29 November 2019

music on a Friday

Just following Robin's idea, albeit with less regularity.

This is for today's grey, cold November feeling. I took this day off because I wanted to go on the Fridays for Future demo. Woke up with a sore throat and general signs indicating a day on the sofa.
Sent R out in my stead. We call this teamwork.

28 November 2019

people have the power

For the time being, I promise, this will be the last post about climate change. But there is this one thing that has been bothering me and I have done a bit a lot of reading while I was knocked out with the (hopefully) tail end of this virus infection and I have discussed it with pretty much anybody who came my way in the last week.
It's the claim that we are just too many, that no matter what steps are taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, the sheer number of people on the planet will undo it all. It bothered me because in recent years I have edited a couple of scientific papers on population growth and the observable trends. Which all point to a halt and a decrease in the foreseeable future. This is not based on guesswork or estimations but on actual figures.
(Bear in mind that I am only the language editor correcting spelling and grammar, crossing out obvious stuff like tautologies, repeats and empty phrasing and so on. So, these findings just hovered somewhere in my subconscious, forgotten but not deleted. So from now on, all scientific errors are mine.)

So some facts first:
Between 1950 and 1987 (37 years, a bit more than one generation) the global population doubled from 2.5 to 5 billion people and the growth rate, i.e. the increase per year, peaked at 2.1% in 1962.

Since then, population growth has been slowing and along with it the doubling time. According to UN projections, by 2088 it will have taken nearly 100 years (compared to 37) for the population to double to a predicted 11 billion.

In other words:  The world population has now surpassed its peak rate of growth, and as the period between each billion is becoming longer and longer, population numbers are expected to drop.

Have a look at the video by the late Hans Rosling, Swedish physician and chairman of the amazing Gapminder Foundation, (according to Wikipedia) "a non-profit venture (. . . ) that promotes sustainable global development (. . .) by increased use and understanding of statistics and other information about social, economic and environmental development at local, national and global levels." More about Gapminder here.

(If you have the time, I urge you to take the short Gapminder test on global facts. Just to clear some cobwebs on the brain.)

Then I found some stuff on population growth myths especially in the context of climate change, where it is almost always used as an argument that we are fucked.

The first myth is that our planet cannot produce enough food for everyone.  It is true that according to the World Food Programme there are over 800 million people on the brink of starvation today. But at the same time, the world can still produce enough food to feed 10 billion people - as long as we avoid further climate disasters. People are starving because they cannot access/afford food, because their lives are affected by war and unrest and in case of crop failure, they are left without assistance, which is only a matter of organisation.

The second myth is that less people means less dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. This is based on the (simplistic) assumption that everyone’s contribution is equal. But sorry, no, it is the world's richest 10% who produce more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change - the world's poorest 3.5 billion people are only responsible for a tenth of that.
Here is a nifty graphic on these figures.

It is the greenhouse gas emissions of the consumer life style of the wealthy few that is causing climate change, not global population growth. Greenhouse gas reduction in our wealthy countries will have a much more dramatic effect on reducing climate change than stabilising growing populations in poorer countries.

I realise that even poorer populations will eventually emit more as they continue to develop. But according to scientific consensus and the Paris agreement, the world needs work on going carbon neutral now. Which means that by the time poorer nations may have developed a wealthier life style, we must have a working sustainable economy without fossil fuel consumption  – otherwise it would be too late anyway. So either we work on creating a world that can thrive on sustainable energy sources or we are fucked. It's that easy.

Don't get me wrong, stabilising the global population growth is important for a million reasons (and there are many ways to go about it) but it is neither the solution to the climate crisis nor is it the reason for it. It's a blame game argument and one that paralyses us. We use it to shrug our shoulders and just do nothing. And by doing so, we blame the world's poorest people for the mess we created with our life style choices.

Recently, I asked someone who is professionally involved in issues relating to the climate. My question was, what effect does population growth have on climate change issues.

The surprising answer: Seven billion people are not a dangerous mass, seven billion people can also translate into many million pairs of hands and many million minds with energy and ideas for change.

22 November 2019

a tricky answer

Thank you all for your comments. I am relieved to read that I am just as bewildered and helpless as you are.
(Despite living with a science teacher who has been teaching students on this subject for 15+ years, despite following widespread media coverage on the subject and also, despite participating in an online course on the science behind climate change, despite long and loud discussions with friends and family members, despite marching with local students on Fridays, despite wishing for a bright and healthy future for my grandchild.)

I don't have a science brain, failed utterly in maths, chemistry, biology and physics in school, cheated my way through exams, twice failed the statistics 101 course that was a requirement to my useless degree (I paid someone to impersonate me for my third and "successful" try) and my mind fogs over when I read or listen to any science or nature program apart from David Attenborough's anthropomorphic wildlife films.

But here is my attempt to sort it out.

First, two things to clear up (and all scientific errors are mine):

  • Climate change is caused by the drastically increased emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
The two main contributing greenhouses gases are carbon, aka CO2 and methane.

CO2 is released when we burn fossil fuels such as oil and coal. We mainly use fossil fuels for heating/cooling of buildings, for transportation (gasoline, jet fuel) and to generate electricity.

Methane is released by natural sources like animal digestion, soggy wetlands, natural gas and organic matter trapped below the surface of the soil. Main sources of high methane emissions are livestock farming, landfill waste, biofuel production and natural emissions such as the increasing thawing of previously ice covered landmass (in the Arctic, Siberia etc.).
While methane emissions are much lower than CO2 emissions, the impact is much more dramatic, about 20 times higher than CO2.

The only way to halt climate change is to drastically reduce and wherever possible, stop emitting these two greenhouse gases.

  • Plastics are mainly an environmental problem. 
Whether single use stuff or sturdy things, about 90% of the raw material of a plastic item is oil and like most industrial produce, fossil fuel is used as a source of electricity to manufacture plastic. However, the CO2 emissions caused by making plastic products are much lower compared to that of our other activities, like driving, flying, heating, cooling etc.

Plastic use is an environmental problem, because of the waste created by (mostly single use) plastic, be it incineration, land fill or dumping it any which way. While waste recycling is not a bad thing in general its impact on halting climate change itself is minimal.

What made me write my previous post was a survey carried out by a US/German consulting firm who asked randomly selected population groups in the US and Germany: What reduces our personal CO2 footprint?
It's been covered by a variety of media outlets here. I think this is the best of them.
Hint: we are all clueless and to quote,

Nobody is even willing to acknowledge that what is convenient to them is actually producing a lot of carbon (CO2). The Germans like their meat so it's not so bad. The Americans want to fly so it's not so bad. It's all sort of the reverse of virtue signalling.

But being clueless is a choice. We are better than that. I still want to believe it. I think young people all over the planet want to believe it.
Ok, what next.

First, calculate your carbon footprint. If only as a first exercise. Click here for a good place to do it, as it covers everything from shopping to travel to suggestion for taking action.

And then maybe have a short listen here:

and here:

Someone recently called my a spoilsport when I mentioned climate change in a conversation. I am beginning to consider being one a duty.

20 November 2019

not a trick question

Here she goes again . . .

Tell me, if you have the time, in your opinion which of these personal activities help to combat climate change by reducing your personal CO2 emissions.
You can chose as many as you think but please rank them according to what you think is the most effective:
  • no more plastic packaging
  • one flight less per year
  • efficient heating and proper insulation of buildings against cold/heat
  • regional and seasonal food
  • no more meat consumption
  • switching off stand-by modes
This is by no means a complete list. I picked it up from a review of several online surveys conducted this year by environment agencies in the US and Germany. I'll let you know more, when/if I get results. And, no sweat,  just answer what comes to mind.

08 November 2019

progress is incremental and not always linear

But there it is, progress nevertheless. From feverish snuffling and moaning to just being grumpy and shaky. The sighs of relief around me are loud and deep, even I can hear them. I am a rotten patient.

Ok, so this will pass and in a day or two, Monday the latest, I shall turn into a polite human being again. Meanwhile, let me provide three reasons why reading Louise Erdrich is such a profound experience.
We all got holes in our lives. Nobody dies in a perfect garment. We all got to face the nothingness before us and behind. Call it sleep. We all begin in sleep and that's where we find our end. Even in between, sleep keeps trying to claim us. To stay awake in life as much as possible - that may be the point.
Pain comes to us from deep back, from where it grew in the human body. Pain sucks more pain into it, we don't know why. It lives and we harbour its weight. When the worst comes, we will not act the opposite. We will do what we were taught, we who learnt our lessons in the dead light. We pass them on. We hurt, and hurt others, in a circular motion.
There is no trace where we were. No arrows pointing to the place we're headed. We are the trackless beast, the invisible light, the thought without a word to speak. Poured water, struck match. Before the nothing, we are the moment.
These are from The Bingo Palace, her fourth novel from 1994. I have read all of her books but in a higgledy piggledy way, whenever I found one in a library or at a second hand book stall - Germans do read English language editions (so do the Dutch).
This year I made it my task to read all her novels in the order they were written, which makes a lot of sense. But I am slow because internet etc.

And now for something completely different. Wonderful blogger friend Robin has just started what I hope and wish to become a regular thing, Music on a Friday.  And do you know what? I will do that too.
Thanks Robin for the idea and I hope you don't mind if I hook up.
From my songlist, Nadia Reid, a New Zealand songwriter.

06 November 2019

In Madagascar time was measured by “a rice cooking” (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a moment) and some native communities spoke of how a “man died in less than the time in which maize is not yet completely roasted” (less than fifteen minutes).

E.P. Thompson
 found here

Currently, I am measuring time by a packet of paper tissues, a pack of nine four-layered Tempo "soft and free" with aloe vera to avoid sore skin. It lasts for an hour but not for two.
I was explaining to R how Tempo tissues were part of my childhood, always available (surprisingly, considering the chaos) all crisp whiteness and starchy smell. We made paper flowers out of them and stuffed our first bras and have a quick guess what different stuff we wiped off with them. Before someone found out.
Anyway, a head cold, something other people shrug off,  and I used to be one these other people. But with immune suppression, it's a long hard struggle or at least that's what it seems.
There was a time when I was working in a Dublin bookshop, a big one, with Sunday opening and children's story time and red wine and coffee and quiet jazz musak. The xmas incentive was double pay if you worked every in December up to xmas day and after that one day off, on to New Year's eve. A day's work was 10 hours plus clean up.
I did it. I was greedy. And from about day seven onwards, I lived on nurofen, had no voice left and by day 12, I ran a low fever and on xmas day, I mostly slept. But I crawled right back on boxing day. All that filthy lucre to earn.

Whereas now, I spent a half hour with our GP, mailed the sick certificate to HR and deleted the email from the big boss suggesting demanding that I work from home. You must be joking.

I also think that Bryan Ferry sounds here as if he's a head cold too. (And he sounds great.)

01 November 2019

history will teach us nothing

A picture from Berlin, 1 May 1932, the year anybody who wanted to could put two and two together about the rise of hitler's fan clubs.
This rally was organised by the Iron Front, a coalition of social democrats and various workers' and trade union groups who were in open in resistance to the growing nazi regime. They used their logo - three arrows pointing downwards - to strike through the swastika and symbolically destroy it. The Iron Front was not without enemies, on both sides, left and right, I am not sure what I'd made of them.
On that day, possibly most of the demonstrators felt they were exercising their freedom of speech, freedom to congregate and that their protest would open eyes, that they could show what is what.
For me, this picture expresses confidence and political awareness.
The Iron Front was banned about a year later, on May 2, 1933, the workers' movements and all unions forcefully disbanded. The nazi dictatorship took its course.

I wonder what happened to these same people who so openly marched in their thousands less than a year before the nazis came to power. Did they think it would blow over by the next election? Did they stay quiet, were they afraid, did they change their minds? How many were persecuted? How many played along? How many changed allegiance and followed the mob?
Remember: the nazi party was elected not by a majority, hitler was appointed after his party barely got in with about 43% of the votes. They had to juggle along with a shaky coalition based on false promises. But here is the catch: the election that brought hitler to power took place after months of massive campaigning with violent intimidation, repression, fake news and endless propaganda. Sounds familiar?

picture credit: © Carl Weinrother / bpk