The Global Climate Treaty

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by Enrique Lescure

Introduction

And so we came to this day. A global climate treaty has finally been agreed upon by 195 participating countries. World leaders and many activists are celebrating these happy news – in a political year which have not contained much of these.

This treaty represents a morale booster for the western countries – France in particular – which have consistently failed to handle the Ukraine crisis, overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria or save the Schengen Area from an implosion caused by the refugee crisis. The climate treaty should be understood with regards  to the failure to manage other crises – if political leaders consistently are mishandling – or perceived as mishandling – crises, their prestige will suffer. If such failures erupt more and more frequently during several administrations, the public morale will decrease and thus the support amongst the masses for the legitimacy of the establishment will weaken.

This created an atmosphere which saw it as paramount that a new treaty would come in place, not only because that the environmental situation is getting more dire, but also because of the aforementioned crises and the needs for political leaders to come back from Paris with successes.

While 1,5 degrees indeed is an ambitious goal, especially as the treaty has arrived so late in the process since this issue became one of global importance.

The purpose of this article is to study the climate treaty in the context of antropogenic global climate change as well as our current socio-economic system, and to discuss some of the actions that can be done to reduce the impact of warming.

TL;DR

  • The greenhouse effect is not – as you probably know – something sinister brought by our tampering with the environment, but a part of a natural process.
  • For the last few million years, our climate has gravitated between warm periods and ice ages. The release of CO2 from fossile sources has shifted this balance towards a warmer climate, but the cycle is still existing.
  • The threats against human civilization are manyfold and serious, and require responses and sacrifices which currently are politically impossible to advocate.
  • The Paris Treaty consciously leaves a lot regarding implementation to be decided by the signatory powers.
  • Ultimately, we need to focus on more issues than emissions, one of the most pressing being the protection and expansion of the world’s woodlands.

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What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The climate of the Earth is regulated by many factors – the distribution of continents and oceans, tectonic activity, internal heating, the intensity of solar flares, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the amount of vegetation and the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the name for a process whereas heat from the Sun is trapped under the Earth’s atmosphere and serves to heat up the Earth. Without it, multi-cellullar life on Earth as we know it would be impossible, and the Earth would have frozen to an ice planet aking to Hoth in Star Wars.

The Greenhouse effect is not caused by humans, but something which has existed since time immemorial. It allows heat from the Sun to warm up the surface of the Earth. Neither is it unique for the Earth, both the other rocky planet’s in the Sun’s Goldilock zone have greenhouse effects, though the greenhouse effect is very weak in Mars and extremely strong in Venus.

The greenhouse effect has also varied under different aeon’s and geological periods during our planet’s turbulent history. During the Silurian era, prior to the Cambrian explosion, the Earth was for thousands of millennia covered by ice. When the Dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the planet was so warm that there were no permanent polar ice caps, and the climate was fairly stable with few fluctuations.

In contrast, the Eocene and Paleocene eras have been dynamic and unstable in regards to the planet’s average temperature. During only the last two dozens of million years, multiple ice ages have seen sheets expand over the hemispheres, the Mediterranean have evaporated several times, leaving a salt desert between Europe and Africa, and the sea levels have shifted hundreds of metres, often within just years.

The Flood myths described in numerous holy texts may have a foundation in reality as several events during the stone age led to the rise of sea levels and (probably) massive floods.

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Ice Age World Map by Fenn-O-maniC (Deviantart)

The human civilization, established in the river valleys of the Nile, of the Euphrates and Tigris, of the Ganges, Indus and the Yangtze, and developed into today’s global civilization, was starting to form following the end of the last global Ice Age.

From the latter half of the 13th century, the warm period reached its peak, and then the planet’s cycle started to move towards an ice age again. From the 1860’s and onward until today, this trend towards a colder climate first stalled and then reversed – today proven to be caused by human intervention due to the burning of coal and oil.

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Effects of antropogenic climate change

By altering the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, we are strengthening the effects of the greenhouse effect and therefore increasing the Earth’s average temperature gradually, though at a higher speed than previously done.

This will not mean that we won’t have cold winters any more, or that temperatures in some regions cannot actually can become colder over time, but it means that we are shifting and altering the Earth’s climate cycle towards on-average warmer temperatures.

Such a climate alteration will have effects on crop harvests, monsoon rain patterns, sea currents, vegetation and species, and also on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet – the last large remnant from the recent Ice Age. If it partially or completely collapses, which can happen within a few centuries, it will affect the sea levels of the Earth globally, drowning coastal areas, amongst which are some of the most populated regions on Earth.

Another single factor that can create havoc for human civilization globally, is the end of the Himalayan glaciers. They supply the great rivers of India and China with water, and if they melt there could be a permanent shift of these regions towards a drier climate, which would increase the cost of living. The Middle East could become more dry, as well as the United States.

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Since Civilization first was established, most of humanity has lived in an east-west band stretching from East Asia to Western Europe. The 21st and 22nd centuries may correspondingly see China, India and the Mediterranean basin becoming more desert-like, whereas other regions on the other hand can become more hospitable, for example Scandinavia, Northern Canada, Siberia and parts of the southern hemisphere.

Thus, a shift in the habitability of the Earth’s regions could lead to a mass migration of hundreds of millions to billions of people, which forever could alter the geographic distribution of the human race.

Climate change as a political issue

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Between the beginning phase of the Kyoto negotiations and the signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, two decades have passed by. During that time, more emissions have been added on, as the debt-based monetary system requires growth and the technologies available today which creates the fastest growth rates are based on non-renewable energies. Thence, while indeed the usage of green technologies have grown, they have not grown at the expense of fossil fuel-technologies, but rather their growth have been concurrent.

There are two problems with legislation aiming to curb climate change. The first one is the aforementioned fact that our leaders are bound to a growth paradigm, and the second is the fact that the Earth consists of 195 countries. Regarding some issues, like for example a failure to abide to the needs of economic globalization, sovereignty is seen mostly as a matter of inconvenience, while other issues, such as keeping up emission rates, are met with far more understanding than not wanting to partake in international trade agreements.

Ultimately, the absolute majority of the states on Earth, to not speak of businesses, are invested in a global socio-economic system based on fractional reserve banking, which means that in order to pay off ever increasing debts, we find ourselves in continuous need to create conditions so favourable as possible to exponential economic growth. This system is also seen as the best potential system we can have, and economic growth has also an ideological foundation. Most of the states on Earth are not nation-states but rather former colonial territories, composed of multi-ethnic, multi-religious communities. In such states, the main legitimising factor for governments that are both simultaneously weak and authoritarian, is economic growth. You may have to long for buying new shoes, but your son may buy himself a bike.

This means that climate agreements are meeting far more resistance from both business, lobbyist groups and governments keen to keep up economic growth, than for example free trade agreements. The Kyoto Protocol failed because the Bush Administration refused to ratify it. The Copenhagen Summit is widely considered a failure. The French government therefore decided on a strategy where the emphasis was put on the goal – that the temperature may not increase with more than 1,5 degrees Celsius (0,5 degrees under the 2 degrees Celsius seen as the threshold for global warming). All countries partaking under the Paris Agreement have bound themselves to find ways to reduce their emission rates, but the Agreement doesn’t specify how or with what means, and does not at all install any controls or punishments for participants violating the agreement.

On the other hand, if the agreement had contained more binding resolutions, specifications and relinquishment of controls, it would have been rejected by a significant number of countries.

So in short, the choice was between a broad-sweeping but shallow agreement, or no agreement at all. Most analysts hope that green energy and green technology can help making the shift towards sustainability while economic growth is preserved.

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The Elephant in the Room

While we have reasons to be hopeful due to the increase of the usage of solar panels, wind turbines and other forms of green energy, green energy is only a part of the puzzle. Most of the emissions today are within the meat industry and transport, and the growth of green energy has not contributed so much to the decline of the price of oil.

Rather, while the demand of oil has grown, the supply has grown even quicker due to the ascent of North American shale oil and the response of the Gulf States to dump the price of oil by increasing their supply. What we are seeing behind the curtains is an oil war initiated by Saudi Arabia and directed against both the USA and Russia. While this has hurt all oil-producing states, oil consumption overall is increasing.

What stands clear is that emissions may be reduced regionally, but globally they will still pose a threat. The kind of exponential economic growth intrinsically connected to the current system is – through the invisible hand of the market – seeking the paths of least resistance. Innovations and ambitions can alter this balance, but the balance in itself under the current paradigm is problematic.

Therefore, while supportive of green technologies and aims to curb emissions, I remain skeptical of the ability of achieving the objectives of 1,5 degrees without putting under question the ideological predominance of the current socio-economic system.

The current system is collapsing, or rather in its very design it is a system under constant collapse, threatened to be choked by the mountains of debts that it is pushing before itself. It can only survive by cannibalising the Earth, generating economic growth, but the more growth it generates, the more growth it has to generate. Thus, growth numbers tend to decline as demand shrinks and the economy grows, creating stagnation which means that new markets have to emerge in order to fuel the constant need to pay interest rates to the banks which simultaneously function as both the parasites and the creators of the system.

If we do not question the wisdom of this, we will continue to destroy the Earth. The problem is that arrangements like the Paris Agreement, the surprisingly – in relation to the scope of the challenges before us – toothless and impotent treaty, are not only unable to criticise the system which all participants have invested themselves in, but also to propose far-sweeping efficient measures to combat climate change.

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Actions that can be undertaken

Of course, for maximum efficiency, most of the transformation must necessarily occur at the grassroot level, though the creation of municipal solar panels, neighbourhood greenhouses, car pools, the upgrading and upcycling of means of transportation, increased consumption of locally produced goods and services, and increasing the autonomy and resilience of local communities overall. Education of both young and adults is also necessary.

However, we cannot move towards that and a globalized economy of the kind the proponents of free trade agreements like the TTP and the TTIP are dreaming of. One particular thing that definitely is conflicting between the kind of free trade agreements that are proposed today and long-term sustainability is transportation. If we want to reduce emissions, we need to install carbon pricing on goods and services, so the price starts to reflect the environmental cost. Goods that are produced far away would need an additional price tag. This is not the same as a punitive tariff as it will be imposed in relation to distance rather than national borders in themselves.

Massive investments need to occur in public transit systems (and in sea walls). We need to gradually shift ourselves away from Suburbia and create more concentrated urban habitats which also should have an ability to sustain at least a part of their own food production potential through vertical farming.

We need to massively reduce our dependency on meat, and then especially red meat, since it stands for a significant chunk of the emissions. This means that meat must become far more expensive, to pay for its share of the environmental damage which it causes.

More trees will have to be planted, at the expense of mono-cultures and grasslands. We should probably even build floating platforms on the seas and grow trees on them. All plants are breathing carbon dioxide and binding it before releasing it and returning it to the cycle when they die. Trees have the benefit that they can live for centuries, and therefore they can bind carbon for significantly longer amounts of time. The ideal would be if we could approach the number of trees which the Earth contained during the Stone Age, meaning that we would have to double the amount of trees to 6 billion.

These are but some of the actions that should be considered, and where governments on the local and national level could play a significant role (and should play it, especially regarding preparations for moving entire cities).

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Long term Geo-engineering

Ultimately, we have shifted the Earth’s climate development. What we need to do after we have stabilised it is to establish a long-term strategy to manage it, using carbon dioxide, oxygen, vegetation and technology to both monitor and gently steer the climate, both to prevent future disasters generated by us as well as managing the human civilization and the eco-systems through large-scale natural disasters such as meteorite impacts and super-volcano eruptions.

This would require some form of global administrative system, and signals that we are moving towards a Type-1 civilization if we manage to answer to the challenges of this century. Therefore, the public discourse should not focus on the coming five years, but the coming five decades at least.

Refugees: Present and future

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Out of soon 8 billion people, around 50 million are refugees. That means that for roughly every 150th person on Earth, there is one refugee. Even though the numbers of wars have decreased generally since the 1950’s, there are more refugees than ever on Earth, and a lot of the refugee situations have been permanented – that means, refugee camps have turned from forests of tent into jungles of concrete, administered by the UNHCR and other organs, and the inhabitants have for several generations been trapped in a “ghost existence”, barred from their right to nationality, to travelling and in many cases to find a meaningful existence even within the confinements of the refugee camp. Many refugee camps are characterised by corruption, crime and violence.

Worse, many millions of refugees are living entirely outside of the system, undocumented in host societies which most often are unwilling and incapable of giving them basic human rights (remember, most refugees are in what until recently was termed “the Third World” (now being called “the Developing world” or rather “the Majority world”). Internally displaced people cannot flee the zones of conflict and are exposed to the horrors of war.

Worse even, is that there is a high risk that the problem of permanented refugees will grow during the 21st century, this time due not primarily to war, but to destruction of eco-systems and climate change. Therefore, it is essential that any form of transition which we – no matter what – must undertake, should transcend the established forms of thinking and problem-solution and approach the refugee crisis holistically on a global level.

First, the TL;DR summary

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  • The main cause of permanented refugee crises are failed or fragile states, as well as the idea that refugees should primarily return to their place of origin.
  • The global nation-state system is inadequate in managing refugee problems, due to the very logic of nation-states.
  • Climate change can easily increase the number of refugees world-wide five times, and will change the regional conditions on the planet, increasing crops fertility in the north and south while reducing it in the traditionally most productive region on the Earth, the temperate zones.
  • Refugees need to be integrated into the zones they settle as soon as possible.
  • The logical thing would be to create systems that allow people to redistribute their numbers to “regions of development”, while protecting the rights of settled communities to their own values and identity within the constraints of basic human rights and individual freedoms.

Refugee crises historically and contemporarily

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Refugees have always existed. Even before the industrial age, massive wars were fought and hundreds of thousands were displaced, as in China during the fall of the Tang and Song dynasties, or in Europe during the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War or many of the other political and religious conflicts throughout the continent. Just one thousand years ago, Asia Minor was culturally Greek and Armenian, and the Turks had just entered Iran from Central Asia and converted to Islam. Entire populations in Europe such as the Avars, the Celts or the Khazars were either expelled or genocided from large swathes of territory, or forcefully assimilated into new ethnic constellations. There were also refugee populations that moved into and between European countries – for example the Walloons who fled France for Sweden in the 17th century, and the Roma community throughout Europe, which has migrated from today’s India during frog-leaps for little over a millennium.

After the Second World war, millions of Germans and Poles were moved west, and around a million Finns were moved from Karelia into Finland proper. One could expect that Europe would be cluttered with refugee camps up until this day – yet no one today talks about Silesian refugees in Germany or Karelian refugees in Finland as a matter-of-day contemporary political fact.

Some might like to attribute this to some claimed innate European ability to organise societies. However, if we look at Europe in 1945-1950, we would see a continent largely impoverished and in ruins, receiving massive aid from the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan. The influx of credit and machinery opened up the opportunity to rapidly rebuild and develop the Western European economies following the war. Even though the Marshall Plan only provided a small fragment of capital transmissions, it proved enough to restore confidence in the European recovery. As the economy recovered from a very low level, the refugees were needed as labour in the reconstruction of European towns and European infrastructure.

If we instead postulate that the Marshall Plan had not been initiated, the recovery would have been much slower which could have permanented or semi-permanented the refugee crisis. If the refugees instead of staying in Europe had moved to the Americas, it would also have effected Europe badly since it would have meant a labour shortage during a time when the European machine park and infrastructure necessary to build machines was damaged. Also, the European refugees in North America would have had to integrate to a labour market which – despite being feverish hot – could hardly take in millions of people at one go, thus affecting both the time it would take for the refugees to be integrated and the wage increases for all workers. However, developing the European economy was good for the US and Canadian export industries and led to an americanization of Europe which led to a massive European consumption of US culture.

The situation today is not comparable to the world of the 1940’s. Today in most of Europe, North America and East Asia, labour is on its way out as a production factor, and the economy is becoming both simpler and more complex. Soon, the four production factors will become three, and then at the end of this century (if we do not destroy the biosphere) two. This means that even if developed economies grow, the demand for labour is not growing indefinetly but rather fluctuating, for a long-trend in a slightly downward motion (within twenty years, half of the jobs in developed economies will vanish, while the replacement rate has not increased in the same amount).

The world today is characterised by uneven development as well. We have previously mentioned on this blog that all levels of human societies are existing simultaneously in our world today. Ten million human beings today are for example stone age hunter-gatherers. Billions are living in feudal agricultural societies. Many societies are collapsed or rapidly growing industrial-age economies. And then the most developed societies are in a transition phase towards post-labour economies. This means that the skills learnt by adult peasants from agricultural feudalized societies are difficult to adapt to the needs of an industrial economy – and the more so to emerging post-labour economies (which themselves have not yet solved or even been willing to solve the contradiction of social safety nets adapted for industrial mass-labour societies under the emergent paradigm). While just a small trickle of the world’s total number of refugees have arrived in developed economies, we can already today see a trend of alienation, unemployment, anger and social exclusion.

Yet, what we can learn from the displacement after the Second World War was that it was solved in a comparatively very smooth manner by an influx of capital and technology, as well as a massive demand for labour. While it is unlikely that the demand of labour would emerge in today’s economies – developed and developing apart from those totally wrecked by war – it stands clear that investments and resource transfers are necessary, and that interventions – rather than to be primarily directed at the refugees themselves – should be divested into the economies as a whole to create the space to include those newly arrived.

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Nowadays, unlike during the 1940’s, refugee crises tend to freeze in time, the first being the Palestinian exodus of 1948-49. There are still people today living in refugee camps who are grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those original Palestinians who were displaced in 1948. The refugee camps in their turn have been transformed into crammed towns, characterised by poverty, statelessness and few opportunities to live. Yet, these refugees are living comparably good lives in comparison to the populations displaced from Afghanistan, the wars in Central Africa and recently Syria.

When such situations emerge and the fabric of society collapses, resulting in the collapse of the state itself when the base of the social order is removed, results in the emergence of black holes in the globalized nation-state system established during and after de-colonization. The world today consist of roughly 200 “nation-states“, but most of these nation-states are not founded on nationality or any other form of sense of common identity. Rather, most of these states are the remnants of colonial territories in old maritime European empires, consisting of either pseudo-racially based hierarchical systems imposed by the imperialists, or of internally suspicious or even hostile tribal nations that often exist on all sides of the border in various sub-state institutions. Thus, many of the world’s states are relying on the passive consent of the population rather than on active support, and when there is a weak sense of nationality, there is a risk that violence can erupt when resources turn scarce or when elites are struggling for state control.

Many states in the world can thus aptly be described as time bombs set to detonate. And some have already detonated.

I am of course referring to Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Right now, the Iraqi state is collapsing as well.

Other states in the developing world have collapsed partially during their years of independence, but are still having a central government trudging on. Some have even recovered somewhat. There I am primarily thinking of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Tajikistan, Colombia, Haiti and Ethiopia. Most of these states are however fragile, and fluctuation on the raw materials market or in the grain and rice prices can create shocks that destroy many years of development in one go. These states can very well collapse if they become unstable again.

There is also a third category of states, namely time bombs which have not yet burst. Countries like Venezuela, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. Most of these states are very large, with humonguous populations, and just if one of them would collapse or become more unstable, the crisis could spread in the near regions and also worsen the situation in poorer, less developed neighbouring states, especially as fourth-generation cross-state insurgency groups like the IS are developing and taking hold.

Climate Change and state fragility

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The process of climate change points towards the direction of a relatively warmer climate, as well as an increase in carbon dioxide. This points towards a wetter and warmer climate in some regions, and drier and hotter climate in other regions. Traditionally, the population of the Earth has generally been concentrated in a belt from South-East and East Asia to Western Europe, the so-called temperate zones of Eurasia. Most of the great civilizations you’ve read about in history have been located there.

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The thing is, this region will become comparably less habitable for human  beings if climate change is accelerating, affecting glaciers in the Himalayas, droughts, changing monsoon patterns and affecting the sea level and habitability alongst the coastlines. Thus, resources would either need to be transported to these regions, or the population would have to adapt by either consuming less or shrinking (through emigration, or in the worst case-scenario, a population implosion due to epidemics, resource wars and genocides). Due to the relative poverty of many of the economies in the region, we can expect that the number of climate refugees grow to exceed the number of war refugees currently in the world, by several factors.

6m_Sea_Level_RiseAs you can see on this map, the regions most vulnerable to changed sea levels are also those regions that tend to be populated, especially Bangladesh, the Nile Valley Delta, the Niger Delta, the Yangtze Delta and other great cradles of civilization. This would not displace tens of millions of people, but hundreds of millions of people. Of course, there is the possibility to build great dams and walls to adapt to the changes – and that would most likely be done around large cities in the developed world (and possibly China). But impoverished countries like Bangladesh and poor countries like Nigeria have little resources to invest in such a transformation, and thus would most likely suffer collapse and near-total displacement into nearby regions, which themselves will be coping with their own problems.

This domino effect could risk an increase in armed conflicts and ethnic cleansings, leading to a situation where Syria-like civil wars burst up in fragile states all over the world, leading to anarchy and chaos.

How to address the refugee issues

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Everyone knows that our system for managing refugee crises today doesn’t work. It creates a culture of helplessness, dependency and vulnerability where it works. Where it doesn’t work, it subjects millions of people to lives short, nasty and brutish. Even though the entrepreneur Jason Buzi’s recent proposal to create a “country” for all refugees is – for all accounts – unrealistic and utopian (there needs to be significant aid to that country, it needs infrastructure and an educated population to manage that infrastructure), it still can be seen as a step in the right direction in terms of how we discuss these problems. As for the EOS perspective, it needs to be discussed amongst the EOS members, members of our affiliate organisations and of course within the Board – but these are my own personal notes in this regard.

  • Refugee camps and refugee shelters shall be standardised on a level that allows electricity, fresh-water and education, and shall primarily be run in a democratic manner by those who inhabit them, though with as much support as necessary from the organisation responsible for the sites.
  • Education, gymnastics and mental counseling should be available and of a high quality. There should also be a minimum of delineation between the camp/shelter and the surrounding areas, allowing the refugees considerable freedom under controlled forms.
  • Large refugee camps shall be counted as international subjects, thus giving stateless refugees a passport that can allow them to travel and set up residency in other places, or study in other places and return.
  • There must be a concerted effort to intervene in conflict zones and to predict where conflict zones can emerge. In terms of collapsed states, this means that the primary concern should be to end the conflict as soon as possible, and force through a settlement. If it is judged that there needs to be an external policing force there, they shall always be mandated by an organisation with global responsibilities and influence from actors representing as many human beings as possible. Such a global organisation can also delegate the mission to either one or several regional peace-keeping forces.
  • A larger share of all defence budgets should move towards international crises to reduce them, since they present the largest political threat against regional and global stability today.
  • All forces assigned with keeping or establishing peace should be subject to the IPCC or equivalent organisation.
  • Instead of trying to build or support dysfunctional nation-states, the forms of government established should be fitted towards 1) the will of the local population, 2) the complex needs of the region, 3) the need to protect human rights, through distributing power in a de-centralised manner.
  • When a state or territory has collapsed, there must be efforts to rebuild it and engage displaced people in the reconstruction efforts.
  • If there is a need to relocate a large population a long way, it must be met as a logistical issue and treated holistically, which means that it must be taken into consideration  how the relocation will affect both the region where people are leaving and the region where they are entering, in relation to how large groups we are talking about and the ecological, social and economic factors in both regions.
  • There must be created legal and safe ways of people to move, acclimatise and settle.
  • When looking at refugee crises and refugees to relocate, there must be efforts to ensure that vulnerable groups such as children and females (in often very patriarchal social contexts) are given extra focus.

Regarding the for every day increasing risk that the entire population distribution of this planet will shift from the temperate to the sub-arctic regions, that would need to be addressed by establishing “regions of settlement” in the sub-arctic and sub-antarctic areas – especially then areas with low population density given the damaging effects that mega-cities have on the environment. Thus, Canada, parts of Oceania, southern South America and eastern Siberia would probably need to be transformed into regions of settlement, to absorb at least a part of the problem.

Ultimately, what has caused the refugee crisis that millions of people currently are suffering is an inadequate nation-state system imposed by a “one-size-fits-all” view on human organisation. If we want to avoid collapsing states or lawless black-hole territories, we would need to focus on more inclusive, communitarian and localised solutions for distributing control and guaranteeing civil rights.

Aqua

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By Enrique Lescure             

Introduction

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The craddle of life on Earth can be said to be found in the blue. For many hundreds of millions of years, the ascending continents of the young planet were as dead and barren as the wastelands of Mars, while the oceans and lakes were teeming with life. Water was the solvent in which the first life-bearing cells emerged during the chaotic epochs after the birth of the Moon.

From a world fraught with volcanic eruptions, a poisonous atmosphere and constant meteor storms, Earth has evolved into a planet able to create complex and beautiful life-forms, forming an ever-changing and ever-evolving biosphere.

Much of the freshwater reservoirs have accumulated during millennia and are ensuring that the plants have enough nourishment to produce and renew soil and to establish the foundations for complex ecosystems to exist within.

Today however, we have destroyed or are on the verge of destroying a third of the world’s freshwater reservoirs. Many regions of the world, such as the Middle East and South America, are already experiencing social upheaval in relation to water depletion. China and India, the two most populous nations on Earth, are also experiencing water depletion on a massive scale.

This presents two kinds of challenges, one which is really long-term and the other which is relatively short-term. The first challenge relates to the fact that in the long-term, depleted freshwater reservoirs create a drier climate, meaning that fewer trees can grow, which leads to soil erosion. 5000 years ago, the Middle East and the Southern Balkans were largely forested regions, which gradually became more and more arid due to massive irrigation projects by city-states and hydraulic empires (aided by climate change).

The same process is repeating today in Brazil, the United States, India, China and Central Europe.

The second challenge is how billions of people in the future should be provided with water for drinking, for hygiene, for cooking and for other activities, while eco-systems should be taken cared of to ensure long-term survivability. This will be one of the most important issues for the Earth Organisation for Sustainability in the future.

Our challenge, as always, is how to be able to weigh the needs of today with what the environment needs in order to stabilise, and how to ensure that communities can participate in this process.

Short Notes (TL;DR)

There is not one singular solution to the challenge of freshwater depletion – rather there must be a transition process which is on-going and is coordinated between five distinct areas. The areas in this regard are all equally important, though emphasis has to be put on different areas depending on the local and regional pecularities of distinct regions of our planet.

~ Short-term solutions, policy-based and social. Rationing, water salvaging, public education regarding water treatment and stimulation of local projects.

~ Medium-term solutions, infrastructure projects, construction of artificial aquifiers, aqueducts and water salvaging plants. Migrations and redistribution of population.

~ Long-term solutions, the creation and re-terraformation of depleted regions by the (re)construction of destroyed eco-systems or new eco-systems. Monitoring of the process.

~ Research, time investments into technologies that can make desalinization more cost-effective, new technologies for recycling and upcycling water quality, reducing the need for water in home appliances and in infrastructure overall.

~ Ensuring the dignity of communities and a fair distribution, namely that the affected populations themselves are having democratic influence in the process of how their transition process should be managed and how much they want to participate in that management.

The future – short-term solutions

Mars base by Douglas Shrock 1

humanmars.net

We have largely been treating water as if it was air – as if we could use as much as possible of the groundwater and then… well, not having to think about the management. Sure, in most developed nations, there is water management, which works more or less well (the Nordic countries are generally very high up on that scale, with drinkable tap water and very large and unspoiled reserves of ground water, with hundreds of thousands of lakes).

In the future, there is a profound risk that we – at least in some regions – would have to treat water in a way similar to how we would endure on a Mars base, namely by careful management and a circular hydraulic economy, where water is moved from household appliances and infrastructure to large aquaponics facilities, where rainwater is gathered, filtered and cleaned and utilised within the habitat, with zero to little usage of aquifiers. In fact, we should move towards minimising our usage of groundwater, instead focusing on water recycling, rainwater usage, water from rivers (though we should be careful with river water as well and have systems that can replenish the water to the rivers from the base). 20131003142909-NEW.Aquaponics-IconUrine may have to be filtered and turned into drinkable water again.

In terms of personal usage, this would probably entail local water regulations where people are given either a water quota for a community tank, or their own individual tanks where they could use water. A lot of the functions that today are individually allocated might have to become communal, like washing clothes, bathrooms, kitchens and so on. When two or more distinct communities are sharing the same source for their water, there needs to be a form of common management or at least transparency and concord between these two communities, thence holons should be formed for these tasks.

Ensuring human survival – Medium-term solutions

Brazil_Variability_11_04_14

In particular cases, there might be needs to transport water from either deep aquifiers (like the Sahara aquifier) or from regions with abundant water reserves to regions where water shortage threatens the survival of hundreds of millions, and can cause the collapse of over-stressed communities. This can be achieved through the construction of closed aqueducts or water pipelines, and must be managed both by a convent of representatives of the affected communities, and a technical authority managing the infrastructure of such projects. In some cases, the Earth itself may have to be transformed to construct fresh-water lakes with adjacent forest eco-systems to form the basis of medium-term water sustainability in the social term.

Or, we might even need to consider large-scale migrations, for example from the United States into Canada, from China into Siberia and from the Mediterranean countries into north-eastern Europe, in order to alleviate the resource stress on China and the US by distributing the population more evenly, as the polar regions become more habitable due to climate change while the temperate regions become less able to provide for their population. This would also reduce the need to transport water from the north to the south, by instead making it possible for people to migrate from the south to the north.

Another project worth considering is to create closed-loop rivers in Sahara and then form communities around them, where people from Africa and parts of the Middle East (and even from flooded Islands like the Maldives) can settle, in oasis city states built alongst a string of pearls in the vast Saharan desert.

Lastly, the final two areas for human resettlement are Antarctica and the Oceans, and both represent technological challenges in terms of how to attain enough water to supply significant populations.

Ensuring the well-being of the Biosphere – Long-term solutions

encuentura.wordpress.com

encuentura.wordpress.com

When we in the EOS are talking about long-term solutions, we mean long-term, in terms of 10.000-50.000 years. This means partially that humans would have to live in different forms of communities. Mega-cities housing tens of millions of people should not be subsidized as an ideal form of life, which they are in today’s exponential growth-oriented model. Neither would a massive, evened-out distribution of the population be a good solution, since it would wipe out forests and eco-systems. The ideal would be concentrated inter-linked communities ranging in the thousands, though there would be no forced population redistribution.

The first thing that needs to be done is to ensure that our biological waste is used to renew soil cultures, or to build new soil cultures where old ones have been depleted. This means that we should not put our waste in the oceans or in lakes, but instead use human manure as a valuable resource to be utilized as a part of recreating and strengthening soil quality. What we term as waste from mines can also be valuable, since rock often contains important resources that increases the nutrition levels.

We need to ensure to reduce soil erosion, both by the construction of terraces and especially by the growing of plants, allowing eco-systems to take hold. We need to move away from mono-cultures and grow food more vertically and within the confinements of urban centres. Of course, it is not possible to remove all mono-cultures, but we need to reduce the amount significantly over a long span of time.

If we cannot reestablish eco-systems that have been lost, we must see whether we can build new eco-systems to compensate for the lost ones, and if these new eco-systems would have a positive impact on the Earth’s biosphere.

And – a lot of this means that we have to create more preserves where human-oriented activities are minimised, and that we let these preserves be untouched for hundreds of generations, that said – until a new equilibrium is established.

Applying and multiplying knowledge – Research

panacea-bocaf.org

panacea-bocaf.org

There is much valuable research done today within the space industry, regarding the effective usage of water in order to create self-containing artificial eco-systems and provide food on space stations or on Mars bases. This technology can also be applied on the Earth in order to salvage resources and increase our resilience. However, the technology needs to become more energy efficient and as ecological as possible without compromising the values behind. The things envisioned to be used one day on Mars should also be utilised in villages in Morocco, Honduras or Kerala, and thus the knowledge must spread horizontally in an exponential manner (there can EOS be of immeasurable help, by providing educational programmes aimed towards local communities).

Desalinization should also be investigated, and an emphasis should be put on making the process cleaner, more effective and cheaper in terms of resources and construction. Especially within small-scale appliances, a focus should be made, so that every home in a community can contribute to the process of turning saline water into freshwater.

A third area is in terms of the development of household machines that use less water, either by design features or by the usage of more advanced technology, for example smaller treatment plants and the integration of treatment plant infrastructure into the modular features of future homes. To this we can also add technologies that can treat infected water and clean it.

Lastly, we should not omit to mention the integrated features of intelligent cities, which can be used to predict the usage of water over long-term and come with proposals over how water management should be carried out.

Including the communities – the social aspect

socialearth.org

socialearth.org

An integral part of what we in EOS are striving to create, is that people locally and regionally should be able to exert influence over their own destinies. This does not only mean to guarantee the protection of individual rights – both through a Constitution and through giving individuals the means to defend their autonomy – but also the protection of the rights of communities. An important aspect of this is that communities should bear the responsibility of the natural resources within their area – including water.

This can be problematic though, because the irresponsible usage of natural resources is a great part of what is wrecking our biosphere right now and causing the Sixth Mass Extinction. Therefore, there is a balance between the democratic autonomy of a community and their right to exert the main part of the influence on how natural resources should be used locally, and the rights of the Biosphere to exist and prosper.

There is no fixed answer on how to resolve this potential conflict, but every local area is unique. What is important however is to identify needs, to establish a dialogue with the local community, to create management plans together with representatives of the local community, both political leaders, traditional leaders, economic actors, representatives of the civil society and the general public, and to include them in the process where holons are established to oversee aspects and manage aspects of the hydraulic infrastructure. The grade and depth of the management and the collaboration will vary between regions and areas.

This also includes the right for the local area or region to withdraw from the cooperation or renegotiate. However, what we need to establish is a consensus and an awareness of how water usage affects the environment and how a changed environment will affect the future of local communities. Thus, EOS needs to act primarily as an educational organisation, while we need to incorporate the knowledge and wisdom of local communities and understand that situations need to be addressed with a sensitivity to the values and norms – in order to be able to canalise the force of the community towards the gathering of new knowledge that can be utilised to improve water management.

Summary

scientificamerican1109-80-I1

Some new age spiritualists are claiming that we will soon enter the age of Aquarius, or that we have already. Aquarius as a symbolic figure is a human being that pours water – enlightenment – over humanity. It can be seen as an appropriate metaphor in one way, because if the knowledge of how much we have damaged our water reservoirs was better known, there would be a greater movement towards solving these problems.

Some aspects of the article you have read may seem rather radical. The problem however is that the more we are stressing and depleting the reservoirs of water and soil needed to sustain a complex land-based supra-civilization as present-day humanity, the more radical the solutions would eventually have to be.

The important thing to remember is that interventions must happen with the permission and active participation of local communities, and that they should interfere as much as necessary but not more into the livelihood of the people. Interventions can be intrusive, so therefore the most essential part of any transition is that the population is made aware of the nature of the situation, that the population is prepared for when interventions would happen and how far they will go, and that the public can affect the process and partake in it.

Water must be managed in an ecological manner, but it must ultimately also be managed by the people.