Thinking About Tomorrow

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The trend continues...

I am writing this post outside in the December sun in jeans and a shirt. This would be normal enough in NZ, but I am in London and temperatures here this time of year should be freezing. 2006 is set to be the UK's warmest year on record. And the honour(?) of 'warmest year on record' is particularly impressive in the UK because they have been recording tempratures for longer than anywhere else in the world - the first measurements were taken in 1659! Worryingly, 2006 was not just a little bit warmer - it was over 0.2 degrees celcius warmer than the next hottest year (1999) and autumn temperatures this year were a whopping 0.8 degrees warmer than the next warmest autumn. After a wet and gray September, October was so warm that the apple tree in our garden thought it was spring and started blossoming!

Whilst the debate about global warming has moved on from whether it is happening to what we can do about it, this year's UK temperatures suggest that the effects of global warming are going to be felt sooner rather than later. That means we need to act sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I can hold my tongue no longer

I recently saw "An Inconvenient Truth" and sent an article to - who published the following guest opinion:

I have just seen "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, and I can hold my tongue no longer ...

Science tells the truth dispassionately. But often it it the role of business to be gate-keeper to those truths.
Science told us that tobacco was dangerous long before business accepted this and moved to change anything.
Science told us the ozone layer was a problem. After years of denial, business followed.
Science told and is telling us that global warming is a problem. Out of 928 peer-reviewed articles, not one of them disputed the global scientific consensus on global warming.

There are those who will say it is not the role of business to get involved in politics, for this is business-suicide.
There are those who will say that if we want to save the world, then a business is not the right vehicle.
There are those who will say that businesses are part of the problem.

But business is part of the solution too, climate change is no longer a simple political issue but a moral one, and it is the role of business to follow the scientific truth in changing times. That means making sure that issues of global catastrophe are not only talked about in scientific circles, focus groups and green party meetings - but throughout the entire community.

If all I can say in 20 years time to my daughter who asks me what I was busy doing while the polar icecaps were melting was "making money" - then I have failed as a father, as a businessman and as a human being who understands the basic concept of brotherhood and sisterhood.

Why does business not speak out on this issue more? I believe this will change. Perhaps it is fear of ridicule from our peers. Perhaps it is because the shareholder structure of companies leaves us in a position where anything other than maximizing profits tomorrow is greeted with cynicism from shareholders. Perhaps it is just because we are not yet used to speaking out on things that really matter, and are vocal chords are a little rusty.

So if you think this blog-entry is out of place, I challenge you to first watch "An Inconvenient Truth". If you still hold the same opinion - then email me and let me know why you don't think this is worth shouting about.

If you think this blog-entry could be better and more scientifically put by a scientist - then you are undoubtedly correct. Forgive me, for the vocal chords of my conscience are a little rusty, but they will improve with practice

If you think that this message resonates, then let people know about it, particularly to people who are not already thinking about this, or who believe because of media mis-reporting that there is debate in the scientific community about whether climate change is real, when this is categorically not the case. Send it on, not because it is remarkable in its content, for it is not, but because the message and the mouth behind the message are an unusual combination that suggests the whole world, even the ardent entrepreneurs and business minds like myself, are starting to get concerned about what we are participating in allowing to happen to our planet.

We have just started an initiative to make the company carbon neutral, starting with announcing a policy of 3/2 work/home tele-working to reduce carbon emissions, provide more flexibility to employees, and allow a better balance of team-time and solo-working on a focussed project. This is just the start.

Daniel Batten

Concerned human, father
Chief Executive Officer, Biomatters Ltd
New Zealand

Monday, October 30, 2006

Economic damage due to climate change could dwarf the Great Depression

This article in the Australian reports on the soon-to-be-released Stern Report that global warming could cost more than either of the world wars or the Great Depression of the 1930s:

Leaked portions of the report from former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern warn that global warming could cost trillions of dollars to address.

UK treasurer, Gordon Brown, who commissioned the report, will accept the report's primary recommendation, which calls for the establishment of a global market to trade carbon emissions.

I am currently listening to BBC Five Live which will broadcast Sir Nicholas Stern's official summary of his report later tonight and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will also comment (don't you love the internet?).

Not all carbon offset companies are equal!

Mike Mason, one of the founders of Climate Care, and environmental activist George Monbiot debated the benefits of carbon-offsetting schemes on Radio Five Live today. They were both discussing an investigation by one of the program's journalists into the Carbon Neutral Company which uncovered that the company in question invests in forests that would have been planted anyway! Thankfully Climate Care appears to be made of better stuff and Mike Mason gave a very good account of his company's activities.

One of the other interesting things uncovered by the investigative journalist was that the money the UK government spent offsetting the emissions of the Gleneagles G8 meeting would almost all go to monitors (auditors from big accounting firms like PriceWaterhouse) that would ensure the savings have actually occurred. In other words the bureacracy was far too unwieldy and expensive -- and it had put off many of the people involved -- not least the South African city council that was to be the benefactor of the energy efficiency improvements. They said they would think twice before getting involved with the same kind of scheme again.

George Monbiot had the last word by commenting that the carbon-neutralization companies that have sprung up in recent years were the "priests of the 21st century" that you could "pay a little money to them in order to atone for your sins". He argued that these companies were actually detrimental to the global environmental cause because they relieved the pressure for real political change which he said was the only real way of tackling the problem of climate change. I can definitely see his point. And I agree with him that I would dearly love the governments of this country and others to make the political changes necessary - however painful. But considering that they have known about the science for 20 years and not acted, it is likely that they will delay a little bit longer. So what am I suppose to do in the mean time? If nothing else the discussion helped me to realise that Climate Care is better than the Carbon Neutral Company (which appears to be little better than a brokerage).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Living Planet Report #2

This picture, in which the size of each country is scaled to represent its demand for natural resources gives a pretty graphic suggestion as to the reason that Americans are facing an obesity and type-2 diabetes epidemic, whereas most of Africa is living with chronic malnourishment and starvation. Does anyone else think there is something obviously wrong with this? Why isn't this grotesque global injustice an election issue?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Living Planet Report

New Zealand has about 6-7 hectares per person (15 people per square km) and is the 193rd country by density. In other words, there is virtually nobody living here compared to our land mass. Only 4 of the 30 OECD nations have lower population densities: Australia, Canada, Iceland and Norway. All of these countries have large areas of desert or tundra that are almost uninhabitable. So basically no other developed country has as much usable space per person as we do.

The Living Planet Report shows that if the world was shared out equally, each person would have 1.8 hectares at their disposal. However the report also shows that the material demands of the average American requires more than 9 hectares per person (even though they only have 3.2 hectares each in USA). So that means that the average American is using 3 times more resources than could be produced within their own country. It also means that if New Zealanders lived like Americans we couldn't even sustain ourselves in the most spacious western country on the planet: New Zealand. Go figure....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The decline and fall of civilisation as we know it?

The western world has amassed a huge ecological debt over the last 30 years according to the most recent WWF Living Planet report. In 2003 the global human population used 25% more natural resources than the planet could replenish. However in western countries like the UK and NZ the per capita figure is more like 200% (i.e. we would need 3 planets for all of us to live like the UK population does in perpetuity). This growing ecological debt will eventually lead to a catastrophic collapse of the entire world ecosystem -- and according to the WWF's biannual Living Planet Report that could happen as early as the middle of this century.

Of course the exact length of time an ecological breakdown on a global scale may take to unfold is very difficult to estimate, but the fact of global over-consumption seems clear. The timing of ecological collapse may be uncertain, but at the rate we are consuming, the end point is inevitable unless we begin to consume in a sustainable way.

There have been five previous mass extinction events in the history of life on Earth. The last was 65 million years ago, bringing to an end the age of the dinosaurs. Right now, in our lifetimes, the activities of the human population could well bring about the sixth mass extinction event in Earth's billions of years of history.

According to the Living Planet Report, terrestrial land species have declined by 31% between 1970 and 2003. In the same period the human population has almost doubled from 3.7 billion to over 6 billion people. There is no doubt that many of these species will recover is we learn how to curb our demanding appetite for resources. The question really is whether we will be able to agree that a solution to this problem is necessary and worthy of our undivided attention.

Read this BBC article for more information about the Living Planet Report.

Its virtually impossible to report on this kind of thing without feeling depressed. We are living in a time of amazing scientific and technological breakthoughs, unprecedented access to information and despite these facts the global population exhibits an even more amazing collective denial and wishful distrust of the growing body of scientific evidence. There was a previous time in human history when the population grew fat, lazy and blind to their own shortcomings. It was the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Here is a short quote from one set of theories about what brought about this decline:
The Roman economy was basically Raubwirtschaft, plunder economy, which was based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new. The Empire relied on booty from conquered territories (this source of revenue ending, of course, with the end of Roman territorial expansion)

This theory seems plausible to me, but for alternative theories about the decline of the Roman Empire feel free to check out this article.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Extent of Arctic Ice receding by 8.6% per decade

Estimates of the rate at which the Arctic ice cap is receding are increasing every year. In 2004 the estimated rate of loss was 7.7% per decade, in 2005 it was 8.4% and in September this year the National Snow and Ice Data Center revised the estimated slope to 8.6% per decade. This current figure suggest that the Arctic Ice cap will disappear completely this century. Scientists think that this estimate is conservative and that the Arctic ice may disappear much sooner as increased global warming will speed the rate of loss.

New Zealand should join the EU!

This article on the BBC website reports that the European Union has established a goal to reduce Europe's energy consumption by 20% before 2020.

A range of measures including improved energy standards for appliances aims to net reductions of:

Households - 27%
Businesses - 30%
Transport - 26%
Manufacturing - 25%
(Source: European Commission)

These goals show concrete means to not only save money but also provide better longer lasting goods for consumers while at the same time curbing our emissions and reducing our impact on the environment. These are the kinds of things that the US should be focusing on rather than who to bomb next...

For a long time now I have felt that the general NZ culture fits better with Europe than America. In this increasingly globablized world I think that New Zealand should consider joining the EU. Then our coins would be worth more than the Australians' :-) Economically we would fit into the EU very nicely - they already buy a lot of our wine and primary produce. The EU would just have to be renamed to the SU (Sustainable Union) or something similar. Europe keeps getting redefined anyway...