Archive for the ‘Euro Zone crisis’ Category
Do we lack solutions to our environmental problems or merely the will to implement them?
As I hope this blog has made clear over the last 12 months, our environmental problems are not the product of an over-active imagination; the result of a predisposition to being a doomsayer; or the fictional preamble to an insidious plan for worldwide authoritarian government – they are real.
They are also all inevitable consequences of the number of humans on the planet and the rate at which we are consuming, polluting, and/or destroying the Earth’s finite resources. In short, all our environmental problems are long-predicted Limits to Growth phenomena.
Even with only a rudimentary understanding of the basic Laws of Physics, this ought to be self-evident and incontestable. However, there are many people – either very wealthy or obsessed with becoming wealthy – who do not want to accept this reality. This led former World Bank economist Herman E Daly to conclude:
“Anyone who asserts the existence of limits is soon presented with a whole litany of things that someone once said could never be done but subsequently were done… but [c]ontinuing to study economies only in terms of the [exchange value of money] is like studying organisms only in terms of the circulatory system, without ever mentioning the digestive tract.”
Bearing all this in mind, I think a very important thing happened last week, which I hope will be a turning point in the long battle to rouse the bulk of humanity from its catatonic state of reality denial – in that one of the UK Government’s most senior scientific advisors has said that it is no longer realistic to think we can limit the rise in global average temperatures being caused by human activity to less than 2 Celsius: Professor Watson is a highly respected and world renown scientist on climate change policy and is currently Chief Scientist at the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and a former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I really hope that this will be a game-changer; it certainly deserves to be: For the first time ever (that I can recall), the BBC publicised what he said as genuine news; with no attempt to provide a false balance with the opinions of those who claim nothing unusual is happening.
David Roberts has recently drawn attention to the probability that the prevailing view that unconventional hydrocarbons (oil shale gas in particular) represent the solution to our energy problems is a form of collective hypnosis. However, having recently finished reading parts 6 to 9 of Schalk Cloete’s 9-part series on the probability of an impending economic collapse, I think Professor Watson is right to say that our leaders lack the political will to change course. This is because, as Schalk shows – with typical crystal clarity – we are all (whether we like it or not) so deeply enmeshed in the Ponzi Scheme of Globalised Capitalism that it will be impossible to deconstruct it as fast as is now required.
In saying this, I would not want anyone to think of me as an anarchist – or even an anti-Capitalist – I consider myself to be merely a pragmatist and a realist. Indeed, as Schalk eventually demonstrates (in posts 8 and 9 of the series), there are simple solutions but no easy way to see how our political leaders will allow them to be implemented (because turkeys will never vote for Christmas). Despite this, we really must all stop being so compartmentalised in our thinking. Our economic and environmental problems are so intertwined it is not possible to solve any of them in isolation. A holistic problem requires a holistic solution. Arthur Mol, an early proponent of the concept of Ecological Modernisation, circumscribed the problem perfectly when he suggested that “a structural design fault of modernity” is causing “the institutionalised destruction of nature.” (For more on this subject, please see my Can modernisation ever be ecological? – Part 1 (24 September 2011)).
As Professor Watson notes, our leaders appear to lack the political will to change the system; and (as I have suggested) the analogy of turkeys not voting for Christmas may explain why this is the case. However, what are the solutions and why will they be so hard to implement? Well, even though Schalk’s discussion is focussed on the impending collapse of globalised economics, the solutions he proposes apply equally well to the environmental collapse that we have also brought upon ourselves:
Solutions to our problems
In his Healing the System post (part 8 of 9 in the Collapse series), Schalk posits four necessary changes required to the way the World currently operates:
– Minimise our use of products and services that consume non-renewable resources.
– Eliminate the massive inefficiencies of the globalised economics that drive this over-consumption.
– Pay off our all our ludicrous debts and re-establish individual financial resilience.
– Reduce over consumption in developed countries and excessive population growth in developing countries.
I know this is in danger of sounding like a Utopian dream to eliminate poverty and suffering; and establish World peace… but – as Learning from Dogs has recently reminded all those that will listen – David Roberts has a point; either we do something about all of this or we’re screwed.
Obstacles to implementation
In his Practical Challenges post (the final part in the Collapse series), Schalk highlights the following difficulties:
– Reducing consumption of non-renewable resources will require an entire culture shift to convince 100s of millions of people that consuming things does not make us happy.
– Restoring system efficiency will require the money to be spent on things that benefit society as a whole rather than an elite who are already very wealthy (turkeys and Christmas problem again).
– Reducing overall indebtedness will also require the dismantling of systems of power and control; power that has corrupted people, companies and entire governments (ditto).
– Reducing over-consumption (i.e. implementing austerity) is not easy at a time when people are obsessed with consumption and in the Age of Entitlement. In the meantime, although reducing population growth in developing countries through the education and emancipation of women is genuine work in progress, it is taking a long time; and time is a luxury we do not have.
Change the World begins at home
Echoing another recent post on Learning from Dogs, if we want to change the World; we must start by changing our own behaviour. This is the conclusion Schalk reaches too:
Honestly, the only practical solution I can see is a peaceful grassroots revolution of concerned individuals changing their lifestyles and talking to their friends… People simply need to wake up to this blindingly obvious fact and start incorporating it in their day-to-day consumption patterns… The One in a Billion project has been especially designed to make such individual action as easy and rewarding as at all possible. I am fully convinced that gradually implementing these sustainable lifestyle choices is the single most important thing that any one of the richest billion individuals on planet Earth can be doing right now.
I may have linked and/or dipped into it repeatedly above but, as it is so beautifully constructed, scripted and presented, I really would recommend reading Schalk’s entire series of posts from their beginning. So, if you have not already done so, start here.
It’s the weekend so, to celebrate, here is a special offer: Two posts for the price of one (i.e. nothing).
A Shakespearean Tragedy in the making
Last night I stumbled upon the second and final part of the BBC’s Simon Schama’s Shakespeare. Here is the trailer for it:
I think very highly of Schama; and this programme did not disappoint. This second episode (I will have to get the DVD) covered the latter years of Elizabeth the First and the early years of James the First – a time during which Shakespeare was extremely daring in the plays he presented (in many cases premiered) to the Monarch – such as Henry V and Richard II (to Elizabeth) and Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear (to James). Of all of these, Hamlet was the most astonishing because the only difference between James the First and the fictional Hamlet is that James did not exact revenge upon his uncle for killing his father.
However, the reason I mention all this is that, towards the end of the programme, Schama, with the help of an array of fine actors delivering Shakespearean monologues to camera, comes to Macbeth. To my shame, Macbeth is the only Shakespearean play I know well (having studied it for O Level when I was 16). However, although it was fascinating to see how Macbeth was a product of its time (as were all the other plays); the viewer was also invited to re-interpret the plays in a modern context. It is therefore very tempting, for me at least, to identify with the plight of Macbeth; who seems to be stuck on the set of the movie Groundhog Day. To me this is where humanity has got stuck. We (or at least a sizeable proportion of us) know that what we are doing is wrong, but we seem powerless to change the course of history; and must watch the tragedy unfold…
…Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
(Macbeth – Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)
A Greek Tragedy we made earlier
Last Monday, I missed but, thanks to Paul Handover, have now watched the BBC Panorama programme about Greece, entitled Life and Debt: A Greek Tragedy. This is essential viewing for all those (like me) inclined to blame the Greeks for the mess they are in. Someone has posted the 30-minute programme on You tube (embeddd here) but, if pushed for time, a synopsis is appended below…
The programme is presented by veteran BBC News anchor, John Humphrys, whose Son has lived in Greece for 20 years and who has himself now got a house in the Peloponnese. In the course of the programme, Humphrys tours Greece interviewing people about how the crisis is affecting them; and how they feel it should be solved. However, before all of that, Humphrys explains the recent history: Nazi occupation, monarchy, civil war, military rule and democracy… It is easy to forget but, by its own standards at least, Greece was quite prosperous before it joined the Euro Zone in 2000. As Humphrys puts it, “Greece cooked the books in order to get in and the EU turned a blind eye… and lent them the money anyway” (paraphrased). Since then, exports have gone down and imports have gone up; the proportion of Greeks involved in fishing or farming has gone from 17% to just 3%; unemployment has risen to 20%; and the proportion of people living in relative poverty is heading towards 40%. In short, the EU has done to Greece what the Common Agricultural Policy has done to Africa – it has made it dependent upon the EU rather than helped it to become self-sustaining.
See my If the CAP does not fit we should not wear it (27 January 2012).
However, possibly the most revealing interview Humphrys conducts is that with a Greek hero of WW2 (who risked his life in an act of defiance to pull down the swastika on the Acropolis). To many in Greece, like this cultural icon, it seems the EU is nothing more than a cover-story for German Imperialism. Having failed to dominate Europe by military force, Germany is seeking to dominate it by stealth. Does this indeed explain why Germany seems remarkably content to bail-out so many European countries (on its own terms of course)? As the economy of every other nation fails one-by-one, will Germany end up ruling over a United States of Europe? If so, although plenty of shots will have been fired (plastic bullets and tear gas only of course), Germany will achieve what Hitler could not; and will do so without declaring war on anyone or anything. The only casualty will be effective and efficient government; and any illusion of representative democracy.
Amongst other things, I explained why I am not a Socialist yesterday. Therefore, it seems only fair that I should also explain why I am not a Capitalist either. Actually, since anyone with money invested in a pension scheme is an inadvertent capitalist, it would be more accurate for me to say I have lost my faith in Capitalism. In fact, this and yesterday’s posts would have been better entitled “Why I don’t believe in Socialism” and “Why I don’t believe in Capitalism” respectively.
Whether wise or not, in a recent job application to an environmental NGO, I wrote: “It may have taken me 20-25 years to work out that my concern regarding climate change was the reason for my persistent unease about working for clients whose focus is commercial rather than environmental; but I believe that it is fundamentally important for me to have done so.”
Friends and relatives have recently characterised me as having been foolish; and/or for having poor judgement; for being too honest in job interviews; for being too idealistic and evangelistic in promoting my belief in the value of our environment; and for not placing sufficient value upon the attainment of a (supposedly) decent job. I guess that, having challenged much of the modus operandi of our modern world, I should not have been surprised by the boldness of this criticism (from a well-educated successful person) but I was, nonetheless, disappointed by it. The question still remains as to exactly who is being foolish here? Is it those who appear to be up on deck in the Orchestra – determined to keep on playing while the ship sinks; or those who appear to be locked beneath decks in Steerage – insisting that the ship might not have hit the iceberg if we had been in charge? One thing seems clear – whether you apply it to the fate of the EU or the whole planet – the myth of the unsinkable Titanic seems to be a very apt analogy for humanity’s current predicament. See: From Titanic to Avatar and back again (14 April 2012).
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trekking round the TV and Radio Studios in the UK recently and, in between fending off questions over his handling of the Iraq War (yet again) – and admitting that he would have much preferred the job of EU President than Middle East Peace Envoy – he made the astonishing claim that Gordon Brown was “always right about economics”. Wherever ‘Blairland’ is, it sounds like an idyllic place where fantasy and fiction are indistinguishable. However, the reason I mention this is not to have a go at Labour’s economic mismanagement of the last decade but because Blair made it clear that he sees a Federalised European superstate – bankrolled by Germany – as the only way that Europe can have influence in our new global village. He even admitted that the purpose of the European Union was no longer to guarantee peace; it was to guarantee power! And for power, I think we should read ‘money’. This is because Blair was never really a Socialist; indeed he still insists in the need for a Third Way. Unfortunately, he is still worshipping at the temple of Growth and – therefore – his Third Way is still a road paved with economic denial of basic physics that can lead to nowhere but the annihilation of humanity (and most if not all life on Earth). It may take 200 years but, unless we recant from the foolishness of Growthmania and the fetishization of Money itself, I am now certain we will eventually make this planet uninhabitable. That is to say, the rapid and accelerating depletion of all its natural resources will cease to be the issue; the crunch point will come – and scientists say it is not now far off – when human activity triggers the failure of the ecosystem services that nature provides (and which make our existence possible).
Given the looming financial and economic catastrophe that collective hypnosis at Rio+20 has just made inevitable, our best option is localism not federalism: Just look at what happens when the British banking system stops processing payments for one night – it causes chaos and takes a week to sort it out. Imagine what will happen when this is repeated across the EU…
We should all be worried by this: self-sufficient communities would appear to be the only plausible means to escape the approaching twin tsunamis of environmental and socio-economic collapse… And remember, it will not happen because anyone wishes it to happen; it will now happen because our leaders chose to ignore the scientists that told them they needed to act to prevent it happening. Imagine what will happen when the failure in our banking systems is replicated in nature itself…
So, to conclude: Yesterday, I implied that I do not believe in Socialism because it is a utopian project. However, as quoted back in April, John Gray has (rightly in my view) described Capitalism as a utopian project also. Therefore, my disillusionment with both should not be surprising. But, if Tony Blair has not found it, what is the Third Way? I believe that nature itself needs a New Deal: The “go forth and multiply” project has failed; so has the “have dominion over the Earth and subdue it” project. What humanity needs to do now is to re-learn how to live in harmony with nature. If we do not, I fear that we will be exterminated because:
“Perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell” – Paul Ehrlich.
Given the perilous state of the EU and the world economy as a result of Italy now being at the mercy of a very small number of individuals within credit rating agencies and money-lenders (whom even entire Governments cannot control), I am re-posting this item from my old Earthy Issues blog (on 28 July 2011):
Is global Capitalism heading for bankruptcy?
You will have to take it on trust that I am no Marxist, because Marxism is just industrialism without the free market economics; and what Karl Marx called “money fetishism”, Herman Daly called “growthmania” and, whereas Marxism prioritises production; Capitalism prioritises consumption (Goodin). Therefore, both result in the unsustainable consumption of finite resources.
However, for the sake of argument, even if we ignore the Limits to Growth issues, we still have a problem because debts cannot be repaid without growth and, make no mistake, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, debt is a problem: Global Capitalism may be the dominant social paradigm – and it may be generally held to be beyond reproach (Jacques) – but that does not change the fact that, as Harvard economists have pointed out, when debt gets above 90% of GDP, it limits growth and promotes inflation.
Let’s face it; the debt crisis in the USA is not going to be solved in a week, a year, or even 50 years: How can any country pay back a debt bigger than its GDP? Again, ignoring the possibility that perpetual growth within a finite system may be our ultimate problem (Daly), at a modest level of 2% growth a doubling of income will take 35 years. However, only a fraction can go towards debt repayment; hence clearance of the debt is a very distant prospect indeed. Therefore if the USA has a problem, then that of Greece, Ireland, Portugal etc must be even worse.
The apostle Paul once said that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and, you have to say, he chose his words well: Money is not the root of all evil; but the love of money is… Money was invented to make exchanging goods easier but, when money is robbed of its inherent exchange value and, instead, pursued solely for its instrumental value (as an end in itself rather than a means to an end), take it from St Paul, you are in big trouble.
Therefore, Government exercises to try and determine what makes us happy are a complete waste of time: Even if we could eliminate mass media advertising (which makes money out of making people feel dissatisfied and unhappy), what we really need is prosperity without growth. However, unless and/or until Countries learn to balance their budgets in the same way that households do (or at least should); such a sustainable solution will remain a utopian fantasy. Unfortunately, that does not make it any less necessary to guarantee a future for anything like the Earth’s current human population; and the avoidance of mass extinctions of non-human species.
Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.
It is a matter of public record that only 3 MPs (all Conservatives) voted against the third and final reading of the Climate Change Bill in October 2008 (Christopher Chope, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Tyrie) and that, on the verge of doing so, Peter Lilley also joked about the fact that it was, at the time, snowing in London (Hansard (i.e. House of Commons Debates) Volume 481 (Part 153) column 838). However, there are at least a dozen sceptical Conservative MPs (or MEPs)- and they are all staunchly anti-European as well.
This post is longer than is typical for me but it did not make sense to split this list in half and separate part of it from the conclusion. So, (in alphabetical order) the most prominent of them are as follows:
– Graham Brady disputes the legitimacy of the consensus view that climate change is happening and that we are causing it; and does not want the economy “destroyed” to fix a problem we may not have (as quoted by Andrew Grice in The Independent newspaper of 2 December 2009).
– Douglas Carswell agrees and, clearly heavily influenced by reading Ian Plimer’s book, Heaven and Earth, claims that “…it was a lot warmer in the middle ages” (as quoted in the Clacton Gazette of 23 October 2009).
– Christopher Chope, one of the 3 Tory rebels on the Climate Change Bill, cited a report by a firm of accountants that suggested the UK will be responsible for little more than 1% of global GHG emissions by 2050 (Hansard 481 (153) c.769). This is blame-shifting – one of Clive Hamilton’s maladaptive coping strategies for those in denial of AGW (see Requiem for a Species).
– Philip Davies has (in 2007) described AGW as a “bandwagon” that people have jumped on with “religious zeal”; said he was as concerned as anyone else about the world our grandchildren will inherit; but was opposed action that “disproportionately affects our economy and the quality of life of the people of this country” (Hansard 461 (106) c.1020-21). His position had changed very little by 2009 because he was still calling for “proper cost benefit analysis” (he is clearly not a fan of the Stern Review); and bemoaning the apparent fact that anyone who urges caution “is completely decried and treated like a Holocaust denier” (as quoted by Grice – see link above).
– David Davis, writing in The Independent newspaper on the same day as Grice, made it clear he believes those who say global warming stopped in 1998; and claimed the problem was not worth the economic cost or the environmental blight (of wind farms) inherent in the solutions then being pursued (Davis 2009).
– Daniel Hannan (MEP) has made it clear that he accepts our climate is changing “…although probably not to the degree claimed by some climate change professionals…”; and he resents the fact that his scepticism leads some to label him anti-environmental. Furthermore, in seeking to defend himself he also cites (non-scientist) Lawson’s Appeal to Reason as his excuse, as a layman unable “to reach a confident view”; for assuming that AGW is a problem not worth fixing (Hannan 2009).
– Roger Helmer (MEP) made a speech to the European Parliament on 4 February 2009, in which he quoted Christopher Booker as having said that “global warming alarmism is the greatest collective flight from reality in human history”; describing EU proposals as “…planning to spend unimaginable sums of money on mitigation measures which will simply not work [that will] deny us the funds we need to address real environmental problems” (Helmer 2009). Furthermore, Helmer has even accused the Church of England of having “abandoned religious faith entirely and taken up the new religion of climate change alarmism instead” (again as quoted by Grice in The Independent newspaper – see link above).
– The Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP (i.e. a former Cabinet Minister in the Thatcher government) is arguably the most forthright and most experienced of Tory sceptics (and the most senior of the 3 Climate Change Bill rebels). As such, he does not dispute the basic science of AGW; but does dispute what the climate modellers are telling us (Hansard 498 (153) c.1049). Indeed, earlier that same year, in a similar debate on 16 July 2009, Lilley had been even more strident in his opposition to the consensus (IPCC) view; and more emphatic in his acceptance of the misinformation campaign apparently funded by big business (Hansard 496 (113) c.480-81).
– John Maples equates climate scientists with doctors in the 1850s by suggesting that the former are “scratching the surface of something that they do not really understand…”; and that what they actually say “does not justify any of the apocalyptic visions…” described by some demanding mitigating action be taken (Hansard 477 (106) c.103).
– The Rt Hon John Redwood MP was one of many who used Martin Durkin’s 2007 Great Global Warming Swindle documentary to justify his scepticism; along with mentioning melting ice on Mars and suggesting that warming may have some benefits (Redwood 2007). More recently, he has been happy to ridicule scientific projections and question the entire AGW hypothesis on the basis of isolated extremely cold weather events (Redwood 2010); all in a manner very reminiscent of Christopher Booker.
– Andrew Tyrie, the third of the Tory rebels, would appear to have opposed the passage of the Climate Change Bill in October 2008 on primarily economic grounds; dismissing concern over AGW as having “an air of unreality” about it and doubting whether most of its projected consequences will ever happen (Hansard 477 (106) c.98).
What do we learn from all of this? Well I think Lilley is the key to this puzzle: He was a successful stockbroker and businessman before entering Parliament; and apparently still maintains positions on the board of directors of several large companies (Lilley 2010). Therefore, irrespective of whether or not Lilley is a sceptic (he claims he is not), he is quite prepared to rely upon sceptical arguments such as those that say temperature reconstructions are flawed (if not faked); and that climate models are unreliable. Lilley clearly does not accept the findings of the Stern Review but where is he getting his misinformation (or who is feeding it to him)? It does not take much digging and textual analysis to spot the similarities between what he says and what, for example, the Institute of Economic Affairs says… The trouble with all of this is that, if anything, scientists have been erring or the side of caution and under-stating the consequences of our inaction.
In conclusion then, although I am as opposed to the UK being part of a Federal European super-state as are all of the above sceptics, I have not been seduced by money fetishism and/or growthmania (or if I ever was – I have come to my senses). Therefore, if climate realists are going to win the argument, we are going to have to win the economic argument. If so, I have a couple of questions:
1. What will happen to conventional cost-benefit analysis once account is taken of the cost of repairing all the damage caused by increasingly-frequent and increasingly-severe natural disasters?
2. Why is it that this Health and Security Perspectives of Climate Change – How to secure our future wellbeing conference in London last Monday, organised by the British Medical Association and supported by the World Health Organization – was not even mentioned on the news (apart from by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent Richard Black)?
As Europe lurches from one day of crisis to another, it is common to hear people ask “Where will it all end?” However, I think it is more important to ask “How did it all start?” With regard to the UK at least, I saw a television programme recently that included a large proportion of archive film/TV footage from the 1950’s, which indicated that with the end of rationing came also the beginning of HP. Unfortunately, this particularly HP was not a new spicy tomato sauce, it was hire purchase (otherwise known as easy “buy now pay later” credit).
I often used to think that my parents’ generation grew-up believing that (with the possible exception of houses) you should save-up for something and then buy it. However, for most people my age, it would seem that this mentality was that of their grandparents: Easy credit has, apparently, been around for longer than you might think but, you may well say, so what? Well, I think we are so accustomed to it that we don’t question it but, I believe this all-pervasive assumption that we should all have everything we want as soon as we want it (and the general experience of having those wants instantly satisfied) is the root cause of the current global financial crisis (and, I would argue, the environmental one too; but let’s not digress just yet).
It was this kind of thinking that prompted me, back in July, to post an item entitled, “Is global Capitalism heading for bankruptcy?” on my old Earthy Issues blog and; I must say, I am inclined to think it is because…
“The illusion of [mankind’s] unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production… based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most… A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problems of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital…” E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful (1973)
Therefore, to answer a question I posed in an earlier post, I think the campaign of denial began over 40 years ago; in the firestorm of abuse and ridicule to which Schumacher, and writers such as Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, Dennis Meadows, and William Ophuls were subjected. However their warning about Limits to Growth (i.e. a real appeal to reason) has never been falsified – it just has not been proven to be well-founded, until now. This was also predicted:
“…the more successfully society puts off its limits through economic and technical adaptations, the more likely it is in the future to run into several of them at the same time… the [model] does not run out of land or food or resources or pollution absorption capacity, it runs out of the ‘ability to cope’ [i.e. too much industrial output has to be diverted to solving problems]…” (Meadows et al (2005), Limits to Growth: the 30 year update, p.223). The emphasis here is mine; but this is exactly what we have seen happen this year (from the Arab Spring onwards).
Former World Bank economist, Herman E Daly, once put it very simply: “The Earth may be developing; but it is not growing!” Thus, whether it be on a personal, national, or global level, the urgent need is the same; we need to start living within our means.