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‘Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe

It is simply not possible to carry on at the current level of economic activity without destroying the environment

A dead North Atlantic right whale washed up on a beach in New Brunswick, Canada.
‘Combined impacts are laying waste to entire living systems.’ A dead North Atlantic right whale washed up on a beach in New Brunswick, Canada. Photograph: Nathan Klima/Boston Globe/Getty Images

There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible. The categories the human brain creates to make sense of its surroundings are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing-in-itself”. They describe artefacts of our perceptions rather than the world.

Nature recognises no such divisions. As Earth systems are assaulted by everything at once, each source of stress compounds the others.

Take the situation of the North Atlantic right whale, whose population recovered a little when whaling ceased, but is now slumping again: fewer than 95 females of breeding age remain. The immediate reasons for this decline are mostly deaths and injuries caused when whales are hit by ships or tangled in fishing gear. But they’ve become more vulnerable to these impacts because they’ve had to shift along the eastern seaboard of North America into busy waters.

Cutting machines developed for deep-sea mining.
Race to the bottom: the disastrous, blindfolded rush to mine the deep sea
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Their main prey, a small swimming crustacean called Calanus finmarchicus, is moving north at a rate of 8km a year, because the sea is heating

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