Monthly Archives: June 2013

Inequality inevitably destroys democracy

Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson in their book ‘Why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty’ take a broad sweep though human history and demonstrate that inclusive political institutions are vital for long term prosperity, while extractive systems undermine both prosperity and functional democracy. These authors fail to make clear the extent to which inequality is now destroying countries long thought of as democratic, especially USA.

One statistic demonstrates the extent to which the USA must now be regarded as a failed state. “The top 400 people … own more wealth now than the bottom 185 million Americans taken together. That is a medieval structure.” (Gar Alperovitz) In January the Guardian Weekly quoted Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s chief executive, who said extreme wealth was “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive”. ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, ‘Affluenza’ by Oliver James, Annie Leonard’s ‘Story of Stuff’ videos would all be known to many of the readers of this blog, and all give ample evidence to the destructive effects of excessive wealth.

Our mainstream political parties have utterly failed us in America and Britain. Barack Obama is probably the best candidate either the Democrats or Republicans could have come up with and yet judged by any meaningful political or economic indicators he has been a disaster. The extent to which the American state is in the hands of a few rich individuals and corporations makes democracy a sham. The UK is not much better. Inequality has risen consistently from the Thatcher era through Blair, Brown, and Cameron. Paranoia over terrorism has forced us into pointless wars and unprecedented surveillance.

However I remain optimistic. One reason is the burgeoning size and dynamism of what Paul Hawken in ‘Blessed Unrest’ calls ‘The Movement’. We can see it active on the streets of Brazil and Turkey, in the growth of online activism with Avaaz and, in the increasing global numbers of bottom up, self organising community groups. This movement is profoundly egalitarian, inclusive and global. I feel strongly a part of something very big and very little understood. We demand real social justice, real democracy and real ecological sustainability. I’ll write more about this movement over coming weeks: it is of profound significance.


The 400 individuals to 185 million ratio of American inequality is one I heard the excellent Ted Howard of the Evergreen Coops quote at a meeting in Hereford, but here is quoted by Gar Alperovitz on the democracy now website

The books referred to in today’s blog are:-

‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty’ by Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson, Profile Books, 2012

‘The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone’ by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, Penguin, 2009

‘Affluenza’ by Oliver James, Vermilion, 2007

‘Blessed Unrest’ by Paul Hawken, Penguin, 2007

3 local things worth celebrating!

Kingstone Development

Kingstone Development

As humanity struggles to leave the fossil-fuel age behind and embrace a positive vision of the future there will be many struggles along the way, and many victories. Today I want to highlight three local projects that all are well worth celebrating!

5th June at Herefordshire Council Planning Committee meeting ArchiHaus got planning permission for 150 Passivhaus houses in Kingstone, despite some fierce opposition. This will be one of the largest rural Passivhaus developments anywhere in the world. It will allow the development of a new house factory to build high thermal specification components in Hereford, just the kind of employment we need locally. The development includes many interesting and exciting aspects that add to its sustainability credentials. Hopefully it will have the added effect of raising building standards across the county and beyond.

1st June was the first birthday of St James and Bartonsham Car Club, which we celebrated by walking up to Dinedor Hill Fort for a picnic, and a very nice day it was. We have doubled in size over these last twelve months, from one to two dozen households. We currently share the use, ownership and responsibility for three cars and are just about to acquire our fourth. The club generates many diverse benefits both for our members and for the wider community. It is, as our logo says, ‘cheaper, greener travel’. We do quite a bit of outreach work, helping other communities to consider the possibilities of setting up their own car-share clubs.

17th June saw the AGM of Leominster Community Solar Co-operative, and again there was much to celebrate. The panels have been producing more electricity than had been written into the business plan, so the problem was one of what to do with larger than anticipated profits. A vote was carried to put a portion into helping other local community renewables projects get established, and much appreciation was expressed for the hard work of the great folks at Sharenergy. This solar co-op, like the passive house project and the car club, are models worth replicating! All have social and ecological benefits and point to the possibilities of a more sustainable future, and a better future!

More about ArchiHaus

More about our car-sharing scheme

More about Leominster Solar Co-op

Atmospheric Co2 passes 400ppm


Mauna Loa Observatory

Co2 monitoring at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii

Apologies to my regular readers: having strived to produce a regular fortnightly blog for over three years I’ve just gone over two months without a posting. Sorry! During my silence the world has passed the milestone of 400ppm. Andrew Simms writing in the Guardian noted how little media coverage there has been. The overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion, and the broad majority of humanity, accepts that climate change is a problem, even if there remains debate as to if this is of existential importance to our species. The few real sceptics typified by ex-chancellor Nigel Lawson seem ever more eccentrically blinkered.

The rather long 2009 Dan Miller video link below explains the possibility of ‘game over’ for humanity and makes some good points about why we fail to act, but he is poor on potential solutions. Back in 2007 I started writing a solution-focused book called ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’. The book remains unfinished and unpublished, but out of it has grown this blog, various articles and the talks and evening classes I continue to give across Herefordshire and beyond.

Bill McKibben and people have made a video called ‘Do the Math’ urging, amongst other things, a concerted campaign of disinvestment in the fossil fuel industry. It’s good on the kinds of oppositional action we should take, but like too much of the debate on climate change not strong enough on inspirational possibilities as to what a low carbon, truly ecologically sustainable and socially just world might look like. So all the more reason for me to resume my regular blogging: I am convinced that, in theory at least, we could have a sustainable and pleasant future. However I am much less convinced that we as a species will take the necessary action in the time available. All the more reason to keep promoting a vision of a better future: we will only make the changes necessary to save ourselves if we have some sense of hope!

Andrew Simms

Dan Miller

The excellent