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 350.org, 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

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Green Party takes on the banks


This is a guest post by Daniel Key who is an ex member of Haringey and of Tower Hamlets Green Party. He is a member of the Policy Committee of the Green Party of England and Wales. He tweets at @danieloliverkey.

Last weekend, the Green Party of England and Wales made history by joining the United States Green Party in calling for an end to the private creation of money by banks. After a debate on the motion at the Autumn Conference in Brighton, the Green Party has collectively decided to instead place this power with a democratically accountable National Monetary Authority at the Bank of England. This represents a huge change in Green Party policy, as we are now calling for full reserve banking, alongside other radical policies such as a citizen's income, land value tax and of course the decarbonisation of the entire economy as we move to a post carbon and equitable world.
           
To recap: currently private banks create money as debt when they make loans. This electronic bank money now represents 97% of the UK money supply, with only 3% being created debt-free by the government in the form of notes and coins (a good place to start to understand the UK money system is the one hour documentary 97% Owned. This money is allocated by the lending decisions of the high street banks, and so we see money pumped into the housing market (putting house prices way beyond the means of young people) instead of small businesses, as banks receive collateral if mortgage holders default on their loans. This is massively undemocratic, as control of the banks' power to create money is in the hands of its board members, who are only accountable to the bank's shareholders.

 Money creation is pro-cyclical – too much is created in an economic boom, whereas we are currently living through a period where lending is restricted and money is therefore destroyed when debt is paid down. This is why the Bank of England has introduced quantitative easing to indirectly get money into the economy, and the government has introduced the Help to Buy scheme to encourage the public to take on more debt, creating a housing bubble in the process.

 From an environmental perspective, the biggest problem with the current money system is that the level of debt is constantly growing. This in turn means the economy is compelled to grow, even when this leads to environmental destruction. This is the engine behind such environmentally damaging innovations such as planned obsolescence (designing products with a limited useful life to perpetuate consumption), as Michael Rowbotham recognised in his book The Grip of Death over a decade ago. The current debt-based system of creating money is incompatible with the goal of a sustainable, steady-state economy, as pointed out in the recent green economics book Enough is Enough.

To achieve a steady state economy we must eliminate the growth imperative that is built into the existing banking system.

Full reserve banking is recognised as the missing link in the move to a sustainable economy by a number of leading green economists and thinkers. These include:

Herman Daly (grandfather of green economics and the author of Steady State Economics)


As Caroline Lucas points out in this video, the best way to use the debt-free money created as a result of these reforms (estimated at £1 trillion over 20 years) would be to spend it on the Green New Deal in an effort to build the green economy. This way we can get unemployed people into labour-intensive jobs, with more taxes paid by a larger workforce, creating a virtuous circle for government revenues and society as a whole.

The potential transition scenario to a full reserve banking system, as well as the finer details of the reforms, are laid out in the book Modernising Money. We have adapted these proposals to suit Green Party principles.

With the Icelandic parliament looking into the potential of introducing full reserve banking[3], we may have a working example of these reforms in the years to come. As the proposer of the motion, Andrew Waldie, puts it, “This motion strikes a blow at the heart of financial capitalism by removing from banks their power to create money”. We may have improved our policies, but the real battle will be taking this power back from the banks when our movement reaches a critical mass.


Check out some Frequently Asked Questions about full reserve banking here -
http://www.positivemoney.org/faqs/

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Some thoughts on the Green Party conference

You probably read the Guardian’s coverage of the Green Party conference this weekend. Some good, though with one misleading headline;  Natalie Bennett’s leader’s speech to the Green Party’s conference in Brighton this weekend was actually very little about the surveillance state and firmly foregrounded  the social justice agenda; see http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/13/green-leader-parties-spying-scandal   and http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/13/greens-food-poverty-inequality-leader.                    Some critical; Neal Lawson ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/15/greens-favourite-party-winning-seats?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487 ) and Rowena Mason (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/13/green-leader-natalie-bennett-party-pleasant-green-field ) should have stayed longer to learn what was really going on.

Those of us who were there on Friday and Saturday heard a soul-searching debate which echoed the question raised by Neal Lawson and also in the latest Red Pepper (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/taking-on-the-fruitcakes-how-can-we-stop-ukip/); why is UKIP doing so well and the Greens/the far left parties not ? The debate brought out precisely one of the conclusions of one of Neal’s favourite web sites, Common Cause, the need to put over a party’s  values at least as much as its policies. Green core values highlighted in this discussion included caring, sharing, peace, and fairness – from which it should have been clearer to some participants that we are not hoping to compete for the same voters as Farage, presented as the strong man with the winning xenophobic smile behind his beer glass.  To reflect our values, it was said, we need to build a movement, to engage in action – in other words, it’s not just about elections. Caroline and the other anti-fracking demonstrators recently set a good example here. Neal Lawson is right that we should not be a “me too" political party – winning elections may be a target for pride, but the most attainable goal may be to shift the left to be lefter and greener, just as UKIP has shifted the Tories to the right. For us this means getting stuck into single issue campaigns and a bit of NVDA sometimes.

We also heard an fairly positive account by Jason Kitcat, Green leader of Brighton Council, of their first two years in office. (Read a lot more on http://www.brightonhovegreens.org/assets/BHGP_PDFs/publications/Mid%20Term%20Report%20September%202013.pdf) . Despite the June row about the bin men’s allowances, over which a hasty decision outraged both the unions and the local Green MP, Brighton Greens can celebrate many achievements. There’s a commitment to evict nobody on account of bedroom tax arrears, a living wage across the Council and its contractors, a reduction of salary spread  amongst Council employees, a prize-winning new park, a major increase in use of buses and bikes, better school results and some economic improvement. Plus ring-fencing of youth services and children’s centres, engagement of the population with anti-cuts campaigning, and 500 empty homes brought back into use. Plus free insulation for all over 60s (regardless of income), disabled and low income households, and lots of energy efficiency measures and new heating systems in council housing.  All this was paid for by economising on the council’s use of buildings and on energy use within them, by ending council tax discount on empty homes and second homes, and by astute use of competitively won external grants. [There are some lessons for London here – including a suggestion from an Islington member that encouraging cycling and walking could become part of local authorities’ new expanded mandate for public health. By comparison, Haringey can also claim to have the living wage in all but a handful of sub-contractor jobs. But the bedroom tax remains a sore issue, and the 40-20 carbon reduction programme has been very slow to take off. ]

Some on the left of the Green Party remain critical of Brighton Greens’ decision to cling to their minority administration after their ‘no cuts, but raise council tax’ budget was defeated eighteen months ago, leaving Greens with a hard choice about whether to resign or implement £4 million of cuts for lack of more council tax money. But a conference motion respected the Brighton councillors’ decision and reminded Greens of the dangers of allowing the party’s rivals to make capital out of criticism in the public arena. The far left press had a field day a few months ago when Brighton Council was threatened with strikes in the row over employees’ allowances. Jason Kitcat, speaking to conference, claimed that this had now been resolved with a re-jigging of allowances which was fair and had achieved its aim of greater equality for women.

Other highlights of the conference included Caroline Lucas’ private members bill to re-nationalise the railways. Based on the mechanism of taking franchises back into state or community ownership whenever they expire (or the operator goes bankrupt, withdraws or is sacked), this could be a useful model for undoing some NHS privatisations as well. Further details can be found on http://www.carolinelucas.com/media.html/2013/06/26/bring-railways-back-into-public-hands-to-save-a-billion-a-year,-urges-green-mp/ or http://www.bringbackbritishrail.org/.

And lastly, an interesting session covered the threat posed by academy schools, now around half of all English schools. Private companies – by far the majority of school providers - and some religious organisations alike were exposed for cherry-picking pupils, increasing the number of exclusion orders, and employing unqualified teachers. As a local party, in Haringey we perhaps haven’t paid enough attention to the academy issue.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Great Royal Mail Robbery – But Will They Get Away With It?


I was pleased to see that the Green Party conference unanimously passed the motion to stop the privatisation of Royal Mail and support the campaign by the union the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to fight the sell-off.

I worked for BT for twenty years, joining just a few years after it was privatised in 1984 which was the first of the public utilities to be sold off by the Thatcher Tory government, but was followed by many more, some under the subsequent Labour government, in an ideological process of robbing the poor to the benefit of the wealthy.

In the time that I worked at BT it did change a lot, going from 250,000 employees down to something like 80,000 by the time that I left, and I think even lower now. When I started working there I did think that there was a plausible argument for privatising a business where thousands of people had to wait six months or more for a telephone connection in an industry that was obviously going to expand because of technology.

Of course the government at the time could have made that investment themselves, but that was the whole point, take ownership off everyone and concentrate the profits generated, which amounted to billions of pounds a year, into the hands of those who could afford to buy the shares. Despite share issues to staff and some allocations of shares to ‘small investors’, the ownership largely fell into the hands of the big investors. And the drive to increase share price superseded everything else, including service.

Asset stripping became the policy in BT, with over a hundred buildings and land sold for development in London alone and Royal Mail is well endowed in property, but selling it off is bound to have a more acute effect on customers in the mail trade, with longer distances to collect registered mail etc.

Customer service has actually gone down in the privatisation years. Who hasn’t despaired of the call centre customer service experience? Who can be bothered to examine the bewildering array of choice of providers and their myriad ever changing tariff deals?   

One cultural thing that did linger in BT up until the time I left, was a unionised one, with around 80% membership amongst sub management grades and even a decent proportion in the lower ranks of management. This cultural attachment to the union, is even stronger in Royal Mail than it is (was) in BT, and I fully expect a huge vote in favour of industrial action, and a really solid response from the rank and file.

I was a CWU rep in my time working at BT, so I mixed with activists from the postal side of the union and I know that they are not going down without a fight on this. But all may not be lost.

Big political beasts have tried to privatise Royal Mail like Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandleson, only to be thwarted by a campaign of resistance, not only from the CWU, but from Tory MP’s and now probably Lib Dem MP’s in rural constituencies, where inevitably the service will get worse and more expensive, despite assurances to the contrary. It could well cost some of these MP’s their seats, so I do not discount a U-Turn on this policy by the government.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What is the Gagging Law?



A very illiberal law is being proposed by the ConDem government, which will limit the amount of political campaigning that organisations such as trade unions, charities and pressure groups by allowing them to only spend a small amount of money. Big business of course will be unaffected.

Monday, 9 September 2013

UK is urged to invest £50bn in a greener economic recovery


Campaigners have warned that Britain is hurtling towards a new economic crisis, and call for a £50bn "Green New Deal" to create more sustainable growth and better-paid jobs and equip the country for a low-carbon future.

After two quarters of better-than-expected GDP growth and a batch of positive economic indicators – including rising house prices and upbeat business surveys – the coalition is hoping the summer economic bounce will turn into a longer-term recovery. But five years on from their first demands for a radical reworking of Britain's business model, the Green New Deal group, which includes Green party MP Caroline Lucas, economist Ann Pettifor and tax expert Richard Murphy, says the need for an alternative approach is greater than ever. In a report published on today, it argues that recent growth has been based on unsustainable rises in consumer spending and house prices and could end in "the mother of all credit busts".

"Recovery is an interesting word to apply to an economy that is marked by rapidly rising personal debt, highly insecure and often low-paid work, and rising underlying carbon emissions. What we're calling a recovery is poor, divided, indebted and polluting," said Andrew Simms, chief analyst at thinktank Global Witness and an author of the report.

Central banks have poured cheap money into financial markets to drive down interest rates and prevent deflation and depression. But Green New Deal says this is a dangerous gamble: "Given the choice, they prefer to have the problem of asset prices going through the roof than the problem of deflation. If they are wrong and the bubble bursts before the recovery arrives, it will be the mother of all credit busts," it says.

Under an alternative plan in the Green New Deal report, the government would invest £50bn into expanding green technologies over five years, building low-cost housing, and employing a "carbon army" to insulate hundreds of thousands of homes and reduce energy use.

The authors say these measures would create more, and better-paid, jobs than the current debt-fuelled bounce, which Pettifor described as an "Alice in Wongaland" recovery. Lucas, who is the MP for Brighton Pavilion, said a grassroots workforce could be trained to lag Britain's chilly lofts "within weeks". "Ministers want to cut a nice big ribbon on a new nuclear power station – but this would be far more effective in getting our emissions down quickly," she said.

Real incomes have continued to fall over the past year, as above-target inflation has outpaced pay growth, in what the TUC has described as the greatest wage squeeze since the 1870s. Green New Deal argues that if more workers were paid a living wage it would help to create more sustainable consumer demand. Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, which begins its annual congress in Bournemouth on Sunday, supported the Green New Deal initiative, saying: "The green economy already employs nearly a million people, in areas from electric-car manufacturing to wind-turbine installation. Implementing some of the ideas in this report could help these industries create more of the skilled and well-paid jobs we need if we are to build a sustainable recovery."

The authors suggest their pro-growth policies could be paid for by scrapping the controversial HS2 rail project; cracking down on tax evasion; and launching a fresh round of quantitative easing.

Instead of using electronically created money to buy government bonds from City investors, as the Bank of England has done with almost all of the £375bn-worth of QE it has undertaken since 2009, the proceeds this time would be used to invest in green projects, and pay off private finance initiative debts, freeing up public money to be spent elsewhere. The report argues that investing in affordable housing, in particular, would benefit those on lower incomes more than the better off. "It can mean that people have more disposable income after housing costs, which in turn boosts spending in the local and national economy," the report says.

The authors argue that a rapid boost in the supply of housing would also help to "dampen the housing bubble beginning to appear in response to government measures such as Help to Buy, which facilitates prospective homebuyers to find a deposit". The controversial Help to Buy scheme was the centrepiece of George Osborne's March budget, and has been questioned by a number of critics, from the former governor of the Bank of England, Lord King, to the International Monetary Fund, amid fears that it could create a new property boom.

Mark Carney, the Bank's new governor, has said he is "very alert personally" to the risk that a housing boom is emerging – and said he was ready to burst any bubble, by targeting mortgage lending.

Reforming the bailed-out banking system is another central proposal of the report, suggesting that Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the taxpayer, could be broken up into a series of regional lenders that would build relationships with local industries. "All the mechanisms which have been brought into play to encourage lending to the productive part of the economy don't seem to be working," says Simms.

Labour has promised to introduce a British Investment Bank, to boost lending to businesses; but it has eschewed much of the Green New Deal agenda over the past five years, focusing on an emergency VAT cut as the centrepiece of its policies to create a recovery.

Other members of Green New Deal include Charles Secrett, former director of Friends of the Earth; Jeremy Leggett, chairman of green energy firm Solarcentury; and Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian.

First published at The Observer newspaper

You can read the full report here

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Case for Land Value Tax



This video was produced by the Coalition for Economic Justice (CEJ). They stand for:-

1. We seek to influence politicians and policy makers by establishing contacts, meeting with parliamentarians, political parties and government officials, lobbying and holding events;
2. We seek to influence the wider public through work with opinion formers and the media and  by appealing to peoples’ innate sense of justice;
3. We seek to engage and collaborate with a wide range of organisations with similar or compatible aims, particularly (but not exclusively) with those seeking money reform, linking the public collection of the community-created value of economic rent with the need for a just and sustainable economy; and
4. We seek to work with academics, think-tanks and the range of educational institutions to influence both the understanding of economic rent and the development of academic courses and to encourage the involvement of students

Check out their website here...


Thursday, 5 September 2013

GMB Union’s move shows that unions feel sidelined by Labour


The GMB added this ominous statement to their press release: “It is expected that there will further reductions in spending on Labour party campaigns and initiatives.”

Much more will come out this weekend as the annual TUC conference kicks off in Bournemouth, but it’s telling that no one from any of the major unions was willing to make a statement on BBC World at One today. Only Ronnie Barker from the Bakers Union came on to say that he wouldn’t be surprised if other unions follow suit.

There’s a tendency for many within Labour to see their relations with Trade Unions as a battle of wills rather than an equal relationship. So many will interpret this as a ‘warning shot’ from GMB that requires a ‘robust response to show we’re not weak’ etc. But I think they forget that there are far more Britons who see their union as more relevant to their lives than the Labour party.

As George Eaton points out, the GMB has decided to slash its funding in advance, rather than seek to recruit members to the party. And they’re not even bothered about picking a public fight over this.

This is bad for the Labour not just because it deprives of the money, but because it indicates relations are so bad the unions are largely unwilling to work with Labour to make it a mass-membership party. They’re essentially saying: ‘if you’re going to treat us like this, then don’t expect us to help you‘.

If that attitude among unions hardens and becomes entrenched, especially if the Labour leadership decide to take it as a personal attack, then expect more unions to follow and eventually look at disaffiliation.

Written by Sunny Hundal who blogs at Liberal Conspiracy