Humans are clever enough to avoid climate change?

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Evolution drives change in the natural world. Human ‘progress’ is also an evolutionary process. It is driven by competing individuals and communities all trying to obtain wealth and improve their way of life. As a species we have been spectacularly successful. However, all species have environmental limits to growth. With the effects of climate change, environmental destruction, dwindling water supplies and pollution beginning to bite hard, it is clear that human activity is now approaching the limits that the Earth can support.

Humans are unique animals; we can reason and we understand many of the laws that determine the workings of the universe.  Scientists have been warning for decades of the perils of climate change. Many people believed them, but the issue was too big for individuals to tackle and too nebulous for them to demand action from politicians. I naively thought that when the adverse effects became clear and obvious that attitudes would change. That the human race would see climate change as a genuine emergency and begin to tackle the issue with urgency.

Climate chang in AustraliaI was wrong. Images of Australia burning seem to have little effect. You’d think that Australians, in the front line of catastrophic droughts, floods and fires would, by now, be demanding that their government front up to the problem. You’d be wrong. Writing in the Guardian Lenore Taylor reports:

… despite the widespread sense that the fires are a tipping point, despite global outrage at the self-defeating stupidity of our policies, despite the world’s largest fund manager ditching thermal coal, despite the wave of grief and anger from around the world – even from James Murdoch – it’s still not clear that Australian public opinion will force this government to change.


How bad does it have to get before we act? It is already clear that the global temperature rise will surpass the 1.5-degree target set in the Paris Climate Change accord in 1916.  We are certainly on course for at least a 2-degree rise. Will we act when the rise exceeds even this? For the first time I am beginning to have my doubts whether the human species, despite all its cleverness, is capable of altering the path of evolution

Our political system is failing us

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It’s not just our politicians that are failing us, it’s the whole political system of government.

The UK’s democratic processes were forged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was a world in which the pace of change was slower, the welfare state had yet to be born and emperors and monarchs exercised real power in many countries of the world. The complexities of governance that our leaders face today are many times more challenging than 2 centuries ago.

In business, candidates for job vacancies without a relevant track record would have little chance of success. In the UK, ministers are often catapulted into managing government departments for which they have no practical knowledge. As a result, they often act in an amateur knee-jerk fashion responding to each crisis as it occurs. Education and the National Health Service, in particular, have suffered greatly with ministers micro-managing according to their own pet ideas. Political ability is no guarantee of any management ability.

Listen to what Rory Stewart has to say about his own ministerial experience:

Our terms are absurdly short. I held five ministerial jobs in four years. Just as I was completing my 25-year environment plan, I was made a Middle East minister. Just as I was trying to change our aid policy in Syria, I was made the Africa minister. Just as I was finishing my Africa strategy, I was moved to prisons. I promised to reduce violence in prisons in 12 months, and violence was just beginning to come down – when I was made secretary of state for international development. How can this be a serious way to run a country?

Surely leaders of state institutions need to be selected on their proven ability in office? We need leaders of our education systems, transport infrastructure, tax collection systems, health care and all our other major offices of state  who can build on expertise to construct world-class cost-effective institutions. This can’t be achieved by part-time appointees with little relevant experience.

Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN

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Greta at the UNGreta Thunberg’s speech to the UN summarised perfectly our moral duty to preserve the planet for future generations.

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?

For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight? You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil and that I refuse to believe.

The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in ten years only gives us a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and the risk of setting up irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. Fifty percent may be acceptable to you, but those numbers do not include tipping points most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution, or the aspects of equity and climate justice.

They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50 percent risk is simply not acceptable to us. We who have to live with the consequences. To have a 67 percent chance of staying below the 1.5 degree of temperature rise, the best odds given by the IPCC, the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1, 2018.

Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 that entire budget will be gone is less than 8 and a half years. There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today because these numbers are too uncomfortable and you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this, right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up, and change is coming whether you like it or not.

Articles web-page

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The Articles web-page is launched today.

It will aim to a library of articles and books that show the development of human evolutionary change.  It will show how global warming, the destruction of the natural world, the headlong pursuit of technological development and economic growth combined with the misuse of political power is creating a divided world that is destroying the planet

Relaunch of eco-humanity website

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The Eco-humanity website is being relaunched following the publication of Compete or Cooperate – the evolutionary choice that will determine our future. Its new mission is to mobilise people of all nationalities and religious views who have eco-friendly ideals, and believe in the liberal humanist principles of freedom, equality and rationality.

The future of our children is being threatened by a combination of new technologies, an aging demographic,  climate change, the destruction of the environment, and the growing divide between rich and poor. Since 1990  globalisation has altered the way society operates. The liberal humanist values of an egalitarian and  caring society have come under increasing attack from the disaffected. Libertarian and neo-liberal attitudes have celebrated the success of the rich and marginalised those living in penury.  There has been an increase in national and racial intolerance, known as populism.

When society changes there are always two options; either retrench, rally round the flag, try to prevent change and look after one’s own, or reach out and co-operate and try to make the new society work for the good of everybody. Right now, everything seems to be pointing towards the first alternative.  Populist politicians are rejecting the rational approach of liberal humanism. Global warming is not happening, according to the populists, even though records prove that average temperatures are rising inexorably every year.

Right now evolutionary forces are creating an increasingly divided world that is destroying the planet. It doesn’t have to be that way. By inspiring all those  who espouse eco-friendly liberal humanist views to co-operate and work together  across national and religious divides, we humans can create a society that works for  the good of all.


The fourth principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The fourth principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is to conserve the Earth’s resources for the benefit of our offspring.

It has come as a shock that humans can’t just continue to dump their waste products  without threatening their standard of living. The most serious problem is greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but our rivers and seas are also becoming more polluted and the level of use of our soils is unsustainable.

To quote from The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton:

There is no serious doubt that the atmosphere’s greenhouse effect is a key determinant of the Earth’s temperature. Nor is there any serious doubt that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, or that humans have been adding to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the past few centuries by burning fossil fuels. In 1750, before the industrial revolution, the carbon dioxide level was 280 parts per million. In1950, when the great global boom of the second part of the twentieth century was taking off, it was about 310 parts per million. Today it is 400 parts per million.

It is now incontestable that humans are warming the planet. The unanswered question is, do humans have the capability of doing anything about it? It requires vast expenditure to change to green energy sources. To quote Oliver Morton again:

The world has made huge investments in the facilities that extract fossil fuels from the ground and burn them… Leaving aside the political lobbying power that such investment can command, there would be a limit to how quickly that much kit could be replaced even if there were perfect substitute technologies at hand that simply needed scaling up. If the world had the capacity to deliver one of the largest nuclear power plants ever built once a week, week in and week out, it would take 20 years to replace the current stock of coal-fired plants… That is all before starting on replacing the gas and the oil…

To make this investment with no immediate economic benefit is impossible for any political organisation without committed public support. This is why humans need a new philosophy of life , one that can encourage sustainable behaviour and  can save the planet for our children.

The third principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The third principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is to recognise the integrated world of nature, respect how it supports our lives and preserve its full diversity.

Humans are genetically adapted to be hunter-gatherers.  Our instincts are honed to be killers of animals and harvesters of plants.  When humans first left Africa and colonised the Five Continents we initiated a major change in biodiversity. Many large mammal species were wiped out in America, and Australia; mastodons, giant sloths, giant kangaroos, sabre tooth cats and many others are only known by their skeletal remains.  As we colonised the islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans many species of bird were defenceless and disappeared, including the famous Dodo.  As little as 5000 years ago Mammoths existed in Russia, before humans killed the last of them.

When we learned to domesticate animals and cultivate plants our destruction of nature stepped up a gear. Trees were chopped down and whole environments disappeared. The landscape of Britain that we love today is completely unnatural. If left to its own devices, nature would cover most of Britain with woodland.  Wolves and lynxes would hunt wild deer in the forest. Beavers would dam rivers. Now, in the ‘countryside’ farmers plough the land and sheep graze the hills ensuring there is no natural growth in vegetation.

As a species we have become too successful. The same process of elimination of the natural world is happening right across the globe. Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Many species are losing their natural habitat; lemurs in Madagascar, orang-utans in Borneo and jaguars in South America are some of the many species threatened. Wild life is becoming restricted to small nature reserves. Even these are threatened; rhinos, lions and elephants are being shot by poachers. The reserves are being encroached on by farmers and pastoralists.  We are eliminating plant and animal diversity at an alarming rate.

Does it matter? After all we have learnt to love the British countryside as it is without wolves, forests and aurochs. There are many arguments for maintaining the diversity of nature.  Nature provides an almost infinite source of compounds that could be tested for medicinal, chemical or food usage. The workings of nature provide inspiration for physicists and chemists to develop new machines and drugs.  The workings of nature provide natural defences against floods, storms and insect infestations. However the principal reason we should preserve nature is that it is so wonderful.  Since the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century we have learned to study how the natural world works.  The more we learn the more amazing it becomes.  Recently the films made by naturalists, such as David Attenborough, have inspired us all.  We absolutely need to preserve this wonder for our children to enjoy.

Global Warming in 2015

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In 2015 global warming happened just as predicted. There have been more extreme weather events; in December, for instance we’ve had floods in Britain, Missouri and Argentina, forest fires in California, Australia and the Basque country and we‘ve even had snow in Mexico. Carbon dioxide continued to accumulate in the atmosphere and global temperatures reached one degree higher than pre-industrial levels.

What is strange is that there is no sign of any global public reaction. Green campaigners continue to try to spread the word, but there is no urgent public demand for those in command of the economy to change tack and adopt green energy policies.  A two degree rise by 2050 is now almost inevitable. We will see ,for example, the continued decline in Arctic pack ice and the demise of the polar bear, water shortages in Peru as the last glaciers in the Andes disappear and  the acidification of the oceans and its disastrous effects on the Great Barrier Reef.  There will be greater and more frequent floods, fires and droughts with consequent food shortages.

This we will have to cope with. The challenge now  is to avoid temperature rises of 3, 4, 5 and 6 degrees. If you read Mark Lynas’ book Six degrees you will get an idea of what further horrors await. This is why it is urgent to create a popular movement to change the way we live. We need to establish a new moral imperative  to save the environment. We spend billions sending scientists into space. We subsidise the exploitation of fossil fuels. Why can’t we invest instead in our children’s future and save the planet?

The second principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity

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The second principle of behaviour of Eco-humanity is:

 Respect other humans; co-operate, and support them in advancing the lot of mankind as a whole.

It differs subtly from the normal ideal of humanist interaction which is often expressed as the ‘Golden Rule’ as :

People should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.

The web-site goes on to say:

Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. And although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others. For this reason many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself” – more pragmatic.

All this is important for Eco-humanists. However there is an additional injunction to co-operate with others for the good of the universe as a whole. Whilst all people are respected, the community of those battling for the good of the planet need to be encouraged and supported. Here the important concept is community. This is something that has been lost in our modern materialistic world with its individually centred aspirations. If Eco–humanity is to work, appropriate ecological behaviour has to be developed and encouraged through peer pressure in a community. We will need to learn from and help each other if we are to save the planet for our children.

The atmosphere of hope

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Tim Flannery, the chief commissioner on the Australian Climate Change Commission, has just written a book misleadingly called The Atmosphere Of Hope.

Despite its title, it offers a bleak view of future life on this planet. I quote from his Guardian article: Seaweed, coffee and cement could save the planet (

Enough atmospheric greenhouse gas now exists to push global average temperatures to 1.5C (2.7F) above the preindustrial average, even if all emissions stopped today. At 1.5C of warming, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will be dead, many coastal areas will be covered by the rising sea, and the impacts on extreme weather will go from serious to devastating.

He goes on to say that whatever is agreed in the forthcoming climate change conference in Paris, it is all but impossible for humanity to avoid breaching the 2 oC barrier, which is the level which threatens ‘global civilisation’. His hope seems to be limited to keeping the rise in global temperatures to 3 oC by 2100.

His optimism is based on developing natural carbon capture technologies in the period after 2050. He mentions seaweed cultivation and using coffee grounds or cement to absorb CO2 amongst many other technologies. None of the technologies has yet proven  practical.

Scientists have done all they can to warn us of the effects of climate change. Tim Flannery is muddying the picture by using the word hope in this context. The technologies to avoid climate change are practical but expensive and often have environmental downsides. Hard choices have to be made which will affect living standards. People have to be enthused to act in an ecological way that may be against their immediate interests, but, will eventually save the planet for their children. Evolutionary competition is the force that is preventing people and states from cooperating to save the planet. We need to frustrate the natural forces of evolution. The only way of halting climate change is if people in general commit to a green philosophy of life and implement it with a religious fervour.