24 October 2019

Global Risks

Global Risks

For our purposes when we talk about global risks we are concerned with human caused risks. And although we are not concerned with massive meteorites crashing into the Earth it is not always clear what are human made risks and natural risks. For example, human made risks might be unhealthy food production but susceptibly to viral infections or diseases such as diabetes might be regarded as natural risks by some. But we all know that in some cases one is a necessary condition in the causal chain of the other.

Hence, one problem for us is to distinguish between human made risks and natural risks. When we discuss human made risks we have to be clear between the effects of human activity and the underlying causes of these effects. A prime example of this possible confusion is the present scourge of plastics pollution. Politicians, probably taking their cue from commercial interests, blame consumers for not preparing their plastic wastage for recycling, rampant consumerism and wastage, over packaging, and maybe they accuse their political opponents of not doing enough to protect the environment.

On their website* the British Plastics Federation report that “…only 4% of the world’s fossil resources are used in plastics production.” One would have thought that plastics would, therefore, be a manageable and reasonably priced exercise to control and prevent from entering into the environment eco system. We now know that fish stocks not have mercury in their system but plastic too. With this example I want to show that the effects are not just simple face value causes, or one-to-one cause effect events. Global risks might not have a single cause for a specific risk.

The answer to this plastic question, for example, it cannot just be controlling plastic production, nor discovering alternatives, although these might help, but rather: why aren’t there effective plastic waste collection programmes worldwide? No doubt such programmes would have fixed costs to run and these fixed costs might be too expensive or unavailable to some countries. By fixed costs I do not only mean in money terms, but also in skills and expertise, economies of scale, and coordination of these programmes worldwide.

One of the main issues of the recycling mentality is whether recycling causes more harm than the problems they are meant to solve. A number of factors include: the location of the waste and the distance of recycling facilities; the quantities to be recycled, and the funds and personnel to carry out such recycling; an then there is the initial investment and training. More academically, we need to investigate economies of scale and the principle costs to convert physical matter from one form to another.

In reality, the plastic recycling problem, to give one example, is the effect of other casual factors. Mainly, lack of resources to recycle and more commercially attractive to produce and use plastics than to manage the waste.

Remember this number: 1,000,000,000,000.
Now remember this number: 1,000,000,000

The first number is a financial trillion and an import number** that is very relevant for global risks within the context of the European Union. And the second number is a financial billion.

The EU Commission estimates that about one trillion Euros are lost due to tax evasion and tax avoidance every year within the EU. As a comparison in 2013 the estimated health care expenditure*** in Germany was about €369,388,754,377 ($411.5 billion). The one trillion Euros lost in taxes in the EU is the equivalent of 2.7 the German cost of their health care system and that’s a lot of plastics bottles that can be recycled. By the way, I use Germany as an example because it is the largest EU country with an 80 million plus population.

So two of the key human made global risks are lack of resources for local authorities to organise and monitor collective services such as pollution control, health care and other necessary services for human living. Services, I must add, are best provided by seeking economies of scale and the global distribution of knowledge gained from such services. And the other factor is the disregard to good practices in provideing goods and services, human rights violations, unaccountability and lack of transparency especially on matters financial. What my example from the EU means is that everyone who pays taxes within the EU is subsiding those who do not pay taxes (mainly companies) to the approximately value of €1trillion. So such issues, at least within the EU, as climate change, plastic pollution, environment protection, and animal husbandry are the direct cause of lack of funds and resources by local authorities to create programmes to control these risks.

From a philosophical perspective, mainly political philosophy and philosophy of economics, what matters is whether the present economic model of creating wealth, managing wealth, and sharing wealth is best for a human population that is more and more concentrated in cities and large urban sprawls.

The overpopulation problem that Malthus tried to identify has mainly been solved by technology, more effective production methods, and better life style has kept this problem under control. Indeed, such countries as Japan, Germany, Spain and Italy have negative population growth: they need to attract people from other countries to maintain the productivity that can keep today’s living standards: that’s just to remain where we are.

As a consequence of inequitable wealth distribution this creates risk in access to education, health care and human/labour rights. Don’t forget when Marx was writing about the struggles of the labour force a large proportion of European wealth was creating by the exploitation and plunder of resources of countries outside Europe. And domestically created wealth did not have to account for labour rights, health and safety, quality control, and standards of production and manufacturing.  Sure, exploitation and plunder still goes on today, but the profits from these activities have to be hidden and laundered to give them the impression of transparent providence.

The causes of human global risks require us to take these human created risks from a global perspective, there is no point of us cleaning our coasts from plastic debris if our neighbours do not. But this is very difficult to achieve because we are well and truly attached to the 18th and 19th century model of the state and countries. What matters is our country: we might have a global super digital highway but we certainly don’t have a global mind set. Furthermore, equitable wealth distribution is very difficult because we still do not have a valid argument, never mind a good answer to the question: why should someone who control large portions of wealth share it with others?

Best Lawrence

*Oil Consumption
British Plastics Federation

**A huge problem
Taxation and Customs Union - European Commission

***2015 health care outlook Germany
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

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