Sunday, 22 December 2013

Hungry Christmas: Food Bank Use Soars

This Christmas more people than ever will be relying on food banks in the UK. Despite the government's talk of a recovery, thousands of people across the country are going into the Christmas period with the grinding desperation of poverty and hunger hanging over them.

In my report, Hungry Christmas, I've exposed a huge increase in the number of people relying on food banks in South East England. The region - the second richest in the UK - has seen a 60% increase in the number of people relying on emergency food handouts this year and the total number of those needing emergency food handouts is likely to hit 70,000 for the year April 2013- April 2014.

These statistics are shocking enough, but behind each statistic is the story of someone who is living in the sixth largest economy in the world yet struggling to feed themselves and their family.
This year I've toured my constituency visiting the food banks which are straining to keep up with rising demand. It's at these food banks that I've met people like John.

He was now volunteering after receiving help from the food bank at a time in his life when he had lots of problems. By degrees he'd lost his good job, his accommodation, developed a drug habit and drifted into street drinking, until his life was in a very dark place.
He told me he thought that a lack of food was the least of his worries: he could always scavenge or beg. But he realised that he eventually needed to get back to a 'normal life' and regular meals, or he would die.

I also met Mary*, a single parent who just can't keep up with the expense of clothing and feeding her children, and often goes without food herself so her kids can eat. For her, the food bank was a lifeline at a time of desperation.

The two major reasons people give for going to food banks are benefits problems (delays, sanctions and changes) and low incomes. There's evidence to suggest that the former has been exacerbated by the government's 'crackdown' on benefits claimants and their changes to social security. The latter reason, which explodes the myth of people being able to 'work their way out of poverty', reflects the fact that wages have stagnated in real terms for a decade now.

This Christmas many of us will be giving a bit of our money to the many good causes who help those in need. But, while charity is essential for assisting the vulnerable, it's vital that we don't let ourselves slip into thinking that the poverty so many of us face is inevitable or uncurable. In twenty first century Britain nobody should have to rely on handouts to get by at Christmas time, and no government should be allowed to get away with letting this situation develop.

If we are to tackle the poverty faced by so many in the UK we need to ensure that people have access to jobs which pay enough to build a life on and adequate social security protection when times are tough.

Let's make sure that the good yuletide feelings don't let us forget or forgive this Government for passing on a financial crisis to the poorest in society. And let's ensure that in 2014 we say to this government loud and clear that poverty in this country is a result of their politics, and we won't stand for it anymore.

*names of food bank users have been changed
Keith Taylor is a Green party MEP

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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Junior Murvin has died but the story of Police and Thieves lives on

The Jamaican reggae singer, who died on Monday, bequeathed us an anthem whose indictment of policing still rings true

When Superintendent Leroy Logan stepped down as the highest-ranking African-Caribbean officer in the Met this summer, he entertained his retirement party guests with his rendition of Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. The irony was not lost on myself and others present. The tune is iconic. Even among coppers. Despite its critique of the profession.

Having said that, many reggae lovers will struggle to identify the song's singer, Junior Murvin, who died on Monday in relative obscurity compared with the global success of his reggae anthem.

The tune was the soundtrack to the Notting Hill carnival in the summer it was released, 1976. The perfect groove for a hot and sticky August bank holiday on the streets of west London. Eerily, the record had been pumping out of sound systems and shebeens in London W10 and W11 postcodes in the days and hours before the community tensions of the time erupted in an all-out battle between (predominantly) black youth and the (predominantly) white police on the streets of Ladbroke Grove. Everywhere you went for the following few weeks – parties, blues dances and even university student unions – the tune was being rinsed out like it was the pick of the pops.

Every young rebel seemed to have a copy. Joe Strummer and his bandmates included. Even though John Peel had been playing Murvin for months, it was the Clash's version on their debut album that would turn the song into a punk anthem. Strummer told me he preferred Murvin's original. It was one of his favourite records.

So too, it seemed, for anyone who had a beef with the police throughout the rest of the 70s and 80s and maybe right through to the 90s. It even charted – four years later, in 1980 – and Murvin obligingly took the militant road to Top of the Pops. The following year it was the theme to the Brixton riots and subsequently to much of the social unrest during Margaret Thatcher's premiership.

Its comparison of police with thieves and any other criminals "scaring the nation" was written for the politically manipulated war zone that was Kingston, Jamaica, at the time – where you were as frightened of the constabulary as you were of the gunmen – but was subtle enough to resonate in these shores where the Dixon of Dock Green image of the obliging copper was being eroded by the image of uniformed thugs jumping out of black mariahs. What we didn't get at the time was that the "police" and the "thieves" were the emissaries of the politicians who ran the system.

But somewhere along the way its meaning started to fade and it became a party song rather than an indictment of the forces of law and order. Somewhere along the way it became OK for an outgoing Met superintendent to spoof it.

Everybody now knows, of course, that the old bill's antagonism towards black men never went away and that institutional racism is alive and well in the police force. But a new generation wasn't interested in dancing away its anger to one of the most seductive reggae songs you'll ever hear. It's too subtle for those weaned on NWA's cut-to-the-chase Fuck Tha Police.

Today, when it comes to cops and daylight robbers, there are no passing "anthems". Only the monstrous anger of direct action as we witnessed in the 2011 riots, a response to the police killing of Mark Duggan. In the Tottenham area where I live and in the areas I pass through – Harlesden, Brixton, Peckham, Hackney, Moss Side and other "hoods" – nobody is chanting the "downfall of Babylon" any more. But it doesn't mean they're not still angry with the belief that the police can kill a black man in broad daylight without consequences, and at being stopped and searched many more times than their white mates, and that the whole racist system compels half of young black men to languish on the dole. They're not stupid. They know who the "police" are and they know who the "thieves" are. They get it. They're just not voicing their frustrations through a pop song.

Written by Dotun Adebayo and first published at The Guardian

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Why COP 19 fell woefully short of the urgent action we need

Why COP 19 fell woefully short of the urgent action we need

History was made at the UN climate talks last week – not by the achievement of a breakthrough in negotiations, unfortunately, but by the unprecedented walk-out by 800 civil society groups and trade unions.

Citing the appalling lack of ambition and commitment manifest at the 19th yearly session of the global climate change conference, NGOs blamed the lobbying from fossil fuel companies for impeding progress at the talks.   As WWF put it, “Warsaw, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing.  We feel that governments have given up on the process.”

Their frustration was well founded.  The industrialised countries like Japan and Australia used the talks to officially scale back their climate commitments, and the demands of poor countries for clarity on greater climate finance were stonewalled.  At the same time, the EU’s credibility was undermined by its failure to increase its completely inadequate 20% greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020.

Poignantly, the conference began on the day that Typhoon Haiyan dissipated, and  in admirable solidarity with the people of his country, the lead negotiator of the Philippines fasted throughout, joined by many representatives of environmental NGOs attending the conference.   Sadly, the immediate evidence of the human costs of climate change represented by Haiyan and other recent extreme weather events did not provide a catalyst for the international action desperately needed.

Perhaps it was never a propitious sign that the talks were taking place in Poland, whose Government’s lack of commitment to reduce its use of fossil fuels has earned it the nickname ‘Coalland’.  Just under of 90% of the country’s electricity is sourced from coal.   Outrageously, representatives of the Polish Ministry of the Economy co-hosted an event with the World Coal Association in parallel with COP 19, giving lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry a valuable platform, and sending the provocative message that the ongoing cosy relationship between governments and the fossil fuel companies is perfectly compatible with efforts to reduce emissions.

So what did the talks deliver by way of positive outcomes?  The top-line political agreement was pretty uninspiring – nations are to “initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions” (rather than commitments) ideally, but not definitively by the first quarter of 2015, leaving huge wiggle room for nations to continue to procrastinate.  The agreement around compensation for vulnerable countries for the loss and damage resulting from climate change was similarly weak, with no guarantees of actual compensation.

There was some very limited progress: agreement on a mechanism to fund and manage forest protection projects, and a new initiative to work with the IT industry to maximise its potential to curb emissions.  The world’s least developed countries announced that they had submitted detailed climate adaption plans, indicating that progress is being made on capacity building – creating the infrastructure and policies they need to support effective climate adaptation projects.

But this falls woefully short of the urgent action needed.   Now that no-one with any credibility seriously disputes the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the argument now goes along the lines of “What’s the point in us taking action to reduce carbon emissions when China is building four new coal-fired plants every week?”  This argument must not be allowed to gain any traction.  The notion that the UK or other developed nations are somehow doing too much to reduce their emissions is preposterous.  The UK subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of £4.3 billion in 2011.  The ODI says rich nations are spending seven times more supporting coal, oil, and gas than they are on helping poorer nations address climate change.

Until we tackle the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry over domestic policy here in the UK and over international talks, the world will not rise to the challenge of taking action on climate change at the pace and scale needed to secure a safe future.  Over 70 organisations have called for new rules to safeguard global climate talks from fossil fuel influence, in order to give them at least a fighting chance of being able to deliver what the science and equity demand.

The UK should commit to supporting such new rules by ending the undue access and influence of companies who profit from more emissions and lobby against effective action, ignoring the reality that if we are to have a good chance of keeping emissions below 2 degrees, at least four fifths of known fossil fuel reserves need to remain in the ground.

In Westminster, I’ve orchestrated debates, asked questions and written letters, and yes, taken peaceful direct action, to try to persuade the Government to commit to replacing their support for fossil fuels with greater promotion of renewables and energy efficiency instead.

Later this year, MPs will have an opportunity to close the loophole in the Energy Bill would allow older coal power stations to stay open and escape the emissions limit.  This is the kind of action we need to pressure our representatives to take, and we don’t need to wait to COP 20 to do it.

Caroline Lucas Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Boris, the super rich and pay inequality

Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012

Nobody could be surprised by Boris Jonson's latest column defending bankers and the rest of London's super-rich elite.

He’s an expert in baiting the left on subjects like bankers’ pay, then switching his ground to promote the living wage. But he isn’t just a newspaper troll. He is also the Mayor of London, and he is using this position of considerable power and influence to help the elite reshape London, with real world consequences.

Did you know, for example, that the only time the Mayor has travelled to Brussels in person was to lobby for the hedge funds?

His advocacy of the wider financial services sector is incredibly one sided, without any consideration of their role in the wider London economy.

He has talked about their tax contributions, but not their tax avoidance and subsidies. He calls them the engine of our economy, but doesn’t seem too concerned that (so the New Economics Foundation tell me) only 6p of every pound deposited with RBS/Natwest goes into British businesses. He has lobbied against the bankers’ bonus cap, the Financial Transaction Tax and a number of other modest reforms of the banking industry.

His advisors, his research, the evidence he draws on are all aligned with the needs of the elite he defends.

Where does the Mayor imagine the 1 per cent make all of their money, and hold all of their wealth? What about the mis-selling scandals, the continued exploitation of workers in shakily built factories, the naked profiteering of the big six energy companies? He doesn’t want to look at the damage done by an unequal society to London’s economy and Londoner’s living standards.

The 1 per cent lobby against a mandatory living wage, saying it would mean job losses, while their pay rose 14 per cent in a year. Yes, some of that extra pay will go towards their sizeable tax returns. But one result of 700,000 Londoners earning less than a living wage is a £700 million annual subsidy from taxpayers to employers. Why not cut out the taxman and share the profits more fairly in the first place?

The Mayor champions a voluntary living wage, but in the same breath defends the right of employers to pay their employees poverty wages.

The 1 per cent are driving up property prices in the capital, exacerbating a housing crisis that has no end in sight. London is already the most unequal city in the developed world, with the wealthiest tenth of the population amassing 273 times the wealth owned by the bottom tenth. Most wealth at the top lies in pension funds, investments and property.

This is bolstered by taxpayer subsidies like Help to Buy and housing benefit, policies the Mayor supports that avoid the root causes of our housing crisis and instead help ordinary people scrape by to the benefit of the 1 per cent.

The Mayor is their champion, supporting the construction of incredibly expensive tower blocks that are often build on the site of demolished council housing.

What’s really infuriating is that the Mayor actually has a good news story on pay, but he doesn’t give it any attention.

I’ve tracked the difference in pay between the highest and lowest paid staff in the different bodies the Mayor oversees – City Hall (the GLA), Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police Service and the London Fire Brigade. Since he became Mayor, pay has actually become slightly more equal across all bodies except TfL. This is both because top pay has slightly dropped and bottom pay has risen.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say everything has been rosy in these organisations over the past five years. But I doubt the Mayor would say it has been a disaster. He just doesn’t want to look at whether he can replicate this move towards equality across London at large.

Why can’t he get on and make London more equal, a place where getting a job really does pay enough to build a life on, rather than a city where more and more of us feel like we are just sweated by a global elite?

First published at Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Extreme Weather Gives Poll Boost to the Greens

As is my routine, I was flicking through the freebie London newspaper the Evening Standard as I travelled on the underground home from work a few days back. Normally, there is not much of interest in this publication with its incessant fawning stories about the Royal Family and whatever press releases the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has been spewing out, about what a marvellous Mayor he is. Oh and how much house prices have risen in London, is another perpetual news item.

I’ve usually got through the paper in about fifteen minutes. Then a small story in the corner of one of the pages caught my eye. It was the latest opinion poll from Ipsos MORI on voting intentions. The headline was about Labour stretching its lead a little over the Tories, but further down it also mentioned that the Green party had jumped 3 points to 7% in the national poll. This is a respectable showing for the Greens (only 1 point behind the Lib Dems and UKIP, both on 8%). I’ve seen us go up and down in polls before and know that the sampling can make a big difference in our poll numbers. If more people from the south east of England are polled for instance, we will show higher than normal.

But I also got to thinking if the extreme weather we have seen recently (hurricanes and cyclones in the Philippines, USA, Sardinia and England), has had some effect on people’s perceptions on climate change? Like it or not, despite our best efforts in recent years, the public still do view the Green party as a purely environmental party. I remembered a few years back, that the German Greens did particularly well in an election held just after severe flooding had hit Germany.

Being a bit of a psephological junkie, I get the Yougov emailing alerts for their daily polling reports, and yesterday, I received what looks to confirm my suspicions. This poll shows that 38% of those surveyed think that the extreme weather we have seen around the world is caused by man made climate change. Although 39% who have a view do not believe this, these are big numbers for the Green party. If almost half of people do take the issue seriously, and as these events become more common, we should benefit electorally. Whether we will have enough time to do something about it once it starts getting really serious, is another matter of course.

From what I have read the scientific evidence is not conclusive on the connection between stronger storms and warming oceans, but it does point in that direction. Atlantic hurricanes have increased both in power and frequency, coinciding with warming oceans that provide energy to these storms. In the Eastern Pacific, there have been fewer but stronger hurricanes recently. More research is needed to better understand the extent to which other factors, such as atmospheric stability and circulation, affect hurricane development.

Of course, to me it is pretty much commonsense that the warmer the water sucked up into these tornados, the stronger they are likely to be. It does look like this commonsense is taking hold amongst the public at large, which during an economic recession is pretty significant, I think.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Lib Dems - Yellow by Name, Yellow by Nature

Confirmation that the Lib Dems are the political equivalent of something you'd rather not get on your shoes came with their opposition to Labour's parliamentary motion against the Bedroom Tax earlier this week. Apart from Tim Farron and Andrew George, Lib Dem MPs swung behind the Tories and have thus condemned the hundreds of thousands impacted by this callous, cruel, and contemptuous Tory tax throughout the country to at least two more years of misery and despair up to the next general election in 2015.

The 31 Lib Dems who voted with the government were joined by a further 21 who avoided the issue by failing to vote. Making this latest betrayal even more staggering is that it came in defiance of their own party, which condemned the Bedroom Tax at their party conference in Glasgow in September.

What motivates a person to go into politics fuelled not by principle but rank opportunism? What is that gets such a person out of bed in the morning? Hopefully sometime in the future psychologists will explore the mindset of your average Lib Dem MP in an attempt to understand the minds of those who embrace betrayal as a virtue rather than, as with normal people, rejecting it as a vice.

Since joining with the Tories in a coalition government of the bad and mad, the Lib Dems have done politics a huge disservice, responsible for deepening people's cynicism and disdain for the political process. Russell Brand's recent interview with Jeremy Paxman, during which he articulated this disdain as the reason why he's never voted, spoke to the huge gulf that exists between a growing constituency of people and those meant to represent them.

Step forward the Liberal Democrats.

At least with the Tories you know you are dealing with a party of unreconstructed class warriors. At least they make little effort to conceal their feral hatred of the poor and working people. In contradistinction, however, the Lib Dems fought the last general election on a manifesto that was broadly progressive.

Recall for a moment the excitement surrounding Nick Clegg as the coming man of British politics, a breath of fresh air who in the televised debates against David Cameron and Gordon Brown emerged as a young leader with fresh ideas, 'integrity', 'honesty', and a strong sense of social justice. Indeed Clegg succeeded in inspiring thousands of people, especially young people, to campaign and vote for him. Remember his pledge on tuition fees?

Not long after the last election a Newsnight poll of Lib Dem voters recorded that 40% felt betrayed by Clegg. This translates to some 2.7 million voters. You would think it would have made uncomfortable reading for any party, yet three years on it is clear that the collective mindset of the Lib Dems is one of 'nobody likes us and we don't care'.

But this is not a game. The Bedroom Tax exemplifies the worst excesses of a government intent of using an economic recession caused by the greed of the rich as a pretext for effecting the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich by slashing public spending regardless of the human or social cost. The lives of the poor and economically vulnerable matter not a whit in this process. On the contrary they have been demonised, dehumanised, and slandered under the rubric of austerity, which translates to a mass experiment in human despair.

According to the National Housing Federation just over half of all social housing tenants had been pushed into rent arrears just weeks after the Bedroom Tax was rolled out in April. In September an investigation by UN special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnick, ended with her calling for the tax to axed on the basis that it "could be a violation of the human right to housing".

For her efforts she was dismissed and derided by the Tories as a crank.

The lack of affordable social housing in Britain has long been a badge of shame, reflective of the apathy of the entire political class when it comes to the needs of the poor. Here, as with too many issues, we see evidence of hardly a sliver of difference when it comes to the Tories, Lib Dems, and Labour. With thousands of families forced to rely on bed and breakfast accommodation, wherein they are crammed into one room, and with a private housing sector enjoying the fruits of exorbitant rents due to demand outstripping supply, the idea that those who happen to have an extra bedroom within the social housing sector should have their housing benefit cut or move into smaller accommodation is barbaric.

The size of the housing benefit bill is not the fault of tenants, it is the fault of greedy landlords charging extortionate rents. Rent control within the private rental sector in conjunction with a national housebuilding programme designed to meet the demand for social housing needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency. It is the only rational solution to the crisis. Sadly, the words rational and Tory do not belong in the same sentence. Putting it even more succinctly, men and women whose collective moral compass is stuck in the mid 19th century are about as rational as a box of frogs.

The Lib Dems were given the opportunity to go some way to salvaging some political credibility this week by voting for a Labour motion against one of the most vile policies ever visited on the poor and economically disadvantaged in many a year. They chose not to and hopefully now political oblivion awaits.

As the man said: "Treason doth never prosper".

Written by John Wight follow him on Twitter:      

First published at The Huffington Post

Saturday, 16 November 2013

I warned Boris that his policies would lead to more cycling deaths

Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012

Four out of five cycling deaths in the last nine days are linked to either the Mayor's red buses or to his blue paint.

After almost six years of inaction on cycle safety, the rise in the number of killed and seriously injured have to be placed at the Mayor’s door. That is why this morning he started blaming the victims, rather than talking about real solutions.

It is the lowest form of politics to direct attention to the mistakes that people may or may not have made as they cycled to work, or rode home to their families, in order to draw attention away from yourself.

The whole point of being Mayor is that you take responsibility for creating safer roads, where individual mistakes by a cyclist, driver, motorcyclist or pedestrian do not get punished with death.

Boris Johnson has previous form on blaming the victims, and repeatedly refused to apologise for the wildly incorrect statistic he used to claim that the majority of deaths and injuries where down to cyclist infractions of the rules. Transport for London refused to back up his claim and the Mayor reluctantly agreed it wasn’t true, but it was a resentful, grudging conversation.

The Mayor even returned to his favourite theme that London’s roads were getting safer for cyclists and he wanted me to apologise for saying they were not. The reality is that they are safer than they were twelve years ago, but they have become more dangerous since he was elected.

My office have been trying to get TfL to make the post 2008 calculation on the ratio of cyclist death and serious injuries since July. We wanted them to do it so that we could avoid another spat between me and Boris over who had better statistics.

Instead TfL have told us that ‘they do not regularly publish’ such figures and directed us instead to the raw data. The calculation seems easy enough so here it is:
In 2008, on average a cyclists could make 401,910 trips before being killed or seriously injured.
In 2011, the average cyclist could make 364,361 trips before being killed or seriously injured.
The 2012 figures will show that this trend has accelerated; I have no idea what 2013 will finally bring, but I suspect it won’t be good news.
I have repeatedly warned Boris Johnson that his policies would lead to more death and injury. Whether it was slashing over £35m off the road safety budget, abandoning the road hierarchy which had previously made cyclist and pedestrian safety the top priority,  or stopping safety improvements at junctions because they might create a traffic jam.

The Mayor made mistakes and stayed firmly in denial about the consequences. He still is. For all the talk of a £900m cycle safety budget, he still believes in those comments about keeping ‘your wits about you’ and ‘there is no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people’s lives’.

The solutions are obvious and uncomplicated. Make 20mph the default speed limit across London. Give space for cycling by taking it away from cars and lorries. Ban HGVs during commuter hours. Get rid of the major gyratories and start from scratch with the redesign of places like Bow Roundabout and Old Street. Fast track all the safety measures on the top 100 most dangerous junctions.

While the Mayor is doing all of that, he could start to enforce the rules on our lawless roads, so we no longer have 62 hit and runs a week in London, or a situation where the majority of drivers with over 12 points on their licence are legally allowed to drive.

First published at Left Foot Forward

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Just how much media coverage does UKIP get?

With 25 appearances by Nigel Farage on Question Time and more than 23,000 press mentions, UKIP is attracting historically unprecedented levels of coverage for a minor party.

"Oh no, not Nigel again!" groaned some Question Time viewers last week as they sat down for the fourth time this year to hear the views of the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Nigel Farage has appeared on the show no less than 25 times, 15 of which have come since 2009, while in the past four years, a further six slots have gone to other Ukippers like Paul Nuttall, Diane James and Patrick O'Flynn. This means that since 2009, UKIP spokespersons have sat on the panel on 21 occasions, almost double the number for the Greens (11) and more than double the number for Respect (10).

Unsurprisingly, these figures have led some to argue that Farage receives a level of publicity that is not only disproportionate to his party’s actual strength, but also exceeds that given to other insurgents who have achieved what UKIP has not: a seat in Westminster. Some go further, suggesting that parts of the media have a vested interest in supplying UKIP with the 'oxygen of publicity' so as to pile pressure on David Cameron and trigger a rightward turn on issues like the EU, immigration and gay marriage. But of course this may all be far more straightforward: Farage is a skilled, media-trained populist who contrasts sharply to an otherwise bland and robot-like political elite. It's only natural that journalists flock to an outsider who gives them good copy.

But this does raise an intriguing question: exactly how prominent are Farage and UKIP in British media? As part of our forthcoming book in 2014, Revolt on the Right, we used a well-established database (Nexis) to track the number of times UKIP and Farage are mentioned in UK-based newspapers. This is only a small part of the book, which analyses over 100,000 voters and includes interviews with key insiders to explain UKIP’s support and what it tells us about British politics. But it is a useful, 'quick and dirty' way of measuring a party’s profile across all newspapers. It does not account for the nature of this coverage (i.e. positive or negative), and does not include radio, television or social media. But given that print media continues to set much of the agenda in British politics, it remains a valuable yardstick.

Figure 1

First, in Figure 1, we track the number of citations for UKIP and Farage from 2003, when UKIP was a largely unknown fringe party with only three MEPs, to November 2013, when it had become a serious force, tipped to win the 2014 European elections. This reveals how media interest in UKIP has surged, particularly since 2012. In 2003, the party was not even mentioned 600 times; ten years later it was flagged more than 23,000 times (and only until November). Similarly, in 2003, Farage was barely visible with only 36 mentions, but 10 years later this had rocketed to over 8,000.

Clearly much of this marks a response to UKIP’s growth in the polls. But whereas UKIP enjoyed record gains in 2004 and 2009, the media attention it won after these breakthroughs is dwarfed by the wave of coverage it has received in the past two years. In 2012, UKIP mentions reached a record high of over 10,000, but so far in 2013 this figure has already more than doubled again, and with two months of the year still left to run. Interest in Farage has risen even more steeply – his mentions more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, and have already quadrupled in 2013. It is likely this trend will continue into 2014, as Britain braces for European elections, and then into 2015 as journalists debate the possibility of a UKIP seat in Westminster and the possibility of a EU referendum.

Figure 2

Second, how does this picture compare to other insurgents? Figure 2 compares UKIP’s coverage to the Greens, Respect and British National Party. From 2005 until 2009, the picture was far less rosy for Nigel and his party: they attracted less attention than the Greens and were fighting in the 'media war' to move away from the BNP. But since 2011, the party has really come into its own, rapidly moving away from other minor competitors to achieve historically unprecedented levels of coverage.

Figure 3

It is a similar picture in Figure 3, which compares Farage‘s profile to that of Caroline Lucas, George Galloway and Nick Griffin. Until 2012, Farage was often eclipsed by Griffin and Galloway (though never Lucas). We can see how Galloway gains profile during the 2005 campaign and then after his by-election victory in Bradford in 2012, while Griffin peaks during his European breakthrough in 2009. Interestingly, Lucas does not attract an equivalent spike in coverage following her breakthrough into Westminster. In fact, in comparison she is nowhere to be seen. Yet since 2012, Farage has rocketed onto a new level, leaving behind other smaller party leaders who have managed to win representation in Westminster. Journalists clearly are not shaped by electoral reality.

We can also put this into a broader context. While his party is now regularly polling ahead of the Liberal Democrats, Farage, at least in terms of media profile, remains some way behind Nick Clegg, unsurprising given that the latter is in government and the Deputy Prime Minister. So far in 2013, Farage has been mentioned almost 9,000 times compared to almost 20,000 citations for Clegg. But he is closing the gap.

Figure 4

This brings us to our final point concerning the nature of UKIP’s coverage. As Figure 4 shows, UKIP is not only attracting historically unprecedented levels of interest, it is also now beginning to broaden out its 'media attack'. In previous years, the party was most often mentioned alongside the EU, which is unsurprising given its goals. But since 2011, the number of articles that mention UKIP alongside immigration has risen sharply, representing around 40% of its total coverage in 2013.

This is not coincidental but reflects UKIP’s change of strategy since 2011, which we detail in the book. It is the first piece of evidence that UKIP are entrenching themselves at the centre of Britain’s ongoing debate over immigration and its effects, which given the approaching debate over migration from Bulgaria and Romania, and the fact that public concerns over immigration remain high, also looks set to continue. UKIP’s plan to expand its eurosceptic origins by targeting immigration is yielding dividends, as is Farage’s more aggressive media strategy. In interviews with us, those close to Farage often voiced anxiety about the impact of a relentless schedule on their leader’s health. Some complained how he often gives his personal number to journalists, and refuses to 'switch off'. The strategy may well be wearing Farage down, but it is also producing results. Whether his party can sustain this interest, and ensure it is strictly for positive reasons, remains to be seen.

Matthew Goodwin is Associate Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Fellow at Chatham House. @GoodwinMJ

Robert Ford is a politics lecturer at the University of Manchester. @robfordmancs

First published at The New Statesman

Monday, 4 November 2013

Russell Brand Interview - We need a Revolution

There is some enjoyable sparring between Paxman, clearly channelling the sentiments of thousands of PSE teachers parrotting the vacuous suggestion that those who criticize the failings of our 'representative democracy' should stop and instead involve themselves in it, and Brand, who channels the sarcastic teenagers who know all the reasons why the teacher is wrong and are happy enough with that. But this isn't a serious political debate or any sign that revolution is on the agenda.

Brand talks generically about the way in which differences within the 'political class' are more ephemeral than they seem, and how this has made people dissillusioned with the political system. Strip out the occasional nods towards leftist terminology (like saying 'political class' instead of 'Westminster Politicians') and this is mainly the stuff of a million pub conversations about how 'they are all the bloody same'. Nigel Farage could probably agree with 80% of it.

To be scrupulously fair, he does talk about the failure of the banking system, about unequal distribution of wealth and income, and about cuts and austerity. That's a good thing, and something we don't hear discussed in these terms often on mainstream TV.

But as another famous beardie once wrote, the important thing is not to interpret the world but to change it. Here Brand was utterly helpless in the face of the Paxman steamroller. Paxman says that the only way to change the political system is to participate in it; Brand knows that this is wrong but is unable to articulate why. That would require too much engagement with detail and with structure and process. Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky can do this, but they don't get prime time with Jeremy Paxman, and not many people would watch if they did. Brand does get prime time, precisely because he can't spell out a detailed critique of how 'representative democracy' screws us all.

It's a bit unfair to blame Russell Brand for not having a detailed political program or strategy, a point that he makes rather well himself during the interview. But it is important to recognize that talking about a revolution without actually expressing any idea about what that might mean is, in some sense at least, one of the safety valves of the political system. We have seen this in other anti-politics movements led by comedians and celebrities, notably the Beppe Grillo movement in Italy, that captured the rage of an important section of the population and then led into a blind alley with a program that again, Nigel Farage would have quite liked.

Lots of people have shared the interview video, excited that someone famous was at least using the R word. That's got to be a good thing, and it would be an even better thing if our party and the movement of which it is part would be able to engage with this sentiment, which goes far beyond the usual waters in which the anti-capitalist left usually fishes. But that in turn requires a political strategy for change that goes beyond 'vote for us, we are different to the rest of them'. And a vision of a revolution that is neither a fairy tale of opting out of capitalism to create a parallel world alongside it nor a nineteenth century insurrectionist fantasy.

Written by Jeremy Green

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Naomi Klein: How science is telling us all to revolt

In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012, Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreed upon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

 Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

 . . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine” and “No Logo”, is working on a book and a film about the revolutionary power of climate change. You call follow her on twitter @naomiaklein

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sharon Shoesmith was unfairly dismissed – so she deserves a payout

The precipitous sacking of Haringey's former children's services chief over Baby P silenced debate over what went wrong. £600k is the price for that silence

Describe a successful outcome for a social services department trying to protect a child. I cannot. Every possible solution can legitimately be criticised. Only last month a senior family court judge criticised adoption and social services reforms as encouraging a propensity to remove children too quickly. On the other hand, if a child is not removed soon enough, the risk is a repeat of a tragic case like the death of Peter Connelly.

That is the tightrope that social services work walks on a daily basis, in the field of child protection and most other work. It is work which is de facto defined by its failure, as it can only be judged against totally unquantifiable alternatives. The death of any child in the hands of abusive adults is nothing short of a catastrophe. How many deaths are avoided each year by the removal of children from such situations cannot be quantified. The former is highly publicised, because – let's face it – dead children sell newspapers. The latter can never be reported.

A rise in the number of children removed from their families is also seen as a measure of failure to support. All this means that the relative "success" of such work is necessarily judged by the number of human lives it sought to make better, and did not. It is against this backdrop that I find the hysteria with which the Sharon Shoesmith settlement has been met deeply unhelpful and counterproductive. Tim Loughton, the former children's minister says it "stinks". Former children's secretary Ed Balls says it "sticks in the craw".

The underlying conclusion, explicitly stated by some newspapers, is that Shoesmith was ultimately rewarded for her failure. The court of appeal, however, decided that there is a process of natural justice for arriving at such a conclusion and that the process was circumvented. She was scapegoated for the sake of political expediency. For politicians to persist with trotting out that she had failed at her job, is to continue with precisely the same sort of conduct. Shoesmith was never afforded the chance of responding to the criticism in the report. Instead, she found out that she had been fired by watching a hastily convened press conference on television.

You may agree with that way of doing things or not. You may find it swift and decisive rather than precipitous. But the undeniable legal fact is that it was unlawful. And the penalty for the state acting unlawfully as an employer is compensation. It reflects the fact that, not only was Shoesmith's life destroyed without due process, but also that a proper conclusion about what happened around the case of that poor child's death cannot, and will never, be properly reached.

That compensation, the precise level of which we don't actually know but which is reported to be about £600,000, will include significant legal costs accrued during a lengthy battle and roughly £300,000 in salary, since this was a judicial review decision in which she was adjudged not to have been properly dismissed for the two years while the fight went on. Both those elements, which make up the bulk of her settlement, could have been avoided by the state acting properly.

The easy conclusion is to say that a woman directly responsible for a child's death has been rewarded with what Newsnight described as "a small fortune". The more difficult discussion is that perhaps, just perhaps, the death of children in the hands of cruel and evil parents can never be absolutely prevented within the current framework. This is the discussion that was denied a public forum by the government's actions. What is more, tragically, the way this case has been handled makes future tragedies more, not less, likely. It makes social work even more risk averse and focused on covering one's own back with paperwork, rather than helping people. It makes bright candidates, well suited to the field, less likely to choose it as a career.

The buck must stop with Shoesmith, pronounced assorted pundits. Why is that? That line is convenient, but rather arbitrary. Why must the buck stop with the head of a particular social services and not, for instance, the head of the local authority who allocated the budget and had oversight, or Ofsted which gave the services in question a good rating just before the circumstances of this case came to light, or the minister responsible at the time? It may well have been that through the proper process Shoesmith would be judged to have failed and to be the person ultimately responsible. We will never know. The debate has been silenced and £600k is the price for that silence.

There is another, perhaps more fundamental, tension that receives no attention. Many of the same commentators, who rightly tear their garments over every tragic incident, are precisely the same ones who want government to shrink, rail against the interventionist "nanny state", condemn local authorities for what they pay to senior staff and feel taxation – at whatever level – is too high. The positions are mutually exclusive. Well-funded, well-trained social workers and their managers cost money, which many are not willing to pay. A shrunken, non-interventionist, poorly funded state lacks the capacity to stand in the corner of every living room in the country, observe what people get up to and always intervene at precisely the right moment. So, which is it?

Written by Alex Andreou and first published at The Guardian

Friday, 27 September 2013

IPCC Report Summary - 95% Caused by Human Activity

Headline messages in the IPCC report:
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
  • Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.
  • Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0-700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
  • Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
  • Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
  • Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.
  • Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
  • Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.
  • The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
  • It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
  • Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
  • Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.
First published at Climate and Capitalism 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

David Harvey interview: The importance of postcapitalist imagination

From housing to wages, David Harvey says examining capitalism's contradictions can point the way towards an alternative world

You’re working on a new book at the moment, The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism. Why focus on its contradictions?

David Harvey: The analysis of capitalism suggests that there are significant and foundational contradictions. Periodically those contradictions get out of hand and they generate a crisis. We’ve just been through a crisis and I think it’s important to ask, what were the contradictions that led us into it? How can we analyse the crisis in terms of contradictions? One of Marx’s great sayings was that a crisis is always the result of the underlying contradictions. Therefore we have to deal with those themselves rather than their results.

One of the contradictions you focus on is that between the use and exchange value of a commodity. Why is this contradiction so fundamental to capitalism, and why do you use housing to illustrate it?

All commodities have to be understood as having a use value and exchange value. If I have a steak the use value is that I can eat it and the exchange value is how much I had to pay for it.

But housing is very interesting in this way because as a use value you can understand it as shelter, privacy, a world of affective relations with people, a big list of things you use a house for. But then there is the question of how you get the house. At one time houses were built by people themselves and there was no exchange value at all. Then from the 18th century onwards you got speculative house building – Georgian terraces which were built and sold later on. Then houses became exchange values for consumers in the form of saving. If I buy a house and I pay down the mortgage on it, I can end up owning the house. So I have an asset. I therefore become very concerned about the nature of the asset. This generates interesting politics – ‘not in my backyard’, ‘I don’t want people moving in next door who don’t look like me’. So you start to get segregation in housing markets because people want to protect the value of their savings.

Then about thirty years ago people began to use housing as a form of speculative gain. You could get a house and ‘flip’ it – you buy a house for £200,000, after a year you get £250,000 for it. You earned £50,000, so why not do it? The exchange value took over. And so you get this speculative boom. In 2000 after the collapse of global stock markets the surplus capital started to flow into housing. It’s an interesting kind of market. If I buy a house then housing prices go up, and you say ‘housing prices are going up, I should buy a house’, and then somebody else comes in. You get a housing bubble. People get pulled in and it explodes. Then all of a sudden a lot of people find they can’t have the use value of the housing anymore because the exchange value system has destroyed it.

Which raises the question, is it a good idea to allow use value in housing, which is crucial to people, be delivered by a crazy exchange value system? This is not only a problem with housing but with things like education and healthcare. In many of these we’ve released the exchange value dynamics in the theory that it’s going to provide the use value but frequently what it does is it screws up the use values and people don’t end up getting good healthcare, education or housing. This is why I think it’s very important to look at that distinction between use and exchange value.

Another contradiction you describe involves a process of switching over time between supply-side emphases on production and demand-side emphases on consumption in capitalism. Could you talk about how that manifested itself in the twentieth century and why it’s so important?

One of the big issues is keeping an adequate market demand, so that you can absorb whatever it is that capital is producing. The other is creating the conditions under which capital can produce profitably.

Those conditions of profitable production usually mean suppressing labour. To the degree that you engage in wage repression – paying lower and lower wages – the profit rate goes up. So, from the production side, you want to squeeze labour down as much as you possibly can. That gives you high profits. But then the question arises, who is going to buy the product? If labour is being squeezed, where is your market? If you squeeze labour too much you end up with a crisis because there’s not enough demand in the market to absorb the product.

It was broadly interpreted after a while that the problem in the crisis of the 1930s was lack of demand. There was therefore a shift to state-led investments in building new roads, the WPA [public works under the New Deal] and all that. They said ‘we will revitalise the economy by debt-financed demand’ and, in doing so, turned to Keynesian theory. So you came out of the 1930s with a very strong capacity for managing demand with a lot of state involvement in the economy. As a result of that you get very high growth rates, but the high growth rates are accompanied by an empowerment of the working-class with rising wages and stronger unions.

Strong unions and high wages mean the profit rate starts to come down. Capital is in crisis because it’s not repressing labour enough, and so you get the switch. In the 1970s they turned to Milton Friedman and the Chicago School. That became dominant in economic theory and people began paying attention to the supply-side – particularly wages. You get wage repression, which begins in the 1970s. Ronald Reagan attacks the air traffic controllers, Margaret Thatcher goes after the miners, Pinochet kills people on the left. You get an attack on labour – which raises the profit rate. By the time you get to the 1980s the profit rate has jumped up because wages are being repressed and capital is doing well. But then there comes the problem of where are you going to sell the stuff.

In the 1990s that is really covered by the debt economy. You started to encourage people to borrow a lot – you started to create a credit card economy and a high mortgage-financed economy in housing. That covered the fact that there wasn’t real demand out there. But eventually that blows up in 2007-8.

Capital has this question, ‘do you work on the supply side or the demand side?’ My view of an anticapitalist world is that you should unify that. We should return to use value. What use values do people need and how to we organise production in such a way that it matches these?

It would seem that we are in a supply-side crisis, and yet austerity is an attempt to find a supply-side resolution. How do we square that?

You have to differentiate between the interests of capitalism as a whole and what is specifically in the interests of the capitalist class, or a section of it. During this crisis, by-and-large, the capitalist class have done very well. Some of them got burned but for the most part they have done extremely well. According to recent studies of the OECD countries social inequality has increased quite significantly since the onset of the crisis, which means that the benefits of the crisis have been flowing to the upper classes. In other words, they don’t want to get out of the crisis because they are doing very well out of it.

The population as a whole is suffering, capitalism as a whole is not healthy but the capitalist class – particularly an oligarchy within it – has been doing extremely well. There are many situations where individual capitalists operating in their own class interests can actually do things which are very damaging to the capitalist system as a whole. I think we are in that kind of situation right now.

You have said often recently that one of the things we should be doing on the left is engaging our postcapitalist imagination, starting to ask the question of what a postcapitalist world would look like. Why is that so important? And, in your view, what would a postcapitalist world look like?

It is important because it has been drummed into our heads for a considerable period of time that there is no alternative. One of the first things we have to do is to think about the alternative in order to move towards its creation.

The left has become so complicitous with neoliberalism that you can’t really tell its political parties from right-wing ones except on national or social issues. In political economy there is not much difference. We’ve got to find an alternative political economy to how capitalism works, and there are some principles. That’s why contradictions are interesting. You look at each one of them like, for instance, the use and exchange value contradiction and say – ‘the alternative world would be one where we deliver use values’. So we concentrate on use values and try to diminish the role of exchange values.

Or on the monetary question – we need money to circulate commodities, no question about it. But the problem with money is that it can be appropriated by private persons. It becomes a form of personal power and then a fetish desire. People mobilise their lives around searching for this money even when nobody knows that it is. So we’ve got to change the monetary system - either tax away any surpluses people are beginning to get or come up with a monetary system which dissolves and cannot be stored, like air miles.

But in order to do that you’ve also got to overcome the private property-state dichotomy and come to a common property regime. And, at a certain point, you need to generate a basic income for people because if you have a form of money that is anti-saving then you need to guarantee people. You need to say, ‘you don’t need to save for a rainy day because you’ll always be getting this basic income no matter what’. You’ve got to give people security that way rather than private, personal savings.

By changing each one of these contradictory things you end up with a different kind of society, which is much more rational than the one we’ve got. What happens right now is that we produce things and then we try to persuade consumers to consume whatever we’ve produced, whether they really want it or need it. Whereas we should be finding out what people’s basic wants and desires are and then mobilising the production system to produce that. By eliminating the exchange value dynamic you can reorganise the whole system in a different kind of way. We can imagine the direction that a socialist alternative would move in as it breaks from this dominant form of capital accumulation, which runs everything today.

First published at Red Pepper

Monday, 23 September 2013

Interview with Naomi Klein - Big Green in Hock with Big Business

During your career you’ve written about the power of brand names, populist movements around the world, and free market fundamentalism. Why now a book and film on climate change?

You know, The Shock Doctrine, my last book, ends with climate change. It ends with a vision of a dystopic future where you have weak infrastructure colliding with heavy weather, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina. And rather than working to prevent future disasters by having lower emissions, you have all these attempts to take advantage of that crisis. At the time, it seemed to me that climate change was potentially going to be the biggest disaster-capitalism free-for-all that we’ve seen yet. So it was quite a logical progression for me to go from writing about disaster-capitalism in The Shock Doctrine to writing about climate change. As I was writing The Shock Doctrine, I was covering the Iraq War and profiteering from the war, and I started to see these patterns repeat in the aftermath of natural disasters, like the Asian tsunami and then Hurricane Katrina. There are chapters in that book on both of those events. Then I came to the idea that climate change could be a kind of a “people’s shock,” an answer to the shock doctrine – not just another opportunity by the disaster capitalists to feed off of misery, but an opportunity for progressive forces to deepen democracy and really improve livelihoods around the world. Then I came across the idea of “climate debt” when I was doing a piece on reparations for Harper’s magazine. I had a meeting with Bolivia’s climate negotiator in Geneva – her name is AngĂ©lica Navarro – and she put the case to me that climate change could be an opportunity for a global Green Marshall Plan with the North paying climate debts in the form of huge green development project.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy you wrote about the potential of a “people’s shock.” Do you see that it’s happening, a global grassroots response to some of the extreme weather we’re experiencing?

I see a people’s shock happening broadly, where on lots of different fronts you have constituencies coming forward who have been fighting, for instance, for sustainable agriculture for many, many years, and now realize that it’s also a climate solution. You have a lot of reframing of issues – and not in an opportunistic way, just another layer of understanding. Here in Canada, the people who oppose the tar sands most forcefully are Indigenous people living downstream from the tar sands. They are not opposing it because of climate change – they are opposing it because it poisons their bodies. But the fact that it’s also ruining the planet adds another layer of urgency. And it’s that layering of climate change on top of other issues that holds a huge amount of potential.

In terms of Hurricane Sandy, I really do see some hopeful, grassroots responses, particularly in the Rockaways, where people were very organized right from the beginning, where Occupy Sandy was very strong, where new networks emerged. The first phase is just recovery, and now as you have a corporate-driven reconstruction process descending, those organized communities are in a position to respond, to go to the meetings, to take on the real estate developers, to talk about another vision of public housing that is way better than what’s there right now. So yeah, it’s definitely happening. Right now it’s under the radar, but I’m following it quite closely.

In a piece you wrote for The Nation in November 2011 you suggested that when it comes to climate change, there’s a dual denialism at work – conservatives deny the science while some liberals deny the political implications of the science. Why do you think that some environmentalists are resistant to grappling with climate change’s implications for the market and for economics?

Well, I think there is a very a deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups. And to be very honest with you, I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost. Because it has steered us in directions that have yielded very poor results. I think if we look at the track record of Kyoto, of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, the European Union’s emissions trading scheme – we now have close to a decade that we can measure these schemes against, and it’s disastrous. Not only are emissions up, but you have no end of scams to point to, which gives fodder to the right. The right took on cap-and-trade by saying it’s going to bankrupt us, it’s handouts to corporations, and, by the way, it’s not going to work. And they were right on all counts. Not in the bankrupting part, but they were right that this was a massive corporate giveaway, and they were right that it wasn’t going to bring us anywhere near what scientists were saying we needed to do lower emissions. So I think it’s a really important question why the green groups have been so unwilling to follow science to its logical conclusions. I think the scientists Kevin Anderson and his colleague Alice Bows at the Tyndall Centre have been the most courageous on this because they don’t just take on the green groups, they take on their fellow scientists for the way in which neoliberal economic orthodoxy has infiltrated the scientific establishment. It’s really scary reading. Because they have been saying, for at least for a decade, that getting to the emissions reduction levels that we need to get to in the developed world is not compatible with economic growth.

What we know is that the environmental movement had a series of dazzling victories in the late 60s and in the 70s where the whole legal framework for responding to pollution and to protecting wildlife came into law. It was just victory after victory after victory. And these were what came to be called “command-and-control” pieces of legislation. It was “don’t do that.” That substance is banned or tightly regulated. It was a top-down regulatory approach. And then it came to screeching halt when Regan was elected. And he essentially waged war on the environmental movement very openly. We started to see some of the language that is common among those deniers – to equate environmentalism with Communism and so on. As the Cold War dwindled, environmentalism became the next target, the next Communism. Now, the movement at that stage could have responded in one of the two ways. It could have fought back and defended the values it stood for at that point, and tried to resist the steamroller that was neoliberalism in its early days. Or it could have adapted itself to this new reality, and changed itself to fit the rise of corporatist government. And it did the latter. Very consciously if you read what [Environmental Defense Fund president] Fred Krupp was saying at the time.

It was go along or get along.

Exactly. We now understand it’s about corporate partnerships. It’s not, "sue the bastards;" it’s, "work through corporate partnerships with the bastards." There is no enemy anymore.
More than that, it’s casting corporations as the solution, as the willing participants and part of this solution. That’s the model that has lasted to this day.

I go back to something even like the fight over NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Big Green groups, with very few exceptions, lined up in favor of NAFTA, despite the fact that their memberships were revolting, and sold the deal very aggressively to the public. That’s the model that has been globalized through the World Trade Organization, and that is responsible in many ways for the levels of soaring emissions. We’ve globalized an utterly untenable economic model of hyperconsumerism. It’s now successfully spreading across the world, and it’s killing us.

It’s not that the green groups were spectators to this – they were partners in this. They were willing participants in this. It’s not every green group. It’s not Greenpeace, it’s not Friends of the Earth, it’s not, for the most part, the Sierra Club. It’s not, because it didn’t even exist yet. But I think it goes back to the elite roots of the movement, and the fact that when a lot of these conservation groups began there was kind of a noblesse oblige approach to conservation. It was about elites getting together and hiking and deciding to save nature. And then the elites changed. So if the environmental movement was going to decide to fight, they would have had to give up their elite status. And weren’t willing to give up their elite status. I think that’s a huge part of the reason why emissions are where they are.

At least in American culture, there is always this desire for the win-win scenario. But if we really want to get to, say, an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, some people are going to lose. And I guess what you are saying is that it’s hard for the environmental leadership to look some of their partners in the eye and say, "You’re going to lose."

Exactly. To pick on power. Their so-called win-win strategy has lost. That was the idea behind cap-and-trade. And it was a disastrously losing strategy. The green groups are not nearly as clever as they believe themselves to be. They got played on a spectacular scale. Many of their partners had one foot in US CAP [Climate Action Partnership] and the other in the US Chamber of Commerce. They were hedging their bets. And when it looked like they could get away with no legislation, they dumped US CAP completely.
The phrase win-win is interesting, because there are a lot of losers in the win-win strategy. A lot of people are sacrificed in the name of win-win. And in the US, we just keep it to the cap-and-trade fight and I know everyone is tired of fighting that fight. I do think there is a lot of evidence that we have not learned the key lessons of that failure.

And what do you think the key lessons are?

Well one of them is willingness to sacrifice – in the name of getting a win-win with big polluters who are part of that coalition – the communities that were living on the fenceline. Communities, in Richmond, California for instance, who would have been like, “We fight climate change and our kids won’t get as much asthma.” That win-win was broken because you get a deal that says, “OK you guys can keep polluting but you’re going to have to buy some offsets on the other side of the planet.” And the local win is gone, is sacrificed.

I’m in favor of win-win, you know. The book I am writing is arguing that our responses to climate change can rebuild the public sphere, can strengthen our communities, can have work with dignity. We can address the financial crisis and the ecological crisis at the same. I believe that. But I think it’s by building coalitions with people, not with corporations, that you are going to get those wins. And what I see is really a willingness to sacrifice the basic principles of solidarity, whether it is to that fenceline community in Richmond, California or whether it’s with that Indigenous community in Brazil that, you know, is forced off their territory because their forest has just become a carbon sink or an offset and they no longer have access to the forest that allowed them to live sustainably because it’s policed. Because a conservation group has decided to trade it. So these sacrifices are made – there are a lot of losers in this model and there aren’t any wins I can see.

You were talking about the Clean Development Mechanism as a sort of disaster capitalism. Isn’t geoengineering the ultimate disaster capitalism?

I certainly think it’s the ultimate expression of a desire to avoid doing the hard work of reducing emissions, and I think that’s the appeal of it. I think we will see this trajectory the more and more climate change becomes impossible to deny. A lot of people will skip right to geoengineering. The appeal of geoengineering is that it doesn’t threaten our worldview. It leaves us in a dominant position. It says that there is an escape hatch. So all the stories that got us to this point, that flatter ourselves for our power, will just be scaled up.

[There is a]willingness to sacrifice large numbers of people in the way we respond to climate change – we are already showing a brutality in the face of climate change that I find really chilling. I don’t think we have the language to even describe [geoengineering], because we are with full knowledge deciding to allow cultures to die, to allow peoples to disappear. We have the ability to stop and we’re choosing not to. So I think the profound immorality and violence of that decision is not reflected in the language that we have. You see that we have these climate conventions where the African delegates are using words like "genocide," and the European and North American delegates get very upset and defensive about this. The truth is that the UN definition of genocide is that it is the deliberate act to disappear and displace people. What the delegates representing the North are saying is that we are not doing this because we want you to disappear; we are doing this because we don’t care essentially. We don’t care if you disappear if we continue business-as-usual. That’s a side effect of collateral damage. Well, to the people that are actually facing the disappearance it doesn’t make a difference whether there is malice to it because it still could be prevented. And we’re choosing not to prevent it. I feel one of the crises that we’re facing is a crisis of language. We are not speaking about this with the language of urgency or mortality that the issue deserves.

You’ve said that progressives’ narratives are insufficient. What would be an alternative narrative to turn this situation around?

Well, I think the narrative that got us into this – that’s part of the reason why you have climate change denialism being such as powerful force in North America and in Australia – is really tied to the frontier mentality. It’s really tied to the idea of there always being more. We live on lands that were supposedly innocent, “discovered” lands where nature was so abundant. You could not imagine depletion ever. These are foundational myths.

And so I’ve taken a huge amount of hope from the emergence of the Idle No More movement, because of what I see as a tremendous generosity of spirit from Indigenous leadership right now to educate us in another narrative. I just did a panel with Idle No More and I was the only non-Native speaker at this event, and the other Native speakers were all saying we want to play this leadership role. It’s actually taken a long time to get to that point. There’s been so much abuse heaped upon these communities, and so much rightful anger at the people who stole their lands. This is the first time that I’ve seen this openness, open willingness that we have something to bring, we want to lead, we want to model another way which relates to the land. So that’s where I am getting a lot of hope right now.

The impacts of Idle No More are really not understood. My husband is making a documentary that goes with this book, and he’s directing it right now in Montana, and we’ve been doing a lot of filming on the northern Cheyenne reservation because there’s a huge, huge coal deposit that they’ve been debating for a lot of years – whether or not to dig out this coal. And it was really looking like they were going to dig it up. It goes against their prophecies, and it’s just very painful. Now there’s just this new generation of young people on that reserve who are determined to leave that coal in the ground, and are training themselves to do solar and wind, and they all talk about Idle No More. I think there’s something very powerful going on. In Canada it’s a very big deal. It’s very big deal in all of North America, because of the huge amount of untapped energy, fossil fuel energy, that is on Indigenous land. That goes for Arctic oil. It certainly goes for the tar sands. It goes for where they want to lay those pipelines. It goes for where the natural gas is. It goes for where the major coal deposits are in the US. I think in Canada we take Indigenous rights more seriously than in the US. I hope that will change.

It’s interesting because even as some of the Big Green groups have gotten enamored of the ideas of ecosystem services and natural capital, there’s this counter-narrative coming from the Global South and Indigenous communities. It’s almost like a dialectic.

That’s the counternarrative, and those are the alternative worldviews that are emerging at this moment. The other thing that is happening … I don’t know what to call it. It’s maybe a reformation movement, a grassroots rebellion. There’s something going on in the [environmental] movement in the US and Canada, and I think certainly in the UK. What I call the “astronaut’s eye worldview” – which has governed the Big Green environmental movement for so long – and by that I mean just looking down at Earth from above. I think it’s sort of time to let go of the icon of the globe, because it places us above it and I think it has allowed us to see nature in this really abstracted way and sort of move pieces, like pieces on a chessboard, and really loose touch with the Earth. You know, it’s like the planet instead of the Earth.

And I think where that really came to a head was over fracking. The head offices of the Sierra Club and the NRDC and the EDF all decided this was a “bridge fuel.” We’ve done the math and we’re going to come out in favor of this thing. And then they faced big pushbacks from their membership, most of all at the Sierra Club. And they all had to modify their position somewhat. It was the grassroots going, “Wait a minute, what kind of environmentalism is it that isn’t concerned about water, that isn’t concerned about industrialization of rural landscapes – what has environmentalism become?” And so we see this grassroots, place-based resistance in the movements against the Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway pipeline, the huge anti-fracking movement. And they are the ones winning victories, right?
I think the Big Green groups are becoming deeply irrelevant. Some get a lot of money from corporations and rich donors and foundations, but their whole model is in crisis.

I hate to end a downer like that.

I’m not sure that is a downer.

It might not be.

I should say I’m representing my own views. I see some big changes as well. I think the Sierra Club has gone through its own reformation. They are on the frontline of these struggles now. I think a lot of these groups are having to listen to their members. And some of them will just refuse to change because they’re just too entrenched in the partnership model, they’ve got too many conflicts of interest at this stage. Those are the groups that are really going to suffer. And I think it’s OK. I think at this point, there’s a big push in Europe where 100 civil society groups are calling on the EU not to try to fix their failed carbon-trading system, but to actually drop it and start really talking about cutting emissions at home instead of doing this shell game. I think that’s the moment we’re in right now. We don’t have any more time to waste with these very clever, not working shell games.

Jason Mark is editor of Earth Island Journal. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

First published at Earth Island Journal