George Monbiot, writes in the Guardian today about the way that the categories we use to fight climate change may in fact hinder our capacity to do anything about it, because they break up the system into tidy, non intersecting boxes, and the issue with all ecological events/processes are that they are interconnected. I’ve added a few comments in italics, but most of this is a summary.
There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible.Monbiot. ‘Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe. The Guardian, 29 September 2021
In reality these divisions do not exist, and a crisis in one ‘box’ spills over into other boxes. They make compounding crises. We cannot deal with one of these crises, without considering how they interact and how the way we respond to one box effects the ‘other’ boxes – “each source of stress compounds the others.”
Some of the crises may be separated out altogether from the problem. Therefore economic crises and political crises may not be seen in terms of the ecological crises, even though it is political and economic decisions which are making the ecological crises, and politics and economics cannot be entirely separated from ecological events. If there is a drought, supplies can get disrupted, companies can go bust, food prices increase, governments be destabilised, and so on.
He looks at the right whale: “fewer than 95 females of breeding age remain.” This comes about because:
- Warming waters push the whales into busy sea lanes – where they get tangled in nets or injured by ships.
- Their food source (a small crustacean) is also moving north.
- A fishing industry has recently developed to exploit the crustacean We don’t know the effects of this on its population levels.
- Increased ocean acidification could also impact on the crustacean.
- Increased gas and oil exploration may add to pollution and crustacean death.
Other problems include declining birth rate of the whales which could be caused by
- Pollution. We know some mammals are affected by pollution in that way.
- Disruption of communication via Ocean noise caused by the shipping.
you could call the decline of the North Atlantic right whale a shipping crisis, or a fishing crisis, or a climate crisis, or an acidification crisis, or a pollution crisis, or a noise crisis. But it is in fact all of these things: a general crisis caused by human activity.ibid
He then points out that the effects of chemicals tend to be investigated individually is if they were isolated from other chemicals, whereas they are (in the wild) constantly interacting with thousands of other chemicals, as well as thousands of other purely ‘natural’ chemical and transformative processes (such as various kinds of digestion).
Studies of bees show that when pesticides are combined, their effects are synergistic: in other words, the damage they each cause isn’t added, but multiplied. When pesticides are combined with fungicides and herbicides, the effects are multiplied again.ibid.
As well as encountering chemicals, insects may also find their reproductive cycles no longer match plant cycles because of climate change. Even changing street lights can have unintended consequences:
The switch from orange sodium streetlights to white LEDs saves energy, but their wider colour spectrum turns out to be disastrous for insects.ibid.
The problems with coral reefs is not just because of bleaching through increased heat (even though people will deny this), but because of bottom fishing (dragging weighted nets along the reef and pulling them down), explosive fishing (usually illegal but still happening), fertiliser run offs, coal dust pollution, ocean acidification, and increasingly strong storms and cyclones. With decreasing fish supplies the response will probably be to increase fishing and destructive fishing techniques, which will put further stress on reefs and their inhabitants.
What would we see if we broke down our conceptual barriers <boxes>? We would see a full-spectrum assault on the living world. Scarcely anywhere is now safe from this sustained assault.ibid.
If we are to try and solve the current crisis through massive building projects, such as renewable farms or carbon removal:
this would demand a massive new wave of mining and processing for the steel and concrete…. The mining of sand to make concrete is trashing hundreds of precious habitats. It’s especially devastating to rivers, whose sand is highly sought in construction. Rivers are already being hit by drought, the disappearance of mountain ice and snow, our extraction of water, and pollution from farming, sewage and industry. Sand dredging, on top of these assaults, could be a final, fatal blow….
mining and processing the minerals required for magnets and batteries is laying waste to habitats and causing new pollution crises.ibid
His conclusion seems unavoidable.
The problems largely stem from a political conviction that endless economic growth is possible, necessary and desirable. This conception of economic growth and increasing extraction of ‘goods’ and ‘resources’ cannot be isolated from the world it occurs within and which it is destroying – “there is no such thing as green growth. Growth is wiping the green from the Earth.”
Politics and economics are not separate from the crisis.
Somehow, we have to decrease consumption per head, and that responsibility primarily falls upon the polluter elite, or that part of the population who both fund pollution through investment and pollute massively to live their lives. While most people reading this blog, are not the elite of the elite, they still probably pollute more than most of the world’s population and, through pension funds, profit from pollution, and so (even if individually, the cuts a person can make are trivial) some cutting is within your power, and if enough people do it, that could travel through the system, and help build effects, to persuade the elite of the elite that there is some resistance happening.