Category Archives: Politics

Ethiopia & Spain

Eritrean crowd

The war is over: Eritrean crowds welcome Ethiopian leader Abiy to Asmara

As democracy is under threat from a resurgent neo-fascism in UK, USA and elsewhere, in other places well functioning democracy is making significant progress. Ethiopia and Spain each have new governments, and both seem to be getting off to spectacularly good starts, each in difficult circumstances.

Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia on 2nd April 2018. In his first four months in office he has done many good things. Ethiopia’s war with Eritrea had dragged on for many years, yet in just a few months, peace has been declared, ambassadors exchanged, direct flights resumed and economic ties look like being rapidly expanded. Hopefully peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea will help de-escalate other conflicts across the Horn of Africa as both sides previously backed rival proxies in the region. Abiy has released many political prisoners, relaxed censorship and is seeking to bring Ethiopia’s many factions into a more engaged and solution focused political dialogue. Abiy has four university degrees, including an MA in Transformational Leadership and Change, and published post doctrinal research on de-escalation strategies as a way of countering violent extremism, both useful training for his current job!

Pedro Sanchez became Prime Minister of Spain on 2nd June 2018, and he too has got off to a very promising start. He has appointed a female dominated cabinet that looks strongly progressive, pro-European and has drawn in people from outside politics. I’ve blogged before about how Spanish leadership in solar power and cleantech was undermined by the dreadful policies of the conservative Prime Minister Rajoy. Sanchez has merged the ministries of Energy and of Environment into a new Ministry for Ecological Transition, to be headed by the well respected Teresa Ribera. One of her first acts was to abolish Rajoy’s tax on solar power. There are many promising signs that Spain will rapidly expand its renewable energy while phasing out coal.

Both Spain and Ethiopia have many problems but they do both seem to have recently taken a turn for the better, towards reconciling differences and trying to heal economic woes. I’d love to see Spain and Ethiopia do some pioneering solar cooperation. Spain has much expertise in developing renewable energy, especially solar power, and Ethiopia has a vast and very little developed solar potential. It could help give both countries the economic and employment boost they both need.

The public mood swings against Brexit

Molly

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP: speaking sense on Brexit

Brexit is unfolding as an unmitigated disaster. Never has the British political establishment looked more dysfunctional, confused and weak. But as big a deal as Brexit undoubtedly is, it is only part of a bigger picture. The economic self interest of some very wealthy individuals is aligned with the Russian policy of weakening democratic structures and institutions on a global scale. Weakening tax and safety regulations is part of these people’s agenda, so too climate change denial and protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industries.

For those of us wanting a more peaceful, socially just, democratically accountable and ecologically sustainable future, where do we look? Economic equality is fundamental, and it was the rising inequality linked to globalization that led to the vulnerability of the liberal institutions to be attacked. It has been easy for the far right to tap into people’s anger and insecurities. How best to achieve radical equality and all the other goals to which this blog aspires?t

A few weeks ago I watched the film ‘Accidental Anarchist’, the account of Carne Ross’s trajectory from career diplomat to advocate of anarchism. A very powerful film and one I’d highly recommend. We certainly need more grassroots self organising democracy. Practically the most many of us can do is to engage in as many grassroots organisations as possible, but in the context of states such as the UK this has little effect on government. We do need good politicians and good journalists to expose the wrongdoing and to propose better ideas and policies. We need better technological options in order to pollute less, more grassroots organizations to help us effect bottom up change. Last week the Green MEP Molly Scott Cato spoke in Hereford to a packed hall on the subject of Brexit, and she was excellent. Do read her Bad Boys of Brexit. Also see her new Brexit Syndicate website.

As the UK disintegrates into chaos, many countries are flourishing. Sweden has just reached its 2030 renewable energy goal twelve years ahead of schedule; its policies on everything from pollution reduction to economic equality seem to be working well. Its system of proportional representation has resulted in a very well functioning red/green coalition government. In ‘Why Nations Fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty’ Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson argue that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the English invited to Dutch to have our throne was a critical turning point in the growth of democracy in England. Might now be the time to say our main political parties are simply failing us? Should we simply invite the Swedes to run our country until we can get our act together? Of course I say this at least partly in jest, but we do certainly have a lot to learn from the Swedes about democracy, equality and sustainability. The EU is such an important institution where countries can learn from each other and collectively strive to improve the future for all of us.

Molly Scott Cato quoted the Joni Mitchell lines ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. Only now that we are on the verge of leaving the EU are many people realizing what a good institution it is in many ways, and how it is worth staying in and working with our European friends to continually improve it. I feel the public mood swinging strongly against Brexit and the ghastly clique in whose interests Brexit is being pursued.

Brexit Britain is Bonkers

Farage

Nigel Farage, one of those who led us into Brexit, and made a fortune for his friends.

The UK is now as poorly governed as at any time in my life. Decisions are being made that are crazy.

Yesterday the government decided not to build the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, citing its high cost. Meanwhile they are proposing to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey, as well as the one currently under construction at Hinkley Point. These nuclear power stations are every bit as expensive as the scrapped lagoon project, and come with massively greater risks and less benefits. As this tidal lagoon would have been the first of its kind anywhere in the world costs will be high, but as many more are built the costs will fall. It is potentially a vast global market to which the UK has turned its back.

The UK government is still paying subsidies to outdated and polluting technologies, (oil and gas exploration, fracking, nuclear power) and are pushing ahead with a third runway for Heathrow. Meanwhile they seem to have done all they can to damage the new clean industries of the future. Solar installations in the UK halved for the second consecutive year, while soaring globally. Onshore wind has been effectively killed off. Locally owned and controlled renewable energy coops are growing in other countries, but in UK they too have been stopped in their tracks.

There are some brilliant things going on in Britain. Take just one example, the new hydrogen fuel cell ferry service destined for the Orkney Islands. I’ve blogged before about hydrogen fuel cell shipping. It will be a huge industry as renewably generated hydrogen replaces diesel in the World’s ships. Ferguson Marine have attracted this pioneering technology to Port Glasgow on the Clyde with help from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation fund, who have supplied three quarters of the current research funding. Leaving the EU will of course end, or at least damage, such innovative collaboration.

Dozens of business, from Japanese car manufacturers to Herefordshire fruit farmers are starting to relocate away from the UK. Brexit will be a disaster for many of those who voted for it. They were hoodwinked by a campaign of lies. As Bloomberg investigations show some hedge fund managers with close links to Nigel Farage made an absolute killing. Perhaps they are the only clear winners of the Brexit vote. Worse than the economic chaos that Brexit has caused is the breakdown of social cohesion. The damage Brexit has done will take generations to heal. The best that we can do now is to campaign to stay in the EU. Last Saturday’s demonstration in favour of a people’s vote on the deal was very well supported. (And please sign this petition.)

While this government make an endless series of dreadful decisions, and the Labour opposition fail to oppose, the real job of holding the government to account is falling to others. So let’s finish on a positive note. Three outstanding women come to mind. Caroline Lucas is the one MP speaking sense on every issue from Heathrow expansion to energy policy, human rights to Brexit. Carole Cadwalladr has just won the Orwell prize for her excellent investigative journalism on how Cambridge Analytica misused data to achieve the Brexit referendum result. Molly Scott Cato is a Green MEP who speaks a lot of sense, and her piece in today’s Guardian illuminates Farage and the hedge funds and the killing they made from the Brexit referendum. Three clear voices of courage and sanity in a country that seems to have gone bonkers.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is providing leadership in so many inspiring ways. Following a short civil war in 1948 it abolished its army and has for these last seventy years put the money saved into improving education, health and welfare systems. It now has longer life expectancy than USA. It is by far the most peaceful country in Central America and has very much lower crime levels than any of its neighbours. It has done much to protect and enhance its biodiversity. It has long been a beacon of good democratic government, and last month elected Carlos Alvarado as president.

The new president arrived at his inauguration ceremony in a hydrogen fuel cell bus, the first one in Central America. Costa Rica has for some years got about 99% of its electricity from renewables and has famously gone for 300 days without needing to burn any fossil fuels to generate electricity. It seeks to be a world leader by being the first country to fully decarbonise all its energy use. Transport is the big challenge. Carlos Alvarado has announced the incredibly ambitious goal of replacing all petrol and diesel use with battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars and buses by 2021. That would be a global first. It may not be fully achievable within these four years, but it is a goal worth pursuing. President Alvarado has described the full energy transition as a ’titanic and beautiful task’.

In order to make the transport sector fossil fuel free they will need to expand their renewable energy systems. So far most comes from hydro, with geothermal expanding quickly. Solar, wind and biomass are all still relatively underdeveloped. There is lots of scope for expansion. It will be very interesting to see what they can achieve in these next few years.

All the indexes and polls measuring happiness and wellbeing put Costa Rica up near the top, along with the five Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Low military spending, low levels of economic inequality, strong commitment to ecological sustainability and well functioning democracy seem to be unifying themes which help build a strong sense of social solidarity, wellbeing and happiness in all these countries: surely a recipe for others to follow?

Local Elections: Reflections

The local elections are over. The results are in. We’ve had a few days to read the analysis and reflect. What do they tell us?

The above graphic from the BBC sums up the results very nicely. Unfortunately the BBC coverage and analysis I found very disappointing, focusing as they usually do these days with both a very pro Brexit bias, and, as ever, seeing the election as a contest between Labour and the Tories. True Labour and the Tories are the biggest parties, and Labour did, just, gain more seats than any other party, but there are other and more interesting stories to be told.

Of the 4,404 seats contested across 150 councils which parties had the greatest percentage gains in terms of number of councillors, and why? By this measure the Green Party and Liberal Democrats did very well, with the Greens gaining 25.8% and the LibDems gaining 16.3%. Labour’s performance was pretty patchy and lacklustre at a gain of 3.4%. The Tories lost 2.4% of their councillors, which is a poor performance, but not as bad as it could have been had they not picked up so many former UKIP voters. The UKIP loss of 97.6% of their councillors must be one of the greatest annihilations of any political party in UK history.

If these local election results have anything to tell us about Brexit is that the public is rapidly turning against the whole process as a very bad idea. UKIP has collapsed and yet the Tories, supported by both the DUP and Labour are pushing ahead regardless. This is one factor why the most pro European parties are gaining ground. Clearly there are many other factors why people are turning to the Greens and LibDems, but the calamity of Brexit is certainly part of the picture. Their gains of 25.8% and 16.3% I find impressive and significant.

There is an extraordinary political paradox unfolding. The most passionately Unionist parties; UKIP, Tories, Labour and DUP are all in favour of Brexit, yet it will, in my view, almost inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The complexities Brexit presents regarding the border and the peace process in Northern Ireland seem unlikely to be solved any time soon. Scotland, like Northern Ireland voted against Brexit. The SNP, like the LibDems and Greens, is very strongly pro European. If Brexit does indeed go ahead then pressure will continue to grow for an ‘IndyRef2’, which would almost certainly lead to a win for Scottish independence from the UK. Yesterday there was a huge demonstration in Glasgow calling for independence.

After Brexit it seems probable that Scotland would gain independence. Northern Ireland would either join the Republic of Ireland, or possibly seek independence, strongly tied to the other parts of the British Isles still within the EU. So Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would remain in the EU while England and Wales were outside, and increasingly fractured by the calamity of Brexit.

I, like an increasing number of people, think that Brexit will not happen. Public opinion has turned against it. Any kind of ratification referendum would now almost certainly be a landslide for remaining in the EU. Yet Labour and the Tories still seem dedicated to pursuing the wishes of UKIP, despite UKIP’s demise.

War & Peace

A missile crosses the night sky over Damascus

A missile crosses the night sky over Damascus

The UK is yet again intervening militarily in the Middle East. The actions this week in Syria are as unlikely to bring lasting peace to the region as our previous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Tensions with Russia are as bad as during the Cold War.  Theresa May ordered these current attacks without debate or a vote in Parliament.

The global armaments businesses are always looking for opportunities to battle test their weapons systems. There is a remorseless logic to the military industrial complex. A peaceful world would be the death knell for their business model. Many of our global political leaders see the world in frighteningly adversarial terms. Each military action ramps up the dangers of further escalation, and with nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable world leaders the prospect of total global devastation is all too real.

Can we envisage a more peaceful world?

There are parallels with action on climate change. Many people struggle to imagine how the modern world would function without fossil fuels. As I keep stressing in numerous blogs, technologically and philosophically a radically less polluted world is possible. The fact that the fossil fuel industry is forever seeking to sow doubt in this fact has greatly slowed progress. Likewise, a very much more peaceful world is possible. It requires politicians very much more strongly committed to cooperation and to building social solidarity. The military industrial industries seek to undermine such a worldview. When neither an ecologically sustainable future or a peaceful future are in the interests of certain industries it is time to change the economy that promotes such suicidal business models. To do that requires a different breed of politicians.

The European Union is far from perfect but it has probably been the greatest example of cooperation replacing conflict in human history. It is also leading the world in action on climate change. Local communities across Europe are cooperating on peace and sustainability through processes like the Aalborg Commitments. Ramping up such initiatives globally would be a vital step toward a better and more peaceful future. The UK should put itself at the heart of such a process, and of course the nonsense of Brexit needs to be reversed.

The UK has local elections on 3rd May. Issues like international military action and Brexit may not be the responsibility of local government, but they certainly effect all local governments in myriad ways. It seems to me that UKIP, the Tories and Labour are all wedded to an isolationist and adversarial mindset. Electing more local councillors from the Greens, Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru might be a way to open up a spirit of greater cross party cooperation and peaceful international cooperation and engagement. It would certainly be a powerful message on Brexit. Caroline Lucas is a voice of sanity on this latest attack on Syria, as on so much else. We desperately need more politicians like her at every level of government.

It often feels like we as individual can’t do much about huge global issues, from climate change to world peace, from hunger and poverty to biodiversity loss. Voting is one thing that we can do. Today, make sure you’ve registered to vote, and if your council is up for election on 3rd May do please vote. Of course to create meaningful change we need to do so much more than just voting, but voting does matter: one tiny step on the long road to a more peaceful future.

Democracy Under Threat

Christopher Wylie

Christopher Wylie speaking at Parliamentary select committee

Democracy is under threat like never before. Digital warfare seems to be incredibly effective in changing how people think, feel and vote. There is growing evidence that many elections have been influenced in very negative and socially divisive ways, from the election of Donald Trump to the UK Brexit referendum.

In December I wrote a blog about why we should ‘Exit from Brexit’. Since then the revelations have shown a very frightening picture of voter manipulation, illegal data harvesting and campaign spending greatly exceeding legal limits. In that blog I highlighted the excellent investigative journalism of Carole Cadwalladr and others. In Saturday’s Guardian she posts the latest update on this whole sordid mess. The embedded videos of her interviews with Christopher Wylie and Shahmir Sanni are particularly powerful. Their revelations about Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ are dynamite. The UK has much to do to restore its reputation as a reasonably functioning and law governed democracy.

Democracy has always needed defending from those out to destroy it. Lives are at stake in this battle. Every year dozens of investigative journalists are murdered as they investigate links between organised crime and corrupt politicians. Wikipedia lists 71 journalists killed during 2017. Propaganda has long been used to whip up hatred, and sometimes the effects take years to become apparent. The Nazi propaganda in the 1920’s and 30’s directly led to the eventual death of scores of millions of people by 1945. Kenya, like much of Africa, has a long history of inter tribal tensions. It appears Cambridge Analytica interfered in the last election in Kenya, in very socially damaging ways. It may be years before the full impact of this becomes apparent.

For those of us who care about democracy we will have to redouble our commitment to holding truth to power, through excellent investigative journalism and the vigorous upholding of the rule of law. If we fail to do this now, the future consequences for our species could be fatal. We live in a world packed full of weapons of mass destruction and with an unfolding global scale ecological crisis: we need global peace and democracy if we want to have a hope of survival into the next millennium.

Politics: Violence & Hope

Norm Chomsky

I’ve just finished reading Norm Chomsky’s book ‘Who rules the World?’ He charts the development of American imperialist expansionism from the Founding Fathers, through the Monroe Doctrine to the ‘War on Terror’ and reiterates his view that the USA is the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of state terror. Much of what he says seems true to me, but he tends to overlook or downplay the imperialistic expansionism of other major powers, and the terror they inflict in their own spheres of influence. From China’s annexation of Tibet in the 1950’s to its current island building ventures in the South China Sea doesn’t look too different from America’s atrocities in Latin America and South East Asia. The best comparison is with Russia, whose continuity of territorial expansionism dates from the Sixteenth Century and has remained horribly unchanging through many Tsars, through the Soviet era and continues under Putin. A couple of weeks ago the BBC screened an excellent if terrifying documentary ‘Putin: The New Tsar’. One highlight was the contribution of Dr Ian Robertson on the psychological impacts of achieving too much power. In China President Xi Jinping’s personal concentration of power looks increasingly ominous.

Geopolitical rivalry between USA, Russia and China provides much cause for concern. On these blogs I always try and identify reasons for hope. My last blog was entitled Towards an Ecological Civilization. I am firmly of the opinion that most people would like a more peaceful, fairer and less polluted world to pass on to the next generation, but they are often at a loss as to how to get to this more hopeful outcome. So much of our media encourages fear and apathy, in part because they concentrate on reporting the rhetoric of the most divisive politicians. On this blog I try and encourage engagement and activism for a more hopeful future, and I will just stress three points.

The first is that countries can and do change. Think of Germany. Emerging from the horrors of the Nazi era it has remade itself as one of the most peaceful, responsible and best governed countries on Earth. I’ve blogged before about what Uruguay has achieved. Nowhere is perfect, but rapid and radical improvement is possible.

The second point is that the most interesting role models for positive change are often the least reported. So, while Trump’s idiotic pronouncements about energy make headline news I’ve never once seen coverage of the Danish District Heating Association, who continuously develop sensible practical solutions. More generally the Nordic Model offers so much more to learn from than USA, Russia or China, yet gets very much less press coverage. The world’s happiest and best run countries are the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. I’m just about to read ‘The Nordic Theory of Everything’ by Anu Partanen, which I think will be a much more cheerful read than Chomsky, and a much more practical guide to a better future!

The third point I want to make is about engagement and activism. If you feel something is wrong, where possible, don’t just bemoan the situation, get active with others and work on solutions. After the horrors of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland Florida it is heartening to see American youth organising the March for Our Lives. To reduce gun crime in American schools, or reduce American state terrorism, will require much effort, but don’t forget Bernie Saunders could have beaten Trump and that could have set America on a very different path. One worth striving for!

Towards an Ecological Civilization

Paris

Can we make our cities, and World, less polluted and better to live in? This picture is of Paris, one of the places leading the way.

Humanity wants a better future. Increasingly we are united in our demands for a cleaner, less polluted environment, and we see this as a fundamental human right. We want to protect the oceans, the forests and the air we breathe from the multiple onslaughts of industrial civilization. Achieving a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable lifestyle for all humanity is a goal worth striving for.  Increasingly we have the technological tools to help us do this, and there is a global groundswell providing the pressure politicians need to enact positive change.

Slowly the United Nations is moving towards recognising the human right to a healthy environment. Over the last eight and a quarter years I’ve posted three hundred blogs highlighting some of the positive steps that are being taken on this path to a better future. My focus has been on the shift from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewables. This change in energy use is one part of a bigger shift, what David Korten and Joanna Macy refer to as ‘The Great Turning’, from Imperial Civilization to Ecological Civilization.

In a great video Jeremy Leggett argues that the transition away from fossil fuels and to a 100% renewables based global economy is happening faster than most people understand. He identifies three meta-narratives in this process. First, the global groundswell of people, governments and increasingly also from corporations who see the need for change. Second, the falling costs and increasing efficiency of the renewable energy technologies, and thirdly, a whole set of problems within the old energy incumbency, from the ponzi like debt structure of the fracking industry to the inability of everything from coal and oil to nuclear to compete with renewables on either cost or environmental legislation. Together all these trends conspire towards an exponentially fast energy transition. We will see a lot of stranded assets.

There are many victories to celebrate. Over the last few years UK carbon emissions have fallen, so that in 2017 they dropped to levels last seen in 1890. This rapid improvement was mainly due to the decline in coal and rise of renewable sources of electricity.

As I’ve stressed in a number of recent blogs, the next big change needs to be in transport. At last many cities are starting to ban cars and make city centre areas radically more pedestrian focused. Cycle paths and public transport infrastructure are being improved. Several German cities are about to introduce free public transport in order to help get people to quit their car addiction. Many cities are banning the most polluting vehicles, and as I’ve shown in recent blogs very much cleaner alternatives are rapidly developing. Over the next decade I would predict air quality to improve and carbon emissions from transport to fall. Putin, Trump and few ghastly politicians will do all they can to stop this transition, but the overwhelming tide of global opinion combined with the pace of technological innovation is stacked against them.

Tax & Survival

rough sleepers

Rising numbers of homeless reflect the collapse of the public sphere

The number of people sleeping rough in UK has risen 169% since 2010. The NHS, education and all manner of council services are all in crisis due to chronic underfunding. As the public sphere collapses, excessively rich individuals take an ever greater share of the wealth. Meanwhile the natural world is being trashed at an unprecedented rate. Globally pollution now kills three times as many people as Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

As I said in a blog in October ‘We need a pollution minimizing way of maximizing the benefits of a modern global economy that can bring prosperity to all humans while allowing biodiversity to flourish.’ That socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable goal can be achieved. The technological options are already available. The missing ingredient has been political will. Since the Thatcherite revolution of 1979 there has been a quasi religious belief in market forces and low taxes. It is time to challenge this.

Now might be the time to bring back big government, but in a radically reinvigorated manner. I would like to see the top rates of income tax raised to 100%, top rates of stamp duty and death duties increased, tax loopholes and tax havens closed. Corporation tax should be increased. The basic rate of income tax could also be raised by a few pence. Taxes on all forms of pollution should be set in order to force whole industries out of existence. All forms of advertising should be heavily taxed. Also many areas of government funding should be cut, from subsidies that promote unsustainable farming practices to oil and gas exploration. Many costly projects such as Trident, Hinkley C and HS2 could all be abandoned.

With this vastly increased revenue a lot of vitally important work should be done. A universal citizen’s income could be introduced. Funding for the NHS and education should probably be doubled. Political power needs decentralizing. Local government funding could be increased perhaps fourfold and many new responsibilities could be transferred from national to local government. Funding for socially and ecologically innovative projects would be available.

The conservative party once had a reputation for sound financial management, yet the national debt has massively increased under this incompetent Tory government. I think we could quickly reduce the national debt while creating a paradigm shift towards a socially fair and ecologically sustainable future. The health, education and wellbeing of people now and in the future needs investing in, and to do that we need to raise a lot more taxes.