threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Natural Climate solutions

Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot have made a video that they would like everybody to share.  It talks about using natural solutions – nature itself – to restore balance in the world.  They urge that funding currently being used to subsidise fossil fuels should instead be used in projects designed to green the planet.  See it here:

 



 


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Rising Up: Action begins for Extinction Rebellion

Many people across the globe recently joined the “Rise for Climate” demonstrations against climate change.  Now, a similar movement in the UK is calling upon people to do more.  They are organising a number of actions of non-violent civil disobedience over the next few months.

https://risingup.org.uk/XR/

Their website states the following reasons, as follows:

“HOPE DIES:ACTION BEGINS

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Our children and our nation face grave risk.

The planet is in ecological crisis, we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced. Scientists believe we may have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown.

The earth’s atmosphere is already over 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. The chance of staying below the 2°C warming agreed upon in the Paris agreement are tiny.

Recent projections show we are on course for 3 degrees of warming and potentially much higher.

Children alive today in the UK will face unimaginable horrors as a result of floods, wildfires, extreme weather, crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society when the pressures are so great.

We are unprepared for the danger our future holds.

The time for denial is over – we know the truth about climate change and we know the truth about current biological annihilation.

It’s time to act like that truth is real.

What does living with this truth call us to do? Will you die knowing you did all you were able to?

REBEL “

Joining the organisation provides details of the events that are being organised, many of them having similarities to the suffragettes campaigns a century ago.

Another statement on the website:

“From the 31 October citizens of this country will commit repeated acts of disruptive, non-violent civil disobedience. There will be mass arrests.

We demand the UK declares a state of emergency, takes action to create a zero carbon economy by 2025, and creates a national assembly of ordinary people to decide what our zero carbon future will look like.

We are willing to make personal sacrifices. We are prepared to be arrested and to go to prison. We will lead by example, to inspire similar actions around the world. This requires a global effort but we believe it must begin in the UK, today, where the industrial revolution began.

We will not be led quietly to annihilation by the elites and politicians. We will fight their genocidal behaviour with honour, resilience, and peace, in the spirit of all those who fought for our freedoms before us. We call on everyone, regardless of your political beliefs to join us in fighting for our nation and life on earth.”



On a similar note, George Monbiot has written an article condoning this approach, published in The Guardian on 17th October 2018 and entitled “Rebelling against Extinction”.  He gives the rationale behind the decision that now is the time for action. Governments have promised much on climate change but have done little, mainly because of vested interests in the fossil fuel industry.  His article can be read in full on his website:

https://www.monbiot.com/

Also on his website is an earlier piece, entitled “Deathly Silence” which starts:

“We’re getting there, aren’t we? We’re making the transition towards an all-electric future. We can now leave fossil fuels in the ground and thwart climate breakdown. Or so you might imagine if you follow the technology news.

So how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100 million barrels per day? How come the oil industry expects demand to climb until the 2030s? How is it that in Germany, whose energy transition (Energiewende) was supposed to be a model for the world, protesters are being beaten up by police as they try to defend the 12,000-year-old Hambacher Forest from an opencast mine extracting lignite: the dirtiest form of coal? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands – the dirtiest source of oil – doubled in the past year?

The answer is growth. There might be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads but there are also more internal combustion engines…….”

https://www.monbiot.com/2018/10/01/deathly-silence/



Action has already begun in Stroud, Gloucestershire, as shown by the newspaper cutting below:

Stroud1a

Stroud2



Extinction Rebellion had a meeting in Parliament Square on 31st October to launch their movement.  There were some significant speakers there:

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP, Former leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, MP and George Monbiot, Guardian Journalist.  His speech can be seen here:


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An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change

An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change.

A number of progressive economists have been pointing out the facts relating to this statement for the last few years.  Yet, political leaders across the world still seem to be deaf to their words and obsessed with a need to find ways to fuel economic growth through a market economy and promoting austerity, and then praise themselves for doing it, even though their austerity measures affect the poorest in society and damage the environment.  It is part of an adherence to a competitive world, in which one’s own country must come out on top.  This blinkered approach encourages the manufacturing industry, much of which uses fossil fuels, and trading across the globe, in order to balance the difference between imports and exports – what is termed ” a balanced economy”.  I deal with the issue in Chapter 7 of my book, which can be found elsewhere on this website.

fioramonti

In the UK, this approach was perhaps pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and her crony in the US, Ronald Reagan.  But it was later picked up with enthusiasm by Tony Blair and developed further, until it became an obsession with economists.  According to George Monbiot, they are using the wrong mathematics and this approach is both outdated and harmful to the environment. See:

George Monbiot (2015) Guardian 24th November 2015.  “Consume more, conserve more: Sorry but we just can’t do both.”

A number of progressive economists have been saying a similar thing for a number of years.  Perhaps the late Richard Douthwaite was the first to say this in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999) but there have been others too:  Molly Scott Cato MEP (“Green Economics”), Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics and also “Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us” Guardian 6th April 2017), Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”), Paul Krugman  (“How did economists get it so wrong?” in the New York Times), Pat Conaty and the New Economics Foundation among others (full details of each in my references section on this website).

The current UK Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also wrote a booklet about this in June 2007, whilst a member of Tony Blair’s “market economy party”.  It is entitled “Another World is Possible” and shows amazing foresight about the consequences of market economy politics, which we are living with now. He was courageous to write this, at a time when Blair was pursuing another path.

AWIP

“Another World is Possible”  (2007) is published by the Labour representation Committee, PO Box 2378, London E5 9QU.  ISBN 978-0-9555771-0-9.

This excellent booklet includes a section entitled “A Planet Plundered for Profit” in which McDonnell states that “we cannot tackle climate change unless we address the system which has caused it…….the wasteful consumption of the wealthier nations has brought environmental impacts, which…. disproportionately affect the poorest countries….The UK has a wealth of natural resources that lend themselves to renewable energy production which, once set up, are low cost to run and cause no pollution… a programme of investment in renewable would not only create thousands of jobs in engineering and manufacturing sectors that have declined in recent years….”

According to Kate Raworth in her Guardian article, “Things are not going well in the world’s richest economies. Most OECD countries are facing their highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, while generating ecological footprints of a size that would require four, five or six planet Earths if every country were to follow suit. These economies have, in essence, become divisive and degenerative by default. Mainstream economic theory long promised that the solution starts with growth – but why does that theory seem so ill-equipped to deal with the social and ecological fallout of its own prescriptions?”

In May 2017, Lorenzo Fioramonti*, Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria, wrote an article for The Conversation, republished in Quartz. He opens: “GDP as a measure of growth fails to account for damages caused to the environment by industrial activity”. In his new book “Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth” he points out that the “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies”.  He asks the question, “What exactly is growth” and further expounds the idea that it is not a silver bullet to success.  Further details of this concept in his book are summarised in:

https://britain2020.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/fioramonti-growth-is-dying-as-the-silver-bullet-for-success-this-may-be-good-thing/

Kate Raworth has also circulated her latest blog, which contains a video, which tries to explain the issue in easily understandable terms, using puppets.  She hopes that this will be used in secondary schools and in teaching economics undergraduates that the GDP/growth model does not work:

Economic Man vs. Humanity: a puppet rap battle

by Kate Raworth

An economist, a songwriter, and a puppet-maker walked into a recording studio. What do you think came out?. . . An economics puppet rap battle, of course.

One of the most dangerous stories at the heart of 20th century economics is the depiction of humanity as rational economic man. In my book Doughnut Economics I decided he needed a portrait so I drew him, standing alone, with money in his hand, ego in his heart, a calculator in his head and nature at his feet. He hates work, he loves luxury and he knows the price of everything.

Now here’s the most fascinating (and unnerving) thing I discovered while researching the history and influence of this character. The more that economics students learn about him – from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3 of their studies – the more they say they value traits such as self-interest and competition over traits such as altruism and collaboration.

The implication? Who we tell ourselves we are shapes who we become.

Over the past year I have been contacted by many economics teachers around the world – especially those in secondary schools – who want to encourage their students to critique this text-book model and offer them a far more nuanced understanding of human behaviour.

So that got me thinking…

I teamed up with the brilliant puppet designer Emma Powell and the ingenious musician Simon Panrucker and, with funding from the Network for Social Change (big thanks, folks!), we created this video – Economic Man vs Humanity: a puppet rap battle.

We’d love to see it in use in classrooms, conferences, reading groups, community groups, and shared widely on social media, on web platforms, on teaching resource sites.

If you are a teacher, please do use it to start a debate in your classroom (the video ends with a question for that very reason). Download the complete lyrics of the rap, and if your students want to dive further into the back story and future possibilities of Rational Economic Man, then I recommend Chapter 3 of Doughnut Economics, which was the basis for the whole project.

If you are a student, please do share the video with your fellow future economists, get your teacher involved, and help kick off a much-needed discussion.

And if you host a web discussion, a new economics resource site, a community network, or a teachers’ forum, you are very welcome to feature the film on your site – we’d love to hear what you do with it.

So sit back and enjoy the Puppet Rap Battle – sing along, pass it on, and let’s say farewell to Rational Economic Man. Today’s students know that it’s time to create a better portrait of who we are for 21st century economics.”

Kate Raworth | 5 September 2018 at 10:14 | URL: https://wp.me/p3sUHn-Bb

 

And yet, despite all of these highly knowledgeable progressive economists writing at length about it, the old way of seeking “growth, growth and more growth” still persists. The present conservative government in the UK has used this maxim extensively over the last 10 years, and even used it as a hammer to batter the opposition with – that they are weak on the economy – a deceitful myth that a gullible public unwittingly believed, when voting at the ballot box – until June 2017, that is.  And the present Chancellor constantly brings statistical data to parliament, in an attempt to show that their economic austerity policies are working.  What he does not say is that they are contributing to climate change, as well as making many marginalised people much worse off.  Indeed, they seem to have abandoned any pretence of working towards attaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.  George Monbiot has slated their 25-year environment plan, as “A Grand Plan to do Nothing”. See: http://www.monbiot.com

This last year, we have seen some of the extreme consequences of climate change:

  • excessive heatwaves this summer;
  • a prolonged unusual freeze-up last winter;
  • last year having the most violent and numerous hurricanes;
  • island nations losing some of their territory due to sea level rise;
  • the last few years, global temperatures being the hottest ever on record.

Some of these issues have been described in more detail in other recent blogs on this website.

Just recently, I have read an article by Alan Cottey, a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility: “Environment change, economy change and reducing conflict at source”, just published in AI & Society, where he sets out alternatives.  Here is an extract from the Abstract:

At a time when fossil fuel burning, nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other retrograde steps are being promoted, the prospects for world peace and environmental systems stability may appear dim. Exactly because of this is it the more important to continue to examine the sources of conflict. A major obstacle to general progress is the currently dominant economic practice and theory, which is here called the economy-as-usual, or economics-as-usual, as appropriate. A special obstacle to constructive change is the language in which economic matters are usually discussed. This language is narrow, conservative, technical and often obscure. The rapid changes in the environment (physical and living) are largely kept in a separate compartment. If, however, the partition is removed, economics-as-usual, with its dependence on growth and its widening inequality, is seen to be unsustainable. Radical economic change, for better or worse, is to be expected. Such change is here called economy change. The change could be for the better if it involved an expansion of the concept of economics itself, along the lines of oikonomia, a modern revival of a classical Greek term for management or household. In such an expanded view, not everything of economic value can be measured. It is argued that economics-as-usual is the source of much strife. Some features are indicated of a less conflictual economy—more just, cooperative and peaceful. These features include a dignified life available to all people as of right, the word ‘wealth’ being reconnected with weal, well and well-being, and ‘work’ being understood as including all useful activity.”

The whole article can be found at:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00146-018-0816-x


I think that many of us have stood on the sidelines of this issue for long enough now.  It is time for the progressive economists I have named above, and those cited in Cottey’s article, to come together, in formulating together a new economic theory, with a clear structure, that takes care of the environment, does not increase the gap between rich and poor, and which reduces conflict and competition between nations.  They have written separately for too long.  Now, we are looking for a new partnership, a new structure – a really new economics, based on compassion and equality, not austerity, which will also work towards reducing the damaging effects of climate change.


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Developing a new, participatory economy by George Monbiot

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 11th October 2017.  It was entitled “Labouratory” and also appears on George Monbiot’s website http://www.monbiot.com.

We are still living in the long 20th Century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine; thermal power plants; factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems; their capture by funders and lobbyists; the failure to temper representation with real participation.

And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis.

Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today. A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5°C of at just 1%, and less than 2° at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. GDP, the index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin.

But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th Century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the Second World War’s military Keynesianism. In 1941, the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

The new approach could start with the idea of private sufficiency and public luxury. There is not enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury: if everyone in London acquired a tennis court, a swimming pool, a garden and a private art collection, the city would cover England. Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public amenities – wonderful parks and playgrounds, public sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, allotments and public transport networks – create more space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

Wherever possible, I believe such assets should be owned and managed by neither state nor market, but by communities, in the form of commons. A commons in its true form is a non-capitalist system, in which a resource is controlled in perpetuity by a community, for the shared and equal benefit of its members. A possible model is the commons transition plan commissioned by the Flemish city of Ghent.

Land value taxation also has transformative potential. It can keep the income currently siphoned out of our pockets in the form of rent – then out of the country and into tax havens – within our hands. It can reduce land values, bringing down house prices. While local and national government should use some of the money to fund public services, the residue can be returned to communities.

Couple this with a community right to buy, enabling communities to use this money to acquire their own land, with local commons trusts that possess powers to assemble building sites, and with a new right for prospective buyers and tenants to plan their own estates, and exciting things begin to happen. This could be a formula for meeting housing need, delivering public luxury and greatly enhancing the sense of community, self-reliance and taking back control. It helps to create what I call the Politics of Belonging.

But it doesn’t stop there. The rents accruing to commons trusts could be used to create a local version of the citizens’ wealth funds (modelled on the sovereign wealth funds in Alaska and Norway) proposed by Angela Cummine and Stewart Lansley. The gain from such funds could be distributed in the form of a local basic income.

And the money the government still invests? To the greatest extent possible, I believe it should be controlled by participatory budgeting. In the Brazilian city of Porto Allegre, the infrastructure budget is allocated by the people: around 50,000 citizens typically participate. The results – better water, sanitation, health, schools and nurseries – have been so spectacular that large numbers of people now lobby the city council to raise their taxes. When you control the budget, you can see the point of public investment.

In countries like the UK, we could not only adopt this model, but extend it beyond the local infrastructure budget to other forms of local and even national spending. The principle of subsidiarity – devolving powers to the smallest political unit that can reasonably discharge them – makes such wider democratic control more feasible.

All this would be framed within a system such as Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics which, instead of seeking to maximise growth, sets a lower bound of wellbeing below which no one should fall, and an upper bound of environmental limits, that economic life should not transgress. A participatory economics could be accompanied by participatory politics, involving radical devolution and a fine-grained democratic control over the decisions affecting our lives – but I will leave that for another column.

Who could lead this global shift? It could be the UK Labour Party. It is actively seeking new ideas. It knows that the bigger the change it offers, the greater the commitment of the volunteers on which its insurgency relies: the Big Organising model that transformed Labour’s fortunes at the last election requires a big political offer. (This is why Ed Miliband’s attempts to create a grassroots uprising failed).

Could Labour be the party that brings the long 20th Century to an end? I believe, despite its Keynesian heritage, it could. Now, more than at any other time in the past few decades, it has a chance to change the world.

www.monbiot.com


November 2019

George Monbiot has been active in supporting the Extinction Rebellion movement, speaking at their various demonstration in London.  This photograph shows him being arrested for his actions in October 2019.

GeorgeMonbiot



 


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Doughnut Economics – a new way of thinking from Kate Raworth

Those of you who have read chapter 7 of my book, or heard my talk at the recent Planet Centred Forum seminar, will know that I believe that a market economy is one of the factors making climate change worse.  I also talk about the obsession with economic growth – growth, growth and more growth – which is being adhered to by politicians in an increasingly panicky way.  It is clear from many experts that the current economic system is based not only on shaky mathematics but is also damaging the planet.

Now, Kate Raworth of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, has come up with an alternative. It is expounded in her book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to think like a 21st-Century Economist (published by Penguin Random House).

Two recent Guardian articles explain the context of her theories, one by Kate herself (The Guardian 6th April 2017) and one by George Monbiot (The Guardian 12th April 2017), who reviews her book.  Raworth redraws the economy, embedding it in the Earth’s systems and in society.  It includes a doughnut-shaped diagram, which explains the concept, which follows the laws of nature, rather than the laws of motion, or physics. Instead of growth at all costs, her economic model allows us to thrive whilst saving the planet.

Kate expounds this theory in more detail, with video clips and diagrams on the following website:

http://evonomics.com/seven-ways-transform-21st-century-economics-economists/

It starts as follows:

No one can deny it: economics matters. Its theories are the mother tongue of public policy, the rationale for multi-billion-dollar investments, and the tools used to tackle global poverty and manage our planetary home. Pity then that its fundamental ideas are centuries out of date yet still dominate decision-making for the future.

Today’s economics students will be among the influential citizens and policymakers shaping human societies in 2050. But the economic mindset that they are being taught is rooted in the textbooks of 1950 which, in turn, are grounded in the theories of 1850. Given the challenges of the 21st century—from climate change and extreme inequalities to recurring financial crises—this is shaping up to be a disaster. We stand little chance of writing a new economic story that is fit for our times if we keep falling back on last-century’s economic storybooks.

When I studied economics at university 25 years ago I believed it would empower me to help tackle humanity’s social and environmental challenges. But like many of today’s disillusioned students its disconnect from relevance and reality left me deeply frustrated. So I walked away from its theories and immersed myself in real-world economic challenges, from the villages of Zanzibar to the headquarters of the United Nations, and on to the campaign frontlines of Oxfam.

In the process I realized the obvious: that you can’t walk away from economics because it frames the world we inhabit, so I decided to walk back towards it and flip it on its head. What if we started economics with humanity’s goals for the 21st century, and then asked what economic mindset would give us half a chance of achieving them?

Spurred on by this question, I pushed aside my old economics textbooks and sought out the best emerging ideas that I could find, drawing on diverse schools of thought including complexity, ecological, feminist, behavioural and institutional economics, and set out to discover what happens when they all dance on the same page. The insights that I drew out imply that the economic future will be fascinating, but wildly unlike the past, so long as we equip ourselves with the mindset needed to take it on. So here are seven ways in which I believe we can all start to think like 21st century economists.

Go to her website to see the seven fully-illustrated steps for how this can be achieved.  She also explains on the following you tube clip:

 

And this TEDx talk to economists:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BHOflzxPjI

 


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The Economy

CHAPTER 7

The economy sometimes seems like a mysterious thing to ordinary people – something that is hard to understand – but there is nothing mysterious about it really.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the state of a country in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money”.  So, in everyday language it is how we, as a country, make use of available money, to ensure that everybody has enough to live on. In a way, it is about balancing the books on a national scale.  It is about money.

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Fig. 59

I have been able to discover five different types of economy. Before the industrial revolution, local communities in the UK lived largely in farming cultures and the economic system was structured around this. But this changed significantly as the industrial revolution gained momentum.  An agrarian economic system has also been called A Traditional Economy, and some countries which did not become industrialised, still use this type of economic system.  Other countries, which followed Britain in becoming industrialised, developed economies based on trading links and, like the UK, developed A Market Economy, which is largely regulated by demand and supply.  For some, a market economy is another way of describing Capitalism. Some countries have a mixture of traditional and market economies, called A Mixed Economy.  Yet other parts of the world have government control of their economies and this has been termed A Command Economy or totalitarianism; this would include countries like North Korea.

A recent article by Pat Conaty describes a Collaborative Economy for the Common Good70.  He suggests that co-operatives and social enterprises are bringing a new dimension to national economies and have been more successful in delivering growth than market economies (in Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Canada etc.). Some call it community economic development whilst others call it a social economy.  From this has developed a Solidarity Economy, which seeks to secure systemic change by organising small business and self-employed networks, bringing them into a collaborative economy movement.  Such an economy is gaining strength across Europe, as it is based on serving the welfare of people and planet.

The relationship between trade and economies

In chapter 4, I discussed trading systems and how market economies first developed. One suggestion mooted there was that each country, instead of getting involved in complex and comprehensive international trading, should seek to be self-sufficient, only importing goods that they cannot produce themselves.  However, I am pragmatic enough to realise that this is not going to happen overnight, as there are too many vested interests in the business world.  So in this chapter, I will be looking at other measures that could be introduced, by modifying a market economy to a different (and new) form of economy, which helps to reduce the escalation of carbon emissions.

An uncontrolled market economy

But first, I want to look at the reality of what happens in an uncontrolled market economy. One way of doing this is to look at the measures introduced in the UK by the Conservative government since 2010, which wholeheartedly supports a market economy.  These measures are set within the context of a belief that encouraging big business is the only means of making a country wealthy.  Thus, the government introduced measures that enhanced the opportunities of the business world to make money: cutting taxes for the richest 4% and for corporations, whilst reducing the amount spent on benefits for the disabled and for the poorest in society.  The measures were introduced in the name of so-called austerity which, the government argued, is necessary for reducing the deficit in the balance of payments.  In practical terms, the outcome of this is that the government is giving away to the richest people in Britain more money than they are saving by reducing benefits for the disabled and the poorest in society. This does not make sense in a civilised society, as it will lead to further divisions and discontent in society, with the poorest becoming ever more militant.

fig60

Fig.60   used by permission

And big business, empowered by the extra money they have been given, use it to continue manufacturing and selling those products which add to emissions of carbon products and other pollutants.  This enhances the rate at which climate change is escalating.  So, in addition to being in the ever-speeding Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum, our present government is encouraging businesses to feed that continuum, so that it runs ever more quickly out of control, producing ever more carbon emissions in the process.

A sensible economy in today’s circumstances needs to reduce carbon emissions, encourage businesses which produce goods and services which reduce carbon emissions and maintain its benefits systems for the poorest and most disadvantaged.

A market economy provides unfettered freedom for businesses to carry out their activities, with little government control and little expectation that they will show responsibility for those less well off than themselves, or any responsibility for restricting climate change.  And the UK is not alone in encouraging this. It happens in most of the industrialised countries of the world, which are in vigorous competition with each other.  Businesses like this freedom of course, to make as much money as they can, but this should not be at the expense of the planet, nor of the poorest in our society.

David Cameron swept to power in the UK in 2010, saying that his would be the “greenest government ever”. Jonathon Porritt, in his article: “The Coalition Government 2010-2015; The Greenest Government Ever: By no stretch of the imagination”61 has demonstrated that, in fact, carbon emissions increased during that term of office (2010-15). This has been reinforced by an article by Michael Le Page in the New Scientist, entitled “Ungreen and not-so-pleasant land”62. Le Page provides statistics that show that the UK is not on track to meet its climate goals (agreed in Kyoto Summit 1997) and that, rather than increasing its efforts to do this, the government has blocked a series of green measures, thus leading the country even further off course.  Perhaps the most contentious is the proposed axing of feed-in-tariffs (FITs), which were available to people investing in solar panels for their domestic electricity needs.  Because of these changes the UK has now slipped from 8th to 11th in the RECAI table73. (Renewable energy country attractiveness, published by www.ey.com).

Rewarding the rich is not the only way of creating wealth for a country.  A recent article by Donald Braben, also in The New Scientist74, stated that it can be demonstrated that innovation is more likely to produce growth than existing market economy methods.  His thesis is based on the history of scientific discoveries which, indeed, started off the industrial revolution in the first place. He has shown that some of the biggest scientific discoveries in our history led to the greatest growth in the economy. If this is true then, rather than funding big business, we should be funding research into new innovatory discoveries, such as carbon-free steel.  I would add a rider to this, that the innovation encouraged in this way should also be about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

People who like to make money, in any part of the world, appear to have a mind-set that it is their right to do so without hindrance.  Many have no conscience about the impact of their money-making on others and have little compassion for those who are the victims of their acquisitiveness, whether they are those in poverty, members of the animal kingdom or, indeed, the whole planet (see also in Chapter 4 – Paul Tudor Jones II).

Table 4:  RECAI List of renewable energy country attractiveness (first 15 countries in the list) as at Sept 2015.  (See: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/RECAI-45-September-15-LR/$FILE/RECAI_45_Sept_15_LR.pdf)

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table4

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Tax evasion (mainly by the rich) is a major source of lost funds for the economy (£5 billion a year), yet it is often the people who need to claim benefits who are castigated for playing the system.  A recent article by James Bloodworth in The Independent75 showed that four times more money is lost to the economy by tax evasion than by benefit fraud, though the difference may be even greater than this if incompetence within the DWP is taken into consideration (www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/its-time-to-bust-some-myths-about-benefit-fraud-and-tax-evasion). He described this as a double standard, with one rule for the rich and another for the poor

fig61

                                                                     Fig.61                                                                                           with permission from David Baldinger

In the last few years in Britain a number of scandals have been uncovered, all related to this same acquisitiveness: MPs claiming expenses they were not eligible for, bankers and chief executives getting bonuses, even when they have failed in the job; companies and individuals avoiding the payment of taxes, by using offshore business accounts – and so on. All of these are linked to the same acquisitiveness that fuels a market economy.  And the general public in this country have had enough of this.  They want to see some honesty – in politicians and in big business – and to see signs of the responsibility referred to above.

A recent scandal has been leaked about the super-rich hiding away their fortunes in tax havens, with details of the names of some of the people who are doing this.  As a result, the Prime Minister of Iceland has had to resign and this may be followed by other resignations.  Yet, we knew 6 years ago, in a study reported by Heather Stewart in the Guardian76, that a staggering 21 trillion dollars has been lost to the global economy through tax revenues, as it has been stashed away in tax havens.

 

fig62

Fig.62

Yet it is encouraging that, recently, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney77, made some warning statements in a dinner speech, that the impact climate change could trigger a new financial crisis and derail the economy, as it currently stands.  He based this analysis on the effects climate change has had in Britain on the insurance industry.  Since the 1980s, the number of weather-related events, such as storms and floods, has tripled and the cost to insurers has increased from £6.5 billion to £33 billion, mainly to cover the cost of damaged property and of disrupted trade. He warned that, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.

What he identified is that much of the current financial investment is in companies which will be affected by climate change, such as energy suppliers, insurance companies, and oil suppliers etc., whose share prices will fall as climate change begins to bite. If these companies then fail, due to the pressures on them, the value of all kinds of investments, such as pensions and savings, could be affected.  In the case of energy companies, if they do not convert to sustainable forms of energy, the pressure to reduce carbon emissions will also make them vulnerable to a reduction in the value of their shares. Oil companies and other polluting industries may be besieged by increasing numbers of claims upon them for compensation. This is already happening for Volkswagen, through their deception about carbon emissions from their diesel cars; and is likely to happen to ExxonMobil, who actively deceived the public about the reality of climate change over many years.  The US coal giant, Peabody Energy, has already filed for bankruptcy.

If a financial crisis does occur and affects pensions, for example, the consequent loss of value (and potential income to pensioners) will come at a time when unprecedented numbers of people in the population reach pensionable age.  The financial future of many thousands of people could thus be bleak.

This winter, there has been another catastrophic flooding event in the north of England, damaging many people’s homes and putting even more pressure on the insurance industry, as well as causing £1.5 billion worth of damage to bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

Also, a recent investigation has shown that, of 20 zones earmarked by the UK government for the building of new homes, five were hit with alerts and warnings during these recent floods and storms.

fig63

                                                                          Fig.63                                                                                                                                       Flooding in Appleby, Cumbria

fig64

                          Fig.64    The destruction of Pooley Bridge, Cumbria by flooding

From: www.bbc.co.uk

There is growing evidence that population growth and, more significantly, economic growth are the most important drivers in the increase in CO₂ emissions. Since 1970, emissions of CO₂ from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed to about 78% of the total GHG emission increase78.

Professor Justin Lewis, in an article to The Independent79 about a growing right-leaning bias in the BBC, argues that there is now a growing body of evidence suggesting that a model of permanent economic growth is of dwindling benefit to wealthy countries such as the UK. He cites research which shows that GDP growth is no longer linked to improvements in health or happiness, is environmentally unsustainable and stretches commodity choice far beyond the time we have available to us as consumers. He concludes that there is a serious debate about whether wealthy consumer economies should still rely on growth to generate prosperity.

Thus, there is an urgent need for the development of a new economic system.  Just as the industrial revolution became the trigger for a change from agrarian economies to a market economy, there needs to be a development of a new economic system that is triggered by climate change.  I do feel that the balance of the economy can be, and should be, adjusted to allow for the crisis that is heading our way.  We can no longer continue to run the economy as if nothing is happening, with businesses maximising their short-term profit, with no heed for the wider damage that their activities are doing.  It is not “Business as Usual”. Those who currently make vast profits from a market economy, and who promote it as the only way forward, need to take stock and change their attitudes and behaviour.  Our planet can no longer sustain the robbing of its resources, and the contamination of its atmosphere, in the name of progress (see chapter 3).

fig65

Fig.65

Richard Douthwaite, in his book entitled “The Growth Illusion: How economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many and endangered the planet6,80, states that economic growth does not have the benefits that many (mainly economists) claim for it. He demonstrates that, if the rate of growth is fast enough, there may be increased business profits and extra jobs but little improvements in the lives of ordinary people.  Douthwaite goes on to say that the benefits for businesses come at the cost of lower wages and reduced job security.  He also comments that achieving growth through the global system exposes each of us personally, and the countries to which we belong, to much higher levels of financial and environmental risk than did the more nation-state-based economies of earlier generations.  A full quotation from Douthwaite is given at the end of this chapter (5).

Both Douthwaite6 and Fletcher81 (in “Free Trade Doesn’t Work”, 2010) are of the opinion that economists have got things badly wrong, most of their theories being based on inappropriate mathematical equations.  This thesis is further developed by Paul Krugman in the New York Times82 in an article entitled, “How did Economists get it so Wrong?”

George Monbiot also addresses the issue of the mathematics being wrong in his article to The Guardian82 and on his website. The article suggests that the calculations have given a false sense of reduction in the use of the earth’s resources because they have failed to include goods purchased from abroad in the equation.  Indeed, if you look at the UK alone, where carbon dioxide emissions apparently fell by 194 million tonnes between 2002 and 2012 (using the wrong calculations), the real figure cancels this out and gives in fact an increase in emissions, related to the commissioning and importing of goods.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF)83 has done much work on alternative, more sustainable, economic systems. They are the UK’s leading think tank on promoting social, economic and environmental justice. Their aim is to transform the economy, so that it works for people and the planet. However, one learns that they have received a large government grant to develop their work.  Let us hope that they remain objective and are not influenced in their thinking by right-wing pressures.

They state on their website that:

A strong national economy needs a flourishing network of local economies. These are shown to give resilience in times of crisis, but are consistently undermined by the sprawl of supermarkets and other chains – the kind of businesses that are most likely to up and leave in times of trouble. We should be ensuring that money stays in local communities rather than leaking out to distant head offices, and encouraging a range of diverse high streets rather than clone towns.”

 On Bankers and Banking, they state:

A dysfunctional financial sector led us to the brink of disaster in 2008, and yet bank reforms aren’t going far enough to tackle the root causes of the economic crisis. Our four big banks remain too big to fail, and continue to engage in the risky and unproductive activities that caused the crash. We need to establish a more stable, sustainable and socially useful banking system.

 Jeremy Corbyn, in an article to The Times84, stated that Britain must empower citizen suppliers and direct private investment into green technology. He believes that our weakened public services will not be able to cope with the consequences of drastic weather events, such as the floods in Cumbria (2015) and Somerset (2013-4). He states that we need carbon budgeting to be the centrepiece of trade and commerce, taking the planet back to sustainable levels of CO₂ emissions.  Environmental politics must include people working in today’s economy and decisions by government must not take us backwards but must instead invest in the huge opportunities that the low-carbon sector offers.

Colin Tudge presented a paper entitled “Economic Renaissance: Holistic Economics for the 21st century”85 to a think tank at the Schumacher college in 2007.  The think tank explored what the key components are of an economic system which would successfully achieve poverty elimination, climate sustainability and human fulfilment.  What kind of economy do we need to protect ecosystems and people’s livelihoods at the same time?

Professor Richard Murphy and Colin Hines wrote a report for discussion at the Paris 2015 Summit86, which provides solutions for how new green measures might be funded.  The suggestion is that some of the funds already allocated for Quantitative Easing to keep the financial system afloat by the European Central Bank (€7 trillion of new money being printed), should be allocated in the form of Climate QE to save the planet – a figure of €10 million a month is suggested.  This could be used in the form of climate change bonds from the European Investment Bank.  These funds could then be directed to climate change programmes in Europe and in developing countries.

fig66

Fig.66  European currency

 

Other economists have suggested a different form of Quantitative Easing87.

Some countries have introduced a carbon tax and, in some cases, this has been successful in lowering carbon emissions88. Sweden has been particularly successful, first introducing a carbon tax in 1991. Their economy has grown by 50% since that time89 and their emissions of greenhouse gases have declined and been decoupled from economic growth. The OECD report89, which looks in detail at a number of pollution factors showed that Sweden has cleaner air than most other countries in the world (OECD Environmental Performance Reviews Sweden 2014).

The experience of Australia has been different90.  They introduced a carbon tax in 2012, whilst led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard under a coalition with the Greens.  This act was extremely unpopular and was repealed two years later by Prime Minister Tony Abbot.  Full details of how they implemented the carbon tax can be found in Wikipedia.  The chart in figure 69 shows the carbon emissions falling during the carbon tax period (2012-14) and then increasing again after it was repealed90.  The decision to repeal the tax has led to Australia slipping from 10th to 13th in the RECAI list (see Table 4).

 fig67

 Fig.67  Carbon emissions in Australia before and after the carbon tax was repealed

A report from Climate News Network91 indicates that Brazil, whose president Dilma Rousseff is at risk of being impeached, will dismantle their environmental protection laws after the impeachment, in defiance of commitments made in the Paris Agreement. It would appear that the leaders in the impeachment process are businessmen who would benefit from these laws being repealed.  Here is yet another female leader, who introduced environmental safeguards, being undermined by big business.  Brazil has just suffered the worst environmental disaster in its history:  the bursting of a dam of toxic mud last year in Minas Gerais state.  All animal and plant life was destroyed by this disaster, which is said to be the worst since Chernobyl.

Fergus Green, a Policy Analyst and Research Advisor to Professor Stern, recently published a paper, which gave evidence that a nation can develop and implement green policies, without damaging the economy92. The paper was issued to encourage discussion on the issues.

Professor Nicholas Stern has written a paper for Nature93 in which he says that current economic models tend to underestimate seriously both the potential impacts of dangerous climate change and the wider benefits of a transition to low-carbon growth. He thinks that there is an urgent need for a new generation of models that give a more accurate picture and suggests that researchers across a range of disciplines (economics, engineering, science) work together to help those developing policy.

Other ideas have been to develop a system whereby the worst polluters have to foot the bill for cleaning up the damage they have wreaked on the planet.

Another group, linked to Feasta, have come up with a suggestion of capping the use of fossil fuels globally by introducing a global taxation system94.  CapGlobalCarbon (CGC) aims to ensure that the aggregate global emissions from fossil fuels steadily decrease to zero. This would be achieved by a progressively tightening cap on fossil fuel extraction.  Revenues from the extraction permits would be used to benefit the lowest consumers of fossil fuels. Such compensation could substantially alleviate poverty and reduce global inequality. By steadily and predictably reducing the global dependence on fossil fuels the process would also hasten a smooth transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Yet, despite all these well-argued documents and postings, in the UK at least, our present Government in the UK is rushing headlong into yet another era of austerity measures, based on the old economics, promoting growth and rewarding big business at the expense of the environment and the poorest in our society.  And part of their strategy in taking this forward is to reduce spending on, and support for, green initiatives, aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

I am not an economist so I don’t feel qualified to come up with a new system; there are others much better qualified than me to do this.  All I have done here is to demonstrate how everything in this world is interconnected: ecosystems, the stratosphere, the industrial revolution and its continuum, population explosion, trading systems, weaponry and war, the rise of big business and bankers and the failed economics which they promote.  This interconnectedness means that, if any one of these goes wrong or out of balance, then this will bring down all the others in a domino effect.  Denial of this effect has only made things worse, with so much more to do to reverse the destruction.

It is interesting that the word economy has a similar root (eco) to the word ecosystem or ecology. I am told that eco comes from the Greek oikos, meaning ‘house’ or ‘household’.  I have shown in this book how ecosystems and the economy are inter-connected but what is needed is a new form of economy – or a new discipline – that appraises the needs of both through this inter-connectedness.  Perhaps we should call it ecosystomics – a new form of the economy that provides for the human race, without damaging the ecosystems of the world.

Although I am not an economist, I feel I must put together some pointers (or suggestions) for those who do have the ability to construct such a system, making the changes necessary to have a balanced green economy.  Shall I call it Economy 6?  My readers may wish to add to it. It is my first venture into the new discipline of ecosytomics.

Suggestions for Economy 6

Some measures which might move us towards a new, balanced, green economy:

  • For the introduction of greater incentive schemes to encourage businesses to develop, use and market greener technologies and to penalise those who don’t. Examples of this could include: using and developing renewable forms of energy; phasing out motor vehicles which use petrol or diesel and introducing those that run on easily-accessible clean energy;
  • Investing in research institutions which have the ability to develop innovative solutions to today’s climate-change problems;
  • Introducing legislation to reduce the use of the motor car, such as restricting the number of cars owned by each household, unless they run on clean energy;
  • Phasing out coal-fired power generation and ending fossil fuel subsidies;
  • Introducing a carbon tax on those companies who continue to use fossil fuels;
  • Rebalancing the economy, so that the rich are not rewarded for irresponsible behaviour that adds to the carbon load;
  • Setting targets, for meaningful reductions in carbon emissions by an early date, as suggested by Desmond Tutu in his petition (chapter 1) and ensuring that the calculations for this are correct;
  • Phasing out nuclear power and nuclear weapons worldwide and re-channelling the money saved into the incentive-schemes and investments mentioned above;
  • Proper funding of those institutions regulating the tax system, so that tax evasion and avoidance is properly penalised;
  • Shifting the tax system to penalise those activities which need to be discouraged, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of wealth;
  • Banning certain household appliances and gadgets, which are not necessary and only add to the carbon load;
  • Establishing a new institution, which will monitor the use of fossil fuels by companies and promote, and provide support for, the use of greener forms of energy;
  • Encourage less air travel, by raising awareness about the damage this is doing to the planet and encouraging airlines to invest instead in technologies that do not damage the planet;
  • Work globally with other partners to reduce deforestation;
  • Re-balancing international trading systems, so that goods and animals are not transported unnecessarily across continents and seas, adding to the carbon load;
  • Encouraging countries worldwide to be self-sufficient in terms of goods and resources, so that goods are not imported which can be produced internally;
  • Re-think and re-balance entirely transnational trading systems;
  • Work globally to find a better means of international co-operation in working jointly to reduce and reverse that damage that is currently being done to the planet;
  • Encourage partnerships between local government and local cooperatives and social enterprises;
  • Encouraging the setting up of local groups (3G groups), where individuals can meet together to share what they are doing to reduce their carbon emissions and to encourage each other to keep going with it, even if the majority of others are still in denial (3G stands for three generations – the amount of time we have left).

Some of the ideas above are already being worked on, and others are not about changing the economic system but about reducing carbon emissions, but I hope these are a starting point for others to add to, if we are really serious about taking meaningful anti-climate-change measures before it is too late.

Green Economy is not a new expression.  It has been promoted by other groups, including the European Environment Agency, who produced the diagram in Fig.68:

fig68

Their definition of a Green Economy is one that generates increasing prosperity while maintaining the natural systems that sustain us95.

Their website goes on to say that:

  1. Historically, the trend has not been towards green growth. On the contrary, economic expansion has imposed ever greater demands on natural systems — both in terms of the amount of resources that we extract or harvest, and the volume of emissions and waste that we expect the environment to absorb and neutralise.
  2. As is increasingly understood, this cannot continue indefinitely: the environment has natural limits in terms of how much it can provide and absorb.

There is also a body called “The Green Economy Coalition”, which is a global network of organisations committed to accelerating a transition to a new green inclusive economy96. They believe the crisis we are in is profound and that piecemeal policy change is not good enough. They want to see deep-rooted transformation and the courage to forge a new economic vision.

Their vision is to develop an economy that provides a better quality of life for all, within the ecological limits of the planet. They are working on five action areas to make that vision a reality:

  • Managing our natural systems – people and economies depend on nature for everything; until now our economies have not reflected that dependency;
  • Investing in people – evidence shows that more equitable access to our natural resources benefits both people and planet; where communities have secure tenure and a say in decisions there are better outcomes for the environment as well as for the local economy;
  • Greening high impact sectors – these sectors include food, housing and transport and their embedded energy needs – accounting for 63% of the global ecological footprint;
  • Influencing financial flows – capital markets are dominated by large banks but smaller, values-based banks, which base their decisions on the needs of the people and the environment, have proved to outperform traditional mainstream banks on all indicators, including financial ones;
  • Measuring what matters – economic metrics, such as GDP and quarterly reports, tell us nothing about the resilience of an economy or business; some investors are asking for new metrics. Governments in Canada, Botswana and India are already working on this.

And just recently, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has invited 120-odd nations to join a new International Agency for Solar Policy and Application97, aimed at helping poorer countries in the tropics develop solar power.  India is investing $30 million to set up a headquarters and aims to raise a further $400 million.  Modi has also written an article in The Economist (Gathering steam: The World in 2016, p70)98, which outlines the basic precepts of India’s economy, to include incentivising afforestation, setting ambitious targets for renewable energy, faster and more inclusive growth and eliminating poverty.

It is encouraging to know that many people across the globe are already looking to develop new economies that no longer threaten the sustainability of the planet.  The agreement signed at the COP21 talks at the PARIS Summit also takes us in the right direction, even though fossil fuels are not mentioned in the wording of this agreement. The detail of this agreement will be discussed in chapter 8.

fig69

Fig.71

From: http://www.propostalavoro.com with permission

I have come to the end of describing the interconnected factors which have worked together to bring about a situation where the future of this planet is at risk.  Many other people, apart from me, have realised this and are working in various ways to raise awareness and to lobby for change.  However, I feel that far too many people, all over the world, do not understand the urgency of the situation and have not really curtailed their activities as a result.  This is why I have written this book and tried to keep it simple.

The following chapters will look at how we may work towards global co-operation in a united effort to bring about a sustainable future. The final chapter looks at why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there has been so much lethargy about doing something about it.


Table 5:  Quotation from the Introduction to Richard Douthwaite’s book:                    

“The Growth Illusion” Green Books, 1999

“A decade ago, few of us had any doubt about what growth was for. It was to lift people out of poverty and enable them to have a better quality of life. Political parties dressed these
expectations up in different ways: the left would talk about growth leading to higher wages, improved social welfare, better hospitals, a lower pupil-teacher ratio and so on, while
the right would stress greater profits and a wider range of choice.

But now much of the old confidence about the results of the growth process has evaporated…the only benefits many of us expect from economic growth are increased business profits and – if the rate of growth is fast enough – extra jobs……..
So why, since we know the benefits of growth have… hefty price tags attached, is it still considered so important to achieve it? One reason is that firms are constantly trying to lower their costs by introducing labour-saving technologies. Naturally these technologies cost jobs, so every year, unless the total amount of activity in the economy increases by about 3 per cent, unemployment will rise. As far as jobs are concerned therefore, national economies have to grow pretty quickly just to stand still.

The second reason our countries need growth is that between 15 and 20 per cent of their workforces are employed at any time on investment projects designed to expand their economies in the coming years. If growth fails one year, firms that invested but couldn’t increase their sales in the flat
market will find themselves with surplus capacity. This will cause them to cut any further nvestment plans they might have, throwing the people who would have built their new 
factories, offices and shopping centres out of work. And since these newly unemployed people will obviously have less to spend, further jobs will be lost in other sectors of the economy. Consumer spending will fall even more, causing more job losses. In short, a downward spiral could develop
leading to a serious depression. The possibility of this happening terrifies every government in the world to such an extent that they are prepared to do almost anything to ensure that growth carries on regardless of its social or environmental consequences……

In 1998, I conducted an Internet survey for almost 700 participants from over 50 countries. I had expected that it would take most of the seminar to reach some sort of agreement that, whatever growth might have achieved in the past, current growth was not benefiting ordinary people. Not
at all. It took a bare 24 hours, so most of the seminary was spent discussing how the economic system could be altered to remove its need to grow.”