Category Archives: Politics

Carbon Emissions: Billionaires & the BBC

Last summer I wrote a blog about the carbon emissions of billionaires. This week an interesting article was published in The Conversation where two economic anthropologists from Indiana University looked in more detail at the individual carbon footprints of twenty of the richest people on the planet. Their findings reveal that the individual carbon footprints varied from Michel Bloomberg’s 1,782 tons to the staggering annual emissions of Roman Abramovich at 31,199 tons. In my blog I’d estimated the carbon emissions of all, or nearly all, billionaires to be over 1,000 tons. I’d also implied that their average would be even higher than this, and some individuals would be almost unimaginably high emitters. This new data backs up my previous blog.

Global average carbon emissions are currently something around 5 tons per person. Many people have miniscule carbon emissions, of perhaps a few kilograms or even just a few grams. The vast majority of such people are small scale African or Asian subsistence farmers. Some people who are doing ecologically regenerative farming systems will have negative carbon footprints, meaning that the carbon they are sequestering in the soil is more than that they emit in other ways. I follow lots of African climate activists of Twitter and many of them are doing amazing projects setting up tree nurseries, clearing up plastic pollution, educating about ecology and setting up ecologically restorative farming systems.

Meanwhile BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting Bill Gates’ book ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. It is a pretty awful book, concentrating entirely on technological innovation and ignoring the vital aspects of social innovation and climate justice. Last week I reviewed Jason Hickel’s book which focuses on the absolute need to move to a post capitalist economy to combat the climate and ecological emergency. I could recommend dozens of other books, maybe hundreds, that are much better than Bill Gates’ one. So why are the BBC reading his one? Is it because he is a billionaire, and the BBC really has become a mouthpiece for the greedy global elite? As the figures published in The Conversation reveal Bill Gates’ personal carbon emissions are 7,408 tons. Rather than write a book his time might have been better spent looking at his own carbon footprint.

Last month I posted a blog about the people who have inspired me over the last year, and I named three young women activists from Africa who all are doing great work on climate, ecological and social justice: Patricia Kombo from Kenya, Kaossara Sani from Togo and Oladosu Adenike from the Lake Chad Region. I could have added many more names to this list. Africa is bursting with great climate activists. Why does the BBC focus on Bill Gates? Is it because he is a rich white man from America and not a poor black women from Africa?

There are many great books and ideas about how to adequately address the climate and ecological emergency. Most call for some pretty radical changes implying huge social, economic and political change as well as technological change. Why do none of them get coverage on the BBC? Is it because the BBC has become too deeply embedded in the present social, economic and political system that they cannot contemplate any challenge to this system, even when it is glaringly obvious that this needs to happen to avert climate, ecological and social breakdown?

An Open Letter to World Leaders

There is an open letter from young climate activists to world leaders stating their demands of governments. It was written by Greta Thunberg, Luisa Neubauer, Anuna de Wever van der Heyden and Adelaide Charlier. They sum up the global situation with admirable clarity and to me their demands are sensible. They are seeking more signatures to this letter.

Please read the letter and sign it. The more of us do so the more the media and world leaders will pay attention. Thank-you.

The Disunited State of America

It is with a huge sense of relief that the Trump presidency is over. It is too early to say how things will work out under President Biden, but his actions over these past few days seem very positive. He has signed up to the Paris climate agreement, cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoined the World Health Organisation and a host of other good initiatives.

Commentators are discussing the deep divisions in American politics. Many are saying that these go back to the 1960’s the Vietnam War and the liberalizing of social values. I think that the roots of division go very much further back.

Ever since its inception the USA has been a country of bizarre contradictions. It was founded upon colonialism, slavery and the genocide of Native Americans and it remains a country of extreme inequalities. Yet it often portrays itself as a beacon of peace, justice and democracy. These contradictions run deep.

USA has long trumpeted democracy while covertly backing coups and installing far right regimes abroad, often with the backing of UK and other governments. Jason Hickel lists some of them: Iran in 1953, Guatemala 1954, Congo 1961, Brazil and British Guiana in 1964, Ghana 1966, Indonesia 1967 and Chile 1973, to name but a few.

What is much less well known is the history of the American’s Nazis during the 1930’s and of a plot led by several wealthy businessmen to overthrow the democratically elected government of Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933.

Far right extremists have long played a major role in American politics. In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, white supremacists burned the offices of the first black owned newspaper, murdered black people and forced the State government to resign, and because they essentially got away with it, this allowed the subsequent growth of the Klu Klux Klan. Much of the Christian church in USA is deeply racist, and reminds me of the Dutch Reformed Church in Apartheid era South Africa.

In a very interesting article the political economist Blair Fix analysis American history through the lens of class struggle. Over the last forty years inequality has rapidly grown more extreme, with mass impoverishment accompanied by extreme and excessive increases in wealth for a tiny minority. It is high time for the neo-liberal era to come to an end.

The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris was a day to celebrate. The young poet Amanda Gorman’s stirring poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ captured this joyous moment in the tangled history of America. Let us hope that America can move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and hope that Gorman calls for. The extent of the climate and ecological emergency, mass impoverishment and deep social divisions are all major challenges requiring a bold new direction, and early indications of the new administration are looking very promising. However the forces of the far right will oppose their actions every step of the way, in ways that may be democratic or deadly.

Brexit and the Bigger Picture

The UK has left the EU. The Brexiteers have had their way. The media coverage of the EU and the forces that pushed for us to leave it has been woeful for decades.

George Monbiot, I think quite correctly, sums up the drive for Brexit as being one aspect of a war within capitalism. What he refers to as housetrained or domesticated capitalism has just lost one major battle in its struggle against the forces of warlord capitalism. Watch this excellent 6 minute video or read this blog from George.

Mark E Thomas in his book ‘99% Mass Impoverishment and How We Can End It’ examines this struggle within capitalism. His chapter four, on what he refers to as ‘market fundamentalism’ is more or less what Monbiot refers to as Warlord capitalism, and it is an ideology that has chilling ramifications. Market fundamentalism sees democracy and the needs of the vast majority of humanity as a burden. It prioritizes wealth accumulation of the richest few over absolutely everything else.

To my mind market fundamentalism, or warlord capitalism to use Monbiot’s term, is a terrifying philosophy, the logical outcome of which is total impoverishment for billions of people. Now our challenge is to overcome this evil through concerted action.

In a blog written just after the Brexit vote in 2016 I contrasted the strongly pro EU stance of Scotland under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership with the chaos that Brexit was about to unleash on the UK, and how these divergent paths would probably lead to the break-up of the UK. The paths Scotland and the UK are on continue to be ever more divergent.

Boris Johnson is the puppet clown front man, behind which the forces of market fundamentalism are destroying the institutions of the UK. Meanwhile Scotland has linked up with Iceland, New Zealand, Wales and Finland to form the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership (WEGo). It is the very antithesis of everything the market fundamentalists believe in. The two forces are in conflict. Which one wins may well determine humanity’s future. The market fundamentalists care not a jot about the climate and ecological emergency, WEGo is our best hope to tackle these issues and to do so in a caring and compassionate manner. (I shall write more about WEGo over the coming months)

Molly Scott Cato, one of our finest MEP’s, together with the German MEP Terry Reintke, posted a blog looking forward to a better future and a time when the UK rejoins the EU. I for one remain both European and British, locally Herefordian and globally engaged. Brexit is not over now, nor will it ever be. I look forward to us rejoining the EU.

There is a global struggle of epic proportions. On the one side the market fundamentalists and on the other an emerging network of activists and governments promoting planetary and human wellbeing. In a way the break-up of the UK or our membership of the EU are minor skirmishes in this epic struggle.

USA: A Failed State?

Armed men, spurred on by their President, seek to ‘liberate’ the capitol building in Michigan. This is not how civilized countries operate: more like a failed state.

The USA is increasingly looking like a failed state. It could be on the verge of civil war. I sincerely hope not. Their mad, narcissistic President seems actively to be encouraging civil war, with his tweeting to armed white supremacists to ‘liberate’ state capitol buildings, and with tweets such as ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’.

Since the murder of George Floyd protests have erupted across America. Yet another black man murdered by a white police officer. Slavery and colonialism are what America was founded upon. Racial injustice has a long and tortured history. Current police brutality opens old wounds. Healing will require more than just an end to police violence. Deep structural change is urgently needed.

The Covid pandemic reveals interesting contrasts between different systems of social and economic organisation. Covid has resulted in over 40 million job losses in America, and only a few hundred thousand in most European countries, and losing ones job in USA often means losing health insurance and possible destitution. Americans live under extraordinary levels of stress and worry. Inequality levels are extreme. In Europe workers often sit of company boards and have helped mitigate the negative impact of Covid on the labour market. When people are made redundant the welfare system in Europe is generally vastly better than in USA.

While millions of Americans are facing real economic hardship others are sucking countless billions out of the system for their own insane vanity. Any system that allows billionaires to exist is clearly failing to collect the taxes that are required to create social justice. There was something deeply symbolic as Elon Musk’s private SpaceX rocket orbited above the heads of impoverished, angry and brutalised Americans.

Under Trump America has quit the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organisation. These are the actions of a country imploding in upon itself, unable to fulfil its international obligations. America is heavily indebted and increasingly likely to default. Less a superpower: more a basket case.

Even the American Constitution, which for decades was held up as a beacon of democratic values looks hopelessly flawed. The right to free speech has resulted in a tidal wave of hate speech. The right to bear arms has resulted in far right militias who make USA look increasingly like war torn Somalia or Syria.

And yet for all its many failures America still has some hope. It has many great people. They deserve better. There is currently a struggle going on for the soul of America. Will it follow Trump down the road of ever greater inequality and division, or will it find a path to a better place?

Electoral Dysfunction

We’ve had a week or so to digest the UK general election results. The case for electoral reform has never been stronger. The LibDems increased their vote from 7.4% to 11.6%, an impressive 4.2% increase, yet got one less seat than previously. The Green Party increased their vote by 60%, to 864,743 votes, but still only the one seat. About four dozen parties got at least 500 votes each, several getting many tens of thousands of votes, but still no seats. The SNP increased their vote share by less than the Greens, yet their cohort of MPs shot up from 39 to 48, meaning that for each 25,882 votes they got an MP, as the above graphic from the Electoral Reform Society shows.

Labour lost 61 seats and gained one. Their vote share slumped from 40.0% to 32.2%, a fall of 7.9%. They continued to lose ground to the SNP in Scotland and now have lost much of the traditional Northern working vote to the Tories. Ironically, had we had Proportional Representation, Corbyn would now probably be leading a broad left of centre coalition of Labour, LibDems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens, which would have included 18 Green MPs.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives got only 43.6% of the vote, but that yielded them 365 MPs, a comfortable working majority. The Queen’s speech reveals more of the tone and direction of this Johnson led Tory Party, heavily influenced by Dominic Cummings. Out go any respect for science, fiscal responsibility or factual reality, in comes simplistic populism, preening narcissism and unfettered corporate greed.

The outcome of this general election is of course disappointing, but to me at least, it was not surprising, given our antiquated voting system, the toxic influence of huge flows of dark money, the use of psychological warfare techniques and the agenda of the billionaire owned newspapers. The media pitched the election as a contest between Corbyn and Johnson and many people voted for the one they hated least. Sadly few people felt they could truly vote for what they believed in. To reflect the breadth of opinion we need more parties in Parliament contributing ideas in a more cooperative and collegiate manner, as is the case in most of Europe, where, of course, Proportional Representation is the norm.

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.

Nordic Inspiration

Anu Partanen

I’ve recently read ‘The Nordic Theory of Everything’ by Anu Partanen. Anu Partanen is a Finnish woman married to an American man and living in New York. She contrasts the extraordinary differences between the USA and the Nordic region; how they organise all aspects of society, from education and social policy to taxation and business creation, and how these differences shape individual lives and relationships. It’s a great book and I cited it in my recent talk in Hereford.

She blends extensive academic research with personal anecdote to paint a vivid picture of the two systems. Of course there are differences between the five Nordic countries, as there are between the fifty states of USA, but there is a huge gulf between USA and the Nordic region. Interestingly she chooses not to paint a simple dichotomy between more socialist and capitalist ideologies, and barely uses either of these terms, preferring to talk about the purpose and function of a system. She sees a clear purpose underlying the general direction of policy in the Nordic region, the overall objective being to build strong, happy, healthy, independent, self-reliant individuals, capable of forming strong relationships, families and communities. The implications of this are enormous. The concern is for the welfare of all the people, and therefore equality is central. Providing excellent health, childcare, education and other opportunities for all people flows from this. Children start school later, have shorter school hours and minimal testing, and yet massively outperform USA and UK, in large part because children are less stressed and all schools equally well resourced.

She shows how much greater stress Americans live under. Everything seems designed not for the happiness of the people but rather for the vested interests of corporations whose sole interest is in maximizing profits. But this does not lead to America being better for business. It seems rather to result in a lot of confusion, conflict and stress.

It is not surprising that the Nordic countries have systems of proportional representation, where political representation accurately reflects how people vote. Recent elections in Finland have produced a very interesting coalition government, made up of five parties, including the Greens, and that very quickly they announced some of the most ambitious carbon reduction goals of any country. This is such a contrast to the chaos and division that are ruining life in USA and UK. We have so much to learn from the Nordic region. Tragically UK under Boris Johnson seems set to emulate Trump’s America.

In ‘the Nordic Theory of Everything’ Anu Partanen frequently refers to ‘the Nordic Theory of Love’ as the underpinning principle of the Nordic system. She draws on previous work by Tragardh and Berggren who wrote about ‘the Swedish Theory of Love’. In my talk I extrapolated further, and used the term ‘the Global Theory of Love’ to mean taking these principles of nurture and care for the wellbeing of all individuals to the global scale, and speculated as to the possibilities of providing Nordic quality public services to all humanity, while redirecting the global economy towards ecological renaissance. A phase I used a number of times in the talk was that ‘Everything needs to change, and fast!’ This is true to combat the climate emergency, but the same changes could also be used to bring about a wellbeing revolution. It’s a big and complex concept, and in my talk in Hereford last week I tried my best to make it comprehensible. I hope, at least to some extent, I succeeded.

Please Vote Green!

Ellie Chowns lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands

Ellie Chowns lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands

The European elections are upon us. Voting in UK is on Thursday. In other EU countries it is variously on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Results should start emerging from about 10.00pm on Sunday. These elections are crucially important.

Humanity faces an existential crisis: Climate breakdown, ecological collapse, myriad forms of pollution, insane levels of inequality are all indicative of the need for our species to radically change direction. The far right essentially want to double down on the current path of greater inequality and pollution. The old centre politicians tend to pay lip service to these problems while trying to carry on with business as usual. Only Green Parties offer a solid programme of action to address all these problems in a concerted way. Greens stress the benefits of working to build greater social solidarity, within our local communities, across our continent and around the World.

The UK sends 72 MEP’s to sit in the European Parliament, three of whom are from the Green Party. The latest polls show the Greens gaining four or five more seats, to make seven or eight in total. Brexit may, or may not, go ahead: we simply don’t know. The MEP’s we elect on Thursday may sit for the full five year term, or only a few months, if Brexit does indeed go ahead. Either way, it is important for more Greens to get elected.

The Greens have substantially less money to pay for leaflets and advertising than the other parties, and get less TV and radio coverage. However the recent local election results were very positive and show how their grassroots support is building in local communities right across the UK. There are some great videos that are helping get the message out. Do please watch the truly remarkable Majid Majid, ex Lord Mayor of Sheffield and lead candidate for the Greens in Yorkshire and Humber Region. Also, please watch this latest video from Ellie Chowns, our excellent lead Green candidate in the West Midlands Region, and you can see her leaflet here. Both these two people stand a good chance of being elected. Please, wherever you live in UK or across Europe, do vote this week, and do please vote Green.