Page last updated at 19:22 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 20:22 UK

Ecological debt: No way back from bankrupt

Andrew Simms
Andrew Simms

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the G20 summit
The G20 summit scarcely mentioned the "other" debt crisis

While most governments' eyes are on the banking crisis, a much bigger issue - the environmental crisis - is passing them by, says Andrew Simms. In the Green Room this week, he argues that failure to organise a bailout for ecological debt will have dire consequences for humanity.

"Nature Doesn't Do Bailouts!" said the banner strung across Bishopsgate in the City of London.

Civilisation's biggest problem was outlined in five words over the entrance to the small, parallel reality of the peaceful climate camp. Their tents bloomed on the morning of 1 April faster than daisies in spring, and faster than the police could stop them.

Here we are, faced with the loss of an environment conducive to human civilisation, and we find governments prostrate before barely repentant banks, with their backs to a far worse ecological crisis

Across the city, where the world's most powerful people met simultaneously at the G20 summit, the same problem was almost completely ignored, meriting only a single, afterthought mention in a long communique.

World leaders dropped everything to tackle the financial debt crisis that spilled from collapsing banks.

Gripped by a panic so complete, there was no policy dogma too deeply engrained to be dug out and instantly discarded. We went from triumphant, finance-driven free market capitalism, to bank nationalisation and moving the decimal point on industry bailouts quicker than you can say sub-prime mortgage.

But the ecological debt crisis, which threatens much more than pension funds and car manufacturers, is left to languish.

It is like having a Commission on Household Renovation agonise over which expensive designer wallpaper to use for papering over plaster cracks whilst ignoring the fact that the walls themselves are collapsing on subsiding foundations.

Beyond our means

Each year, humanity's ecological overdraft gets larger, and the day that the world as a whole goes into ecological debt - consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can provide and absorb - moves ever earlier in the year.

The same picture emerges for individual countries like the UK - which now starts living beyond its own environmental means in mid-April.

Solar panels
Bad market design, feeble carbon reduction targets and the recession have all conspired to drive down the cost of carbon emission permits

Because the global economy is still overwhelmingly fossil-fuel dependent, the accumulation of greenhouse gases and the prognosis for global warming remain our best indicators of "overshoot".

World famous French free-climber Alain Robert, known as Spiderman, climbed the Lloyds of London building for the campaign as the G20 met, to demonstrate how time is slipping away.

Using thresholds for risk identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on current trends, in only 92 months - less than eight years - we will move into a new, more perilous phase of warming.

It will then no longer be "likely" that we can prevent some aspects of runaway climate change. We will begin to lose the climatic conditions which, as Nasa scientist James Hansen points out, were those under which civilisation developed.

Small dividend

As "nature doesn't do bailouts", how have our politicians fared who ripped open the nation's wallet to save the banks?

Not good.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the UK spent a staggering 20% of its GDP in support of the financial sector.

Yet the amount of money that was new and additional, announced in the "green stimulus" package of the Treasury's Pre-Budget Report, added-up to a vanishingly small 0.0083% of GDP.

Globally, the green shade of economic stimulus measures has varied enormously. For example, the shares of spending considered in research by the bank HSBC to be environmental were:

  • the US - 12%
  • Germany - 13%
  • South Korea - 80%

The international average was around 15%. HSBC found the UK planned to invest less than 7% of its stimulus package (different from the bank bailout) in green measures.

Comparing the IMF and HSBC figures actually reveals an inverse relationship - proportionately, those who spent more on support for finance had weaker green spending.

So here we are, faced with the loss of an environment conducive to human civilisation, and we find governments prostrate before barely repentant banks, with their backs to a far worse ecological crisis.

Extreme markets

On top of low and inconsistent funding for renewable energy, the shift to a low carbon economy is being further frustrated by another market failure in the trade for carbon seen, for example, in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme.

Climbing building
"Spiderman" scaled the Lloyds Building in support of the climate campaign

Bad market design, feeble carbon reduction targets and the recession have all conspired to drive down the cost of carbon emission permits, wrecking economic incentives to grow renewable energy.

Worse still, the difficulty of accounting to ensure that permits represent real emissions has led both energy companies and environmentalists to warn of an emerging "sub-prime carbon market".

Relying on market mechanisms is attractive to governments because it means they have less to do themselves. But they will fail if carbon markets are just hot air.

There seems to be a hard-wired link between memory failure and market failure.

As the historian E J Hobsbawm observed in The Age of Extremes: "Those of us who lived through the years of the Great Slump still find it almost impossible to understand how the orthodoxies of the pure free market, then so obviously discredited, once again came to preside over a global period of depression in the late 1980s and 1990s".

Perhaps the greatest failure is one of imagination.

Some people alive today lived through those past recessions and depressions. They know they can be nasty and need averting.

But the last time the Earth's climate really flipped was at the end of the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. No one can remember what that felt like.

Lessons of history

Looking forward, the IPCC's worst case scenario warns of a maximum 6C rise over the next century.

Looking back, however, indicates that an unstable climate system holds worse horrors.

Work by the scientist Richard Alley on abrupt climate change indicates the planet has previously experienced a 10C temperature shift in only a decade, and possibly "as quickly as in a single year".

And, around the turn of the last Ice Age, there were "local warmings as large as 16C".

Imagine that every day of your life you have taken a walk in the woods and the worse thing to happen was an acorn or twig falling on your head.

Then, one day, you stroll out, look up and there is a threat approaching so large, unexpected and outside your experience that can't quite believe it, like a massive gothic cathedral falling from the sky.

In tackling climate change we need urgently to recalibrate our responses, just as governments had to when they rescued the reckless finance sector.

Then officials had to ask themselves "is what we are doing right, and is it enough?"

They must ask themselves the same questions on the ecological debt crisis and climate change.

The difference is, that if they fail this time, not even a long-term business cycle will come to our rescue. If the climate shifts to a hotter state not convivial to human society, it could be tens of thousands of years, or never, before it shifts back.

Remember; nature doesn't do bailouts.

Andrew Simms is policy director of the New Economics Foundation (nef), and author of Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Andrew Simms? Are governments, including the UK's, spending too much on the bank crisis and too little addressing environmental issues? Are they over-reliant on market mechanisms? Can humanity's ecological debt be repaid?

I'm a huge sceptic but a dreamer at heart and even I believe that without divine and/or extraterrestrial intervention...we're screwed. But hey, its great to be a part of something so huge huh? Only thing gonna save planet earth is a real big plague REAL SOON! C'mon God, where are ya?
Al, Newcastle, Australia

The current difference between the banking crisis and the ecologcal crisis is that the direct impacts of the banking crisis are easier to perceive - for now. For many if not all people making the mental leap from even an abstraction with which most of them agree to tangible,specific and productive mitigating action is hard. The other issue with the ecological crisis is that to resolve it, first nearly three centuries of industral inertia has to be overcome. Intuitively we know the ecological crisis is going to be bad - but we may not yet realise how bad - but turning off our lights and driving a few less miles just doesn't cut it as a solution. This is a problem which needs a step change in thinking and behaviour, and the most likely way to initiate that is by making clear predictions and outlining tangible consequences for climate change. It could be argued that his is hard; personally I suspect that unfortunately it may turn out to be easier than anticipated - the climate catastrophists who are starting to predict a four degree rise by the middle of this century are probaly not completely wrong. Such an increase would obviously happen over time, perhaps in a linear, perhaps in an accelerating fashion. If you're looking for the events which will finally make governments sit up and take climate change really seriously - wait a while; they'll be along presently.
Carl, London UK

Mr Sims is very likely understating the problem: it should come as no surprise that the first catastrophic effect of global warming will be record high summer temperatures. What will come as a surprise is that by mid-century those record high temperatures will cause the routine failure of non-irrigated crops and therefore widespread famine: "Few seem to realise that the present IPCC models predict almost unanimously that by 2040 the average summer in Europe will be as hot as the summer of 2003 when over 30,000 died from heat. By then we may cool ourselves with air conditioning and learn to live in a climate no worse than that of Baghdad now. But without extensive irrigation the plants will die and both farming and natural ecosystems will be replaced by scrub and desert. What will there be to eat? The same dire changes will affect the rest of the world and I can envisage Americans migrating into Canada and the Chinese into Siberia but there may be little food for any of them." --Dr James Lovelock's lecture to the Royal Society, 29 Oct. '07
Brad Arnold, St Louis Park, USA

Alex, Ipswich = Another mis-informed individual! It's not your fault though. Most people in the west are ignorant of climate change due to coporate mis-information so they can make short term gains at the expense of the planet. Its views like these that need to be changed, so pressure can be put on coporations to change their ways!
Byron, London

I agree with Mr Stobie of Edinburgh. As aware as I am of greenhouse gases, and the need for big smart collective action, I see things I could change every day in my own life to reduce my contribution. I sum Mr Stobie's words with a bad haiku:

Economic mess

A fart against the thunder

Get out of my car
Felicity Turnbull, Los Angeles, California

Unlike economic crisis, climate change and environmental destruction may not come in a single blow, but a gradual degradation. Unlike, economic crisis the nature in Andrew words gives 'no bailouts', and no 'techno-fixes' are feasible. Politicians and public keep dreaming of 'speedy recovery' and return to their profligate life-style of the recent past. That won't come no matter how much 'stimulus' one throws into it. All those stimuli can have only one effect - to hasten the ecological debacle.
David, Cleveland, USA

The problem is simple, there are too many people living on this planet. The looming disaster will solve that problem. W.W.
Wali Ward, Katwijk, Holland.

The way that the west has contributed to environmental damage isnt straight forward. And due to this it is not an easy problem to fix. We have been demanding products from China and India for many year; and they have been as a result damaging the environment to supply us. Therefore, a simple input of money into the UK to clean up our country does not tackle the problem. What is needed is that money to get to the centre of the problem in countries where the ecological damage has been much more serious. Unfortunately i dont have the answer of how to do this...
Martin, herts,uk

Predictions of Global Climate change, of Global Warming, of Hurricane growth, of Sea level rise, of Global ice coverage decrease have all been blatantly wrong and alarmist. The last ten years have been cooling and significantly this year. Norm Milliard
Norman Milliard, Hampton, NH, United States of AMerica

US Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu said recently in the New York Times: "If we don't spend this money wisely and invest in new technology that addresses these challenges, we will have failed the country. We will have failed the world." I agree therewith. Particularly, we have to get real progress in petroleum exploration. What are we doing in exploration now? One commercial discovery in four wildcats, isn't it? Why does 75% drilling efforts waste? Drilling of huge number of dry exploration holes hurts the world climate, as well as world economy, significantly. There is a new technology for oil/gas detection providing above three discoveries in four wildcats. With new technology (patented invention US 7,330,790) we could make up to three times more oil and gas discoveries than when using conventional technology. And the fact that new technology won't need more investments is also very important. I disclosed the technology, designed it and successfully tested in the Barents and the Black Seas as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. I will be happy to help any company to implement my technology. But petroleum industry (top geologists etc) ignores the technology because it will clear real company resources before investors. A. Berg, Ph.D. San Jacinto, CA
geolog, Sa Jacinto, USA

money is being squandered not only on banks but car makers. surely these factories should be converted for production of more public transport systems. the age of the car is over for cities & large conurbations. better & more available public transport would help c.o2 reduction
james.j. rice, le lude France

What caused the end of the last Ice Age? It must have been natural causes because mankind wasn't numerous enough to have a global impact on environment then. So if climate change then was normal and natural how can we be so certain that natural causes aren't the prime cause of climate change now? I realize that's hersey to the climate change people and hasn't a chance of being printed but still, what did cause the end of the Ice Age?
Scott W, Port Orchard, USA

Simon is absolutely correct in his assessment. I would also like to point out that the coverage of Climate Change/Global warming by the BBC Online. It is really pathetic. There is no section/link in the main Science and Environment pages or menus. Or in the Special Coverage section. There is the Green Room, but it is not linked to from the News pages. It seems that it is being purposefully hidden away. Many of the articles in the Green Room also seem to have a skeptical bias running through them, often portraying confusion on the issue. This leads me to the conclusion that the person responsible for this coverage online is possibly an undercover skeptic of AGW. The BBC should look in to this. Climate Change is a huge issue and will/is affecting us all. The BBC should be more responsible about its coverage. I hope this will be address in the near future.
paul magnus, richmond, bc, canada

The government could "bail- out" the renewables industry if only it would invest in electrolysers. Wind is virtually useless unless one can store the energy produced at 3 am so supply can have a chance of matching demand. Electrolysers use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen to create an alternative clean fuel, and a critical component of chemical and manufacturing industry, namely hydrogen. We need to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons such as oil, now. Otherwise no amount of bailout will address a return to peak oil price and supply constraints, that will surely stunt any recession. Investment into electrolysers is required now!
Charles Purkess, Malmesbury

A good report that I agree with. Not scary enough though. We here time and time again what might happen, not what will happen because of Global Change. We hear about the path that nature may take that would be the least harmful for man. I think we need to hear about some of the worst case sinarios of just what will happen if the temperature did rise and sprial upward 10-12 deg F. Man need these dooms day predictions spelled out in ways he can understand. Perhaps a movie showing vast areas of the planet drying up (with millions dieing), showing the devastation that 2m rise in the ocean (with millions dieing), showing human condition so horrible that death begins to look good. The movie could end with several views of a dead planet, like we see Mars today. "Distruction of Earth". This "movie" could very likely happen I believe Governments block this kind of scientific prediction from the public as not to cause panic. I think panic may be just what we need. Perhaps the movie could end with several views of a dead planet, like we see Mars today. "Distruction of Earth"
Mart Dinday, Jamestown,New York, USA

Andrew has been a leading thinker on these matters for well over a decade. His message has been a measured, constant and reasonable response to the facts which are increasingly inconvenient for us to believe. There is simply no more important and captivating challenge than this one and Andrew's cries and as on the mark as ever, but the tone is needingly shriller... To avert all kinds of worse futures we need to start making hard choices TODAY.
Peter, Madrid, Spain

Some people suggest we do nothing but siply adapt to the changes as and when they occur. How, exactly, do we adapt to a planet where crops cannot be grown because of floods, droughts, exhausted soils, lack of pollinating insects. Where the oceans are dead due to pesticide and fertiliser run-off. And where the biodiversity that underpins the food-chain that sustains us is gone?
paul, swansea, wales

Economic policy should be used to help the planet as a whole. Tax all imported goods that fail to meet high eco standards. Make loans to bailout industry contingent on their green development strategies. Make banks lend on favourable terms for green energy initiatives. Raise tax on fossil fuel. The economic crisis should provide an opportunity for positive change. So far it looks as though short-termism and economic 'growth' are the myopic choices of our political leaders at the expense of all our futures.
Ian, France

Society as a whole has little concern for or planet as far as climate. Humans can exist with in a wide range of temperature. But everything we depend on for life, can not. This is all wildlife and vegitation, we need. Let alone places to live. We tend to have more concern for something which gives wealth for riches, but not the most valued thing. A place to live. Personally, we all should be ashamed of ourselves and thise who lead us into this mess further.
David Rush, Blue Springs Missouri, USA

Unfortunately I can't see a situation where mankind will get together to solve climate change as a group until it becomes a major problem and impossible to ignore. This means that the only available solutions will be massive engineering projects on an unprecedented scale, which will require large investment and will require a strong global economy to support. Of course these are far from ideal and, as investment in predicting there effects is small, will probably cause new unexpected issues in themselves.
Alistair, Durham, UK

I agree. We seem to have trouble imagining that life could really be much different than the 9 to 5 we have now. Climate trouble seems to be occuring in some parallel world which we observe with alarm before turning back to bailouts and celebrity news (Hugh Jackman is the #1 new story on your site today).

I can't agree with the writers here who say good riddance to humans. I have children who are innocent, enthusiastic and beautiful. So do you, or you know some. I don't believe we have a right to ruin things for them.
Rob MacLean, Prince Edward Island, Canada

My greatest sadness now is that we have progressed past the point where democracy is a luxury we can afford. There has been no great wave of public opinion or political leadership on the subject, and as we drift into inevitably harder times people will become less interested in wider issues. Democracy and choice can no longer help us.

When forced to define my political stance these days I invariably settle for 'Green Fascist'. Humanity simply does not have the right to be happy or even fair at the expense of other life.
Chris Watkins, Lancaster

A lifeboat is beginning to sound like a wonderful idea. Brush up your ark-building skills, and get to work - Fast!
Uncle John, Olongapo, Philippines

Doh! Another mis-informed individual spouting doom and gloam, this time about the end of humanity within the next decade! Why does the BBC keep giving these people so much credance? This man hasnt even gotten his history correct, let alone a basic understanding of climate change, its causes and effects, and how it fits with the natural climate cycle of this planet. Is climate change happening? YES! Is it humanities fault? NO! Is it a natural cycle of this planet stretching back millions of years? YES! Is it avoidable? NO! So, instead of wasting money of inefficient technologies trying to prevent the unpreventable, why dont we all work towards improving the lives of the worlds population in general, and investing in developing technology to help us deal with the upcoming increase in global temperature, followed shortly by the next ice age? History, the last 1 million years worth that we know of, shows us this is going to happen. Shouldnt we all stop trying to prevent it happening, and simply prepare for it in a sensible manner?
Alex, Ipswich

What I see is that we all like to point fingers, we are the ones who vote for those politicians that we are now blaming! Most of us are part of this with our lifestyles, when we use a car, a bus or any mechanical transport, when we put a light on or use any electrical device. The change must start from inside us and move from there! What are you ready to do and to give up for this? For are you really willing to do to give a change to the future generations? Think about it! Stop pointing fingers, we are all guilty!
Massimo, South Africa

When the last river is poisoned and the last fish caught then man will learn that you can't eat money. Cree Indian Quote
Rob Barton, Market drayton, England

The problem is that there are too many humans on earth. Populations increase until constrained by the environment - that's how Life on Earth functions. This is not a new situation, and until now human ingenuity has managed to push back the boundaries (e.g. burning coal instead of wood, moving to a previously undiscovered continent, etc. Will we find a solution this time? Maybe in twenty years time we will move between solar systems as easily as we move between continents today. If not, billions will die. That also is how Life on Earth functions. It's not a big deal.
Stefaan Eeckels, Harlange, Luxembourg

Climate change, Carbon Credits, it's all just a new game for the governments to take more tax $$$ from Joe Average. I thinks the climate change is all part of natures cyclic pattern. Sure we humans need to smarten up a bit, but don't mix climate change up with Economic disaster which most future retirees will encounter...enjoy life while you still have a $$$ or three in yoiur pocket.
DJ, Perth, Australia

These are key issues for our future and I'm glad to read that for once most of the reader's comments here are positive. Obviously there are exceptions, and although some statistics may seem alarmist, there is good reason to. No one is suggesting a year on year increase of 16C but if you look at the figures and articles, you may be surprised to find that 'local warming' has already been seen to reach up to 7C in areas of Siberia, raising the terrifying spectre of methane release. No one knows what the future holds, but it is clear that IPCC estimnates (as horiffic as they are) are at best conservative and well thought out action is needed now!
John Nicolson, Huntingdon

The problem is that we've set up markets, individuals, companies, countries, politicians etc to act in their own self interests. This makes it nigh-on impossible to make a change for the benefit of everyone. It's a pity that as a species we are unable to use our intelligence to avoid what has been an entirely avoidable situation.
Calum Grant, Oxford

Agree 100% with the author and more particularly with Bill Stobie of Edinburgh. I can just imagine Nero in his grave thinking "and I only burnt Rome" Plenty of excellent comments to this excellent paper.
Mike Perkins, Whangarei, New Zealand.

We are a bit like a driver who suddenly sees a brick wall emerging out of the dark, we know we are going to hit it hard, but that does not mean we should take our foot off the brakes. Bad times are coming, we have run out of time to avoid that. But perhaps with effort we can make them 'difficult' rather than 'catastrophic'. Unfortunately, although we laud our species for its ability to plan, we seem remarkably unable to do this when it is beyond our personal survival. I think our chances are damn slim of avoiding a disaster now, but we really don't have any other choice than to try.
Peter Yard, Brisbane, Australia

Let's be positive: we use the banking crisis to bring runaway monetarism under control whilst technicians work out an ecologically sustainable global expenditure, average this out over the world's population (allowing for differences in climate etc). There must be rewards for enterprise and hard work - say five times the average for one in a fifty and ten times the average for one in a thousand. Then we all set to to make it work. Okay, okay, give me time and I'll find a million objections; but anyone got a better route to sanity? We could at least try.
John Grove, Helmsley UK

Unfortunately the humanity is intelligent, but the singles are practical, we want money, food and other tools immediately, after we would think for the environment. Now for the politicians to obtain the consensus by the singles is more important than to obtain the best quality of life for the humanity.
luca nencioni, Prato Italy

This is another scaremongering article from someone who has clearly not bothered to read his own article let alone made any real world observations or studied the science. Real world (not computer modeled) Temperatures have fallen over the past decade according to all climate monitoring agencies and most climate scientist now agree this cooling trend will continue for several decades. Sea levels have remained stable if not fallen over the past decade (Visit e.g. Tuvalu yourself or many other low lying islands"under threat") Computer Models don't predict the recent global cooling trend, or the cooling trend in e.g Anatartica over the past 20+ years. Or that the total world wide polar ice is back to roughly 19080 levels. And finally, I presume the write does not blame human activity for the fast rises that he says occurred in the past? How much industry was present during the Medieval Warm Period, when temperatures were higher than today. Climate change has and always will occur whether its a human induced "ecological debt" or not. See the evidence yourself. Make a judgement on facts not hype. Then plan on that basis. Simple really!
Dave S, Munich

Unfortunately it is human and politician nature to concentrate on front-of-the-mind and vote-catching issues, leaving deeper and more important (and less populist) issues until they are too late. A truly important task for all of us now is to convert the scientific reality into a popular movement that will increase a government's appeal if it adopts the right policies. Certainly one or two inspiring solutions for managing the global greenhouse exist (for the next very few years only!) which are compatible with reasonable economic development. The 'climate camp' movement is imaginative and has the potential to play a large part in developing such a popular movement. It is tragic that recent history shows that the forces of law (the government) and of order (the police) are apparently viewing climate camps as a terrorist movement which must be crushed, rather than as something which can help them develop and sell environmentally-necessary policies.
Gwyn Redgers, London

"he sooner humans disappear off the face of the earth, the sooner earth can start to repair the mess we have left behind.........we had our chance. Joanna, Victoria BC, Canada " WELL SAID! Humans are so ugly and destructive - this planet would be far better off without us! WE are using up far too many resources.
D McLaughlin, Glasgow

Strange how almost everyone personally understand problem, but all "democratic" governments ignore problem. "Democratic" means government of people or government of banks and corporations?
Vytas, Vilnius

Humanity cannot repay its ecological debt. The CO2 in the atmosphere is there to stay for the next thousand years. That has now been established. So what is the point? We as a species may just as well continue on and take whatever is coming to us: ice caps melting, sea level rising, soils eroding, and local populations growing through births and migration. The latter point is the most important because that's what consumption based economies feed upon. The underlying problem is far more fundamental than what Andrew Simms is arguing here. In fact it turns out to be a stigma rather than a problem. Ideally we stopped having progeny and allowed the planet to revert back to the plants and the animals. We are simply not worthy. It's a thought I have now entertained for some time.
Raymond Sammut, Canberra, Australia.

I had hoped that the financial crisis would be the shock that the world's politicians needed to change our economies to have a more sustainable basis. Such a change was never going to happen when things were going well but if this opportunity is missed well...., to be honest for the first time I am genuinely worried about the environment my children will inherit.
Andrew Ward, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

It seems to me that once economic development gets underway, those who are rising and benefiting from such economic growth turns a blind eye toward the impact on the environment. I feel it strongly back at home where people keep on cutting down trees without thinking of the consequences. Once I asked them why they would want to do that, the villagers shrugged and said scornfully, 'why not? It helps you get rich'. I guess that if this continues, people will be so poor one day that they'll only have money which by then will be no good.
Tony, Shanghai

The first thought that struck me ,was "good heavens"whats going to happen to our planet.I wonder what we in a third world country can do to make a worthwhile change.Is there a way to get this across to individuals that matter !
Usha Gunawardhana, Colombo,Sri Lanka.

The world is already showing the changes now. Here in New Zealand we could see not so long ago, massive icebergs floating around in our waters. Humanity will be wiped out and the world will collapse under the heap of rubbish we have left behind. We should tell our leaders to do something about it now. Stop chopping trees, stop producing plastics, etc. Creating environmental friendly cars and power should be our most urgent tasks. May be we can save ourselves from destruction.
Frans Bossink, Hamilton New Zealand

Andrew is entirely correct. The problem is that most people dont seem to care, or at least cant be bothered to change their life for a better environment, people seem happy with an easy but unfulfilling existence, watching TV and doing a mundane job that serves little practical purpose. The leading world economies need to set an example and concentrate on the important issues. Government and society seem to think that the only measure of success is though monetary wealth. "Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you realise that money cannot be eaten"
Tom Henshaw, Cambridge

How can one not agree with Simms? If only men and women of 'imagination' were directing the bailout then these billions and trillions of global currency could be used to fund the development of alternative energy sources and new technologies to deal with our changing climate. We could have a world fully employed engaged in saving the planet
Crisitna Scott,

I totally agree. The evidence is overwhelming. Sadly most people apparently aren't interested or don't "believe" in climate change. Governments won't have a mandate for serious action until a majority of their citizens demand it and it's hard to imagine that happening until peopls have tangible evidence of climate change in their everyday lives. Of course by then it will be way too late.
Paul Mason, Napier NZ

This is hardly a discussion. There is only a "do you agree?" question, an no "do you not agree?" question. BBC, you are hardly being even-handed, which the media is supposed to be although hasn't been for several decades now; media has gone from neutral to secularly liberal minded, seemingly irretrievably. What a shame, what a loss. What we need to DO about the "environmental crisis", as the human species, is repent of our sins of pride. Environmental hubris is worse than the societal hubris of the Greeks or the political arrogance of the Romans. Those empires fell; ours will also, unless we repent of our pride - the pride that says we are in charge of nature instead of God. We need to return to righteous living according to the commandments of God. He is in charge, and if we would but admit it and give Him the glory, things would be well with the world. We should listen to His living prophet on earth today, Thomas S. Monson, and live according to the principles and precepts of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It is really very simple -- repentance is quite restful, humility is relaxing, and belief on our Savior Jesus Christ is joyous. Are there things "going wrong" with the ecological cycles of the planet? You bet. Would we still have to clean up our environmental act? Of course. But if we did that in a repentant state, we would have help from our Father in heaven, who loves us, and wants us to be able to take joy in His creation. Do this today. Repent. Recognize that He is in charge, and that it is His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, working in accordance with the physical laws of the universe and with the choices that we (man) make, individually, using our free agency. Our Savior stands at the door and knocks, but it is we who have to let Him in, through repentance.
Meredith Lane, Reston, Virginia, USA

Totally agree. If the Dinosaurs were doomed so are Humans. It is beyond our control.
Dr. W. Peter Harper, Canberra ACT, Australia

I agree with Andrew Simms. The ecological debt is growing exponentially and all we think about is growing the economy - which coincidentally creates more ecological debt the way we currently do things. It is more than a failure of imagination - it is a total abdication of responsibility and an indication of our stunning moral decline. Shocking really.
H. Johannesen, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

This is one of the most insightful articles pertaining to global warming I have ever had the pleasure of reading. There is no question that in the next 50 years or sooner, the world will undergo massive and (arguably) unprecedented changes. Finances will be the least of our worries. I am troubled thinking of the steps that must be taken globally, and how little has really been done.
Daniel, London, Ontario, Canada

im sick of the climate change sceptics blocking us from takeing the necessary actions to help lesson the effectes of this disaster. Changes need to happen now for ourselfs and future generations.
Kal, doomadgee australia

I agree completely. The focus is in the wrong place. Typical of humans to be watching their bank accounts instead of the real issue at hand! Its actually quite sad, because it will lead to our demise! :(
hdca09, Corner Brook NL CANADA

Aren't we inflating our own importance? Other species were dominant and now extinct. Climate change is a natural process and we are part of nature. There is no guarantee or neccessity that the human race survives.
Adam R Fleder, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Absolutely! Capitalism has brought the world to the brink of disaster for humanity. Humanity will be the ultimate loser. Nature will get rid of us. It is interesting that it hasn't taken that long. Just look at how recent the technology that has destroyed the planet came into being.

I think there should be an equal addressing of the bank crisis and the environment, because at this rate if the former isn't fixed, millions will probably end up living in the latter.
Steve Greenhouse, Taunton, UK

We are standing at the edge of a huge void, where the only hope for humanity is to 'force' change, asking nicely doesnot work. None of us is going to give our comfortable lifestyle unless we are forced to do so. Make it law and this might start to change.

Unfortunately, no one in a position of power will do this, it is not popular with the masses. It could also result in civil revolt. Humanity as a whole just does not get it and is not willing to change. Most of the worlds population is very comfortable and have not been impacted, yet, so hey, they just keep on keeping on. I have very little hope for our future. And you know, the sooner humans disappear off the face of the earth, the sooner earth can start to repair the mess we have left behind.........we had our chance.
Joanna, Victoria BC, Canada

Generally I agree with Andrew. Urgent action needs to be taken now to avert environmental /climate change meltdown. It may be too late if we do next to nothing until it hits us.
lakshman abeynaike, Auckland. New Zealand

The threat posed by environmental collapse is more likely than nuclear war to destroy life as we, animals,plants and humans , know it. The changes are happening fast and the "inconvenient truth" is still being argued. Why is it so much easier to go to war or bailout businesses than to save our planet?
Dan Marrinson, manzanillo Mexico

I agree 100%. The way the environment issue has once again seemingly been sidelined in favour of bailing out banks is outrageously irresponsible. Both are important for us, but our actual environment is crucial to human life in the long term - our energies and investments should be going towards solving that. That and the use of oil, which will soon dwindle; we need to take more forceful measures now, such as banning car racing like Formula 1, which is a fundamentally insane way of depleting natural resources crucial to our way of life. So; more sanity, less insanity, is needed, and quickly.
jon waring, Tokyo, Japan

Please focus your attention more on the global environmental crisis and less on the financial crisis. What are we trying to save ourselves from if we have no place to exist?
Erin Banner, Pembroke, MA

The response to the current recession, unfortunately, is evidence of a rule of thumb in Washington (and probably in most governments): "Don't do anything unless it's a crisis." There were plenty of warnings about the bubble which set the financial sector reeling, long before it finally burst. They were ignored until it was a crisis. In comparison, one could argue that response to global warming may still be ahead of the curve, as it isn't a full-blown crisis, yet. We haven't seen much real action yet, either, of course. Ultimately, I suspect that our governments aren't going to provide much more leadership on this issue than on any other. If we want them to quit stalling and actually go to work, something on the order of the American reaction to AIG bonuses is necessary. That put fear into the hearts of our congress in a way that no amount of charts of graphs ever will. To everyone who takes time to write a comment about this article (and wants something done to stop climate change), when was the last time you wrote your MP, congressperson, etc.? (I did yesterday.)
Matt K, Lakewood, Ohio, U.S.A.

It is clear to me! that without a climate in which we are use to live in, it does not matter how rich a country is. We are told in school, when we are kids, to share, to be good with each others, to help, to keep clean our class rooms, to do not fight against each others etc... and what the adults are doing, exactly the opposite. The governments tell us to be greedy, to fight for our ways of life without considering the others, to spend money to have things without thinking in the consequences etc... I am completely agree with Andrew Simms. The crisis can be changed with time and efforts from the human race. The climate cannot! are we the biggest viruses on nature? Just because a bunch of politicians think they are doing the best for the rest of us, it does not give the power to decide the faith of human race. On top of that... we are facing a bigger problem with the so called 2012 period that will end in 2016, where the magnetism of earth will change. If there is anybody interested in changing thing, I will participate.
Aljamal, london

The situation is a bit worse than your piece says. The laws of physics do not do remission for good behaviour and the UK's ostensibly laudable work in trying to prevent global weather change is a pretty useless effort which does however divert money from the more urgent task of defending ourselves against the expected adverse effects. Even if the entire world acted today to remove greenhouse gas outputs we can probably not reverse climate change but we can prepare for it yet I see no one in the current government doing that or even saying it. Good planning requires hoping for the best whilst preparing for the worst yet the UK seems only to be hoping and preparing for the best which is a recipe for utter disaster.
paul j. weighell, purley, uk

Perhaps this author would like a great depression which would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases and save the planet. Get real! IPCC is a bunch of scientists whose interest is in being bigger Cassandras than each other. While there would be some climate change, the key is to adapt not trying to stick a finger in the dyke and hold back the inevitable changes.
Rubin Naidu, Toronto, Canada

We know the peer reviewed science, we see the results of climate change on our TV screens and on the web every day. Politics is about the short term. Human civilisation is not equiped to deal with the really big issues. If it was we would not be in this situation now.Who was it said the insects will inherit the Earth? Pity the poor bees. Perhaps the roaches will survive.
valerie healy, marlborough,wiltshire

The communique notes on the environment were kept so brief on the insistence of China and other developing countries, who don't want to undermine their negotiating position for Copenhagen. They want developed countries most in carbon debt to pay for greening their industries, so they don't want to imply they would do so otherwise.
Jim, London

I do find it amazing that intelligent people (and for the sake of argument I will assume that the politicians that govern our country do have some intelligence) cannot extrapolate from the findings of climate scientists and realise that the current economic 'crisis' is but a fart against the impending thunder of the cost of runaway global warming. Despite the Stern report giving monetary values to the ecological crisis, which has been underway for the last ten to twenty years, that are orders of magnitude greater than the current economic crisis, brought on by the countless small unthinking acts of millions of erstwhile property owners and 'take a risk' bankers, our politicians seem to have completely missed the golden opportunity to push the green agenda to the fore by investing the necessary truckloads of future borrowing into the research needed to take the many sustainable energy capture methods into mass production. I weep in despair at the thought of our children castigating our generation for the wanton detruction of their planet, for we indeed do not inherit the planet from our forefathers, we simply borrow it from our children. What we do now is to steal from our children the resources they require to grow and to prosper. Not one of us would do this directly to our own children, yet we are all prepared through our profligate living to do this by proxy and believe, like the politicians that it is someone elses problem. I stopped flying 10 years ago, I ride my bike to work 95% of the time. I recycle 75% of my waste. I hope that these actions along with those of many other thinking individuals will perhaps achieve what government and institutions are incapable of - the necessary reduction of release of more carbon into the atmosphere. I have also crossed my fingers!
Bill Stobie, Edinburgh, Scotland

Yawn, more hyped rhetoric from people who seem to think that pollution is OK as long as you pay for it. Perhaps if they spouted less hot air we wouldn't have a warming problem.
John B, UK

This kind of statement - hinting that the world, or at least your part of it - may suffer a warming of 16C over a single year - is so far beyond ridiculous as to be comical. No longer is it getting the warmists a bad name; they have that already. It amounts to pure self-parody, and really, Simms is not doing himself or the cause which he espouses any favours.
Thomas Goodey, Cuxton-upon-Medway

Yes. What this man has said I feel is completely true. Frankly from the way I see it, this nonsense about save the economy over the planet makes me rather ill to my stomach. Global warming poses a larger threat than anything ever encountered in the time that life has ever existed on this planet. The tardy response of our governments to tackle this offends me, Our Governments are not doing their jobs we sent them out to do, to serve the people, to protect them, and to provide a chance to live. Not reacting to this issue goes against all of those. We bail out the banks in a heart beat but saving the environment? nah it can wait..... How ignorant. I can see a time of great suffering ahead. What was mere cobwebs holding us back from solving this is starting to look more like iron chains.
Colin Hubble, Almonte, Canada

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