Humanity is not at war with nature

Humanity is not at war with nature

“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”

António Guterres, UN General Secretary

During World War 2 at least 70 million people perished, economies collapsed and infrastructure was devastated. Military and civilian fatalities numbered over 50 million, with at least another 20 million deaths from war-related disease and famine. 

Food supplies were disrupted everywhere with rationing common. It was not until the early 1950s that most commodities came ‘off the ration’ and in the UK it took nearly a decade after the end of the war before food rationing ended. 

WW2 was a global disaster.

At the end of the War in 1945 with the horrors still fresh, representatives of 50 countries gathered at the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco, California. After two months of discussion and negotiation, they signed the a charter to create a new international organization, the United Nations, designed to prevent another world war.

In 1945 the deprivation and chaos were raw, everyone had experienced it for themselves. No surprise that the UN Charter in Chapter 1 describes the purposes of the United Nations in Article 1 as 

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace… 

Article 1, UN Charter

In the 75 years since the charter was signed, a cold war flared then ended with the collapse of soviet communism, simmering regional conflicts dragged on especially in the middle east and the Horn of Africa, and acts of terrorism have devastated communities but, so far, humanity has avoided WW3.

Indeed as Steven Pinker argues in his book Better Angels of Our Nature, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millennia and decades. The evidence for declines in conflict is compelling if controversial.

So why the language of waging war, force, fury and descent into chaos from Mr  Guterres, the main man at the UN overseeing the maintenance of peace and security?

Presumably, he thinks scare tactics are needed. Make the reality sound like a war to wake people up to the enormity of the challenge.

The truth is alarming enough. 

Unbridled exploitation of nature by 8 billion people has changed the planet eroding the essentials of nature that humanity relies on for 23 trillion kilocalories a day in food, not to mention clean water and fresh air. 

Biodiversity is in decline everywhere, especially in the soil where it is most vital for the production of all that food. 

In the Amazon, we are back to 81,000 ha of rainforest clearing every day or 40 football fields per minute.

Suicide perhaps but not WW3.

Destruction of nature is not a war 

War is defined as…

an intense armed conflict between states, governments, societies, or paramilitary groups such as mercenaries, insurgents, and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces.

In other words, a lethal conflict between the incompatible.

The Secretary-General, a career politician with an education in physics, says that “nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury

Nature does not fight back because Gaia has no ability to recognise humanity from any of the other drastic climate and global changes that have reorganised nature in the evolutionary past. 

Recall there have been 5 other mass extinction events and a host of smaller ones that removed a huge proportion of lifeforms alive at the time. The physical and resource space created just allowed for more evolution. Nature filled the gaps with new lifeforms. All that is needed to generate diversity is disturbance, error and natural selection. 

Nature does not fight us. She has no disagreement worthy of lethal conflict. 

As far as nature is concerned the actions of expansive humanity with the knack of resource use is no different to any previous extinction event. 

Lifeforms are lost because conditions change and, after some time, new ones take their place.

Humanity is not at war with nature, we are just in the business of exploiting all the resources on offer with no thought for what that means for the future of those resources and the processes that generate them.

More like suicide than war

At the end of WW2 in Europe as the Russian army closed in on the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Adolf Hitler, still deluded but defeated, shot himself. 

It was a cowardly response to avoid responsibility for actions that devastated a continent. 

Any history of the war struggles to describe this ending. The Third Reich was defeated but the main perpetrator slipped away from justice even before the world knew the full extent of his crimes.

Destruction of nature is not a war. 

It is suicide — the taking of our own life — and it smells like that airless Führerbunker in April 1945.

The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

As this one is worth a million of them, I will risk copyright infringement because it’s too good not to share with you.

A brilliant photograph by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images appears in an online article in The Guardian.

On the left of the unmasked man in somnolent posture is António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a career politician, former Prime Minister of Portugal and the Secretary-General of the United Nations — a 71-year-old white man in relaxed but attentive mode.

On the right of the reclining dude is Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned broadcaster, naturalist and author who is 95 years young. 

Sir David has been busy his entire life and has remained prolific and added activism to his resume in his retirement years. Finally able to speak his mind as one of the very few people on the planet old and travelled enough to see the change in the planet’s biodiversity with his own still sharp eyes. He is also wise enough to interpret what he has seen for what it represents — a massive impact from human beings on the rest of the planet. 

The gentleman in the middle is understandably a little tired. 

He had to jet down from Glasgow to London to attend a dinner at The Garrick Club in the West End. This gentleman’s club, a simple euphemism for men only, was founded in 1831 and currently has a seven-year waiting list of new candidates. Gentlemen prospects must be proposed by an existing member and elected in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

Our napping chap had to fly down to the club for a reunion of Daily Telegraph journalists. Naturally, there would be revelry and a complete absence of boredom in an exhilarating dinner date.  Such a foray would knock any big-hearted galoop about a bit.

However, duty is a demanding mistress. 

This opportunity for a kip is at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It came just after one’s cabinet colleague delivered a budget promoting air travel by reducing taxes on domestic passenger flights. Jetting about shows leadership by example.

The colleague, Mr Sunak, may or may not be in line for club membership given he has something about him that may have come from his Punjabi Hindu parents. On the plus side has an obscenely wealthy spouse. This conundrum will mean assurances of the committee come after more than one round of Graham’s 1972 single harvest port. 

Duty and revelry are ready reasons to excuse dozing off.

The absent mask, not so much.

How many words would capture the thoughts running through the REM sleep of the man in the middle? 

The picture suggests something like this:

I am a pig in shit, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else that is going on. I’m just enjoying the adulation and how everyone laughed at my jokes.

Why the baby boomers had it good

Why the baby boomers had it good

Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

I was born in 1961 as one of the last Baby Boomers, the demographic cohort that came about from a spurt of fertility following WW2. 

The world of the 1960s was very different to today. 

There were far fewer people for starters, technology had not reached everyone, there was no internet, no streaming, and a long-distance phone call cost over $1 a minute. There was also no Covid.

My grandma bathed her children in a tin tub in front of a coal fire. I always had access to instant hot water. 

My father bought his first car, a third hand Austin A40 the size of a peanut when he was in his 40’s. I am lucky enough to buy a new car with a turbocharged engine and big enough for five adults.

Image source: Morse Classics

Personal computers, mobile phones, the internet, global travel, gastronomic delights, and Netflix have arrived in the lifetime of the Baby Boomers. So many things have changed over the last 60 years that my infant self would never have imagined my future. 

I have experienced so much that I need to pinch myself to be sure it all happened.

Cmglee, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Alpha generation 

What of the babies born today, the Alpha generation? What will they experience in their lifetimes?

If the Boomers went from landlines to Facetime, maybe the Alphas can expect holograms, space travel for the masses, and bionic body parts. They could also have to pinch their virtual selves.

Only they will have more to do than the Boomers.

We know that their generation must solve many problems made from the successes of the previous generations. They will be faced with issues of food security, water security, wealth discrepancies, refugees, and any number of technology transitions, especially with energy. 

Oh yes, and Covid or its derivatives. 

They will also be impacted by changes to the climate.

Here are some of the numbers based on a warming scenario should we meet the Paris agreement targets and see a global average of 2.7℃ of extra heat

This is a lot of extra disasters.

The WHO describes heatwaves as the most dangerous of natural hazards. From 1998-2017, more than 166 000 people died due to heatwaves, including more than 70 000 who died during the 2003 heatwave in Europe.

The Alpha generation can expect over 600,000 heatwave related deaths every decade.

A golden age

The Boomers parents and grandparents did it tough too — nobody goes through a global war unscathed.

So I am lucky to be born a Boomer and forever grateful.

However, my generation has done a lousy job of preparing for the future. We have not curtailed population or consumption but promoted both. Nature has buckled under our excesses, and the natural resources we leave for the Alphas are either depleted or dangerous to use.

The Baby Boomers had it good because we were born at just the right time, the golden age of technology and wealth. We tapped the sun’s ancient energy for a cheap fix and a costly legacy.

It will take a lot to make a platinum age from what we will leave behind.


Feel free to browse the Alloporus back catalogue for more ideas and random thoughts.

Money makes money for a few

Money makes money for a few

Photo by Daniel Barnes on Unsplash

How does wealth concentrate? 

Alloporus has discussed whether or not it’s fair to give a 10% pay rise to every employee in a business

It sounds dutiful and egalitarian, and it also suggests the company must be doing well to make such an intelligent investment in its workforce. 

Breaking the numbers down, it is clear that 10% to the lowest-paid workers in the company and even those on the average salary in the company results in far fewer extra dollars in the paycheck received by the CEO; let’s call him Jerry, for his 10%. 

The average worker gets, say, $200 extra a fortnight after tax. On his $750k a year, Jerry is looking at an additional $1,700 despite his heavier instalment to the tax office.

Justifications abound because the CEO is the boss and must make the decisions and wear the risk. He is worth the extra pay and has considerably more buying power in raw dollars from his 10% pay rise. 

Jerry is an intelligent fellow — not a given — so he chose to put the money from his pay into a unit trust, nothing too fancy, just a rainy day option. He did this each month.

The shop floor worker, Tom, was in debt, and he decided to put the extra money into credit card repayments to bring his balance down. His kids wanted presents for Christmas, which took care of December’s extra pay. His eldest daughter was about to go to college, and Tom wanted to send her off with a small sum to get her through the first semester away from home and used January’s extra pay. 

Tom consumed the extra money, and Jerry put it away in a modest investment. 

After ten years, Jerry’s investment of $3,600 each month was worth $577,971, of which $132,328 was the result of compound interest at 5%. 

He decided to cash out his units and made a hefty downpayment on a property south of Brisbane that he immediately rented to increase his net returns to 7.5% and convert his principle into a more stable asset class.  The property doubled in value over the next decade, giving Jerry another $1.5 million property in his portfolio. 

Now, you could say that Tom could have done the same thing and matured his salary increase by investing it. His $433 per month in the same unit trust would be worth $67,950 after a decade, including $15,500 of interest.

Making an investment choice might have been a clever play. Tom may have saved just enough through the investment to offer his daughter a deposit on a flat or maybe pay for her wedding that came ten years down the road. 

But his material wealth would never reach the same levels as Jerry in his working lifetime. 

As they say, money makes money. 

But the point here is that wealth also concentrates. 

The company has one CEO and a handful of executives with salaries large enough to easily invest their 10% but lots of workers, many struggling to make ends meet. The opportunity to make real money falls to a few.

Of course, the owners were happy too. The major shareholder in the business, Mr Hannah, also enjoyed a 5% share dividend each year. His 2.5 million shares were worth $5 million when the first instalment arrived, a handy $125,000.

Similar dividends were paid annually for a decade, with the money moved into various assets that yielded 5% interest. That initial $125,000 plus the annual instalments grew to $1.8 million in a decade, $400,000 of that in interest. Naturally, the shares rose on a buoyant market to be worth $10 million. 

The owner’s wealth accumulated too.

Then there are the super owners. Here is one chosen at random. In June 2021, Bloomberg Billionaires Index listed Dieter Schwarz, a german businessman who built his fortune owning supermarket chains, as the 61st richest person globally with an estimated net worth of US$27.3 billion. 

Should Mr Schwarz earn 5% interest on his assets, he receives $3.7 million a day before tax.

It is hard to figure out how to spend that kind of money. 

Of course, most of the time, these people do not. They invest it after paying clever accountants to minimise their tax. Then, on occasion, they give some of it away.

Dieter Schwarz.  $13,500,000,000
Mr Hannah. $1,800,000
Jerry. $578,000
Tom. $67,000
Annual returns after ten years on a 10% pay rise or 5% dividend compared to the cumulative returns from Mr Schwarz’ existing assets

The pattern is clear —  capitalism creates wealth that concentrates into a few individuals or entities. Over time this opens a wide gap between those who have and those who do not.

None of this is new nor much of a revelation. Accumulation and concentration are how capitalism works. The reason for revisiting the basics is that there is a lot at stake should this pattern continue.

Poverty and excess make each other very uncomfortable, and history tells us that resolving such disparity is ugly for everyone.

Better not to let it get out of hand.


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Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Trump lost.

He will contest and whine, but for now, the American people are more concerned about their democracy than his tantrums. 

This is an encouraging sign. 

The country pulled itself back from the brink and gained some time to reflect. It’s what happens next that matters.

People may remember a frustrated President Obama, particularly in his second term of office. A recalcitrant and regressive Republican majority in the senate scuppered most of his key initiatives. 

President Biden is familiar with that scenario, viewing from the Veeps chair throughout that painful process. Republican’s majority in the senate has gone, but they have not gone away, nor has their mischief. 

A debate must happen within the democratic party. 

They united to get rid of Trump, fair enough. But a firm, adult conversation must happen between the old school and the new youngsters who have a very different take. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019, for example, is asking the party to look very closely at how it got itself in the mess that resulted in Trump in the first place.

It is time for an alternative. 

The old school must realise that moving to the centre is no longer the answer. At least not the established centre that pampers to donors and the corporate world. 

If that happens again, it matters very little really which colour is in power because each offers the private sector the same easy ride. 

A centrist policy that bails everybody out using debt which simply funnels itself into a tiny number of people with stock options is not the future; it can’t be. 

Now is the time for dramatic rethinking and risk-taking. 

The Biden presidency won’t be able to do that. There have been enough old white men in the oval office for us to know how that goes. Admittedly this one has a woman of colour as vice president. But still, too much of the old school lingers. 

Back in the election, the progressive left had an old candidate too, considered way too risky at the time. The gamble to dump Saunders and go with the convention only just paid off. And it was a high-risk game to play in the first place. 

What must happen now is that the youngsters must come through. Their energy, positivity, and passion must fuel a progressive cause focusing on the well-being of people and the planet. They will usher in a different economic model because the last one is not working. 

The problem that faces them is scary. The planet cannot support three cars per household, and by 2030 just sourcing food for 11 billion people will be hard enough. 

Recall the late, great Hans Rosling’s explanation of the demographic transition

He said that the 2 billion poorest aspire to a pair of shoes, another 3 billion to a bicycle, 2 billion more to a car and a billion or so in the rich countries who, pre-COVID, aspired to fly to a remote destination on holidays. 

Progression means an economic approach that meets those aspirations, noting that a bicycle is not enough and, perhaps, three cars is not possible. 

If you want to ‘reimagine the shape of progress’ as Kate Raworth puts it check out her TEDx talk on Doughnut economics.

Thankfully Trump lost and the Democrats under Biden will calm the waters somewhat. 

Relative peace will buy time for the new generation of ideas to thrive. Only then will they have won.


Thanks for reading this blog post. There are plenty more to read and share.

Is dog poo on the sidewalk a resource?

Is dog poo on the sidewalk a resource?

Photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash

Animal Medicine Australia estimates there are 5.1 million dogs in Australia. Most of these will be family pets and companion animals that make a difference to wellbeing.

What does it cost to keep all these pouches? 

Dog ownership costs roughly $1,500 a year and perhaps $25,000 in the lifetime of the cuddly family member. All up Australians fork out $7.6 billion a year on their dogs. Just for perspective, NSW, where 8 million Australians live, spends roughly $4 billion on its police force each year and $24 billion on public education.

It seems that the dogs are up there with the essential things in people’s lives.

What about the hidden costs? 

A single dog produces approximately 340 grams of waste per day. That means Australian dogs drop a mind-boggling 1,734 tonnes of turds a day.

That is as heavy as 137 double-decker buses or the take-off weight of three Airbus A380 aircraft with 1,500 people on board.

This weight of organic smelliness dropped on Australian sidewalks and parks is small compared to global output.

The data here are rubbery as the actual numbers are hard to find, not all countries keep records, and many dogs are strays, but there are probably around 470 million dogs worldwide.

A380 commercial flights pre-COVID were around 300 per day. This is just about enough take-off weight to airlift a day’s worth of dog poop.

This mass of manure is clearly significant given we need every ton of organic matter to keep soils productive.

Is dog poo a resource?

Dog faeces (and those of cats) contains about 0.7% nitrogen, 0.25% phosphate and 0.02% potassium.. This chemistry means dog faeces are poor plant fertilizer, plus they often smell, stick to shoes, and contain pathogens. In its unweathered state, dog faeces are not useful, let alone fertilizer. 

Most dog waste breaks down naturally in the environment where the dog left it.  Some cities collect and incinerate waste with composting avoided.

So maybe the excreta of our omnivorous poodles is not such a resource after all.  

An idea for the poop mountains

Perhaps the modest plant nutrients, the challenge in collecting it all, and the considerable smelliness take all the fun out of composting.

What about converting the raw material? 

One company in the UK that makes small-scale incinerators for medical waste recognises the possibilities for dog poo in the waste to energy market

Rather than just energy, what if the incinerators burnt the poop in low oxygen (pyrolysis) to create biochar such as these Mobile Pyrolysis Plants in Australia.

Biochar is a wonder product that increases carbon levels and helps retain moisture and improves nutrient exchange when applied as a soil amendment.

A conversion of poop to biochar would get around all the problems of composting pet waste for use in agriculture.

Dog poo on the paddock. Now that is an excellent idea.


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