Sunday, February 04, 2024

"Trees - Protectors Against a Changing Climate." Lecture at Braziers Park College, Sunday 25th February, 10 am.

I am giving a lecture entitled, "Trees - Protectors Against a Changing Climate", at Braziers Park College, on Sunday February 25th, at 10 am.

There are estimated to be about 3 trillion trees on Earth, or about half the number that existed before the dawn of human civilization. Trees are vital to at least four major components of the Earth System, namely, the carbon, water, nitrogen and oxygen cycles.

In addition to absorbing carbon, and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, trees are critical for maintaining biodiversity, providing habitat for 80% of land based species, feeding and building the soil, generating clouds and increasing albedo (thus causing global cooling), influencing rainfall and weather patterns.

The loss of trees, therefore, weakens our chances of reaching climate and biodiversity targets, and so proforestation and other practices to preserve and restore the forests must be adopted as a matter of urgency.

 The loss of trees weakens our chances of reaching climate and biodiversity targets.

Book your free tickets and optional food here

In this Sunday Morning lecture which is part of our winter wider community weekend, Professor Chris Rhodes will remind us how vital trees are for our Earth’s processes and the critical part they play in maintaining biodiversity, providing habitat for 80% of land-based biodiversity, feeding the soil, generating clouds, influencing rainfall and weather patterns.

The Speaker.

Professor Chris Rhodes is a director of the independent consultancy, Fresh-lands Environmental Actions and has advised on low-carbon energy for the European Commission and the governments of many nations. He is the Corresponding Author of the “World Scientists’ Warnings into Action, Local to Global", framework paper, published during the COP26 climate change conference; to date, this has been signed by over 3,000 scientists from 110+ nations around the world. He is a Board Member of Scientists Warning Europe, and Chair of Transition Town Reading. He has published over 250 peer reviewed academic papers, which have received 20,000+ citations, and is also author of the black comedy novel ‘University Shambles’, and an award-winning children’s picture book, ‘Hippy the Happy Hippopotamus’.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

"Six Inches of Soil." Film Screening at the Reading Biscuit Factory, Monday April 15th (2024), 6 pm.

 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 Monday, April 15th (2024), 1 Queens Walk, Reading RG1 7QE.

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

The Film.

Six Inches of Soil tells the inspiring story of young British farmers standing up against the industrial food system and transforming the way they produce food - to heal the soil, our health and provide for local communities. 

The aims of the film are to sound the alarm on a broken system, but to also give hope that there is a way to fix it; to inspire farmers to adopt agroecological and regenerative farming practices; and to encourage consumers, food corporations and policymakers to support their efforts.

Half the food we eat in the UK is produced by about 180,000 farmers, who manage 70% of our land. Current “industrial” mainstream farming practices significantly contribute to soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Regenerative farming practices, (within an agroecological system) promote healthier soils, provide healthier, affordable food, restore biodiversity and sequester carbon.

Six Inches of Soil is a story of three new farmers on the first year of their regenerative journey to heal the soil and help transform the food system - Anna Jackson, a Lincolnshire 11th generation arable and sheep farmer; Adrienne Gordon, a Cambridgeshire small-scale vegetable farmer; and Ben Thomas, who rears pasture fed beef cattle in Cornwall.

As the trio of young farmers strive to adopt regenerative practices and create viable businesses, they meet seasoned mentors - John Pawsey in Suffolk, Nic Renison in Cumbria and Marina O’Connell in Devon - who help them on their journey.

They are joined by other experts - Henry Dimbleby, Ian Wilkinson, Mike Berners-Lee, Vicki Hird, Dee Woods, Tim Lang, Hannah Jones, Satish Kumar, Nicole Masters, Tom Pearson - providing wisdom and solutions from a growing movement of people who are dedicated to changing the trajectory for food, farming and the planet.

The 96 minute film, with its original music score and beautiful animation, was completed at the end of 2023, and was launched at the Oxford Real Farming Conference on 4th January 2024. It was also shown at COP 28 in December 2023 through EIT Food Systems.

Post-film Q&A panel:

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

Kath Burton, Incredible Edible Reading.

Dr Sarah Duddigan, Lecturer in Environmental Science, University of Reading.

Dr Frida Mariana, Soil Food Web Analyst at Soil Bio Analysis and R&D scientist at Soil Ecology Lab.

Evening Programme:

6.00 pm - 7.35 pm, film screening.

7.35 pm - 7.50 pm, break.

7.50 pm - 8.20 pm, Q&A panel.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The human behavioural crisis: A critical intervention point for ecological overshoot.

 The SAGE perspectives blog have also published this ("Editor's pick"), about our Human Behavioural Crisis 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, dangerous climate change is but one of many interconnected symptoms of human ecological overshoot, along with relentless degradation of the natural environment, loss of biodiversity, and a host of social, economic and political trends.

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”, begs the question of what is it that drives humans to act in such a blatantly calamitous way?

This topic is 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, framed as “the Human Behavioural Crisis” (HBC). We argue that this may provide a critical intervention point for change, in contrast to most current strategies, which are largely resource intensive, slow-moving and focused on addressing the symptoms of ecological overshoot (such as climate change) rather than the root causes (maladaptive behaviours, including those that lead to excessive consumption and an eight-billion human population). 

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, interventions are needed at the precursory “upstream” stage to ameliorate and reverse overshoot.

Together with our colleagues, we consider how the behavioural crisis plays out through mindsets which, at least in the western world, drive our excessive human numbers and appetites.  The global economy, enabled by clever marketing and pronatalist narratives, manipulates previously adaptive behaviours which are now, collectively, bringing humanity and millions of other species to the brink of an abyss. 

We propose a systemic interdisciplinary emergency response to this crisis of human greed, acquisition of resources, wastefulness and an exploitative economy by, inter alia, reconfiguring societal attitudes relating to consumption, reproduction and waste production. 

Indeed, could those same behavioural science mechanisms that drive our current journey to destruction be adapted to begin putting things into reverse, aiming to attain a more eco-harmonious state of “one planet living”?

Decarbonisation of the global energy system is often presented as the problem humankind must solve. But the installation of sufficient renewables to substitute for the 82% of our primary energy currently provided by fossil fuels (to achieve “net zero” by 2050 or even 2030) would require huge quantities of both raw materials and fossil fuels. Even if this could be pulled off, it would improve just one symptom of ecological overshoot, climate change, likely worsening others significantly in the process.

Since it is humankind's access to cheap, abundant energy that has enabled us to exceed or threaten many planetary boundaries, simply substituting one form of energy for another without addressing our consumption and waste of it doesn’t solve our overall predicament. As environmental journalist Hart Hagan observes 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

By reframing our multiple existential crises, we may advance from merely treating symptoms to healing the core cultural malady. If behavioural change is prioritised over purely physical interventions, many anthropogenic pressures on Earth may be alleviated systemically and simultaneously. Thus, the current 100 billion tonnes per annum of natural resources required to maintain ‘the human enterprise’ could be substantially reduced.  And a focus on lighter lifestyles in the Global North, especially, would reduce our demand for massive amounts of “new” materials needed to try and substitute fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Paradoxically, the marketing, media and entertainment industries, all complicit in exacerbating the behavioural crisis, may just be our best chance at avoiding ecological catastrophe.

The stories we tell shape appetites and norms. Typically, when we try to address maladaptive behaviours, we usually focus on raising awareness and education, under the arguable assumption that this leads to the desired behaviours. But 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 mechanisms that fuelled our immense consumption bring it back within planetary limits?

Directing and policing widespread behaviour manipulation

Like the manipulation of human impulses to buy more and more goods that we don’t need, behaviour has been intentionally manipulated for other nefarious purposes. Eco-centric behaviour is at the heart of any sustainable future humanity might wish to achieve. We are now at a crossroads, with three possible paths ahead:

  • We can continue letting private corporations, nations and others manipulate our behaviours for either financial or political profit,
  • We can ignore the problem and leave our future and planet to chance, or
  • We can use the opportunity to consciously steer our collective behaviours to conform to the natural ecological laws that bind all life on Earth. This is, in the case of human fertility, already happening in most countries.

This raises deep ethical questions: for example, who should wield such power to reverse the exploitation of human impulse for private profit or political gain? At present, the mechanisms for behaviour change are in the hands of anyone with the necessary influence or financial means to exploit them. However, large-scale social change should happen organically, and messaging to reverse the damage of the past century should be firmly bound by, and anchored within a framework built upon the Earth’s natural planetary boundaries, the science of limits to growth, and a social and/or spiritual need to reconnect to Nature as a life-support system, rather than an arena for commodification, exploitation, competition and dominance.

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 its Overshoot Behaviour Lab.

read the article

Article Details
World scientists’ warning: The behavioural crisis driving ecological overshoot
Joseph J Merz, Phoebe Barnard, William E Rees, Dane Smith, Mat Maroni, Christopher J Rhodes, Julia H Dederer, Nandita Bajaj, Michael K Joy, Thomas Wiedmann, Rory Sutherland
First Published September 20, 2023 Review Article
DOI: 10.1177/00368504231201372
Science Progress

About the Authors

Christopher J Rhodes (DPhil, DSc) 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 is currently Director of the consultancy, Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, and a Board member of Scientists Warning Europe. He has advised on low-carbon energy for the European Commission. 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 novel, a collection of poetry and a series of children's picture books.

Phoebe Barnard (PhD) is professor of environmental and societal futures and global change science at University of Washington, climate vulnerability research associate at University of Cape Town, founding CEO of the global Stable Planet Alliance, and cofounder of the Global Restoration Collaborative, a young process to drive and reframe our economy and civilization to regenerative alternatives. Working for decades in post-independence Africa at countries’ transition to democratic rule, she brings the “What is, to what if?” frames that they considered at their historical crossroads to the challenges now faced by humanity as a whole.

Joseph J Merz is the Co-founder of a number of organisations. He is the Founder and Chairman of the Merz Institute - a research institute largely focused on addressing ecological overshoot at a behavioural level. Joseph serves on the Executive Committee of the Stable Planet Alliance, and is also a Senior Fellow of the Global Evergreening Alliance.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

COP28 Leaves the Highway to Climate Hell Wide Open.

Great to appear in a lineup of Letters to the Editor, in The Guardian with Rupert Read, Durwood Zaelke & Maxime Beaugrand (ours is the third one down).

"Readers reflect on the failures of the Dubai climate summit and suggest what needs to be done to avert a climate catastrophe."

Here is the text of our Letter:

"Oliver Milman stresses the dangers of relying on “magical” technologies (‘Magical’ tech innovations a distraction from real solutions, climate experts warn, 10 December). But since humankind’s access to cheap, abundant energy has allowed us to threaten many planetary boundaries, simply substituting one form of energy for another won’t fix our predicament.

The root cause of climate change lies in ecological overshoot and the behaviours and systems that enable it. We must fix these. We now burn more fossil fuels than ever. And many interventions are resource-intensive, slow and founded in a flawed business-as-usual mindset.

The marketing, media and entertainment industries have manipulated human behaviours towards the wasteful hyperconsumption of natural resources. But as time is so tight, we propose the same methods be employed to reverse our acquisitiveness, to operate within the Earth’s limits and avoid ecological collapse.

Economic and political power structures and vested interests form the interlocking layers of our crises. One of our grand challenges is to recast such forces to reverse the damage done. We call for a concerted effort to identify ways to best attain a rapid global embrace of new norms for consumption, reproduction and waste."

Prof Christopher J Rhodes
Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, Reading, Berkshire

Prof Phoebe Barnard
Mount Vernon, Washington, US

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.