Category Archives: Book Review

Eco-fatalism: Are we all f***ed?

I certainly meet and read of a number of eco-fatalists who believe it is already too late to take action to save humanity. Essentially either we’ve already passed key tipping points or we’ll fail to take the necessary action to stop us passing them over the coming years: scary, depressing and most of all, disempowering. In the Spring edition of Earthmatters, the Friends of the Earth magazine, Jonathon Porritt poses the question ‘Who says we’re f***ed?’ He cites Stephen Emmott and his new book ‘Ten Billion’, who basically puts the eco-fatalist position. As both per capita human impact on the planet and population continue to grow the result is catastrophe. Either population or per capita impact need to fall, or both, for humanity to have a chance.

Jonathon Porritt’s book ‘The World We Made’ is set in 2050, and is one of the few optimistic books on long term sustainability. It’s a good read and I’d heartily recommend it. I guess basically I’m with Porritt on this one. It is still possible for humanity to save itself: for per capita impact to rapidly diminish and for population to peak considerably before we get to ten billion. I even believe that per capita impact could fall so rapidly that even ten billion would not be an undue strain on the Earth systems. As I said last week, and keep saying, technologically, philosophically and theoretically there is much we could do: it is the political will that is lacking.

Even if the chances of success are slim, the struggle for a better future is well worth the effort. It brings us into contact with other people who are passionately working for change, and our numbers are growing, possibly exponentially. Therein lies the key: in democracies numbers matter. Avaaz’s membership has gone from nothing to over 35 million in the last seven years. The Green Party here in the West Midlands seems at long last to be making headway. I was out on the ground canvassing with them in a key ward last week. It’s slow difficult work. We need all hands on deck if we are to prove the eco-fatalists wrong!

The Media and Climate Change

I’ve just finished reading ‘In the eye of the storm’, the autobiography of Sir John Houghton, the former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As one might expect, he comes across as scientifically rigorous, always prepared to modify his position in the light of new evidence. His utterances on climate change are extremely cautious, and always backed up by the most careful analysis of the peer reviewed literature. Cutting edge science will always be some years ahead of the slow and cautious peer reviewing process. (Some scientists such as James Hanson and Peter Wadhams are prepared speak from the cutting edge.) Sir John Houghton meticulously details the damage done by climate change deniers, often willfully acting on behalf of powerful vested interests.

I have in several recent blogs bemoaned the generous coverage given to the barmy army of climate change deniers. It is significant that a couple of days ago the Science and Technology Committee of MP’s have felt impelled to criticize the BBC, Telegraph and Daily Mail for this. In their defense the BBC said in the interests of impartiality they try and represent all sides. If this is the case why don’t they give any time to those advocating major changes to the status quo? I would dearly love the opportunity to present the case for a rapid shift in the economy towards a radically more ecologically sustainable and socially just future. Several people have suggested my ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’ evening classes would make great television! In them I express opinions that are well received by large numbers of people, yet seldom heard on our mainstream media. If the BBC really wants to take a balanced approach they should give more coverage to those who understand the threat of climate change, and the matrix of other macro level environmental problems facing humanity, and are advocating fundamental change: political, economic, social and environmental.


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