Category Archives: Energy

The World Health Organisation’s Manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the 73rd World Health Assembly.  May 18th 2020:

“The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.”

A summary

COVID-19 is the greatest global shock in decades.  Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and the world’s economy likely faces the worst recession since the 1930s.  The resulting loss of employment and income will cause further damage to livelihoods, health, and sustainable development. 

We cannot go back to the way we did things before.

Increasing numbers of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola, have made the jump from wildlife to humans – and all available evidence suggests that COVID-19 has followed the same route.

As infections spread, a lack of universal health coverage has left billions of people, including many in rich countries, without reliable and affordable access to medical treatment.

Massive inequalities have meant that deaths and loss of livelihoods have been strongly driven by socioeconomic status, often compounded by gender and minority status.

Attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, emergency preparedness, health systems, and social safety nets, has proven to be a false economy – and the bill is now being paid many times over.

The world cannot afford repeated disasters on the scale of COVID-19, whether they are triggered by the next pandemic, or from mounting environmental damage and climate change. Going back to “normal” is not good enough.

In adversity, the crisis has also brought out some of the best in our societies, from solidarity among neighbours, to the bravery of health and other key workers in facing down risks to their own health to serve their communities, to countries working together to provide emergency relief or to research treatments and vaccines.

The “lockdown” measures that have been necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 have slowed economic activity, and disrupted lives – but have also given some glimpses of a possible brighter future. In some places, pollution levels have dropped to such an extent that people have breathed clean air, or have seen blue skies and clear waters, or have been able to walk and cycle safely with their children – for the first times in their lives.

National governments are now committing trillions of dollars, in a matter of weeks, to maintain and eventually resuscitate economy activity.  These investments are essential to safeguard people’s livelihoods, and therefore their health.

But the allocation of these investments, and the policy decisions that will guide both short- and long-term recovery, have the potential to shape the way we live our lives, work and consume for years to come.

Nowhere is this more important than in their effects on environmental degradation and pollution, and particularly on the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming and the climate crisis.

Decisions made in the coming months can either “lock in” economic development patterns that will do permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain all human health and livelihoods, or, if wisely taken, can promote a healthier, fairer, and greener world. 

To read the World Health Organisation’s prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery go to its newsroom.

There is widespread public support for policies that do not seek only to maximize GDP, but to protect and enhance wellbeing, and for governments to combat climate change and environmental destruction with the same seriousness with which they are now fighting COVID-19. It is also shown by the millions of young people who have mobilized to demand action not only on climate and biodiversity – but also for the right to breathe clean air, and for their future on a liveable planet.

 

 

 

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A different kind of life is possible: Bruce Kent

After a US commander revealed the information to the Senate, the Ministry of Defence confirmed on Sunday that it has committed the taxpayer to fund a multi billion pound replacement of Trident, with nuclear warheads based on US technology.

Colin Archer and Dave Webb point out that, given the importance of finding large sums of public money to fund the now-urgent green transition, this is the right time to highlight the huge sums devoted to the military sector and top of the list is the UK’s commitment to nuclear weapons. The proposed slogan for Global Days of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) is ‘Military spending costs the Earth’. 

Amongst the articles listed on the GDAMS international campaign website was one by Bruce Kent originally published in Peace News. The article opens with his tribute to the readable, international and interesting Peace News, before signing off, at least for a time. He thanked all on the team, especially the very modest editor and continued:

Hospital is always an eye-opening experience. Any London hospital is an international community on its own: a Portuguese doctor, nurses from the Philippines and all parts of Africa – all helpful and concerned even if very over-worked. My biggest shock came in a chat with a young trainee nurse. I asked if she did an eight-hour day. She just smiled. Her working day runs for 12½ hours. She lives at least an hour away in South London. So she has about eight or nine hours at home to sleep, cook, eat and have any kind of social life. Not fair. It’s not just money that the NHS needs but good working conditions as well.

In the run-up to the general election, both main parties promised many millions to be spent on increased NHS funding. Why did they not say this and do it long ago?

We can apparently afford £200 billion for a new set of very non-independent nuclear missile submarines. Missiles are on rotating loan from the US, which no one seems to notice. Not a word so far, in all the electioneering that I have heard, about nuclear bombs except for a contemptuous mention that Jeremy Corbyn would not ‘press the button’ – and so kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians far away.

Our concern about military expenditure is clearly a global one. Only recently a report came through my letterbox from the Global Campaign on Military Spending (GCOMS) started by the International Peace Bureau in 2011.

(Right: Bruce and other campaigners attended a GDAMS protest and letter hand-in at the MoD in April 2019)

GCOMS concentrates every April-May on actions all around the world, highlighting the connection between military expenditure and the lack of money for real human needs. Last time, there were 110 events in 27 countries – with UK events in York, Bradford and London. Have a look at the work in progress on www.demilitarize.org.

The need is obvious. The money spent on war and the preparations for war is a scandal and ought to be commonly recognised as such. The global military budget is now not far off two trillion dollars a year. We now have the climate change campaigners with us.

To read the small print click here and use the magnifying glass symbol to read the data from SIPRI’s Arms Transfers Database (March 2019)

Military production involves the release of CO2 in massive quantities. The two great current perils, war and climate change, are dangerous twins.

Many of the events are fun to organise, such as the ‘Move the money’ selfie project, or stalls offering passers-by the opportunity to indicate their alternative budget choices (buttons in jam jars or buckets work well, labelled ‘education’, ‘green energy’, etc). We need a group campaigning on military expenditure to be active in every part of this country, but that means hard and imaginative work and energy. We need an enthusiastic volunteer to coordinate and encourage more GCOMS events next spring. How about you?

From “The Chance for Peace,” a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

The best quote that I can end with comes, rather surprisingly, from a US general. Dwight Eisenhower was never a hawk. He can’t have been popular in his world for saying that the nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945 were never necessary. He had this to say in 1953 and you may well recognise the quotation: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This is not a way of life. Under the cloud of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron….’

Bruce ends: “A different kind of life is possible. Let’s together make it happen”.

 

 

 

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Thoughts on the state of the Labour Party: Rex Harris

 

Three years ago Rex Harris (below) reflected on the state of his beloved Labour Party and hoped to demonstrate that the present “doom and gloom” is totally unjustified. His thoughts are well worth revisiting.

Although society has made enormous strides in technology and science we are still living under a very regressive political system. Thus we still have the primitive “first pass the post” electoral system whereby, with just 38% of the vote, the Tories have been re-elected for another depressing 5 years during which time the gap between rich and poor will become even wider.

The cabinet is still predominantly ex-public school and male and in the composition of the new parliament of around 650 MPs, only a very tiny minority will have any significant scientific/engineering background and hence technical knowledge. I believe that in the last parliament there was only one science -based PhD and, in the current lot the picture is probably even worse. This critical absence of any technical expertise is extremely worrying as the quality of the future is dependent on implementing long term, technically-based measures determined by the overwhelming need to reduce carbon. The mammoths in the room are climate change and resource depletion and yet these topics received barely a mention in the debates leading up to the 2015 general election. These and related areas will determine, not only the future shape of the Labour party   but that of the whole world and I will now try and persuade you that these should be the dominant themes in current and future debates.

With the increasing manifestation of climate change in the UK as well as throughout the world, events related to the changing climate will become ever-more predominant in political life. The difficult if not impossible task is to predict the exact time it will take for the reality of climate change and resource depletion to have a significant impact on the electorate. Currently we are all living in a “fools’ paradise”.

The stark reality is that our present consumer driven economic system cannot provide the necessary long-term solutions to these problems

This is why the Labour party must not seek short-term political gain by trying to emulate our existing system which is based predominantly on the motivating force of personal greed. These changes cannot be achieved by short-term tinkering with the existing system.

The majority realise that there has to be a radical change could come in the next 5 years or it might take longer, but come it will. It might be useful to consider what could be some of the political priorities (in no particular order):

  • Introduce a system of proportional representation and real federalisation within the UK.
  • Increase substantially the proportion of Labour candidates with scientific/engineering backgrounds. Engineers and scientists “on top” not just “on-tap”.
  • Develop a series of technical workshops to inform MPs and other policy makers.
  • Set-up a parliamentary group to investigate comprehensively the impacts of climate change and resource depletion. For instance, to develop a full-scale recycling strategy.
  • Look to build a purpose-built parliament building in the Midlands and convert existing parliament buildings into tourist attractions.
  • Strengthen and expand the concept of a “Green Bank” to fund new businesses based of sustainable technologies.
  • Electrify all urban transportation and develop battery recycling technology.
  • Strengthen EC and other international ties.

These are some of the many priorities that Labour will have to address and formulate workable solutions – a far cry from many of today’s trivial and somewhat irrelevant arguments.

The Labour party will have to provide the blueprint for a sustainable future and the sooner it sets its mind to this objective the better. Along with other like-minded groups it will have to formulate detailed root and branch policies to provide a workable alternative to the present unsustainable system, based on the growing consumption of ever diminishing raw materials and evermore carbon-based energy.

 

Rex Harris: Monday, 27July, 2015

Read more about Rex Harris’s work here and his team’s hydrogen-powered canal boat project here.

 

 

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Financial Times: Labour is right, Britain’s private utility model is broken

 

On 19th May, Inside Business focussed on criticism of the UK’s privatised water sector for poor performance, high rate of leakage and failure to put in place adequate measures to help customers struggling to pay their bills.

The privatised water Industry in the UK. An ATM for investors, research published by Greenwich university’s Public Services International Research Unit in October 2018, suggests that the 40% increase in real household bills since privatisation was mainly due to continuously growing interest payments on debt – and not to growing costs and investments, as the regulator had reported.

Earlier, the Guardian noted that the chief executives of England’s privatised water companies banked £58m in pay over the last five years while customers have been faced with above-inflation rises in their water bills.

Inside Business noted that between their privatisation in 1989 and last year, English water companies ‘generated operating cash flows’ totalling £159bn in 2017-18 money, £36bn more than they spent on new pipes and infrastructure. At the end of this period they had paid £56bn in dividends and borrowed £51bn that customers will have to service and pay off over many years

It is suggested that this borrowing served only to pay financial returns to investors.

A year earlier, This is Money recorded that four water firms set up subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, more than a decade ago, as – at that time – rules in the UK prevented them from raising cash on the bond markets. Though this is no longer the case, many have continued to use the offshore firms as interest payments made through havens often do not incur tax as they would in the UK.

The Greenwich study suggests much of this borrowing by companies served only to pay financial returns to investors: “We show that the skyrocketing debt levels are primarily the result of disproportionate dividend pay-outs”.

Britain’s existing model ought to change. Michael Pooler, in the Financial Times, sets out two ways to solve the problem of private monopoly:

“One is the solution the Labour opposition favours, which is to eliminate it by putting the companies into “not for dividend” public hands. Then you can set whatever social objectives you choose. Eliminating dividends certainly dissolves the conflicts of private ownership. The Welsh and Scottish water companies both have this model — and the latter has not suffered a notable penalty in efficiency versus the English companies, according to the regulator”.

The other is offered by economist Dieter Helm In the 2017 Cost of Energy Review commissioned by government. He suggested increased oversight of utilities, with regulators setting the desired outputs (new transmission connections, flood defences) and then opening them up to competitive tender from anyone — private or even state sources. He points out that Britain’s energy systems face a period of upheaval in order to deal with the challenge of decarbonisation and concludes that a new approach might achieve this shift more flexibly, and align returns a little better with the real risk taken.

The FT notes the involvement of ‘financial engineers’ whose main objective was draining value from these private monopolies, adding that this is what has spurred the interest in renationalisation.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party has come out firmly for the renationalisation of rail, water, energy and the postal service. At the Labour party’s annual conference in September, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, promised to bring “ownership and control of the utilities and key services into the hands of people who use and work in them”.

The Greenwich analysis found that the public-owned sector in Scotland delivers the water and sewage service just as efficiently and at a lower cost to consumers and Inside Business (reluctantly?) concluded that the Labour party’s attempt to nationalise them ‘cannot be dismissed as a paleo-socialist blast from the past’.

 

 

 

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Listen to inconvenient truths: make Britain a world-leader opposing climate change

 

Janice Turner: if there’s one thing to make Middle England care about the planet, it’s being denied grandchildren

American politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, recently said “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult and it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question, you know. Is it okay to still have children?”

When Janice Turner (Times 20.04.19) reported from the campsite on Oxford Circus, a young woman told her she’d gone on “baby strike”. With oceans warming, Greenland melting, coral reefs dead, why would she bring a child into the world? Others are coming to the same conclusion. Her article is summarised here:

A change generation: the cause – ecological disaster

This is a change generation not seen since the 1960s. The chosen cause then was civil rights; now it is ecological disaster.

Today’s young are the first denied a sure route to stakeholder adulthood by student debt, gig economy contracts and unaffordable homes. Many twentysomethings, expecting their lives to be shorter and poorer than their parents’, are willing to lie on Waterloo Bridge to be decanted into a police van.

Hopeless, apocalyptic forecasts scare us: we don’t want to believe the facts

Climate warriors rev up our wrath faster than other campaigners – perhaps because hopeless, apocalyptic forecasts scare us. We don’t want to believe the facts, even if voiced by David Attenborough.

They demand we reform our behaviour in tiresome ways. “Look, I’ve bought a hybrid car, what more do you want,” . . . Yet change we can and must. Change never comes from politicians. It is generated by civil society, protests, discussions and campaigns pushing the status quo towards what was unthinkable a decade before.

More than ever our political system seems unresponsive – even broken

Extinction is unaffiliated to any party, not even the Greens, nor an established charity such as Greenpeace. It is fluid, fresh, leaderless, and growing . . . Oxford Street will be returned to a choking hell-scape but these protesters will multiply and muster in the most inconvenient places. The government will have to decide whether to use extreme force creating martyrs and a mass movement — or listen . . . Some of its aims, such as abandoning fossil fuels by 2025, may be— but why not try harder? . . . Janice ends by saying:

There is a political movement here.

Why fight it?

Why not, for once, be open to new ideas, to make Britain a world-leader in opposing climate change.

God knows we need something to be proud of right now.

 

 

 

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Could a British Labour government enhance Portugal’s blueprint with green growth?

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Portugal: a European path out of austerity?

The Financial Times reports that Portugal’s economy has rebounded since António Costa, the prime minister who forged a partnership between the moderate and hard left reversed post-crisis budget, by “turning the page on austerity”, stressing the idea that “sacrifice is over”.

Portugal, which was hard hit by the European debt crisis, has now halved unemployment to 6.7% and the budget deficit could be eliminated this year for the first time in over 40 years. Since 2016 Portugal has consistently beat its deficit targets; the deficit of 0.5% of GDP recorded for 2018 being the country’s smallest shortfall since democracy was restored 45 years ago.

Portugal’s government reversed public spending cuts, allowing the deficit to swell well above agreed objectives and ultimately proving to EU officials that by putting more money in people’s pockets it could lift growth, make it easier to meet budget targets, raise incomes, lift private investment, cut unemployment and still have sound public finances.

“Public spending has stayed under control, unit labour costs have been reduced, hence they have been able to attract more foreign direct investment and increase their exports,” says Ivan Scalfarotto, a former Italian trade minister and centre-left MP.

In the public sector, workers are pressing Mr Costa to go further in overturning austerity.
Nurses are among swathes of state workers — from teachers to police inspectors and prison guards to firefighters — who have taken part in months of small-scale crowdfunded strikes to lift their incomes as the economy recovers following years of austerity.

Daniel Traça, dean of Lisbon’s Nova School of Business and Economics, believes Mr Costa’s main accomplishment lies in ensuring that the recovery has benefited the most vulnerable people.

This, he says, has convinced the country that “sound public accounts are compatible with social cohesion”. Mr Costa has shown that the financial crisis could be tackled without destroying jobs and living standards. As he himself puts it: “It’s no longer a matter of political discussion, it’s a matter of fact”.

An announcement by Costa (left) of a 10-year national investment programme designed to pump €20bn into transport, energy and environmental projects, may have been overlooked by people challenging his approach as not offering environmentally sustainable growth. Other criticisms were voiced in a recent Reuter’s article.

Perhaps a British Labour government – which favours national and regional investment banks – will also ‘turn the page on austerity’ and  add to the measures taken by the Portuguese government by bringing in a Green Deal surpassing the American version, extending the greening of infrastructure to the greening of transport.

 

 

 

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Use of waterways for freight and passenger services: advocated by government and facilitated by London’s Mayor

Waterways are ‘an under-used resource’ according to Christian Wolmar, award-winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. As he writes: “Inland waterways could take thousands of annual lorry trips off North London’s overstretched roads.”

On 11th March, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan sent a message to his mailing list which opened:

“London’s toxic air is a public health emergency. Pollution is shortening lives, it’s linked to asthma, strokes, heart disease and dementia. It costs the NHS £3.7 billion each year and affects children at more than 440 schools who are breathing air that exceeds safe legal pollution levels – this can’t continue. That’s why we’re launching the central London Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) on 8 April — a daily £12.50 charge for the most polluting vehicles, 24/7 in the central London Congestion Charge Zone”.

As the forthcoming Gosling report points out: “It is a UK government objective to transfer more freight from roads to inland waterways. The Department for Transport explained in 2017 that waterways are “attractive for the environmental benefits they provide, and the reliable congestion-free freight access they offer over alternate modes.” To this end, note:

  • London mayor Sadiq Khan’s introduction to new Freight and servicing action plan. Key actions include working with boroughs to better coordinate the control of freight movements on London’s roads and increasing use of water and rail.
  • The Mayor of London’s Safeguarded Wharves Review 2018 the mayor of London once more affirms his awareness rail electric vans and cargo bikes Supporting increased use of water by protecting and reactivating wharves.
  • The London Environment Strategy (2018), published by the Greater London Authority, refers to the Mayor’s support for increased use of waterways for freight and passenger services, as well as leisure uses. The main reasons for this are that reducing the number of vehicles and making more use of the waterways will help to improve air quality in London’s busy and congested streets.

In this strategy document, the Mayor sets out aims to reduce emissions from freight through encouraging a switch to lower emission vehicles, requiring a major expansion in electric charging and hydrogen infrastructure. To enable cleaner vessels to use the waterways, new and refurbished wharves, piers and canal moorings to generate renewable power onsite will be encouraged. Where appropriate, shore power or refuelling facilities for low emission fuels should be provided for all vessels moored onsite.

The cost of installing dockside electricity charging stations has been described as a challenge. In Amsterdam a charging rota makes the system commercially viable.

The Loadstar – a ‘multimodal online news resource for the logistics industry’ quotes information from Peter Binham (Transport for London) that the London mayor wants to see about 55% of all project materials carried by river, as well as an overall increase in the amount of freight carried this way. City government efforts are reaping some rewards, with TfL noting that a number of barge trials had been undertaken to increase load-bearing from 800 tonnes to 1,500 tonnes. TfL also uses its influence to indicate transport modes for the projects it is involved in building. (For some reason this link https://theloadstar.com/dhl-express-to-make-a-splash-with-delivery-option-using-thames-barges/, though correct, will not open – it has to be copied and pasted.

The following extract is copied from the Port of London Authority’s informative report, The Thames Vision Goals.

Inland Freight: more goods off roads onto the river

More goods and materials are routinely moved between wharves on the river – every year over four million tonnes carried by water – taking over 400,000 lorry trips off the region’s roads. Future goals:

  • Double underlying intra-port freight to over 4 million tonnes
  • Champion the Thames as a default choice for moving spoil and materials from infrastructure projects close to the river
  • Maintain or reactivate viable cargo handling facilities, with at least five additional facilities brought into operation by 2025
  • Extend the River Concordat to promote freight movements by water
  • Develop the Thames Skills Academy to provide the skills needed on the Thames

Call for a dedicated London freight commissioner

Logistics Manager, a monthly magazine for managers in charge of the supply chain of the UK’s largest industrial, retail and commercial organisations, reports that business leaders are calling on London mayor Sadiq Khan to appoint a dedicated freight commissioner to support the implementation of his transport strategy. They point out that freight movements could be reduced through better use of consolidated trips and of cargo bikes and motorbikes for shorter, smaller deliveries in central London and town centres.

The Freight Transport Association, together with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses, was responding to publication of the mayor’s Freight Action Plan arguing that there is an urgent need for a strong voice to champion freight transport and its particular interests and concerns across London.

 

 

 

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US Green New Deal campaign: US Senator Bernie Sanders

As Colin Hines and Richard Murphy write in the Guardian, British media has failed to notice that the US Green New Deal campaign is now centre stage. Supporters of the Green New Deal made their voices heard on Capitol Hill in December.

“The bold moral leadership of newly-elected members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has me feeling more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years,” writes Naomi Klein. But a whole lot of things need happen very quickly if the political tide is going to shift in time – including finding new ways to engage the public in this fight.

In this hopeful moment, Naomi Klein had the opportunity to sit down with one of the few politicians who has consistently focused on this issue — Senator Bernie Sanders, whose  record speaks for itself. They spoke at the Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vermont, this weekend. Sen. Sanders then hosted a ‘town hall’ on climate change with guests including Ocasio-Cortez, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, activist and “Big Little Lies” star Shailene Woodley, climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, activist and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Mayor Dale Ross of deep-red Georgetown, Texas.

Naomi Klein’s interview with US Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent) was published on 3 Dec 2018 and may be seen here.

Highlights

Corporate media is not covering issues of poverty, inequality, health care and – above all – climate change so – after saying drily that the survival of the planet ‘might be of some concern’ – Bernie Sanders has been successfully working with ‘progressive media outlets’. One video had over a million views, more than CNN on the same evening.

As the latest ICC report says that we have 12 years to transform our energy system, Sanders proposes a ‘monumental task’ – getting countries all over the world to co-operate to do this:

“Think what it would mean for our people to get together to transform the energy system instead of waging war – making war on climate change.“ He continues:

The promise of a Green New Deal means:

  • reducing carbon emissions,
  • increasing energy efficiency,
  • transforming electricity generation and
  • using much more energy efficient building methods.

The poorest people in the world suffer most from pollution and climate change – see the incidence of asthma amongst children in the Bronx.

We must rebuild communities in a green way involving people from all communities which will have social and economic benefits – and above all – address climate change and our very survival.

How can it happen?

14,000 Californian homes were recently destroyed, this and other climate related calamities are signs of a worrying future unless we get our act together.

The grassroots will have to stand together. 18 members of the House select committee for the Green New Deal are already supporting these measures.

Remember in 1994 the passion which Newt Gingrich had the House sitting for 20 hours a day as he pressed his right-wing agenda.

We must push the progressive agenda with the same energy and passion, offering

  • a million new jobs
  • lower fuel bills
  • health care for all
  • living wage
  • and protection, training and resettlement for all who lose jobs during the process of change.

Hines also recommends:

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Ignites Crowd In Climate Change Town Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha6PAyNVWbQ, New York Times article by Nobel Prize winner. Professor Paul Krugman , https://nyti.ms/2GMcJFm  and ‘Pass a Green New Deal’ in the Washington Post: which opens, “The world has until 2030 to drastically cut our emissions. Where do we begin?” and offers 11 policy ideas to protect the planet.

 

 

 

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Short-circuit damaging economic growth: from Douthwaite to McDonnell

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Richard Douthwaite stayed at the Centre for Holistic Studies in Mumbai as a young ‘unconverted’ economist. After reading ‘Short Circuit’ and – later – ‘The Growth Illusion’, CHS founder Winin Pereira was amazed and very pleased to see how Richard’s thinking had changed during that Indian tour. In his book, The Growth Illusion: How Economic Growth Has Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many, and Endangered the Planet (1993), Richard asks:

Is economic growth improving our lives?”

In 1992, when the first edition of The Growth Illusion appeared, most people thought the answer was ‘Yes’. Today, however, there is widespread acceptance that, while growth might be necessary to generate jobs, the development path we are following isn’t making life better for the health of human beings and the environment.

The theme of this book is that, even if growth was beneficial at one stage in human history, it is now damaging.

The author, economist Richard Douthwaite, presents evidence of social and environmental damage caused by economic growth which has ‘enriched the few, impoverished the many, and endangered the planet’ (see chapter 11: “Growth in the Greenhouse”). The book looks at the effects of a policy of growth before and after the 1950s:

  • – it has affected national health
  • – damaged family, community life and the environment
  • – and forced companies to adopt new technologies before their impact on the environment can be assessed.

There is now a growing awareness of the mainstream economy’s vulnerability – reinforced by the government’s Brexit contingency measures; even in a wealthy country, the vagaries of free trade and the unimpeded movement of capital pose a threat not just to job security but to food and energy supplies as well.

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In a later book, which may be downloaded, Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World (1998) Richard advocates short circuiting the global structures and developing a local functional sustainable economy.

The concept of conventional economics focusing on the firm vs. the community and family is the primary reason we see so many communities go for trying to lure a major corporate saviour (at fantastic expense in foregone tax revenues and numerous social, environmental and economic costs) instead of trying to develop a sustainable standalone economy. Such firms threaten to move their operations to countries where the fiscal environment is easier, almost every government’s ability to raise an adequate amount in tax has been reduced.

Richard Douthwaite advises communities to ‘cut the monetary tie’ – or at least reduce the outward flow of money – by rebuilding an independent local economy capable of supplying the goods and services its people would need – establishing:

  • local currency schemes
  • community banks that enable local interest rates and credit terms
  • locally-based energy generating and saving schemes
  • low-external-input agriculture.
  • more cooperative commercial attitudes.

In the Foreword, colleagues Helena NH * and Ed Mayo (when NEF) points out that economic globalization developed because governments have been subsidizing international and long-distance trade through:

  • tax breaks,
  • cheap fuel,
  • and massive investments in the underlying transport and information infrastructure.

Even a child might ask, ‘Why must food be transported thousands of miles, when it can be produced right here?

This is not efficiency but economics gone mad. Wilderness areas and biodiversity are under increasing pressure as the demand for industrial resources grows. huge multinational corporations have replaced the hundreds of thousands of small businesses, shopkeepers and farmers that traditionally generated most economic activity and employment.

Unemployment in the industrialized world has soared while, in the cities of the South, populations are exploding because millions of rural families are being drawn away from local self-reliance by the promises of the consumer society – only to be plunged into urban squalor and hunger”.

Reverse the process of globalization: the system that has emerged suits nobody in the long run. The threat of mergers leaves even senior managers in permanent fear of losing their jobs and even billionaires cannot hide from the collapsing biosphere.

if the hidden subsidies for fossil fuel use were removed, local and national economies would become much stronger. Not everything could be produced locally, nor would there be an end to trade – there should be a better balance between local, regional, national and international markets. Large corporations should have less control, and communities more, over what is produced, where, when and how, and trading should be fair to both parties.

Governments should get together to curb the powers of the multinationals by negotiating new trade and investment treaties removing the subsidies powering globalization and giving local production a chance.

The world has now woken up to the environmental implications of ‘plundering the planet for profit’ as John McDonnell put it in Another World Is Possible (sold out on Ebay etc). At the end of his chapter, ‘Plundering the planet for profit’, he proposes:

  • developing an energy system based on local energy production, clean coal technology and wherever possible powered by renewable energy sources,
  • producing food in this country where possible instead of importing it from distant countries,
  • homeworking and video-conferencing instead of commuting long distances and flying abroad,
  • using public transport instead of driving,
  • reclaiming social ownership and control of our public transport, prioritising social and environmental goals,
  • encouraging manufacturers to produce durable and repairable goods.
  • ensuring that every home is energy-efficient and that houses are built to the highest environmental standards with the ability to generate their own power or served by local combined heat and power systems,
  • regulating industry, housing and planning with environmental concerns central to decision-making and
  • devolving power so that communities have the power to protect their local environment, setting enforceable carbon emissions and environmental targets.

See Local Futures’ constantly-growing library of examples of localization happening all over the world for news about people who have started to build alternative systems ‘without waiting for politicians to give us their blessing or for the world to burn’.

 

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