Thursday, November 30, 2023

What can we expect from COP28?

COP28 - more fully, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC - is the 28th United Nations Climate Change conference, and will run from 30 November to 12 December 2023, at the Expo City, in Dubai. Such conferences have been annual events (with the exception of 2020, due to the Covid pandemic), beginning with the first, COP1, held in Berlin, in 1995.

The choice of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to host the 2023 conference is controversial, due to the nation’s track record, and projected expansion in its production of fossil fuels. Moreover, COP28’s president is Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), who has been responsible for a marked enlargement of oil and gas production, during a period in which these industries are being urged to curb their recovery of hydrocarbons, in order to combat climate change. A BBC report has referred to "leaked briefing documents" which showed that the UAE intended to use COP28 to target foreign governments with oil and gas deals. However, Sultan Al Jaber has vehemently denied this.

On November 27, from an investigation by the Centre for Climate Reporting and Channel 4 News, it was reported that, over the border, Saudi Arabia is now promoting a global development plan to "hook" poor countries on oil, increasing the use of fossil fuel-powered cars, buses and planes in Africa and elsewhere, as rich countries increasingly switch to clean energy. Mohamed Adow, the director of the think-tank Power Shift Africa, said: “The Saudi government is like a drug dealer trying to get Africa hooked on its harmful product", and further commented that: “Africa cannot catch up with the rest of the world by trudging along in the footsteps of the polluting nations. It would mean we miss out on the benefits of modern energy solutions that Africa can take advantage of due to its massive renewable energy potential. We have the latecomer advantage, which means we can leapfrog to a genuine energy transition.”

Sultan Al Jaber is also chairman and a founder of the renewable energy company Masdar. In addition, he leads the UAE's climate envoy, and serves as their minister for industry and advanced technology. An open letter from over 130 US lawmakers and Members of the European Parliament, called for the removal of Al Jaber as the president-designate of COP28, and expressed reservations over how the private sector polluters were exercising "undue influence" over the climate summit’s process.

Amnesty International has voiced its dissatisfaction, stating that, "Sultan al-Jaber cannot be an honest broker for climate talks when the company he leads is planning to cause more climate damage.”

As a result of its combination of high temperatures and humidity, the UAE is especially susceptible to the effects of global heating and climate change. In the years 1990-2022, the observed annual average mean surface air temperature in the UAE rose by 1.27°C (2.29°F). Should greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by 2070, wet-bulb temperatures in the region are expected to exceed 35°C (95°F) for prolonged periods. [A wet-bulb temperature of 35°C is the threshold at which the human body is unable to keep itself cool by sweating and, if sustained is likely to be fatal, even to fit and healthy people]. Thus, if people anywhere should be concerned about climate change, it is there.

Indeed, the greatest number of heat-humidity extreme events in the world occur in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions, and on several occasions, these have broken above the safe wet-bulb temperature threshold. Other climate change-driven phenomena in this area are dust storms, drought and sea level rise. The UAE has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, and was also the first Middle Eastern country to sign the Paris Agreement on 21 September 2016.

The need for international cooperation as a successful climate action has been emphasised, and while the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, expressed optimism that COP28 will bring significant results, he noted that the geopolitical situation, with many nations at loggerheads over the war in Ukraine, and still frosty relations between the US and China, would make for a difficult summit. He said, "The most important challenge [to limiting temperature rises to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels] is the lack of international cooperation.” A lack of global solidarity has been proposed by the Bangladeshi climate envoy as being the main obstacle to averting climate change, and has stressed the need to create a loss and damage fund. Disquiet has also been expressed that, in addition to the war in Ukraine, the 2023 Israel-Hamas war may adversely affect negotiations at COP28.

At a pre-COP meeting, held at the end of November 2023, attended by 100 delegations and 70 ministers (more than at any previous pre-COP meeting), the COP general director, Majid al-Suwaidi, insisted that COP28 would deliver the promised “loss and damage” outcomes from last year's COP27.

In advance of the conference, Pope Francis issued the apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum - a follow on from his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si - in which he urged that immediate action be taken against the climate crisis and condemned those who would deny the existence of climate change.

COP28 is the first COP to raise discussion about the public health impacts of climate change. Organisations representing 46 million health professionals have written to Sultan Al Jaber, calling for a total phase-out of fossil fuels. The World Health Organisation has exhorted ministers of health to make “health” a force for propelling climate action, via climate-friendly healthcare systems, and called for climate finance as a means to afford protection to human well-being both now and in the future.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Transition Towns and Local Food Growing.

Interview of Chris Rhodes (Chair of Transition Town Reading), by Kath Burton for Incredible Edible Reading.

KB: "So, tell us about yourself and Transition Town Reading."

CR: "I’m Chris Rhodes, I used to be a university professor in Physical Chemistry. And about, almost 20 years ago now, I got involved with energy, and I became very interested in the origins of crude oil, because there are different theories about it.

Anyway, in my researches into this particular topic, I came across the concept of "peak oil", which doesn’t mean that we’re going to run out of oil any time soon, but we probably won’t be able to maintain the current level of consumption, because we’ve got through a lot of the easy-to-get stuff, and that made me think, well actually, if there is an issue over the oil supply, then because we get practically all our transportation from oil, at the moment, then that means we are going to have to do more of what we do at the more local level.

Then, sort of thinking around this, I came across Transition Towns, and then I looked a bit further and discovered there is a Transition Town Reading, and I contacted them – that must have been about 12 or so years ago – anyway, I joined the group and I’ve been Chair of Transition Town Reading for about the last 10 years."

KB: "What’s the link between Transition Town Reading and Incredible Edible Reading?"

CR: "Well, I think I’m a sort of nominal member of RFGN [Reading Food Growing Network], actually: I’ve been along to some of the AGMs, and helped out with the seed swap. I often help cart the seeds over to various places, with my wife actually. But, the more direct connection to Reading Incredible Edible is that the Transition Network, which is sort of like Transition Towns’ HQ, actually released some funding, called the Bounce Forward Grant, for things... projects that are really in keeping with Transition core principles, like relocalisation, local food growing, so RFGN and TTR, and I think Food4Families were involved, and we put an application in, and it was funded, and so that is being used to unfold food growing activities – community food growing activities – across Reading."

KB: "If you had a magic wand, what opportunities for realising a town connected by food and food-growing initiatives, would you bring to life?"

CR: "A good question. There is an awful lot of spare ground, if you like, in Reading, and lots of other places, and a lot of it actually costs the local authority money to look after it. What about, if I wave my magic wand and that [land] can be released, and even people encouraged to grow food on it? Or to create oases for pollinators, and all this kind of thing?

But, I’m reminded of Kilburn tube station, in London... I mean, ok, it’s above ground, but some years ago, they started planting vegetables there, and they’re free for anybody to take home and eat, and it’s grown into a real kind of community enterprise.

And, I would like to see that happening, across Reading, all these plots of vegetables, maybe a few flowers, and so on, here and there. I mean, there is some guerrilla gardening going on, down by Reading Bridge, for example, and by the station, but I’d like to see a lot more of that, because it’s a great way of, ok, providing food... marvellous, especially given the current cost of everything, but it brings people together; it helps build community, and I think that’s so important, and I think it’s going to become even more important, as times change, you know, as we try and adapt to a world that is shifting in all sorts of respects.

And the other thing I would do, if people wanted actual allotments, well, I wave my magic wand, and there’s less bureaucracy attendant to getting an allotment, so that somebody can get one, say, within three months, because sometimes people are on waiting lists for, oh, years, in some cases. So, I’d get rid of that, and try and actively encourage food growing activities across the town."

Saturday, October 07, 2023

The Behavioural Crisis Driving Ecological Overshoot.

I am a co-author on this new "World Scientists' Warning" paper.

“If psycho-behavioural change is given precedence over purely physical interventions, many anthropogenic pressures on Earth may be alleviated systemically.”

Ecological Overshoot.

In a year beset by record high air and ocean temperatures, wildfires and floods, and manifest across the globe, the reality of climate change is undeniable. However, this is but one of many interconnected symptoms of human ecological overshoot, along with relentless degradation of the natural environment and loss of biodiversity.

In defining overshoot as, “the human consumption of natural resources at rates faster than they can be replenished, and entropic waste production in excess of the Earth's assimilative and processing capacity”, the question is begged of what is it that drives humans to behave in such a blatantly calamitous way?

This topic has been explored more deeply in our recent paper, World Scientists’ Warning: The Behavioural Crisis Driving Ecological Overshoot.”, which concludes that the root cause of overshoot is maladaptive human behaviour, named and framed as “the Human Behavioural Crisis” (HBC). It is furthermore proposed that this may provide a critical point where intervention can be made, in contrast to most current strategies, which are largely physical, resource intensive, slow-moving and focused on addressing the symptoms of ecological overshoot (such as climate change) rather than the root cause (maladaptive behaviours). We conclude that, even in the most optimistic scenarios, symptom-level (“downstream”) interventions are unlikely to avoid catastrophe or achieve more than ephemeral progress. Rather, it is at the precursory “upstream” stage where overshoot might best be intercepted and ameliorated.

Three primary drivers of the behavioural crisis are considered: economic growth; marketing; and pronatalism, which haul the three “levers” of overshoot: consumption, waste and population. These have been activated and perpetuated by the intentional exploitation of previously adaptive human impulses, with advertising as a major factor. We propose an interdisciplinary (“systemic”) emergency response to the behavioural crisis by, inter alia, reconfiguring societal attitudes relating to reproduction, consumption and waste production. Indeed, could those same advertising mechanisms that are driving our current journey to destruction be adapted to begin putting things into reverse, aiming to attain an eco-harmonious state of “one planet living”.

While decarbonisation of the global energy system is often presented as the problem humankind must solve, the installation of sufficient renewables to substitute for the 82% of our primary energy that currently is provided by fossil fuels (to achieve “net zero” by 2050, or even 2030) would require huge quantities both of raw materials and indeed fossil fuels themselves. Even if this could be pulled off, just one (albeit considerable) symptom of ecological overshoot would be addressed, likely worsening others significantly in the process. Since it is humankind's access to cheap, abundant energy that has allowed, even urged, us to exceed or threaten many planetary boundaries, simply substituting one form of energy for another, would not resolve our overall predicament. As the Environmental journalist, Hart Hagan, has observed wryly:

“A species causing the extinction of 150 species per day doesn’t need more energy to do more of what it does.”

Specific behavioural interventions.

Alternatively, by reframing the issue in terms of HBC, we may advance from merely treating symptoms to healing the core cultural malady. If psycho-behavioural change is given precedence over purely physical interventions, many anthropogenic pressures on Earth may be alleviated systemically. Thus, the current 100 billion tonnes per annum of natural resources required to maintain the human enterprise could be substantially reduced, and indeed the massive amounts of “new” materials that would be needed to try and substitute the fossil fuels by renewable energy, if that total energy demand target is brought down.

In an apparent paradox, the marketing, media and entertainment industries, all currently complicit in the creation and exacerbation of the behavioural crisis, may just be our best chance at avoiding ecological catastrophe. The stories we tell shape appetites and norms. Typically, when it comes to addressing maladaptive behaviours in the current paradigm, there appears to be a focus on raising awareness and education, under the arguable assumption that this will lead to the behavioural changes desired. However, while awareness and education certainly have important roles to play in combating ecological overshoot, they are relatively ineffective at driving behavioural change. Can the same behavioural mechanisms that steered and fuelled our immense appetites bring them back within the planetary limits to growth?

Directing and policing widespread behaviour manipulation.

Behavioural manipulation has been intentionally used for nefarious purposes before, and has played a critical role in the creation of the behavioural crisis and consequential ecological overshoot. We are now at a crossroads, with three possible paths ahead:

•We can choose to continue using behavioural manipulation to deepen our dilemma,

•We can choose to ignore it and leave it to chance, or

•We can use an opportunity that almost no other species has had, and consciously steer our collective behaviours to conform to the natural laws that bind all life on Earth.

This raises ethical questions: for example, who should be allowed to wield such power? At present, it is in the hands of anyone with the necessary influence or financial means to exploit it. However, we should not entrust this to any individual human, company, government or industry. Instead, any continued use of widespread behavioural manipulation should be firmly bound by, and anchored within a framework built upon the laws of the natural world, as well as the science on limits to growth.

We urgently call for increased interdisciplinary work to be carried out in directing, understanding and policing widespread behaviour manipulation.


In summary, the evidence indicates that anthropogenic ecological overshoot stems from a crisis of maladaptive human behaviours. While the behaviours generating overshoot were once adaptive for H. sapiens, they have been distorted and extended to the point where they now threaten the fabric of complex life on Earth. Simply, we are trapped in a system built to encourage growth and appetites that will end us.

The current emphasis toward “sustainability” is resource intensive (e.g. the global transition to renewable energy) and single-symptom focused. Indeed, most mainstream attention and investment is directed towards mitigating and adapting to climate change. Even if this narrow intervention is successful, it will not resolve the meta-crisis of ecological overshoot; in fact, given the resource-intensive nature of the technologies involved, it is likely to make matters worse. Psychological interventions are likely to prove far less resource-intensive and more effective than their physical counterparts.

•We call for increased attention on the behavioural crisis as a critical intervention point for addressing overshoot and its myriad symptoms.

•We advocate increased interdisciplinary collaboration between the social and behavioural science theorists and practitioners, as advised by scientists working on limits to growth and planetary boundaries.

•We call for additional research to develop a full understanding of the many dimensions of the behavioural crisis (including the overwhelming influence of power structures) and how we can best address it.

•We call for an emergency, concerted, multidisciplinary effort to target the populations and value levers most likely to produce rapid global adoption of new consumption, reproduction and waste norms congruent with the survival of complex life on Earth.

•We call for increased interdisciplinary work to be carried out in directing, understanding and policing widespread behaviour manipulation.

Time is running out, not only because the health of the natural systems upon which we are utterly dependent is deteriorating, but also because widescale interventions are only possible when a society holds together and is capable of coherent action. Of course, as the effects of overshoot worsen, the likelihood of societal breakdown increases. We still have an opportunity to be proactive and utilise the intact systems we have in place, to deliver a framework for shifting social norms and other necessities for addressing the behavioural crisis.

However, the day may come when the breakdown of society will make intervention impossible, locking the planet into an unguided recovery that may salvage much of “nature” but be inhospitable to human life.

We seek to highlight a critical disconnect that is an ongoing societal gulf in communication between those that know, such as scientists working within limits to growth, and those members of the citizenry, largely influenced by social scientists and industry, that must act in unison.

We urgently call for increased interdisciplinary work to be carried out in directing, understanding and tracking widespread behaviour manipulation. A practical start on this is being made at the Merz Institute and Overshoot Behaviour Lab.

Monday, August 28, 2023

"Growing out of Our Troubled Civilization." Film Screening + post-film Q&A. 6 pm, Tuesday, October 24th 2023, Reading Biscuit Factory (Reading, UK).

You can either just turn up on the night and buy a ticket there, or book tickets in advance

This is a film screening (+ post-film Q&A), arranged with Transition Town Reading, to be held at the independent cinema, "Reading Biscuit Factory," at 6 pm on October 24th (2023), 1 Queens Walk, Reading RG1 7QE.

Here is the booking link (or just turn up on the door).     


With a theme of "Growing out of Our Troubled Civilization", join Transition Town Reading for three films, offering a realistic but practical perspective on where we now are, and where we might go. This is part of Reading International Festival, and includes a post-film Q&A.

"The Sequel" (1 hour) shines a light on the work and legacy of David Fleming, a historian, economist, and ecologist with a deep understanding of how we got into our current predicament, and a compelling vision of how we can recover what we have lost as the market economy has worked its way into every aspect of our lives.

"Together We Grow" is a 40-minute documentary that tells the inspiring story of a thriving hub helping to build resilience into its local community by growing, sewing, repairing, sharing – you name it, Common Unity is doing it!

"Earth Action Challenge" is a short (4-minute) film about a local eco-action event held at Reading's own Lavender Place Community Garden.

Panelists for post-film Q&A:

Professor Chris Rhodes, Director of Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, and Chair of Transition Town Reading.

Tracey Rawling Church, Co-chair of the Reading Climate Change Partnership.

Natalie Ganpatsingh, Director of Nature Nurture.

Evening Programme:

The ordering of events is: 6.00 pm, "The Sequel"; 7.00 pm, short break; 7.10, "Together We Grow"; 7.50, "Earth in Action Challenge"; 8.00 pm, Q&A panel. Finish about 8.25 pm. 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Energy and Climate Conundrum.

I'm giving a Plenary Lecture at a conference next week, entitled: "The Energy and Climate Conundrum." A key focus is on energy demand reduction, in parallel with low-carbon energy generation.

And this is the Abstract for the talk:

The Energy and Climate Conundrum.

Christopher J. Rhodes*

Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, Reading, UK.

*Corresponding Author email:


The global supply of oil is the lifeblood of current industrial civilization. 84% of the primary energy used by humans on Earth is from oil, coal and natural gas, whose combustion is causing global heating, which drives climate change. Hence, low carbon energy sources must be implemented rapidly and on a massive scale. However, this will necessitate the enhanced recovery of particular materials, including lithium, cobalt, graphite, rare earth elements and indeed copper, for a largely electrified energy system. Thus, it may be useful to choose/devise technologies that utilise Earth Abundant elements1, and e.g. to substitute aluminium for copper to build this on the necessary scale.

However, decarbonising our energy sources, alone, will not solve the problem, because the human species is in ecological overshoot. Thus, reduction in our demand for energy, and for all resources is essential. Since it is the system of civilization that must be fixed, any means to accomplish this must also be systemic in nature, and bring about a consolidated amelioration of climate change, biodiversity loss, and relentless degradation of the ecosphere. A time-limited framework for this is set out in a recent “Scientists’ Warning” paper2, which underlines six principal focus areas: Energy, Atmospheric Pollutants, Nature, Food Systems, Population Stabilisation, and Economic Reforms.

Keywords: Energy; Overshoot; Scientists’ Warnings;

(1) Rhodes, C.J. Endangered elements, critical raw materials and conflict minerals. Science Progress, 2019, Vol. 102(4) 304-350.

(2) Barnard P. et al. World scientists’ warnings into action, local to global. Science Progress 2021, Vol. 104(4) 1–32. 


Prof. Chris Rhodes is Director of the consultancy, Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, and a Board member of Scientists Warning Europe. He became a full professor in physical chemistry in his early 30s, and has published over 250 peer reviewed academic papers and an extensive online collection of essays and journalism. He has advised on low-carbon energy for the European Commission. Chris has given invited lectures at many international conferences and universities around the world, and at numerous popular science venues, e.g. Cafe Scientifique, along with radio and televised interviews. His novel “University Shambles,” a black comedy based on a disintegration of the U.K. university system, was nominated for a Brit Writers Award. Chris holds Fellowships of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Linnean Society of London, and the Royal Society of Arts. He is Chair of Transition Town Reading (U.K.). He has also published a collection of poetry and a series of children’s picture books.