It’s not rocket science


The Observer, 5 August 2018:

Global warming is not that complex and many of the solutions are readily available (“Our scorched Earth needs voters to put more heat on their politicians”, Andrew Rawnsley, Comment). The problem is scientifically illiterate politicians who assume that decisions can be postponed indefinitely.

They are now engaged in a deadly folie à deux with car manufacturers or energy company executives who argue that they cannot make the necessary investments in green technology without the right signals from government, while politicians argue that matters can be left to the free market, a position that is formulated after intensive lobbying by those same companies.

The media are guilty of the same self-defeating logic. Little attention is devoted to air pollution or climate change on the grounds that the public appears uninterested in environmental issues.

Journalists should recall that the Greens achieved 15% of the vote in the EU elections of 1989 when ozone depletion hit the headlines. The dangers from climate change are immeasurably worse and it is time the media got their act together.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks


Climate change survival and energy policy


The Times, 30 July 2018:

Sir, Your leading article (July 28) proposes that technological ingenuity is the best approach to tackling climate change, so why are we not maximising the technologies that are already available?

Why is the government supporting new forms of fossil fuel extraction in the form of fracking, rather than promoting onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of energy available? Why has the government ditched plans for zero-carbon buildings and abandoned its competition to boost research into carbon capture? And why, last month, did it axe the tidal power project in Swansea and cancel the feed-in tariff review for solar power?
Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Chairman, Help Rescue the Planet

Our wildlife can be saved – but only with political will


The Guardian, 28 March 2018:

Michael McCarthy is absolutely right to underline how little attention has been paid to the catastrophic loss of insect populations and farmland birds over the past 50 years, but this is part of a general trend that is accelerating.

The three main factors driving species loss are climate change, loss of habitat, and the introduction of alien species into vulnerable populations. The rate of loss for all species is currently 1,000 times higher than normal, with half of all amphibians, a third of all corals, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all plant species and a sixth of birds under threat of extinction.

Of course Homo sapiens is just another species that will disappear along with all the rest. If we lack the intelligence or the motivation to stop this process, we probably don’t deserve the description of sapiens.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue The Planet

We can now measure carbon flux from space


Financial Times, 23 February 2018:

Sir, George Whitesides (Letters February 21) states that the “Blue
Marble” image of Earth, taken from space in 1972, gave rise to the
modern environmental movement. This overlooks the campaign by
Stewart Brand in 1966 to force Nasa to release a rumoured colour photo
of Earth. The image was subsequently used on the covers of Brand’s
seminal Whole Earth Catalog that offered tools for ecological living and
was published from 1969 to 1972. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
were founded in 1971. The great value of space access is that it is now
possible, using hyperspectral technology, to measure from space the
carbon flux on areas of Earth. This will make global carbon pricing and
trading viable as it brings scientific integrity to carbon sequestration
claims. Carbon markets have failed previously due to political
intervention and inaccurate measurement. Soil and forests, as carbon
sinks, are our main hope for reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.
Satellites can help.

Craig Sams
Hastings, E Sussex, UK


Our presence in space is helping us manage climate change


Financial Times, 21 February 2018:

Robin Russell-Jones (Letters, February 16) is right to assert that solving
climate change will involve a variety of Earth-bound commitments. He is
wrong though to dismiss the improvement of access to space by private
companies as pointless and harmful. The relevance of space-based
technologies to climate change mitigation has been self-evident since the
“Blue Marble” image of Earth, taken in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17,
helped give rise to the modern environmental movement. Since then our
knowledge and understanding of the causes and effects of climate change
on the planet, as well as how to better manage the consequences for its
inhabitants, have been immeasurably improved because of our presence
in space. The new commercial space companies such as Virgin Galactic
aim to bring space transportation into the 21st century with reusable
space craft, cutting the cost and environmental impact of launch and so
permitting innovative space-based solutions to a host of Earth-based
challenges — including that of climate change.

George Whitesides
Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic

Planetary techno-fixes will not solve all our problems


Financial Times, 15 February 2018:

Elon Musk’s ambition to populate the world with electric vehicles
running on solar-powered batteries is a vision we can admire, but
pretending that Mars provides some insurance policy against fouling up
our planet is delusional (Opinion, Feb 10). Richard Branson is another
entrepreneur whose obsession with space travel is combined with concern
about climate change; but not every problem is amenable to planetary

The solution to climate change is closer to home and requires a huge
investment in renewables and energy conservation, combined with a
carbon tax that reflects the damage that fossil fuels impose on human
health and our environment. Virgin Galactic or building colonies on Mars
are vainglorious projects with little purpose and a huge carbon footprint.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Stoke Poges,

The epic of Gilgamesh and the plunder of nature


Richard Galustian in Gulf News, 18 December 2017:

In August, America withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, signed two years ago this month. Their reasoning was that President Donald Trump thought it was ‘a bad deal for America.’

The objective of about 200 countries that accepted the agreement was to prevent global temperatures during the 21st century from rising more than 3.6 degrees F (2.0 degrees C) above early 20th century temperatures with the hope of even a lower figure to 1.5 degrees C. For the survival of the planet, it is necessary to decrease, even halt the greenhouse emissions caused by burning of fossil fuels.

To achieve this, wealthy Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)countries agreed to provide $100 billion(Dh367 billion) a year by 2020, so that third world countries can be more climate friendly for the good of the world.

Recent global environmental issues are rising to the top of the political agenda with levels of air pollution levels at an all-time high not least are the cause of horrendous widespread fires across California, and the accelerating contamination of our all our oceans and the marine food chain by plastic. Fortunately there is a growing ground swell of global public and political awareness of environmental issues.

Carbon dioxide does not only causes global warming, it also dissolves in the oceans to form carbonic acid which inhibits the ability of organisms to produce shells or to form coral. Coral reefs are immensely complex and fragile ecosystems that are now under attack on two fronts: increasing acidity is dissolving their structure, and higher temperatures cause bleaching.

Mass extinction events have occurred on five previous occasions in the history of our planet and all but one was accompanied by the complete disappearance of coral reefs.

We are witnessing the same process happening again in this century. I spoke to one of the UK’s foremost environmental activists, Dr Robin Russell-Jones who was formerly Chair of CLEAR, the Campaign for Lead Free Air, and who has been campaigning on environmental issues for the past 40 years.

He has recently published a fascinating book called The Gilgamesh Gene which analyses the mind-set of rulers throughout the ages and their attitude to the environment. The book provides a very interesting historical background into origins of humanity’s reckless approach to the environment; so Trump doesn’t stand alone in his ignorance.

“I conceived and drafted most of the book before Trump was elected president” Dr Russell-Jones says, “but his approach to the environment is emblematic of rulers throughout history who have viewed the natural environment as something to be plundered for their own benefit and glorification. Rather than being protected for the common good, it is seen as a capital resource that is there to be conquered and exploited, and it’s only value is perceived as its market price, or the amount of oil and gas it contains.”

To understand how much this approach is hard wired into the DNA of western politicians, and increasingly most world leaders, Dr Russell-Jones analyses the oldest story in recorded history, The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The central theme of the epic is ecological. Gilgamesh ruled the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk in 2750 BC. During the previous millennium, Uruk had used up most of its local resources and had initiated a process of expansion which involved trading with neighbouring states for items such as lapis lazuli and cedarwood. Within the cedar forest lurked Humbaba, a monstrous creature ordained to guard the cedar trees against loggers. Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu set off to kill Humbaba. Gilgamesh decapitates him, and our heroes then cut down the forest and float down the Euphrates on a raft of cedar logs with the head of Humbaba as proof of their victory. So Gilgamesh is not only the world’s first logger, he is also one of the world’s first trophy hunters; but his vainglorious endeavour comes at a price. Enkidu is cursed by Humbaba before he dies, and soon after their triumphant return, Enkidu sickens and dies.

Gilgamesh then sets off on a quest for immortality, and most of the commentaries on ‘the Epic’ concentrate on the futility of such an endeavour. But to Dr Russell-Jones, the more important aspect of this event are the environmental consequences. The only rationale offered by Gilgamesh for his reckless behaviour was to establish his reputation in perpetuity. I will do this so I can “stamp my name on the minds of men forever”. In other words he was an egotistical king with the same childish need for praise and adulation as Trump; though in many ways Trump’s narcissism is even more extreme. The only conclusion one can draw, says Dr Russell-Jones is that celebrity trumps the environment every time and from then on, the natural world came to be seen as something to be exploited, if necessary by force, and even if it entails the sacrifice of our dearest and most important friend, nature.

Nowadays the ancient cedar forests in the Levant have all but disappeared. One wonders what further irreversible damage to the natural world will be wreaked by the current president of the US not to mention his lack of foreign policy strategies that could help destroy the planet before our fragile globe environmentally implodes so to speak.

The hope is the Trump administration will change its mind in 2018 when presented with all the overwhelmingly evidence that the planet is in danger.

Richard Galustian is a business and security analyst who has lived in Libya since 2011

Air pollution tests


The Times, 22 November 2017:

Sir, It is disingenuous to argue against a tax on diesel fuel merely because some of the latest models have lower nitrogen oxide emissions than cheaper petrol-driven vehicles. The main threat to health from the combustion of fossil fuels is small particulates, and historically diesel vehicles have produced far more of these than petrol-driven engines. The purpose of a diesel tax is to limit the use of the most polluting vehicles, but we still need a new Clean Air Act whose aim should be the replacement of all fossil fuel-dependent vehicles with clean methods of transport. Furthermore, this needs to happen well before the government’s proposed starting date of 2040.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Former chairman, Campaign for Lead-Free Air

Turkish environmentalist murders and the legend of Gilgamesh


The Guardian, 18 October 2017:

There have been many attempts throughout history to preserve the cedars of Lebanon, including a decree against logging by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, but Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu are the first to have been murdered since Gilgamesh, a king in ancient Mesopotamia, slew the mythical guardian of the cedar forest, Humbaba, in 2750BC (Murders are a warning, say Turkish activists, 18 October).

It is likely that the Epic of Gilgamesh was written to warn against assaults on the natural world, but ancient cedar forests in Lebanon have nevertheless been decimated, not least by the British military when constructing a railway from Haifa to Tripoli, and Cedrus libani is now classified as a near-threatened species. The best-preserved trees are now found in the Taurus mountains of southern Turkey, and it is for these forests that the couple gave their lives. Turkey no longer has an independent judiciary, and there is a menacing link between nationalistic leaders and disregard for the environment. Trump’s attitude to climate change is just as dangerous as Turkish hitmen who murder environmental activists.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Author, The Gilgamesh Gene


The Gilgamesh Gene by Dr Robin Russell-Jones


What was it that initially separated us from other primates?
What was differe
nt about Homo sapiens 30,000 years ago that predicated our survival and the demise of our closest rivals, the Neanderthals?
Why are we obsessed with the notion that GDP is the only possible measure of progress?
If we are able to predict our own demise, why can we not do anything to stop it?

The Gilgamesh Gene is about the human condition, and in particular what it is in our make-up that has brought us, along with most other species on earth, to the brink of extinction. Ultimately it is a question about human psychology. The author draws on the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to shed light on our predicament and offer a way out.

The epic is the oldest narrative in existence: it tells the story of a vainglorious king, Gilgamesh, who ruled the city of Uruk in Sumer about 2750 BC. He wished to leave a lasting memory of his feats by building great palaces out of cedar wood, killing the mythical guardian of the cedar forests so that he could “stamp his fame on the minds of men forever”. Dr Russell-Jones compares the different versions of the legend and traces their influence through Bronze Age civilisations to traditions that still dominate human thinking and world affairs today.

The Gilgamesh Gene incorporates the key scientific data that underlies the science of global warming, the decline of coral reefs, and the extreme vulnerability of ecosystems everywhere to global changes in the atmosphere and the oceans. His book is a warning that humanity’s demise is imminent, unless precautions are taken.