The National Intelligence Council’s four-yearly report to the incoming President is worth noting this time around because it appears to represent such a sharp shift in world view in such a short time. Suddenly, the “official” view of the world projected by the NIC, which fronts for America’s multiplicity of intelligence agencies, is projecting a world of energy scarcity and resource shortages along with challenges to America’s global leadership. Such a sharp shift, in fact, that it makes you wonder if there’s a different “Phoenix” version which would have been pulled out of the drawer had McCain won the election.
A short post to note the latest UN refugee data (pdf), which shows a worldwide increase in 2007 of 3m – almost 10% -in the number of refugees forced from their home by conflict. It is a second successive increase after a period of decline. The UN describes the data as ‘unprecedented’, and says it will get worse. And according to the Commissioner climate change is now one of the significant sources of conflict: while this seems plausible, the report doesn’t address this issue, for reasons which are discussed below the fold. The report does, however, underline the extent to which refugees end up as a regional problem – in their own region.
I’ve meant to write before about the Transition Initiative, which is in my view one of the most radical things happening in the UK at the moment – radical because it is local and community-oriented, radical because it is a thought-through response to both impending energy shortage and climate change. (If only the government was as coherent). Now the movement’s ‘founder’, Rob Hopkins, has written a book which is a combination of handbook, textbook, and manifesto.
Just as we’ve got used to the idea that the moment of ‘peak oil‘ might be upon us (at the moment 2005 is the year of highest oil production) new figures suggest that the figures for world coal reserves might have been inflated. The widely held view that we are sitting on hundreds of years’ supply of coal may be wrong. This could be good news for climate change.
The most interesting new word I’ve heard so far this year is ‘solastalgia‘, buried in some notes that Matt Jones made at a recent lecture by Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG. It was coined five years ago by an Australian, Glenn Albrecht, and seeks to capture notions of place-related distress. Albrecht was quoted in an Australian article thus:
Solastalgia describes the pain experienced when the place a person lives is under assault and destruction, a loss of a sense of belonging to a particular place and a sense of desolation about its disappearance.
I’ve just noticed an interesting article on the recently re-launched ‘History & Policy‘ site which suggests – by looking at the historical evidence - that our chances of reducing energy consumption without sanctions or limits being imposed is, frankly, wishful thinking. Even though we have in the past achieved the energy efficiency gains needed now to reduce CO2 emissions dramatically, energy consumption has kept on increasing.
A team of researchers at Oxford University has recalculated Britain’s carbon emissions since 1990 – and found that they have increased by 19%. (News report here.) The official figures – calculated according to the UN’s method – say that emissions have fallen by 15% over the period. However, the researchers, led by Dieter Helm, included UK contributions to international aviation demand, tourism and overseas business, and emissions generated abroad in the production and distribution of goods destined for the UK market. (more…)
It must be the season for newspapers and magazines to look at how well businesses are doing in greening themselves. The New York Times and the Guardian have run supplements, while Fast Company and Business Voice have prominent articles. The NYT looks most interesting in terms of trends; it suggests that we have reached the third phase of businesses improving their environmental impact.
The question is not whether we are going to trash the planet. The question is whether we are going to trash ourselves as a species. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from last week’s publication by the United Nations Environment Program of GEO-4 (available online here, news article summary here). What’s interesting is that we’re now seeing cultural responses to our potential extinction.