Emperor’s New Clothes? : Death of an illusion?

At last 🙂 Here is evidence for what we’ve been saying all along. Thank you Steffen et al for digging out the data 🙂


For me personally this is even more ‘wonderful, amazing and several other adjectives’. Why? Because it is exactly my lifetime. I’ll also make the point, that perhaps is mentioned in these science papers, that the rate of change was not consistent over the period. When I was a child food and many other resources were still rationed (post-WW2 shortages), so even though we had Peace, we had very little else. Also very few people had cars, there were no such things as ‘package holidays’ or tourists. Few even travelled far beyond their own villages; no such thing as commuting. I lived in Singapore for a while: the flight from Britain took 5 days ~ we had to keep landing to refuel. In 1950 the global population was 3 billion (so it had doubled since 1900), however, much of it was still artisanal, low tech, buying local produce from local shops. Food prices were almost constant: my mother could give me the exact money for the things she asked me to buy from the shop. Somwhere around 1960 a ‘Wimpy-burger’ opened in Lincoln: it was a restaurant: tablecloths, real cutlery, waiter service … just a new product for us to enjoy. ‘Fast-food’ all came much later.

Let’s just say that I was alive at the birth of consumerism; have watched its first stumbling steps; then becoming established; then a problem; then a very ignorant, greedy and destructive force e.g. chopping down trees to convert into chipboard to make tables that fell to bits when wet); and now a plague intent upon its own destruction ::: but our planet is at stake. Probably the cockroaches, viruses and grass will survive ~ they always do 🙂

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About Michael White

Marine Zoologist specialising in endangered species and remote atoll research. I use modern science and Ethnozoology to provide culturally meaningful conservation projects, with a special focus on the sustainable use of natural resources and food sovereignty. "Tread gently on the Earth"

21 thoughts on “Emperor’s New Clothes? : Death of an illusion?

  1. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    Professor Steffen has been one of the few voices of reason over the years, and reflects our own views on how wrong we have been in taking the course we have taken to bring the planet in a stage of no return. I use the term “we” because we have throughout the years tolerated the so-called development that has made life so comfortable. We are all part of the problem, to the point that we have allowed businesses to grow into corporations though our insatiable desire and need to consume, and allowed corporations to team with politicians to take over the planet, for profit an self gratification. We have now started fighting back, but it will be a long fight that may not see winners and losers before it is too late.

    Yes, the good old days before Coca Cola were good, even if life was simple and hard, we at least had clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and safe food.

  2. Michael White Post author

    The paper ‘Planetary boundaries’ needs a subscription to Science magazine, which I don’t have. The Anthropocene Review is giving a free read of its issue until April. I’ll try and find time to register and see if PDF downloadable. Others are welcome to try ~ thanks Mike.

    Yes Ven I always include myself in the collective ‘we’ 🙂

  3. Janos

    “Steffen said the research showed the economic system was ?fundamentally flawed? as it ignored critically important life support systems.”

    This is what I intended to highlight with pages on our website like Causes, Steady State Economy, etc.

    Thank you Mike for spotting and sharing this article. Just almost in the core of the topic. However the very underlying problem, the soaring population is not mentioned by The Guardian article.

  4. Michael White Post author

    Help please Janos 🙂 I got one of the Steffen PDFs, Anthropocene Review (thanks to online.sagepub.com) and added it to media library. I told the library to attach it to this post (Emperor’s etc), which it says it does. BUT I don’t see the link?

    The PDF definitely is talking about humans as the problem, and redefines the start date for the Anthropocene. Mike


    1. Janos

      Yes Mike, I also experienced this issue, attaching a document from the Media Library to a Comment or a Post does not make the document visible on it. What you need to do is to click on the document in the Media Library, than on the right hand side you will see a field including the URL of the document. You need to copy that URL/Link into your Comment or Post by Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V. That’s how I used to do it. Many thanks for the document. 🙂 Janos

  5. Michael White Post author

    OK, an excellent paper, it also supports or agrees with much of what we’ve already written at BA, and our underlying principles or needs.

    Some remarkable points: humanity has already passed ‘peak child’ fertility rate; but we are still expecting around 12 billion by 2100.

    China will have over 1 billion URBAN residents in about 20 years time.

    The rich countries are causing most of the planetary damage.

    Marine fisheries: we know. But the fact that 90% of large predators have gone from ALL global seas is dire. Also I’ve seen the food chain impact caused by aquaculture as they removed other species for feed in the fish-farms. Another impact not mentioned was grinding up fish species for ‘bone-meal’ to put on your garden vegetables?

    Ocean acidification is happening.

    The start date for the Anthropocene being around 1950 is evident from many of the graphs. For some things there will be a time lag (e.g. today we may be seeing CO2 concentrations from 50 years ago) that also makes sense as to why when you first use steam machinery little seeemed to happen.

    Using the Los Alamos nuclear test was a neat idea (1945) as there is a global pattern of radio-isotopes in the sedimentary record, tree rings etc.

    Their analysis for the Holocene shows several data-sets or moments being outside the epochal framework. Again suggesting a shift has occurred.

    I liked the idea of technology leap-frogging, and have seen this too. When I worked in Albania for 4 years we had a collaborative effort with the Italian Coastguard aimed at preventing illegal immigrants swimming across to Italy or smuggling themselves on car-ferries. The Italians provided us with digital fingerprint readers, that connected quickly with databases, whereas Greece to the south of us was still stuck with ink pads & dabs on paper.

    The most profound statement I thought was at the conclusion ‘We are still waiting for Planetary Stewardship to emerge’. Welcome in the Biodiversity Alliance 🙂

  6. Michael White Post author

    Hi again Everyone, does anyone recall if anywhere in our writings we have mentioned Planetary Stewardship? If not then that is something we should promote. I know we’ve thought along those lines, and that several things we urge are aligned with stewardship ::: wise use of resources, grow more than you take, think of the future generations, leave them more than we have ourselves (instead of nothing). Also that the choices we make everyday should be blindingly obvious : is this good for our planet or bad for it?

    I also know that many politicians use stewardship as a soundbite & then do exactly the opposite.

  7. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    Planetary stewardship Mike!! That is a hell of a responsibility.
    Anyway, stewardship is more and more the new idea, e.g., Forest Stewardship , Ocean Stewardship (World Ocean Council; Ocean Frontiers – ocean-frontiers.org) Deep Ocean Stewardship (INDEEP); there was even an International Stewardship Forum in 2008 (https://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view;_ylt=AwrTHR3aOLpUAGkAlCRXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0NTNkbzNwBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2dxMQR2dGlkA1ZJUDU2OV8x?p=Ocean+stewardship&back=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%3Fp%3DOcean%2Bstewarship%26fr%3Dush-mailn_02%26ei%3DUTF-8&w=314&h=205&imgurl=www.oceanstewardship.com%2FIOSF%25202008%2F2008_ocean_stewardship.jpg&size=18KB&name=2008_ocean_stewardship.jpg&rcurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oceanstewardship.com%2FIOSF_2008.html&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oceanstewardship.com%2FIOSF_2008.html&type=&no=7&tt=120&oid=9078a266873677eb2b554d8b34992797&tit=…+of+the+International+Ocean+Stewardship+Forum+are+available+below&sigr=11e06qsrl&sigi=11vfm2b67&sign=10qlf5d5e&sigt=103vg5ole&sigb=12b6o2acs&fr=ush-mailn_02

    And many more.

  8. Janos

    Hi Mike, Last time a very similar topic, the ‘United Earth’ was mentioned related to Poaching at the end of one of my comments. Yes, this is a hell of responsibility as Ven correctly pointed out. We are very well positioned to pick it up, and promote it. Just let me know where would you like to see it. In our Princeples or whatever name we will find for that, or elsewhere, and it will be there. No worries. Janos

  9. Michael White Post author

    Thanks Ven & Janos. I did not mean that we would be The planetary stewards, but yes certainly we should promote it. Ven’s many links show that it is a trend (oops being trendy again), and one that its time has arrived.

    OK it could be mentioned in our principles/best practices … but it could also fit in Biodiversity/Sustainable Living. Looking after what we have … preferably before most of it has gone. Long ago I’d come up with the idea of ‘God’s gardners’ ~ that humans spent their days enjoying our world, caring for the small animals, tending the plants etc. Just living in Peace. I didn’t mention it as I found out later that is the name the Bahai faith call themselves 🙂

    One other inclusion on the ‘principles’ ~ something about working within the rule of law? Not sure of exact words yet.

  10. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    Interesting, and I would say powerful message Mike. We need to take note of these 9 boundaries, assuming there are only nine, and embed them within our objectives. I would add another to the 9th: GMO crops. We need to define our stand on that one too.
    Back to Planetary Stewardship. The nearest we have reached to the is certainly the Earth Charter…with the planned IECC to be its enforcement arm. It is strange to note the the Earth Charter has been totally ignored so far. Time to make it resurface and maybe we can do that too.
    I have taken note of your suggestion: “working within the rule of law”. We need a statement on that too, and I will propose something within that context soon.

    1. Michael White Post author

      Thank you Ven 🙂 Yes, I also thought that the table of boundaries, and tipping points was a powerful message. It’s simple. As is the fact that we’ve crossed 4 of the tipping points (or will soon do so).

      Do you remember back in the early days of climate change discussions? At first this was denied as even happening (like the ozone hole). Then the politicians made some sound-bites. Too little, too late, so no action at all. Then we entered the period where nobody knew what to do (the politicians were zero help as they knew if they caused profits to fall, then they’d be out of a job). There was a window of opportunity to completely remodel all human activities on Earth: not taken because it would cost money. Then the great & the good decided IF we could limit temperature rise to 2 C THEN things would be tolerable. That came & went too. Now maybe 4 C could be OK? etc. No immediate action, but we MAY decide to talk about something or other … in a few months … assuming that something else doesn’t get in the way like trade talks. I’m not holding my breath.

      Without seeing the Boundaries paper we don’t actually know if they’ve mentioned these factors are cumulative, rather then just linear. We know for sure that one thing exacerbates another … and that is probably the reason why many computer models fail to agree with reality.

      Good point with Earth Charter: it certainly has potential, and may even be the best possibility if we imagine mass-awakening of the crowd, e-petitions etc. Certainly more hopeful than UN.

      Maybe what we could do is include the tipping points (& GMOs), as well as the Earth Charter in the sub-menu of BA’s viewpoint? Janos what you think on that?

      Look forwards to seeing what you figure with rule of law, Ven. It is tricky 🙂 Thanks, Mike

      1. Janos

        We already have GMO within the context 🙂
        Present Extinction > Anthropogenic Pressure > Newly Invented Threats > Gene Technology and GMO

        Regarding the menu point ‘The BA View’: At the very beginning I imagined that we will have Posts and documents there discussing various topics where we need to take a stand. But as our site evolved, with the possibility of hiding content from the rest of the world on case by case basis, we actually develop and summarize our views in Posts, which than can be pulled to the relevant Pages, kept ‘covered’ until we are done with it. Than the essence goes to the static part of the page directly. That’s why we have nothing on ‘The BA View’ Page at all right now. Would you like to change this practice? Janos

  11. Michael White Post author

    Thanks for explanation Janos. I’m OK with things as they are at the moment. We use the posts, hide or open them as we feel fit, then add the info to static content. We can review again in future. Perhaps we will have things we are ‘standing for’ once we get on our feet? I’m easy whichever way we go. Mike

    1. Janos

      ‘Perhaps we will have things we are ?standing for? once we get on our feet?’ Could you please explain it Mike, I don’t get it. Language barrier, sorry… Janos

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