Category Archives: Economics

Exploring System Change

Me with my placard, ‘Change Politics not the Climate’

Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.

The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?

My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.

Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:

What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?

Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)

From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)

 These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.

For background see my book ‘System Change Now!’ or explore this blog. If you’ve questions e-mail

Tomatoes: Economics & Ecology

British supermarket salad section
EU supermarket salad section

The UK currently has shortages of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and other salad crops. The government and BBC are pushing the line that these shortages are due to poor weather in Morocco and Spain. This has been a factor, but a very minor part of the reason for our shortages. The entire EU has an abundance of these salad crops, and even in Kherson on the frontline of the war in Ukraine has plenty. So: why the shortage here?

Brexit is largely to blame. Holland, which grows salad crops for export in heated greenhouses, has plenty, but Brexit red tape means Dutch lorry drivers, who often have to queue for up to 77 hours, are refusing to drive to the UK. We could grow our own but as the UK energy costs are somewhat higher than average EU energy prices it is often uneconomic to heat greenhouses here, and this is compounded by the shortage of agricultural workers now that Brexit has forced so many East Europeans to leave. Ukraine meanwhile has open access to the EU’s single market and so it is has tomatoes and the rest in plentiful supply.

We could of course re-structure our energy market to be more in line with the EU. That would make energy costs cheaper, but reduce corporate profits, and our government is firmly on the side of maximizing corporate profits, even if it means impoverishing UK citizens.

Traditionally we did not eat many out of season crops. Tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces were mainly harvested in the summer and autumn. To have such crops in February is either done by bringing the produce from southern Europe or Morocco, or growing in the UK or Holland in heated greenhouses, any of which usually mean high carbon footprints.

It is possible, but almost never done, to grow tomatoes and salad crops in the UK in greenhouses that do not result in carbon emissions. The New Alchemy Institute pioneered greenhouses with very high thermal mass, and solar thermal panels way back in 1976 on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Now with cheap solar and wind power, we could add utilizing surplus wind energy to heat giant hot water stores under greenhouses. Technologically this is feasible. Iceland pioneered using geothermal heat to grow bananas, a much more heat demanding crop than tomatoes. Greenhouse technology has great potential to feed more of humanity, but it needs sensible governments that want to promote ecologically and economically sustainable practices. Our government is obsessed with the delusion of Brexit, nostalgia for empire, putting corporate profits over ordinary people, and cares not a jot for true sustainability.

James Rebanks, the author and regenerative farmer, tweeted: ‘Being a farmer in Britain right now is like being trapped in the back of stolen car driven at high speed by a driver who’s high on drugs and oblivious to the obstacles ahead… and all the time shouting absolute gibberish at you from the front seats’. Therese Coffey is currently the British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and she is certainly shouting absolute gibberish.

Oh, for a government that actually cared for the people and the planet, and a BBC that actually wanted to speak the truth!

System Change

It is clear we need to stop burning fossil-fuels and switch to renewables, change from a wasteful, throw-away society to a pollution minimizing one, from a linear to a circular economy and from an extremely unequal world to a very much more equal one.

On this blog I have frequently talked with great enthusiasm about various renewable energy projects and technologies. They are very useful, but only if we can also rein-in total energy demand. Today Ember have just issued a damming report that shows global carbon emissions rising during the first half of 2021 despite a healthy increase in renewable energy generation. In the UK and globally the response to the pandemic has often used the slogan ‘Build Back Better’, but the reality is that we’ve been building back with the same or worse energy wasting projects, so although generation from renewables has increased, so too has electricity generation from coal. The main increase has been in China, and many politicians are keen to blame the Chinese, but this increase in emissions has been fuelled by the west’s insatiable demands for ever more Chinese made goods.

For decades we’ve been encouraged to recycle stuff and to make minor lifestyle changes that often only result in annual carbon reductions of a few grams, and those of us who care about such things have made efforts to live as ethically as we can. However it is all pretty pointless if the emissions of those millions of high emitters who simply do not care can carry on emitting. The American economic anthropologists Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros have calculated the personal carbon emissions of many billionaires and found they each emitted over 1,000 tonnes, and some, such as Roman Abramovich emitted a staggering 33,859 tonnes. A report from Oxfam stated that the carbon emissions of the richest 1% are more than double of the emissions of the poorest half of humanity. To reduce emissions to avert climatic catastrophe we need everybody, every country and every industry to reduce emissions rapidly, and obviously the most important place to start is with the biggest emitters. That implies curtailing some industries from air travel to advertising, and limiting the rights and privileges of the most wealthy and wasteful people.

This week Extinction Rebellion are protesting again on the streets of London and many other cities. I support their actions and am with them in spirit, but not in person. Those who are on the streets protesting represent the many millions of people who cannot be with them, but support them in spirit.

Worldwide people are demanding system change in order to avert climate catastrophe. The Millichap Peace Fund have invited me to give a talk which will go out live via Zoom on 22nd September and be available online thereafter. I shall be asking the question ‘Is a better future possible?’ Given the scale of the many interrelated crises we face to even ask such a question can seem a travesty. In the talk I shall try and convey my vision of what system change might look like and how we might achieve it. This talk is a brief synopsis of a book I hope to have published by spring 2022. I’ll post more details about the talk and how to register to get the Zoom link nearer the time. There will be an opportunity to ask questions. More details on the talks and classes page.