Green Planet Monitor Podcast


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GPM # 18

It’s neither a drunkard’s dream nor a woolly Socialist notion: a universal basic income, guaranteed for a nation’s citizens – perhaps residents too – in return for … nothing. Just to get by.

No far-fetched idea, the Universal Basic Income (UBI) concept is endorsed by the World Bank.

The universal basic income concept “holds an attractive promise of change across many lines,” the World Bank stated in a 2020 report. “These include coverage potential, fairness in social contracts, power relations in labor markets, and gender equity.”

Just two countries have implemented UBI systems, for limited periods – the Islamic Republic of Iran and Mongolia.

Among the longest standing and most successful guaranteed income systems — the Alaska Permanent Fund.

In the UK, a group of social entrepreneurs are preparing to launch their own locally-led pilot study to see how UBI systems play out on the ground, in people’s lives. It will be a community-driven project. Two communities have been selected to participate: the Grange area of East Finchley, in north London, and the South Tyneside town of Jarrow.

Jarrow residents have good reason to be interested in the Universal Basic Income pilot project. In October 1936, two hundred men marched from Jarrow to London to protest unemployment.

Cleo Goodman leads the UBI pilot project, currently in the scoping, community-consultation and fundraising stage. Goodman co-founded the Basic Income Conversation project in 2019, based at a think tank called Autonomy, that specializes in the future of work.

I reached Cleo Goodman in Edinburgh. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the podcast link above, or go here.

Jarrow “Crusaders” set off for London in October 1936 to protest unemployment.

The Biden Administration has just announced it plans to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces seem to be bogged down in their struggle against the Russians. As both sides slaughter each other, Washington reckons cluster bombs have something positive to contribute in its proxy war with Russia.

Russia has also reportedly used cluster munitions in its invasion of Ukraine.

Human rights groups have condemned the idea of sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. Several EU/NATO member states have voiced concern.

Cluster munitions release scores of little bomblets that fly through the air and bounce around, slicing and dicing human flesh. Many of them don’t explode, littering the landscape with munitions that continue to kill for years, especially kids.

As Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War Two drags on, thoughts turn to the First World War – the one that was supposed to end all wars.

On August 4, 1914 – 109 years ago — Germany invaded little Belgium. Three weeks later, in an orgy of destruction, German troops laid seven Belgian towns to waste. The “Martyr Cities,” they came to be called. Leuven (Louvain, in French) was one of them.

Of all the acts committed by German troops in Leuven in August 1914, none sparked more international outrage than the destruction of Leuven university library, a treasure trove of European literature and art, torched by the Germans on the night of August 25, 1914.

Here’s a story I produced on the hundredth anniversary of that dreadful event – an event elderly residents of Leuven remember. Click on the podcast link above, or go here.

Mark Deretz, Leuven University archivist, beside carbonized remains of old library. (David Kattenburg)

It’s something human beings take for granted: the World is a very human place — covered by concrete and tall buildings; cars racing this way and that; food from all corners of the planet.

Some green space — for us humans.

Earth’s human age has a name – the Anthropocene. Dutch chemist Paul Crützen coined it, twenty years ago. The Anthropocene, Crützen said, should be declared a new ‘Epoch’ in Earth history, terminating the one we’ve been in for the past 12,000 years, the Holocene.

Some time this summer, a panel of scientists — the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) — will move Crützen’s idea up a notch, with a proposal of their own on how Earth’s human age should be defined – geologically.

[Editor’s note: This happened on Tuesday, July 11. Read about it here].

Paul Crützen’s original idea was that the Anthropocene began with the 18th century Industrial Revolution. In 2019 — a decade of research under its belt — the AWG decided it actually began around 1950, at the start of the “Great Acceleration’, when the scale, scope and pace of humanity’s impact on Planet Earth started to skyrocket.

American environmental historian John McNeill, a colleague of Crutzen’s, had come up with the term in 2005, inspired by a 1944 work by Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time.

McNeill’s idea would be corroborated by a set of ‘Great Acceleration curves’, or graphs, published in 2007 by Crützen, McNeill and Australian Earth system scientist Will Steffen.

There are two sets of Great Acceleration curves– one for human drivers of planetary change: population, GDP, energy use and so on. The second set charts Earth system responses to these drivers, such as rising CO2 concentrations, mean global temperature; ocean acidification and tropical forest loss. Each graph showed sudden, steep increases in the mid-20th century.

John McNeill is a professor of environmental history at Georgetown University. Among his writings, a book called Something Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World.

The GPM reached John McNeill at Georgetown University. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the podcast link above, or go here.

Music themes in this podcast by Dan Weisenberger.