Monthly Archives: October 2019

Protests

People in Beirut, Lebanon, celebrate the Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation, but will stay on the streets demanding system change.

Protests are kicking off all around the World. In Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, Hong Kong, Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, Pakistan and Russia and in many other places there have been anti government demonstrations. The school strikes and extinction rebellion movements touched nearly every country on Earth, with their demands for action to be taken over the ecological and climate crisis. Most of the media reporting covers each demonstration as a separate story and the focus is usually to magnify visually photogenic dress or on any violence, however tiny this is in relation to the total event. Serious analysis of what impels all these many millions of people to take to the streets and what links all the various actions seems very inadequate.

The BBC in a rather bland and disjointed article did try and make a few linkages about people’s frustration over inequality and government corruption, and mentioning in a rather disconnected way the climatic and ecological emergency. Will Bunch, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, gave some good historical background on Chile and the malign influence of American foreign policy, and how both countries now have such dangerously high levels of inequality as a direct result of a toxic economic ideology.

Francisco Anguitar, a demonstrator in Chile said “We’re asking for justice, honesty, ethical government”, a sentiment no doubt shared by many. The question is what does ‘justice, honesty and ethical government’ look like in the current global situation? Recent revelations about the extent to which Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change and then systematically organised a massive disinformation campaign over several decades come as no surprise to many of us. Governments consistently promote corporate interests over public health. Air quality in our cities is atrocious, but nobody expects governments to take the required action. Inequality grows ever more extreme. Governments may come and go but the ruling oligarchs and the corporate interests they represent remain unchallenged. They control the media. Public frustration and anger grow ever greater, opening up dangerous possibilities.

The vast majority of the people demonstrating all over the world want peaceful change. They want a degree of social and ecological justice simply beyond the scope of anything that gets much coverage in the media. If change does not come quickly and peacefully the ever growing levels of public frustration and anger could led to violence and chaos. Recent Syrian history is a warning.

During the Arab Spring peaceful protesters in Syria were met by ever greater levels of repression and violence by the state. People felt impelled to protect themselves and their communities. The violence escalated into a multi-sided and intractable civil war. Some increasingly credible visions of a dystopian future see such strife escalating to become a totally global phenomenon.

Private jet aircraft embody social injustice and climatic destruction. Sales of such planes are increasing. In any conceivable future that is both ecologically and socially just they simply could not exist. The co-existence of billionaires and the very poor is the result of an economic system that was designed to create inequality. Taxation systems need to be redesigned to create radically greater equality both within and between countries. Any billionaire anywhere on Earth is evidence of a failure of economic justice. What the people are demanding is for the austerity that has been directed at the poor be redirected towards to the rich, and the affluence and resources that has flowed to the rich be redirected to the poor until some degree of economic justice is established. And to do all this while rapidly cutting carbon emissions and all other forms of pollution, and restoring the Earth’s wonderful biodiversity. A big ask, and one that requires system change, globally.

Climate: Action Required

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has said that capital markets are financing projects likely to fuel a catastrophic rise in global heating. This of course is exactly why Extinction Rebellion activists have been rebelling in the city of London this week. Carney also pointed out that companies with assets concentrated in the fossil fuel sector are likely to go bankrupt, just as others in the cleantech sector flourish.

The scale and speed of the energy transition required to avert catastrophe is way beyond what any politicians are advocating. Let’s take the energy debate in Australia where they currently generate about 20% of their electricity from renewables, and which the governing party energy minister thinks is too much, and is advocating for huge investments in coal. The opposition parties are advocating increasing renewables by 2030, the Labor party to 50% and the Green Party to 100%. Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, is calling for a goal of 700%, which to me seems a sensible way forward. Cheap wind and solar could easily meet all Australia’s electricity needs, and facilitate the energy transition in the transport and built environment sectors, and open up a huge new market in the form of clean energy exports. Already plans are afoot to lay an undersea cable to Singapore to directly export renewable electricity and for a huge growth in green hydrogen for export to Japan, Korea and China, helping them rapidly decarbonise. These are the sort of economic changes to which Mark Carney was referring. The question is where are the politicians needed to implement such profound and rapid changes?

Meanwhile Prince William is in Pakistan and has called for climate action after seeing for himself glacial retreat and consequent flooding and drought problems. He has called for greater cooperation between the UK and Pakistan on the issue. Pakistan, like Australia, has enormous solar potential. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has published a detailed paper on ‘Pakistan’s Power Future’, where they point out that solar and wind are already the cheapest forms of new energy and are projected to only get cheaper. Currently solar provides only 0.5% and wind 1.5% of Pakistan’s electricity. Pakistan currently generates 61% of its electricity from largely imported and expensive oil and gas. It would be good for Pakistan’s balance of payments, for local communities currently struggling without electricity, and for the global climate if their politicians worked with the many people who could help them rapidly develop their renewable energy potential.

Here in UK Boris Johnson has just announced that he will chair a new government committee on climate change. It is right that the Prime Minister chairs such a committee, but hard to imagine anyone less qualified to do the job. If I was to chair the committee I’d want to invite Professor Peter Strachan from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Jeremy Leggett from Solarcentury as my key advisors. Sadly Boris is unlikely to listen to such voices and unlikely to take any sensible action to avert climatic, ecological and financial collapse, which is why Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and others will keep up their protests for urgent and radical change.

Change Is Coming

A solitary climate striker in Russia. Last week she was one of 7 million globally on climate strike

Change is coming. As planetary systems are collapsing a new global consciousness is beginning to emerge. The climate and ecological crisis that has long been building, and which the global political and economic system has singularly failed to address, is now being bravely flagged-up by a new generation. This generation clearly is demanding profound, global, system change. This is not about anything as superficial as a change of government here or there, or even a global switch from capitalism to socialism; it is something much, much more profound.

At last people are beginning to think about the welfare of our species as a whole. We all require a stable climate, clean air and water, shelter and security, food, family and friendship. We need a new political and economic system that unites us in our common humanity. Longer term many exciting possibilities emerge for excellent free global health and education, for global ecological restoration, for new forms of global and participatory democracy. But today I want to focus on the short term.

The global strikes for climate from 20th to 27th September saw over 7 million people take to the streets. It was a truly global phenomenon, led and organised by teenagers, inspired by Greta Thunberg. On Monday 7th October Extinction Rebellion’s international rebellion will kick off again. I’m intending to be there on the streets of central London. The rise in ecological and climate activism on the streets can and does influence public opinion and political outcomes. Examples abound.

Austria had an election on Sunday, and the Greens tripled their vote to nearly 14%, resulting in them going from no seats to twenty-six. The Sydney Morning Herald put this surprise leap in the Green vote down to the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’, as following massive school strikes for climate action the issue has risen up in the public’s perception and concerns. This result in Austria is part of a wider European and global trend. Last May Green parties did exceptionally well in the European parliamentary elections and in the local elections in England and Wales.

Here in Herefordshire since May we’ve had a new council, and what a breath of fresh air they are. Last week I went with a number of people from Extinction Rebellion to a council debate on the climate emergency. It was thrilling to hear the heartfelt contributions from the public and to hear the sensible and constructive response of our councillors. Our new administration is a coalition of Greens, Independents and a local group called ‘It’s Our County’, and talking to individual councillors about how well they are working together is wonderful. They all understand the need for change and want council policy to rise to the challenge of the climate and ecological emergency.

The coming weeks will not only see the ongoing school strikes and the next wave of Extinction Rebellion action, but also demonstrations for freedom and democracy continuing in Hong Kong, Moscow and many other places. These things are all related. The yearning for system change, especially among the young, is overwhelming. This old man says ‘Bring it on!’