 8

There is no ‘green growth’ – less of everything is the only way to avoid a catastrophe | George Monbiot

There is a box called “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box called “biodiversity”, in which the biodiversity crisis is discussed. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and loss of soil, gathering dust in the lost and found department of our planet. But they all contain aspects of a crisis that we have divided to make it understandable. The categories that the human brain creates to make sense of its environment are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing itself.” They describe artifacts of our perceptions rather than the world.

Nature does not recognize such divisions. As Earth systems are attacked by everything at once, each source of stress exacerbates the others.

Take the situation of the North Atlantic right whale, whose population recovered somewhat when whaling ceased, but is now dropping again: less than 95 women remain of reproductive age. The immediate reasons for this decline are primarily deaths and injuries caused when whales are hit by boats or entangled in fishing gear. But they have become more vulnerable to these shocks because they have had to move along the east coast of North America into rough waters.

Its main prey, a small swimming crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, moves north at a speed of 8 km per year, because the sea heats up. At the same time, a commercial fishing industry has developed, exploiting Calanus for fish oil supplements that are falsely believed to be beneficial to our health. There has been no attempt to evaluate the probable impacts fishing Calanus. We also have no idea what the impact of ocean acidification, also caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, could be on this. and many other crucial species.

As the mortality rate of North Atlantic right whales increases, their birth rate decreases. Why? Perhaps due to the pollutants that accumulate in their bodies, some of which are probably reduce fertility. Or because of the ocean noise from ship engines, sonar, and oil and gas exploration, which can stress and stress them out. interrupt your communication. So you could call the decline of the North Atlantic right whale a shipping crisis, a fishing crisis, a climate crisis, an acidification crisis, a pollution crisis, or a noise crisis. But in fact it is all of these things: a general crisis caused by human activity.

Or look at the moths in the UK. We know that pesticides are hurting them. But the impact of these toxins on moths has been investigated, as far as I can discover, only on an individual basis. Bee studies show that when pesticides are combined, their effects are synergisticIn other words, the damage that each one causes does not add up, but multiplies. When pesticides are combined with fungicides and herbicides, the effects are multiplied again.

At the same time, moth caterpillars are losing their food plants, thanks to fertilizers and habitat destruction. Climate chaos has also caused their reproductive cycle to be out of sync with the flower opening on which adults depend. Now we discover that light pollution has devastating effects on your reproductive success. Switching from orange sodium streetlights to white LEDs saves energy, but their broader color spectrum it is disastrous for insects. Light pollution is spreading rapidlyeven around protected areas, affecting animals almost everywhere.

The combined impacts are destroying entire living systems. When coral reefs weakened by the fishing industry, pollution and bleaching caused by global warming, they are less able to withstand the extreme weather eventsLike tropical cyclones, our fossil fuel emissions have also intensified. When rainforests are fragmented by logging and cattle ranching, and devastated by imported tree diseases, they become more vulnerable to damage. droughts and fires caused by climate collapse.

What would we see if we broke our conceptual barriers? We would see a full spectrum assault on the living world. Hardly any place is now safe from this sustained assault. A recent scientific paper estimates that only 3% of the Earth’s land area should now be considered “ecologically intact”.

The various impacts have a common cause: the large volume of economic activity. We are doing too much in almost everything and the living systems of the world cannot bear it. But our inability to see the whole ensures that we cannot address this crisis systematically and effectively.

When we fit in this situation, our efforts to resolve one aspect of the crisis exacerbate another. For example, if we were to build enough direct air capture machines to make a major difference in atmospheric carbon concentrations, this would require a massive new wave of mining and processing for steel and concrete. The impact of such building pulses travels around the world. To take just one component, mining sand to make concrete is destroying hundreds of precious habitats. It is especially devastating for rivers, whose sand is highly sought after in construction. Rivers are already being affected by drought, the disappearance of ice and snow from the mountains, our water extraction, and pollution from agriculture, sewage and industry. Sand dredging, in addition to these assaults, could be a final and fatal blow.

Or look at the materials needed for the electronics revolution that will apparently save us from climate collapse. The extraction and processing of the minerals needed for magnets and batteries is already destroying habitats and causing new pollution crises. Now, as Jonathan Watts’ terrifying article in The Guardian this week shows, companies are using the climate crisis as a justification for extracting minerals from the deep ocean floor, long before we have an idea of ​​what the impacts might be.

This is not, in itself, an argument against direct air capture machines or other “green” technologies. But if they have to keep up with an increasing volume of economic activity, and if the growth of this activity is justified by the existence of these machines, the net result will be increasing damage to the living world.

Governments everywhere seek to increase the economic burden, speaking of “unleashing our potential” and “supercharging our economy.” Boris Johnson insists that “a global recovery from the pandemic must be based on green growth.” But there is no green growth. Growth is erasing the green from the Earth.

We have no hope of getting out of this wide-ranging crisis unless we drastically reduce economic activity. Wealth must be distributed: a restricted world I can’t pay the rich – but it must also be reduced. Maintaining our life support systems means doing less of almost everything. But this notion, which should be central to a new environmental ethic, is secular blasphemy.

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