Tag Archives: Greta Thunberg

A Peace with Nature petition, 2020

Over the last year or more, Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion have been demanding that we ‘follow the science’ – science that tells us how endangered we ourselves are becoming. But solving this is not easy or simple. It’s not just a question of a few nature reserves or recycling plastic bottles. Rather, the whole attitude that people are in charge and that nature should fit under human needs is just plain wrong. Nature is far more powerful than we are, and she is starting to respond to abuse with fires, floods, storms and new diseases. This response can only get worse if we continue to abuse nature, paying little or no attention to the science of ecology (see: Ecological Risk and the Climate emergency).

With this in mind, I started a petition on 8 March 2020, calling for Peace with Nature to be written into national constitutions, starting with Scotland’s. This would declare an end to humanity’s suicidal war with nature by acknowledging the supremacy of ecological reality and our dependence on nature. The key practical point is that a Court of Ecology would be established to which citizens would have the right to appeal for any law to be examined for ecological safety, and struck down if it is considered unsafe. This would provide an essential protection for citizens, future generations, non-human species, and nature as a whole, against unsafe decisions by politicians. The effect of this would be to place ecological law at a higher level than human law, and establish that the people are sovereign while nature is supreme (see Towards a Peace with Nature Constitution). This is a new constitutional idea, since other national constitutions make either the people or parliament both sovereign and supreme, with the result that all power lies with humans. This is clearly wrong if you accept that nature is more powerful than us. By accepting it, Scotland would set a new standard for other countries to follow. And people are starting to accept that the world is not there just to be exploited by us.

By 31 March 2020, the petition had been viewed 1,103 times, shared 186 times, and signed by 358 people. I decided then to draw the process to a close, and forward the results to the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament and media. My aim was to put some new ideas ‘out there’ for public debate, and comments from some who have signed the petition show that we are indeed thinking in new ways: “this is essential for sustainable life on earth”, “the concept of a Court of Ecology is staggeringly powerful”, “we have lost so much already globally, and Scotland is well placed to lead by example”, “this is what is needed – human rights need to be balanced with responsibilities and social good, and of course the right of other species to exist and flourish”, “this is something that should have been done decades ago – but better late than never”, “this is THE most important issue of our time/of all time”, and finally “though Scotland is not my home, Earth is, and we all share the same planet – we need to lead by example, to show how it can be done.”

The text of the Petition:

“This is an appeal to include within a new Scottish constitution an Article on Peace with Nature. The Article would declare the end of ‘war’ against nature and seek cooperation with like-minded peoples and governments. In practical terms, it would also establish a Court of Ecology, the role of which would be to decide, on behalf of the country’s citizens, whether or not any law is safely compatible with ecological sustainability, and possessing the authority to strike it down if not. It would help to safeguard the people and biosphere against dangerous mistakes by politicians. A constitution that establishes the supremacy of ecological law over human law, and that offers a practical and cautious way to put it into effect, would also set a new, replicable and deeply hopeful standard for all other countries.

“Natural ecosystems sustain water supplies, environmental security, pollination of crops, fisheries and soil fertility, and many other irreplaceable things. Yet these ecosystems are deteriorating fast, exposing people, farms and settlements to severe risks and costs. All the living systems that provide food, water and security for people and businesses are failing, as indicated by spreading deserts, droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, mudslides, epidemics, extinctions, famines, and political crises induced by them. Ecologists know these to be connected into one worldwide pattern, and also as manifestations of ecological tipping points, which threaten us all, along with our children and everything else that we love about the world.

“They are all signs of humanity’s ‘war’ with nature, which must end with ‘peace’. But peace with a superior power such as nature, with which one cannot negotiate, in practice means ‘submission’. This would require us to stay carefully within the boundaries of peaceful behaviour if our existence is to continue. To explicitly align the principles of ecological sustainability and good governance at a constitutional level is necessary to take the pressure off nature definitively, and encourage and enable natural regrowth to occur. Citizens who think that a law may violate ecological sustainability should have the right to petition for it to be reviewed, debated by experts, and struck down if it is unsafe. This new and empowering approach is founded on the hope that steady progress towards ecological sustainability will be fast enough to save the biosphere and humanity.”

Updates to supporters:

27 March 2020. Delivering the future. In the last few weeks we learned a lot about humanity’s truly precarious position in the biosphere, and the value of cooperation and foresight. Meanwhile our petition was viewed or shared 1,200 times and signed by 330 people. I’ll circulate it now for one last weekend before sending it to the citizens’ assemblies, media and parliament. Maybe this Spring we have planted an idea that will germinate, shatter the concrete of modernity, and one day bear fruit. There is certainly new hope in the air. Peace with Nature!

20 March 2020. Moving the Earth. As we grow in numbers, the Secretariat of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland has replied that the Assembly “is not geared up to consider petitions”, but that an Assembly on climate change is being planned and may be open to new ideas. My feeling is that we should keep agitating for these assemblies to consider Peace with Nature, while reaching out to parliament, the media, and society as a whole. We should accept that we are now a movement, one calling for peace and peace-keeping with nature to be written into all national constitutions everywhere, starting with Scotland. This is a logical step from our calls to follow the science, to restore the biosphere, and to rebel against extinction. What do you think?

19 March 2020. Baby steps. The coronavirus continues to break hearts while promoting mutual aid and new thinking on our place in nature. It’s the latest in a succession of ecological (fire, flood) and social (economic, political) hammer-blows that have hit us since 2008, knocking the stuffing out of our certainties, and calling into question the true sources of security and risk in our world. They all remind us that reason and reality are the things to pay attention to, and that cooperation and foresight are the things to value. One supporter wrote that a ‘Peace with Nature’ Constitution is only a baby step, and that is true. But if baby steps are all we can do right now, we must still do them.

17 March 2020. Imagine. One supporter wrote “This is THE most important issue of our time/of all time.” It reminds us that the galaxy may be littered with the remains of species who were clever enough to ruin their home worlds, but not wise enough to live at peace with nature. We can see the truth of this, and its power of warning. But the question remains: how to regulate ourselves to fair prosperity and ecological sustainability? A Peace with Nature Constitution is one part of the puzzle, and a Court of Ecology is another. But the aim is not to anticipate every ruling of such a Court, whatever our priorities. It is to empower and trust wise people to understand ecological reality and protect all living systems. Imagine having the right of appeal to a Court comprising people like Naomi Klein, Mark Carney, Hilary Mantel, Patrick Vallance, Margaret Atwood, Chris Whitty, and Brenda Hale. Add some serious ecology training and that’s what I imagine. It gives me hope, and joy.

16 March 2020. Healing new ground. We are now in uncharted levels of support for a wholly new constitutional idea: that the people are sovereign but nature is supreme. Also that powerful, practical means are essential to protect future generations, non-human species, and the web of life on Earth. Brilliant comments like this are coming in: “Excellent – this is essential for sustainable life on earth”, “the concept of a Court of Ecology is staggeringly powerful”, “We don’t have the option *not* to move forwards like this – we have lost so much already globally, and Scotland is well placed to lead by example”, and “Yes, this is what is needed. Human rights need to be balanced, responsibilities, social good, and of course the right of other species to exist and flourish.” So our movement is growing roots. Peace with Nature!

14 March 2020. Progress and principles. To recap, in this petition we are asking the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland to ensure that a Scottish Constitution includes an Article on Peace with Nature. This would end humanity’s suicidal ‘war’ with nature by acknowledging the supremacy of ecological reality and our dependent status with respect to nature. The key practical point is that a Court of Ecology would be established to which citizens would have the right to appeal for any law to be examined for ecological safety, and struck down if it is considered unsafe. This would provide an essential protection for citizens, future generations, non-human species, and nature as a whole, against unsafe decisions by politicians. The effect of this would be to place ecological law in principle at a higher level than human law, and establish for constitutional purposes that the people are sovereign while nature is supreme. This would set a new standard for everyone on Earth, with Scotland leading the way to a pragmatic but transformative solution to our existential crisis.

12 March 2020. Next steps to make peace with nature. Thanks so much for signing our petition to end the war against nature and set a new constitutional standard for keeping the peace. There are nearly 150 of us now, with lots of overseas support. But our aim is for Scotland to inspire the world by showing how to protect the biosphere and humanity, so it would be wonderful to boost the number of Scottish supporters. Therefore, please forward the petition and an encouraging note to anyone you know who might want to help, including any Scottish citizens and groups based in Scotland. We could then hope to make even more of an impact with the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland and the national media. Many thanks again. Peace with Nature!

Water 2020: new edition, new problems, new solutions

As water crises multiply, and mass extinction and climate chaos escalate, we have the sense that nature is serving us a very clear warning and that something major has to change, or else. To respond requires that our adaptive skills are informed by ecology and applied effectively. The key issue is whether we can adjust our ways of life to make it in our new global environment. Building an informed awareness of water, and the life it bears in every drop, has to be a key starting point. Public involvement in the environmental struggle is now worldwide, transforming political agendas everywhere. Science, spirit and community are working together to release energy for change and justice at a scale seldom seen before. The channelling of this energy into ecological restoration and renewal of our relationships with nature and with each other is the great task of everyone alive today or soon to be born. It is time to make Peace with Nature.”  (Water: Life in Every Drop, pbk ISBN 9781843199632, hbk ISBN 9781843199649.

More of the same but worse, plus chaos

As large swathes of England are flooded and much of Australia burns, the 2020 edition of Water: Life in Every Drop introduces key ideas of water ecology and sustainable development. These ideas are essentially unchanged since 2008, and stories I tell and their implications for our relationship with water remain true. The need is now even stronger for ecological thinking to shape our laws and constitutions. I have weeded the book for anything that seems misleading on current reading, and in the process I updated it. Lake Baikal in Siberia is now more threatened by pollution, for example, and there are many more people living around Lake Naivasha in Kenya. These reflect general trajectories, as does the rising power of China, but for water, ecosystems and climate the position can be summarised as ‘more of the same but worse, plus chaos’.

Meanwhile, many forebodings have been fulfilled. The consequences of global heating are hard to anticipate in detail as they involve turbulent systems, but some predictions are spot on. Many thousands of wild species are sliding into extinction each year, the sea is rising, atmospheric and oceanic currents are wobbling, multi-year droughts are grinding down large parts of Australia, North America and southern Africa, heatwaves are killing people in Europe and India, and lethal wildfires are raging with unheard-of ferocity in unexpected places. Every new year is breaking records for mean global surface temperature, and savage storms are taking heat and water from warmer oceans and slamming into unprepared coastlines. And all this follows with precision the expected path of a biosphere newly-loaded with greenhouse gases released by the actions of humanity.

It was recognised in 2016 that human impacts mean that we are now living in a transition to a new geological era, the Anthropocene, which will be clearly visible in future sedimentary deposits that are rich in plastics and poor in fossil species. The Anthropocene succeeds the gentler Holocene, which followed the end of the Ice Ages 11,700 years ago. Our cities and farming systems depend on Holocene conditions, so there is now real concern that humanity will die out during this transition, along with most other life forms. We have the sense that nature is serving us a very clear warning and that something major has to change, or else. And we’re also running out of time. The melting of the Arctic Summer sea ice, which for decades has been absorbing surplus solar heat trapped on Earth by an enhanced greenhouse effect, is a particularly worrying trend that seems to be heading for zero in about 2030. After that, all bets are off.

Local water, local heroes, 2020

But we should remember that there are thousands of brilliant efforts by small groups all over the world — an aquifer or catchment restored here, a neighbourhood preparing against disaster there — multiplying everywhere but invisible to big government. These grass-roots actions must be validated and supported, networked and replicated, until they condense into a new Zeitgeist in which we all suddenly realise that of course we must pay attention to ecology, of course we must protect the web of life, and ask ourselves why else would we have minds, spirits and communities?

And meanwhile, we should also remember:

  • that there are thousands of cities and hundreds of states and provinces that are getting on with ecologically-positive action regardless of what their national governments are doing;
  • that some small countries are declaring ‘peace with nature’ and halting or reversing deforestation, extinction, and greenhouse gas emissions, with Costa Rica, Nepal, Bhutan, New Zealand, Iceland, East Timor and Portugal all springing to mind;
  • that many corporations now see their assets as dangerously exposed to ecological risks, with their managers, shareholders and regulators struggling to forge new rules, often encouraged by potent divestment campaigns; and
  • that since 2018 the Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion movements have been putting enormous constructive, non-violent pressure on governments across the world, forcing a re-think of human priorities and laws in the face of impending ecological collapse.

The future, if we can but imagine it …

This is all great stuff, and because this re-thinking was starting when I wrote this book I began Chapter 10 with a visit to the year 2085: ‘The biosphere, having been saved…’ While it is easy to be discouraged if you look only at big governments and the big picture, hope is to be found hidden in the undergrowth where local actions, local heroes, and small countries are the green shoots that will one day replace the deadly old system. In the process, we’ll have to accept that the rules of ecology apply to everyone, always and everywhere, but that we have the intelligence, compassion, will and freedom needed to rebuild a world that is good for everyone — born and unborn, weak and strong, human and non-human.

Physics, astronomy, evolution, governance

There are other challenges for the imagination here. They include background themes, such as the astonishing physical chemistry of water itself (Chapter 1) and the presence of water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system and beyond (Chapter 2). Also, the origins of the ‘tree of life’ (Chapter 2), and the influence of human adaptation to coastal environments, in which foraging in water helped to shape our minds and bodies (Chapter 3). And the EU’s Water Framework Directive (Chapter 9), which is now seen as part of a global drive towards green ‘experimentalist’ governance, where local heroes meet, teach and make friends with national and international institutions.

Ocean plastics and acidification, wildlife collapse, water shortage

Meanwhile, some topics in the book have been publicised and popularised to the point of common knowledge and general interest. They include the following.

  • Plastic in the oceans (Chapter 4) is choking, entangling and poisoning sea life, and is an inevitable consequence of making non-biodegradable materials for everyday use by everyone in an exploding population on a small planet. To solve it we will have to phase out the use of such plastics through effective regulation and/or taxation, while also cleaning up the debris.
  • Acidification of the oceans (Chapter 2) is eroding the web of aquatic life that sustains most of the biosphere and is an inevitable consequence of burning fossil fuels into carbon dioxide, which dissolves in water to make carbonic acid. The current rate looks set to make the oceans more acidic than they have been for 65 million years. To solve this, we will have to phase out the burning of fossil fuels through effective regulation and/or taxation, while also cleaning up the air by capturing the greenhouse gases that have already been released.
  • Collapse of wildlife numbers and diversity (Chapters 2, 4 and 9), by more than half since the 1970s, is an inevitable consequence of feeding and enriching humans by replacing most natural ecosystems with artificial ones and then spraying poisons over everything. To solve it we will have to deploy environmental education, community ecosystem ownership and benefit sharing, payment for ecosystem services, ecological restoration, organic farming and other effective arrangements in millions of locations, while also protecting natural ecosystems and wildlife populations through effective regulation, and systematically closing down and cleaning up all sources of agricultural, industrial and urban pollution.
  • Critical shortage of fresh water in urban areas (Chapters 6, 8 and 9) is an inevitable consequence of not paying attention to where water comes from, not managing catchments properly, and not charging users enough to pay for these things (while also, often, being an inevitable consequence of rising sea levels and drought induced by global heating). To solve it we will have to establish ecosystem protection, ecological service payments and restoration arrangements in upstream locations, while investing in public water systems that guarantee adequate water for all at affordable cost, solving the climate change problem if we can, and managing humanely the evacuation of unviable cities where we have to.

Learning to survive

Some of the changes that face us during the birth of the Anthropocene may well be manageable, but only if our adaptive skills can be informed by ecology and applied effectively. The key issue is whether we can adjust our ways of life to make it in our new global environment. Building an informed awareness of water, and the life it bears in every drop, has to be a key starting point.

© Julian Caldecott

Praise for Water: Life in Every Drop:

  • A brilliant overview of an enormous subject’ – Steven Poole, The Guardian.
  • ‘Should be read far, wide and as soon as possible . . . it does an excellent job of promoting a rational, effective, trans-ideological approach to environmental decision making’ – Miguel Mendonça, Resurgence.
  • Caldecott keeps a masterly hand on the reins of what is a vast topic . . . With laudable dexterity, [he] moves from the very small to the very large, from the interactions of atomic particles to the role water plays in the biosphere’ – The Ecologist.
  • ‘A prophetic read’ – Edward P. Echlin, ecological theologian and author of The Cosmic Circle.
  • ‘Includes a lucid presentation of the Aquatic Ape Theory . . . The book shows that we can avoid disaster if we come to our senses and give Gaia a helping hand’ – Elaine Morgan, evolutionary anthropologist and author of The Descent of Woman and The Scars of Evolution.
  • ‘What could be more important than water? This book looks at every aspect of water from its chemistry and mystery to its central role in the ecology of EVERY LIVING THING. And yet, it’s a riveting read, full of fascinating stories from an author who actually knows what he’s talking about. So many of these environmental books are written by journalists with no real grounding in the subject. But Julian Caldecott is an ecologist with decades of field experience which enrich this work. He’s been there, done it, seen it and best of all, has put into practice ways of solving local water crises of every hue. Give it to all your friends and relations  – they’ll love you for providing a good read and you’ll glow with the pleasure of sharing knowledge on the big issue of the coming decade.’ – ‘Smartyhands’ on Amazon.
  • ‘I’ve just finished reading Water by Julian Caldecott. There’s a long waiting list to read it after me, but it goes deeply into marine pollution, of course. One point he makes is that visitors (tourists) to the coast need to take care of the environment they’re visiting. Earlier in the book there’s a good summary of what a Biosphere is, which I sent to the members of our Grabouw Beautiful committee. Highly recommended!’ – Andy Selfe, Whale Coast Conservation (Cape Town).
  • Water by Julian Caldecott is a brilliant, beautifully written book which I found very informative and initially depressing, but it finished on a positive note with a clear message of hope.’ – Henrik Chart, Land, Sea & Islands Centre, Arisaig (Scotland).

Ecological Risk and the Climate Emergency

My talk at ‘The Cooler Earth Sustainability Summit’ in Kuala Lumpur (1st October 2019).

1.          Introduction

Anxiety, frustration and risk are key themes of the climate and ecological emergency. Anxiety because nature is in free fall and signs of universal calamity are multiplying. Frustration because so little has been done to solve problems that have been anticipated for decades. Risk because of severe dangers to the biosphere, to human society and therefore to all businesses. This paper focuses on the Arctic ‘death spiral’ as an ecological risk that also illustrates the idea of tipping points, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strike as sources of transformative social change, and Malaysian opportunities for strategic leadership.

2.         Ecological emergency

At the global level, human impact are known to have been exceeded safe limits in four areas: biosphere integrity, climate change, land-system change, and biogeochemical flows. These add up to key dimensions of the ‘climate and ecological emergency’: climate chaos, ecological breakdownmass extinction. All have the potential to induce chaotic environmental change. Since our farms and cities depend on conditions that have been stable for nearly 12,000 years, any such change would be catastrophically damaging and could well prove fatal to humanity.

Since 1992, scientists organised through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have shown us to be pushing the boundaries of biosphere integrity. Moreover, based on published evidence from many taxa, the Living Planet Index (LPI) shows a decline of over 60% in wildlife abundance since 1970 (Figure 1). In 2019, IPBES reported that close to a million species are threatened by human actions, while my own analysis implies that up to a million species are now becoming committed to extinction each year due to ‘web of life’ failures such as trophic shifts and the loss of co-evolved species.

Figure 1: The Living Planet Index: the decline of life on Earth since 1970

Natural ecosystems sustain water supplies, environmental security, pollination of crops, fisheries and soil fertility that cannot be replaced by artificial alternatives. Yet it became clear during the 2000s and 2010s that these ecosystems were deteriorating fast, exposing humanity and our farmlands and settlements to severe risks and costs. The overall message is that all the living systems that provide food, water and security for people and businesses are failing, and the failures are starting to join up. Each part of the pattern is a spreading desert, drought, wildfire, flood, storm, mudslide, epidemic, extinction, famine, or political crisis induced by them.

3.         Climate emergency

From the analysis of air bubbles trapped in ice, the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration of the atmosphere is known to have varied over time but to have remained below 280 parts per million (ppm, or 0.028%) for 800,000 years to 1950 (Figure 2). Our machines burn fossil fuels and produce exhausts mainly in the form of CO2. Land clearances have the same effect, by felling, burning, ploughing and planting natural forest and soil ecosystems. The world’s economy has grown since the Industrial Revolution, and especially since the Second World War, and not all of this carbon could be absorbed by oceans and plants. So around 1950 it began to exceed the Earth’s capacity to absorb it, resulting in raised atmospheric CO2 concentration.