Category Archives: Politics

The Decline of the BBC

MEPs on Question Time

MEPs on Question Time, over a 5 year period, 35 MEPs appeared, all anti EU fanatics (33 UKIP 2 Tory). Where were the knowledgeable pro EU MEPs? 

The UK is in a political mess. It is more deeply divided, more confused and more misinformed than at any time in my life. I lay the blame for this in large part at the poor quality of our media. The decline in how the BBC covers news and current affairs is of particular concern. I’ve given up with their TV and radio reporting of serious issues, and only scan their website to see what issues they are prioritizing, rather than with the expectation of really learning anything.

How our relations with the rest of Europe have been covered has been dreadful for decades. The above graphic shows the number of MEP’s on the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme over a five year period. All thirty-five times MEP’s appeared on the programme they were anti EU fanatics, thirty-three from UKIP and two anti EU Tories. Most of these anti EU MEPs don’t even turn up to debates and are staggeringly ill-informed and prejudiced. For decades the voices of people who have a deep understanding of the complexities, strengths and weaknesses of the institutions of the EU have been systematically silenced. I’d love to see Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party MEP for the SW England, given as much TV exposure as Farage, then the public would have much better understanding of the real issues. It’s not just the Greens who have some good MEPs who actually have a lot of knowledge of and respect for the EU. All parties, bar UKIP, have such people; it’s just that the BBC and much of the rest of our media ignore them.

George Monbiot wrote an interesting article in the Guardian about how the media like to portray politics as an individual psychodrama. This focus on a ‘cult of personality’ prism through which to view politics obscures the real issues and the impact they will have on ordinary people. In terms of the Brexit debate all the media focus is on will Theresa May survive, will Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg or Jeremy Corbyn be the next prime minister. If Brexit does indeed go ahead it will affect the lives of all of us in the UK in deep and profound ways, which quite frankly are more important than who happens to be in number 10 Downing Street.

One error that the BBC has made is to think that having two opposing views represented is necessary to reflect balance. Over the years every time climate change was discussed they would invite a so called climate sceptic to counter the position of a climate scientist. This distorts reality. Equating someone from an oil industry spin machine dressed up as a ‘think-tank’ and giving it equal weight to someone expressing a factually well informed view of scientific reality is ludicrous. Again, with Brexit, the BBC seems to think it is OK to have someone spout things that are simply factually wrong, as long as at some other point in their programme they have someone else putting a different point of view, even if that too is factually wrong. The job of journalism is to speak truth to power, and this is something the BBC and much of the rest of our media seem to have lost sight of. Whether it is the breaking down of the biosphere, the self inflicted calamity of Brexit or any other serious issue, public understanding of the issues if often woefully poor, and for that the BBC and the media must take some of the blame.

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.

 

USA & Guns

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Gun ownership, and people being killed by guns, are way higher in USA than in any other developed country. More like a war zone!

Another day: another mass shooting in America. Today it was in Chicago. America seems to be at war with itself. These mass shootings grab the headlines, but it is homicides and suicides where the majority of the deaths occur. The graph above shows just what an outlier USA is in relation to most other developed countries. The horizontal axis shows gun ownership per one hundred people, and the vertical axis shows gun related deaths per 100,000 people. The diagonal line shows the overall trend that the more guns are owned in any given society the more people are likely to die from gun-shot wounds.

In 2014 USA had 33,599 gun deaths, while Japan had just six. As Japan has a population of 126 million, to USA’s 325 million, if American levels of gun death decreased to Japanese levels we might expect about 16 or 17 deaths per year in America, not over thirty-three thousand. We hear most in the media about mass shootings, and sometimes deaths in war, but these are tiny numbers compared with suicides and homicides. In 2016, another typical year in America, of the 33,594 gun deaths, 22,938 were suicides, 14,415 were homicides (of which only 71 were in mass shootings) and 1,305 were in other ways, including accidents and war casualties. (here)

The damage caused by guns in America is huge. It is also a political choice. America could massively reduce gun violence. It could make obtaining guns very much more difficult, as it is in most countries. In Japan getting a gun licence is extremely difficult and involves multiple layers of checks and paperwork, which clearly explains why deaths due to guns are so low in Japan. But it is not just Japan: Singapore, South Korea, Holland, UK, Chile and many countries have low rates of gun deaths, as the above graph shows.

Restricting access to guns is an obvious first step toward reducing gun violence. Reducing the extreme inequality in USA would also have an impact, as inequality generates stress, mental illness and anger. Curbing hate speech would also help. But the American constitution allows the right to free speech, which is often taken to include hate speech, and it also allows the right to bear arms. The American constitution looks hopelessly out of date.

In the recent midterm elections several significant victories were won by candidates advocating stronger gun control laws. Some, like Lucy McBath, were elected to congress, and many more to local state legislatures. They will have a long fight ahead of them to reduce gun deaths in America where the pro gun lobby is insanely powerful and well funded.

No other developed country has anything like the American levels of gun ownership and gun death. Reducing the rates of death can only be achieved by the American people making bold political choices, and that has to start with reducing access to guns.

Where access to guns is lower, of course, homicides and suicides are likely to be carried out by other methods. Many countries have higher rates of suicide than USA. All countries have much to do to change policies toward violence and self harm. However, this is not a reason not to restrict access to guns in America, but rather a reminder that all countries have much to do to reduce the causes of violence and self harm. I’ll explore some of these wider issues in a separate blog.

Hooray! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: rising star and climate radical

The American midterm elections are over and what they reveal is something very similar to what is happening in Europe; the rather flabby, corporate centre ground is collapsing and voters are moving out to the extremes. In Europe, where most countries have at least half a dozen parties in their national parliaments these trends are reflected as the emergence of some parties and the contraction of others, whereas in USA the trends take place within the Republican and Democrat parties. In a blog a couple of weeks ago I looked at the growth of Green parties in elections in Belgium, Luxembourg and the German state of Bavaria. Since then the German state of Hesse has had elections that reinforced this message, as again the traditional mainstream parties lost ground to both the far right AfD and to the Green party.

The best analysis of the midterms that I have read has been Paul Mason, and he is very good at identifying the demographic groupings that are driving the Trump phenomenon and its antidote, a much more socially caring and ecologically literate movement of more urban, educated, cosmopolitan and racially diverse people. Within the Democratic Party they form a democratic socialist grouping. For years Bernie Sanders was just about the only person representing this more radical perspective. Paul Mason identifies many of the emerging people and ideas within this movement. I want to focus on just one person. If Trump embodies all that is bad, then, for me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies all that is good.

In a Tweet the meteorologist and commentator Eric Holthaus described Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “the only American politician I’ve ever seen with a climate change plan that is in line with intergenerational justice.” She also has some refreshingly radical ideas on inequality, gun crime and much else that is so dysfunctional about American society.

Action on climate change in America has been lead from academia by people like Mark Z Jacobson, through the courts by Our Children’s Trust and though grassroots campaigns by the likes of 350.org. Now at last these people have someone within the House of Representatives who really is focused on the same kind of actions that they are demanding. Millions of us around the World are delighted to see someone like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez emerging as a true leader, and I for one would love to see her become President of USA. As she is only twenty-nine years old she has time ahead of her, but why not as the presidential candidate in 2020? Who better?

British Politics & Brexit

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The Peoples Vote March: possibly a pivotal moment of change for UK politics?

The tectonic plates of British politics seem to be shifting in bizarre ways. David Cameron called the referendum on EU membership mainly in order to heal splits in the Conservative party. Now both the Conservatives and Labour are more deeply divided than ever. Extreme Brexiteers dominate the leadership of both parties. So we have the old Socialist Corbyn forcing the Labour shadow cabinet into supporting Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, the DUP and their far-right pro Brexit agenda. The far right seem caught up in fantasy of recreating the British Empire and the far left into creating a 1970’s style Socialist fantasy. Both leaderships seem totally out of touch with reality.

The People’s March against Brexit took place in London last Saturday. About 700,000 people took part, making it the biggest demonstration in the UK since the anti Iraq war demo in 2003. I couldn’t be in London on that day, but like countless others was with them in spirit. Seeing the photos and comments on Twitter I clearly missed what was a very good natured but determined event.

Ever since we joined the EU it has been the butt of many jokes. The UK’s negotiations have always been portrayed as US against THEM. This whole Brexit nightmare has made many people take stock and realize the many extraordinary achievements of the EU and the benefits of membership. More and more people seem to be identifying themselves as European. We might also be British, but that is becoming the weaker affiliation. We see this most strongly in Scotland, where many people are saying, if the price of keeping the benefits of EU membership is breaking up the UK and going for Scottish independence, then, so be it. Also in England, Wales and Northern Ireland more and more people are identifying themselves as Europeans.

The Brexiteers won the referendum based on a pack of lies, cheating and illegal spending. It is now time to have a People’s Vote on the outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU. Clearly staying in the EU must be an option, and all the opinion polls now indicate that remaining in the EU would be the most popular option.

A growing number of politicians support this point of view. Many of them spoke at the huge demonstration in London last Saturday. Perhaps they could form some kind of National Coalition Government to extricate us from the chaos of Brexit. It would certainly be interesting to see a government made up of say, Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, Caroline Lucas from the Green Party, Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru, Vince Cable from the LibDems and perhaps Sadiq Khan, David Lammy, Chuka Umunna and Andrew Adonis from Labour, with maybe Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Kenneth Clarke and John Major from the Conservatives. We might bring in a few people from outside Parliament, such as Femi Oluwole. I’m sure that this cross party grouping could cooperate much more effectively than either our current cabinet or the shadow cabinet!

Greens Gaining Ground

Katharina Schulze

Katharina Schulze, co-leader, (with Ludwig Hartmann) of the Bavarian Greens

Yesterday there were three important elections across Europe, and Green parties did very well in all of them. Traditional Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties did not do well, losing ground in most cases. For parties of the far right it was a very mixed picture.

The conservative CSU have ruled Bavaria since the 1950’s, for most of that time with a comfortable absolute majority. In yesterdays Bavarian regional elections their vote fell to 37.3 %, so still the largest party, but a historic low for them. The Green vote more than doubled, from 8.6% to 17.8%, putting them in second place. The far right Alternative for Deutschland won 10.2% of the vote, giving them seats in the Bavarian Landtag for the first time, where, worryingly, they’ll be the fourth largest party.

In Belgium there were regional elections across the whole country and Greens did well from the francophone south to the Flemish north, and in cosmopolitan Brussels. Across Belgium the far right Vlaams Belang got utterly devastated.

Luxembourg had national elections, in which the Greens were again the biggest winners, increasing their vote from 10.1% to 15.1%, which puts the Greens as the fourth biggest party.

In a growing number of towns and cities across Europe the Green Party are now the largest party. As of this morning several new places join the list, from the small town of Amay in Belgium, to cities like Wurzburg and Munich in Bavaria. Congratulations to all the local campaigners involved, and to the pan European Green Parties: well done!

Life After Fossil Fuels

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

Oil: do we need it to keep modern civilization running?

A decade or so ago I started running evening classes called ‘Global Problems: Global Solutions’. We tried to envisage solving multiple mega problems simultaneously, from climate change to hunger and poverty. It still seems to me the possibilities of creating a better future are almost limitless.

One of the key concerns of people coming to these events was how life might look without fossil fuels. Some people were most worried from a resource scarcity angle. They saw Peak Oil as a big problem. Others were more worried from a planetary pollution perspective, and for them Climate Change was the biggest worry. Many people seemed to think that as oil is the basis of so much of our global economy we would have to do without many of the oil derived products, and much of the productivity and prosperity that oil has made possible. Many of these people thought that it would be the horse and cart that replaced the car, that global food supplies would massively decrease and that cities would collapse due to lack of food and energy.

I tended to put forward the case that the transition to virtually 100% renewable energy for all humanity’s electricity, transport, heating and cooling would be possible, and that recycling and resource substitution would be possible for most types of industrial production. We could at least in theory move to a circular economy where pollution was minimized and efficiency maximized, and for it all to be based on renewable forms of energy.

Looking back over the last decade it seems to me that the improved technology has led to falling costs of renewables to such an extent that this transition should be even easier than even I predicted. What we didn’t see coming a decade ago was the re-emergence of overt racism, ultra-nationalism and fascism. The likes of Trump, Orban and the Brexiteers care not a jot about climate change, the plight of the poor or any of the other problems we considered in our evening classes. They represent a denial of scientific reality, and simple human compassion, on a scale I’d never have envisaged seeing in any democratic state. They act to protect the ultra rich and the fossil fuel industries.

Now we have the rather bizarre situation of much of the global financial community understanding the risks associated with climate change and backing a lot of ideas put forward by Green activists and environmentalists, most of whom are quite critical of the concepts like capitalism and endless economic growth. Opposing them are a lot of right wing politicians who in theory support capitalism and growth, but who now endlessly have to intervene in the market to protect the economic interests of those who profit from the pollution.

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.