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.

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.


Conclusion.

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).     

Overview.

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: cjrhodes@fresh-lands.com

ABSTRACT.

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;
 
References:

(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. 

Biography:

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.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Passive Daytime Radiative Cooling.

The most effective form of renewable, low-carbon energy is energy not used at all. Passive daytime radiative cooling (PDRC) is a method proposed to ameliorate global heating, by enhancing the radiation of heat to outer space using thermally-emissive surfaces placed around the Earth. There is no energy consumed in running this technology, and hence no associated greenhouse gas emissions. Since all natural materials absorb more heat during the day than at night, PDRC surfaces are designed with a high solar reflectance (to minimize heat gain) and strong thermal (heat) radiation transfer through the atmosphere's infrared window (in the region, 8–13 ┬Ám), so that temperatures are reduced during the daytime. PDRC offers the advantage over solar radiation management that it increases the emission of radiative heat, rather than merely reflecting solar radiation back into space before it is absorbed by the environment and heat thus generated from it.

It has been estimated that if PDRC were installed over 1–2% of the Earth's surface area, a brake would be applied to relentless global heating, and temperature increases reined in to survivable levels. The cooling potentials are greater for desert and temperate regions than for tropical climates, since both humidity and cloud cover inhibit the efficiency of the devices. Cheap materials have been developed for PDRC that can be mass produced, including coatings, thin films, aerogels, and metafabrics, to reduce the need for air conditioning, attenuate the urban heat island effect, and cool human bodies in conditions of extreme temperature.

Scientists at MIT have invented a PDRC device that can cool things down by more than 13 degrees Celsius, and significantly below the ambient air temperature, in full sunlight on a cloudless day. The critical component for this device is a polyethylene foam insulating material called an aerogel. The foam is extremely lightweight (just 1/50th of the density of water), looks and feels somewhat like a marshmallow, and both blocks and reflects the visible rays of sunlight, thus preventing them from passing through it. It is also transparent to the infrared radiation wavelengths that transport heat, so they can escape and be radiated out and away.

Hot objects cool down as a result of radiative heat loss, emitting midrange infrared radiation. Since air is effectively transparent to these wavelengths, the heat energy is lost into space.

The basic concept was demonstrated a year ago, using a narrow strip of metal, as a physical barrier to shade the device from direct sunlight, and prevent it from heating up. However, its cooling power was less than one half that the new system, with its highly efficient insulating layer, without which the heat from the surrounding air raises the temperature of the device.

The use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about 20% of the total electricity consumed in buildings around the world, which amounts to around 10% of current total global electricity consumption. It is expected that demand for air conditioning will increase from the current 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion AC units by 2050, becoming one of the top drivers of global electricity demand, despite negative consequences in terms of increased energy use, costs, and global warming, described as a "vicious cycle.”

This situation may nonetheless be mitigated, since PDRCs are most often applied to building envelopes, which can significantly lower the temperatures within. When a  reflective white roof was combined with a PDRC, a doubling of the energy saved for cooling could be obtained. Elsewhere, it is quoted that PDRC coatings directly covering a roof reflect a large proportion of solar radiation and achieve a lower roof temperature, which can reduce cooling loads by 18%93%. By covering 10% of a building's roof with a multilayer PDRC surface, some 35% of air conditioning used during the hottest hours of the day can be avoided. Hence, PDRCs can act to replace, or reduce the energy demand of, air conditioning, and also help to ease the pressure on energy grids during periods of peak demand.

It has been reported that, in suburban residential areas in the United States, PDRCs can result in a 26%–46% reduction in energy use and an average lowering of temperatures by 5.1 °C.

With the addition of "cold storage to utilize the excess cooling energy of water generated during off-peak hours, the cooling effects for indoor air during the peak-cooling-load times can be significantly enhanced" and air temperatures may be reduced by 6.6–12.7 °C

As global temperatures increase, such PDRC cooling devices may find widespread applications, with the advantage that they use no energy, incur no greenhouse gas emissions, and hence do not add to the burden of global heating, unlike conventional refrigeration and air conditioning systems which need electricity to run them.

Integrated, hybrid systems, that combine thermal insulation, evaporative cooling and radiative cooling, can also be used to perhaps double the time that fruit and vegetables can be kept fresh, and in remote regions where refrigeration is not viable due a lack of a reliable electricity supply.

However, there are a number of challenges attendant to a wide scale commercialisation of PDRC, that must be considered: for example, the cost and availability of the materials employed to fabricate particular devices, along with their durability (lifetime) and performance under prevailing environmental conditions, which will vary appreciably according to location.

Friday, June 09, 2023

"The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower."

 "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower", is the title of a poem by the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, and which can be read as a metaphor for photosynthesis, with chlorophyll as the green fuse "ignited" by sunlight firing a plant into bloom, although the following allusion that it also "...drives my green age" encompasses the whole force and process of aliveness, including that of the writer of those words. I have often marvelled at the urge of nature to bring forth life, and its capacity to do so, even in very inhospitable conditions, where it may cling on precariously, and was struck by these plants, alive, if not all fully thriving, in the fast moving waters of the weir at Caversham Lock, fed by the River Thames. 

Most probably, they are rooted in sediment, delivered by the river over time or, as the weir is now quite old, into its foundations. Anyway, here are a few examples of what is growing there, providing an organic interface ("edge", in permaculture terms) between water, steel and concrete. 

First a curly- dock (Rumex crispus):






Next to this is a buddleia (buddleja), seemingly anchored to the steel frame of the weir:



And to the other side of that dock is a grey willow (Salix cinerea), also fixed to the steel frame, but extending roots:



The capacity of nature to bring forth life is a wonder, and a demonstration that our intentions should not be focussed to "Save the Planet" - an almost arrogant view considering the immensity of a planet in comparison with the puny human scale - but that we need to respect Nature to comprehend our place as part of it, and at best save ourselves. The book, "The World Without Us", amply expresses that if we fail to accomplish this, most traces of "us" - the human civilization - will be overwhelmed and erased.

Thus, I am also reminded of the sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, entitled Ozymandias (the name from ancient Greek sources for the pharaoh Ramesses II - "Ramesses the Great"): 

"I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Similarly, I have climbed Mount Nemrut in Turkey - walking along its edge in an almost paralysingly powerful wind - to view its mountain top tomb-sanctuary flanked by huge 8–9-metre high (26–30 ft) statues of King Antiochus IV of Commagene, two lions, two eagles, and various Greek and Iranian gods, including Heracles-Artagnes-Ares, Zeus-Oromasdes, and Apollo-Mithras-Helios-Hermes. Although the King felt inclined to thus elevate himself beyond the mortal and into the divine realm, the head of his statue has fallen along with the others, as another metaphor for the flimsy transience of human accomplishments and illusory omnipotence, in the face of amaranthine natural forces that will prevail with or without us.

Friday, April 07, 2023

"Living the Change," Film Screening + post-film Q&A. 6 pm, April 17th (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 from this link:  https://www.readingbiscuitfactory.co.uk/checkout/showing/living-the-change-qa/54631


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 April 17th (2023), and here is the booking link (or just turn up on the door) https://www.readingbiscuitfactory.co.uk/movie/living-the-change-qa

Overview
Living the Change is a feature-length documentary that explores solutions to the global crises we face today – solutions any one of us can be part of – through the inspiring stories of people pioneering change in their own lives and in their communities in order to live in a sustainable and regenerative way.

Directors Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson have brought together stories from their travels, along with interviews with experts able to explain how we come to be where we are today. From forest gardens to composting toilets, community supported agriculture to time banking, Living the Change offers ways we can rethink our approach to how we live.


Includes post-film Q&A with:

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

Peter Wheat, Reading Food Growing Network, and Transition Town Reading

Trish Whitham, Permaculture practitioner and educator


Friday, March 17, 2023

"Living the Change," Film Screening + post-film Q&A. 6 pm, April 17th (2023), Reading Biscuit Factory (Reading, UK).

Living the Change: Inspiring Stories for a Sustainable Future - Movies on  Google Play

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 April 17th (2023), and here is the booking link (or just turn up on the door) https://www.readingbiscuitfactory.co.uk/movie/living-the-change-qa

Overview
Living the Change is a feature-length documentary that explores solutions to the global crises we face today – solutions any one of us can be part of – through the inspiring stories of people pioneering change in their own lives and in their communities in order to live in a sustainable and regenerative way.

Directors Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson have brought together stories from their travels, along with interviews with experts able to explain how we come to be where we are today. From forest gardens to composting toilets, community supported agriculture to time banking, Living the Change offers ways we can rethink our approach to how we live.


Includes post-film Q&A with:

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

Peter Wheat, Reading Food Growing Network, and Transition Town Reading

Trish Whitham, Permaculture practitioner and educator