World Population Awareness

Sustainable Solutions

The Greatest Threat of All: Human Instincts Overwhelm Reason

We live unsustainably because our drive to survive is more powerful than reason
January 19, 2015, Psychology Today   By: David Ropeik

The year 2014 was the hottest year on Earth since 1888, the first year such temperatures were recorded. December was the hottest for any year ever. Six of the months last year, in fact, hold that record. The last time a ‘coldest month ever' was recorded, was 1916.

Planetary Boundaries is a survey of nine basic systems critical to life on Earth as we know it. An updated review finds that human activity has pushed past the boundary in four of those categories; climate change, loss of biosphere integrity (things like genetic diversity because of species loss), land-system change (soil and forestation loss, etc.) and altered biogeochemical cycles (how the biosphere uses and replaces the critical elements of phosphorus and nitrogen). The study can be found at http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/1-15-2015-planetary-boundaries-2.0---new-and-improved.html

Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries.

Most of us probably didn't notice any of those changes, which is the problem that has all but guaranteed the serious crash for Life on Earth as We Know It. Most of the seven billion humans on the planet took the resources necessary for safety and survival from the system, and put back into the system both their products and their wastes. Each us us satisfying our own needs but cumulatively taking from a system more resources than it has to offer, and putting back more waste than it can handle (air pollution in Beijing recently got so bad it was beyond the highest and most dangerous levels on the health scale designed to measure such things).

Even though we, and all current Life on Earth, face an unavoidable crash, we are compelled from the deepest level of our genes and survival instincts to taking more from the system than it can provide and put back in more waste than it can handle. Many species live unsustainably in their finite ecosystems and when their demands on the system outpace supply, move on. We are, however, the only animal where the system limits are the entire biosphere itself.

Many people pin their hopes on technological solutions to some of our challenges (cleaner power, advances in agriculture and food production, reduction in pollution and waste), less violence as more of us live closer together, and even the faith that human reason itself can, when the crises really start hitting the fan, figure out ways to stop doing the damage we're doing, undo the harm we've already done, or adapt to at least some of the harms we face.

If we get a little more realistic about just how much/little human reason can help us conquer our deepest animal instincts, and a little less naïve that we can ‘live with restraint', we might sooner get to the task of preparing for what's to come rather than pretending we can head it off. It is probably in the best interest of Life on Earth As We Know It if humans accepted that there will be a steep price to pay for our unsustainable ways, that given what we've already done this price is unavoidable, and that pretending we can head this off and preparing as soon as possible is urgently needed if we're going to at least keep that cost as low as possible. doclink

Sustainable Living and Consumption

This Ingenious Machine Turns Feces Into Drinking Water

January 05, 2015, GatesNotes   By: Bill Gates

I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.

Because a shocking number of people, at least 2 billion, use latrines that aren't properly drained. Others simply defecate out in the open. The waste contaminates drinking water for millions of people, with horrific consequences: Diseases caused by poor sanitation kill some 700,000 children every year, and they prevent many more from fully developing mentally and physically. If we can develop safe, affordable ways to get rid of human waste, we can prevent many of those deaths and help more children grow up healthy.

The project is called the Omniprocessor, and it was designed and built by Janicki Bioenergy, an engineering firm based north of Seattle. I recently went to Janicki's headquarters to check out an Omniprocessor before the start of a pilot project in Senegal. The Omniprocessor is a safe repository for human waste. Today, in many places without modern sewage systems, truckers take the waste from latrines and dump it into the nearest river or the ocean—or at a treatment facility that doesn't actually treat the sewage. Either way, it often ends up in the water supply. If they took it to the Omniprocessor instead, it would be burned safely.

The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity. If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry. doclink

The Happy Planet Index

December 11 , 2014, Happy Planet Index

Did you know that Bangladesh scored higher than the U.S. on the Happy Planet Index?

Each of the three component measures - life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint - is given a traffic-light score based on thresholds for good (green), middling (amber) and bad (red) performance. These scores are combined to an expanded six-colour traffic light for the overall HPI score, where, to achieve bright green - the best of the six colours, a country would have to perform well on all three individual components. The scores for the HPI and the component measures can be viewed in map or table-form. By clicking on any individual country in the map or table you can explore its results in more detail.
. . . more doclink

Consumption

Eating Less Meat Essential to Curb Climate Change, Says Report

Global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than transport but fear of a consumer backlash is preventing action, says Chatham House report
December 02 , 2014, Guardian   By: Damian Carrington

An anallysis from the thinktank Chatham House reveals that the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined. However, twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming, according to a survey from Ipsos MORI.

Rob Bailey, the report's lead author said "A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector."

Keeping meat eating to levels recommended by health authorities would not only lower emissions but also reduce heart disease and cancer.

The report shows that soaring meat demand in China and elsewhere could tip the world's climate into chaos. Emissions from livestock, largely from burping cows and sheep and their manure, currently make up almost 15% of global emissions. Beef and dairy alone make up 65% of all livestock emissions.

Meat consumption is expected to rise 75% by 2050, compared with 40% for cereals.

Two other studies show that agricultural emissions will take up the entire world's carbon budget by 2050, with livestock a major contributor. Every other sector -- energy, industry and transport -- would have to be zero carbon to keep within the budget. "Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C."

The consumer survey in the report found a link between the awareness of climate change impacts and the willingness to change behavior. Acceptance that human activities cause climate change was significantly higher in China, India and Brazil than in the US, UK and Japan.

Brigitte Alarcon of WWF said: "We can cut a quarter of our climate emissions from the European food supply chain by eating more pulses, fruit and vegetables and by reducing our meat consumption. National governments should improve food education to encourage healthy eating habits and environmental sustainability as a first step."

In the UK a YouGov poll found 20% saying they have cut the amount of meat they eat over the last year, with only 5% say they are eating more.

Prof Keith Richards, at the University of Cambridge said: “This is not a radical vegetarian argument; it is an argument about eating meat in sensible amounts as part of healthy, balanced diets." doclink

Karen Gaia says: The minimum daily requirement for protein is about 50 grams. The average American consumes at least twice that. Vegans manage without eating meat and get all of their protein from plants. A good plan would be to get about 50 grams from animal protein and the rest from animal protein.