Sunday, 25 October 2015

Wake up, smell the flowers, they might not be around for long.

The Irish Times, Sustainability and the future of Mankind

The Irish Times, in an editorial on the 1/4/2014, called for action on climate change.  This is not the first time the newspaper alluded to this subject nor were the views of its correspondents and contributors over years any different.  However, the newspaper fails to allude to or advise about the real solutions to environmental and population problems.  It underlines the threat but it provides no practical means of a solution.  The editorial was critical of our government for its lack of action in dealing with matters which were a threat to the environment and to the future of humanity but our government is no different from the shortcomings of other world governments.

The Irish Times at least has the distinction that it shows concern for the future of the planet and humanity unlike our other leading newspapers who show little interest or sense of balance in the subject. The same may be said about the leading British papers. No papers, British or Irish, including the Irish Times, give any attention to human population which has increased threefold during the last 70 years, a trend which shows no slowing or stopping. Currently, according to the WHO and other sources  the number of births among humans exceeds deaths by 80 million annually. Added to the excessive birth rate we have the remarkable and progressive increase in human longevity over the past hundred years. There is no any evidence that this increase shows any tendency to slow or reverse. Since 1980 to 2012, over a period of 32 years in the UK, male longevity has increased from 71 to 79.5 years and female longevity has increased from 77 to 83.2. This is confirmed by a WHO report. The Irish figures are similar to those of the British. Increasing longevity exists worldwide and adds to the effects of the excesss of births over death.

Sustainability is the magic word of the politicians and most environmentalists who claim to be concerned about the ecology and the threat to Nature.  Sustainability I presume refers to the earth’s natural resources which maintain the health and wellbeing of nature in its widest sense but sustainability has its limitations and the politicians have little insight into the real threat facing humanity and our living world.  I quote from the Worldwatch Institute in 2013 about this magic word, sustainability, used by the politicians which has

“…lost its meaning and impact.  Worse, its frequent and inappropriate use lulls us into the dreamy belief that all of us – everything we do, everything we buy, everything we use – are able to go on forever, world without end, amen.”

The failure to achieve any worthwhile progress in protecting Nature and humanity during the many government summits during the last 30 years or more is too obvious and no doubt the same results will prevail following the next United Nations meeting fixed for France next year.  And those of us who have been trained in epidemiology, in the study of human and natural trends in the world, must know that the continued expansion in the human population and its rapid depletion of nature’s resources are leading to a disaster which is proceeding more rapidly than we realise.  Our politicians and many of our organisations devoted to the environment and to the welfare of humanity fail to provide solutions which might save us from disaster.  Nor does the public seem overly concerned.  The solutions occasionally put forward for change are far removed from the fundamental problems which are at the basis of the immediate threat to Nature and humanity, and these problems need to be dealt with radically and promptly if we are to survive the current crisis.

There should be a prohibition of unnecessary travel by private car, plane and rail as long as they depend on fossil fuels.  Energy in the form of domestic and public heating must be curbed by means of clothing or other forms of protection and energy must be sought from renewable sources only and for this we need sun, wind and water.  Progress in these areas will not be easy but it is not beyond our ability to achieve solutions if our commitment is strong.  We already have wind and water power and some solar power in the use of fridges, lights, phones and heating devices.

We must revert to community living and we must provide our food as much as possible from our immediate surroundings.  The vegetable and fruit allotments will be as essential to us as the very houses we live in.  Household gardens which are currently non-productive can be sources of food production. So can wasteland. Rainwater can be used and utilised to a much greater extent as a response to our current water extravagance.  Surely every house in the country should have a butt to collect rainwater.   Big reductions in water can be achieved by good husbandry in the home and the office and by commercial organisations.  The water tax should be imposed and should be applied to all except under very unusual circumstances.

people per km2
We need to reverse the current trend of adding more to the population of our cities and towns, and reverting to community life and living in the countryside. This trend may be unavoidable because of the increasing rise of the ocean and the flooding of our coastal cities and towns.  Goods and luxuries which are widely manufactured by commercial companies and which deplete our energy sources are not necessary for our daily needs.  They should be curbed.  We also dispose of huge amounts of food in the more prosperous parts of the world, and such waste should be fully conserved for domestic and other animals.

There is failure to understand, recognise and prevent the rapid loss of plant and animal species. We have lost the elm and soon the ash will be gone unless by some miracle it is saved – a disaster to our countryside and our country. And other trees are threatened too. Minister of State Tom Hayes, in his contribution to the All Ireland meeting of politicians and silviculturists last May, had this to say

While chalara (the cause of the ash dieback) is the subject of to-day’s conference, it is taking place at a time when it seems that Ireland’s forests are under attack from a number of different sources, both biotic and abiotic. The increase in the number of new findings of phytophthora ramorum is a serious concern. Since 2012 the number of infected larch sites has increased from 16 to 30. P ramorum is an aggressive disease and is causing significant damage to Japanese larch and is also infecting Noble fir, beech and Spanish chestnut at a number of infected larch areas.

Added to this we must add the rapid loss of land and ocean ice. The ocean’s rise in level, temperature and acidity, the drying up of lakes and rivers and the rapid and critical rise in atmospheric CO2 are already upon us. CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere is a greenhouse gas and its accumulation leads to earth warming.  It has remained at the same level, under 300mgs per cent, for millions of years but recently, since 1955, when it was measured at about 330mgs, it has now reached 400mgs and it is clear that this rise continues exponentially – which presages the further gathering rise in greenhouse gases and therefore in the earth’s temperature.  The accumulation of CO2 has been largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.  It is generally agreed by scientists that this rise can be a serious threat to the earth and its inhabitants and that at best it needs to be kept at or below a level of about 400 parts per million. 

Above all, there are too many people in the world, with a population still advancing in numbers.  Even in the most healthy and natural environment the good God gave us, it is unlikely we can survive with such numbers of humans, now about 7.2 billion.  The population in 1940 was estimated at 2.5 billion and the recent trebling is estimated to increase further at a rate of 80 million every year.  We will be close to 8 billion humans on the earth by the year 2022 or 2023.  There is no doubt that we as a species are in complete denial about our future.  Our lack of insight into our current circumstances are beyond understanding and the threat to our future should be obvious to our collective intelligence.

We might understand that those who believe in God and a better world hereafter might be less concerned about our future here on earth but the Godless at least should be cognisant of our criminal neglect of Nature and the future of our children and the natural world on which we depend for our existence. The only feasible way we can avoid Nemesis is to return to a strict community life where we avoid unnecessary luxuries and where we can, as far as it’s possible, depend solely on our own needs and without the need for continuous fossil fuel loss. Perhaps we also need keep our distance from the flora and fauna of distant and foreign lands.

We might of course find some comfort and consolation in humanity’s ability to face necessary problems with great ingenuity through the internet, particularly in terms of communication and travel reduction.  The internet might well provide the means of humanity living tolerable and even better lives.  Homo sapiens has an unlimited ability and ingenuity to respond if the need is great.  We might survive at a community level through such changes as the abolition of the private motorcar and flying, and by electronic forms of communication.  By adopting community living we can provide all capable households with allotments to grow much of their own vegetables and fruit as a routine part of domesticity and we can adopt a public policy aimed at reversing the growth of cities and towns.  There is more land in most countries for many small habitations and allotments and still leave enough land for essential crops and for forests and hedgerow trees.

John Milton, in his Paradise Lost, quotes the Angel Gabriel who said to Adam “Do not try to understand the stars”.  Was this a warning that we might destroy ourselves by our domination of the world and of Nature?  Will the excessive and expanding human population, based on humanity’s success in controlling its own destiny through medical and scientific progress and the despoiling of our natural resources, be at the basis of international political failure leading to catastrophic nuclear war?

Every international environmental and climate summit meeting during the last three decades or more has failed because politicians and international governments have been dominated and kept in power by selfish and commercially dominated interests and an indifferent and ever-demanding public.  No significant action has ever been taken by such international meetings commensurate with our knowledge of the certainty of catastrophic environmental change.  Their mantra is sustainability but this is an empty formula.  Are there still ways humanity might adapt to alter current behaviour?  We cannot sustain the planets future health if we do not maintain its limited resources.  This is the simple fact of our dilemma.

The ultimate objective of a rational society should be to live in harmony with Nature.  The great Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov defined health as a state of being in equilibrium with Nature.  Certainly the health of future generations is dependent on harmony with Nature which should compel current generations to avoid Nemesis by ensuring that we care for our natural surroundings as assiduously as we care for ourselves.  Humanity’s current obsession with material acquisitions, its gross neglect of our natural surroundings on which we depend on our welfare and survival, its waste of Nature’s limited resources added, about all, to its burgeoning human population, does not bode well for our immediate future, unless we are guided and lead by our world leaders.  And who is there to lead us?

Could the next international meeting of our leaders be an opportunity for Ireland to lead the world in protecting the planet and the future of our children and children’s children by presenting the bald facts about the population explosion and the CO2 climb and its causes?

Risteárd Mulcahy, MD.

Words: 2,030 (17/7/2014)

Addendum (6.1.2015)

On January 6th 2015 a lengthy editorial ‘’An Emerging Consensus’’ appeared in the Irish Times . It is a welcome addition to the subject of climate change and the future threat to Nature and to mankind but it is still just a masterly expression of sustainability and provides no hope of a practical answer to the threat to the world as we know it. The editorial’s lack of realism can be summed up by its penultimate paragraph. When speaking of Ireland’s role as envisaged by our Minister for Energy, Alex White, the minister is quoting as saying

It was playing an active part in meeting collective EU targets and global aspirations, for reduced carbon emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, re-forestation, improved agricultural practices and financial support for developing countries.

I must have some doubts about the extent of the minister’s aspirations but my real concern is that the editor fails to comment on the annual 80 million increase in population in the world. We are already aware of the trebling of the human population during the last 70 years and the effects this is having on population pressures in many parts of the world, not to mention the gradual and extensive loss of flora and fauna, the destruction of which may lead to a planet uninhabitable for all living things.

1 comment:

  1. Risteárd, I share your concerns, which you have so well expressed. The population explosion is already impacting on Europe; the influx of refugees is coming from countries that have had enormous increases in population in a matter of decades, they are not only fleeing war, but overcrowding and poverty too. We welcome them so that we can pay for social welfare and pensions for an ageing population which wants to maintain its unsustainable living standards. If there are political solutions, will the politicians survive the unpalatable truths? Robert Myerscough