The earth is a big place.
Too big for us to get our heads around all of it in everyday life.
So we are mostly unaware of the scale of the damage human civilisation is having on our planet.
From our case for action we note the scientific evidence of scale impacts of human civilisation on the natural world:
- Half of all species of life ever discovered have disappeared
- The species extinction rate is between 1,000 – 10,000 times the background extinction rate
- Half of all plant and animal species live in tropical rainforests, which are being destroyed at rate where there will be none left within 100 years
- Land is being cleared for agriculture and cattle grazing, some 37.5% of the entire earth’s surface is under cultivation
- Deforestation of 13 million hectares per annum
- Half of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed
- Desertification has occurred in 20% of the worlds drylands, and one third of the earth’s land surface is under threat
- Only 10% of all people breath clean air
- Pervasive industrial pollution and contamination of water and soil poses great health threats to the food chain and humans
Around half of what took nature billions of years to create has largely been destroyed in the last 50 years of the industrial age.
Human beings are now impacting the planet to a greater extent than nature. What will the outcome be?.
Human populations are growing with a forecast near 10 billion people by 2050. (Source: United Nations)
What will happen to the remaining 50% of the natural with increased demand for human production and consumption?
Industries are incentivised to pollute and destroy the natural world. Biodiversity, clean air, clean water, and clean soil are given no economic value.
What would happen if we altered market and economic incentives, to place true value on the natural world as the giver of all life?
Why is it so?
Many reasons can be given, however the root causes are from the structure of our civilisation and society itself:
- The industrial age brought the paradigms of production and consumption, with out factoring in the natural world
- The economic system incentivises pollution and damage to the natural world because no value is placed on it
- Corporations behaviours are to maximise profit, at the cost to the natural world
- Politicians and governments are more concerned about short term reelection, vested interests that are funding them, and self interest than long term social good
- People (the ones who are doing the most damage) in the information age have largely lost touch with nature
Did you know that:
- There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans?
- Each year we dump 8 million tonnes of plastic into oceans?
- Plastic production is doubling every 11 years?
- It takes 400 years for a plastic bottle to degrade?
Example, Systems View of Plastic Oceans
Dumping of plastics into the oceans, rivers and land is a result emergent behaviour of:
- Our economic system
- Industrial manufacturing, packaging and production
- Our consumption and preferences
- Waste collection and disposal, or the lack of it
- Recycling, or the lack of it
- Industrial dumping, or the lack of it
- Littering, or the lack of it
Types of plastic
Dumped plastic ignores national borders
For many decades we have seen attempts to control human behaviour not halt the exponential increase in pollution. Signs and fines don’t stop the spread.
Who is accountable for plastics disposal?
- The plastics manufacturer?
- The product packager?
- The consumer?
- You and me?
The key to system alteration and design
The problem of existing long term plastic in the ocean and accelerating rates of dumping is so large that only structural changes to markets and economics are going to make any difference. To alter behaviour so that plastic is not littered and dumped, and to clean up the existing mess will take a systems revolution. Acting in isolation on parts of the system is not going to produce the outcomes we seek as the rest system will pull for the same results we have.
Value and incentives
- Place intrinsic value on clean oceans, fish, birds and biodiversity as a direct correlate of well being and wealth
- Incentivise behaviour that leads to well being of the oceans and hence people
At little ideation
What if, plastic bottles had a $1 deposit, funded globally by the market, there would be very little dumping and clean up jobs would be created, and recycling centres and collection points would appear everywhere. What if every human being had a plastic bounty account, which gave decent rewards for the amount of plastic they turn in at collection points. Most of humanity could be mobilised in cleaning up the mess. What if, owning a commercial fishing licence required, an amount of plastic to be retrieved from the ocean as a condition of stewardship of fisheries?