Category: environment

Green washing & the psychology of denial

By Daniel Margrain

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In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

In order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy, the giant polluting corporations that dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent. This is largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques which ensure business interests take precedence over environmental and social justice issues.

Following on from my previous article, in which I alluded that to deny the science linking carbon emissions to global warming is akin to denying the links between smoking and lung cancer and HIV and Aids, I want in this piece to focus on some of the techniques multinational corporations use that manage to convince some of us that these kinds of links are bogus.

The 97 per cent consensus among climate scientists that warming is real and man-made, is one of the most effective tools for persuading the public about the need to take action to prevent it. This is why, from the denier industry perspective, the corresponding need to counter it with false propaganda is imperative. As I explained, one of the denier strategies is to cynically exploit the space that exists between public perception and scientific fact, sometimes referred to as the “consensus gap.”

Fomenting uncertainty & cherry-picking

One of the ways in which corporate deniers set out to achieve this, is to deceive the public through media campaigns and lobbying strategies. The standard line organisations take is to foment uncertainty in relation to the science. This involves the claim that the science is contradictory, the scientists are split, environmentalists are charlatans, liars or lunatics and that if governments took action to prevent global warming, they would be endangering the global economy for no good reason.

The website Exxonsecrets.org, using data found in the company’s official documents, lists 124 organisations who have taken this approach. They have either taken money from Exxon or have worked closely with those that have.

Some of the other tactics deniers adopt is the cherry-picking of evidence, their citing of fake experts, the misrepresentation of the findings of others and the deflection of arguments away from the relevant topic. The mass media also play a part in the deception by constantly amplifying the views of the tiny minority of climate scientists who argue that man-made global warming is not happening, whilst ignoring and marginalizing the vast majority of experts who say it is.

As one writer put it:

“[They] proffer what they demurely call ‘disturbing questions’, though they disdain all answers but their own. They seize on coincidences and force them into sequences they deem to be logical and significant. Like mad Inquisitors, they pounce on imagined clues in documents and photos, torturing the data ­- as the old joke goes about economists — till the data confess. Their treatment of eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence is whimsical. Apparent anomalies that seem to nourish their theories are brandished excitedly; testimony that undermines their theories…is contemptuously brushed aside.”

Green washing

One of the more systematic approaches is the adoption by the corporations of an indoctrination technique known as green washing. The green washing of products and lifestyles is a public relations strategy used to divert public attention away from unethical environmental practices, thus seeking to legitimize decisions that would otherwise expose corporations to intense public scrutiny. Almost two decades ago, the Transnational Resource and Action Centre, for instance, highlighted how carbon polluting corporations pay lip service to eliminating fossil fuels by using renewable energy investments to give themselves a “clean and green” image.

The following insightful commentary involving an exchange between an elderly customer and a young cashier at a shop in the UK posted to the Neil Young Times by an anonymous writer, highlights with clarity the extent to which the green washing phenomena has been successful in deceiving a young generation of environmental activists and “socially and environmentally aware” individuals:

“Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own shopping bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

The old woman replied: “You’re right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, we returned milk bottles, pop bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.”

“We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.”

“Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day.”

“Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the county of Yorkshire . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the post, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.”

“Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.”

“We drank water from a fountain or a tap when we were thirsty instead of demanding a plastic bottle flown in from another country. We accepted that a lot of food was seasonal and didn’t expect that to be bucked by flying it thousands of air miles around the world. We actually cooked food that didn’t come out of a packet, tin or plastic wrap and we could even wash our own vegetables and chop our own salad. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.”

“Back then, people took the tram or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.”

“But isn’t it sad that the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

The fact that human actions have resulted in a planet that is warmer than it has ever been in the last 100 years and that the public appear to be indifferent to the likely catastrophic consequences, would seem to suggest, that the displacement strategies of the corporations described above are succeeding.

David Bellamy

They have been ably assisted in this endeavor over the last decade not least as a result of the publicity to the denialist cause that was generated by the world renowned ecologist, David Bellamy. In April, 2005, Bellamy claimed in a letter to New Scientist that “555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation have been growing since 1980.”

Environmentalist, George Monbiot checked Bellamy’s claim with the World Glacier Monitoring Service who responded with four words: “This is complete bullshit.” A few hours later, they sent Monbiot an email:

“Despite his scientific reputation, he [Bellamy] makes all the mistakes that are possible. He had cited data that was simply false, he had failed to provide references, he had completely misunderstood the scientific context and neglected current scientific literature. The latest studies show unequivocally that most of the world’s glaciers are retreating.”

Monbiot then challenged Bellamy in a TV studio debate. During the extraordinary exchange, Monbiot revealed that Bellamy had reproduced falsified and fabricated data and accused the Botanist of committing scientific fraud.

Cognitive psychology

The kinds of corporate denialism, deception and green washing outlined raise some interesting related psychological issues. It seems highly probable that most people, if asked, would admit to being concerned about global warming and would accept that increasing the rate at which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere changes the climate.

When, however, people are asked at elections what issues they are most concerned about, climate change barely features. So there appears to be a disconnect, on the one hand, between how people feel about climate change, and on the other, the extent to which it is at the forefront of their minds.

Environmentalist George Marshall attempts to make sense of this apparent dichotomy:

“It’s clear that we form our opinions on the basis of the science, but also that the process is more complex than that. In order to understand people’s needs in terms of the science of climate change, we also need to draw on the science of cognitive psychology, the science of sociology or social anthropology. We have to recognize that in terms of the former, there are different processes of the brain for processing information and that there are parallel processes. One deals with information and data – the rational side – and the other is what psychologists refer to as ‘affective reasoning’ which dominates our decision-making driven by cues, signals and above all, bias.”

Marshall continues:

“The process of attention and dis-attention is extremely important to how we operate. Increasingly, the research is suggesting that the process of dis-attention is more important to our functioning than attention. So it’s our ability to not pay attention to things that’s fundamental to the way we operate.”

It’s this latter process that’s particularly important in terms of how climate change is often perceived in terms of social signals. People have a tendency to conform to the views of their peer groups and it’s this kind of social pressure that can lead to confirmation bias. Also, it’s these kinds of false perceptions that lead people to accept that whilst climate change is acknowledged as a problem, it’s nevertheless perceived as a future problem rather than a problem in the present.

Thinking Fast and Slow

This is what psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, as “a perfect combination of biases.” Not only are we biased against the future because we are short-sighted but, according to Kahneman, we are also cost-averse against a backdrop in which solutions to climate change involve huge financial costs. He also says that climate change invokes uncertainty.

However, as Marshall infers, as real as the perfect combination of biases outlined by Kahneman are to people, they only reflect a perception. They are not an illustration of reality. The truth is climate change is happening in the present and was happening in the past. Moreover, as Marshall argues, the cost issue is debatable, and with every scientific institution agreeing about man-made climate change, it’s certainties are unquestionable.

What appears to emerge from Kahneman’s analysis is that attempts to tackle climate change have been deliberately set up to fail. We make excuses not to confront it because it’s perceived to be a problem that exists somewhere in the future, is open to interpretations of biases and is regarded as having a multitude of potential interpretive causes.

Ultimately, climate change won’t be tackled because we have never recognized in any serious way, the need for it to be tackled. We live in a bubble of self-delusion in which the perceived short-term imperatives of the market have been prioritized above the need for the existence of a sustainable planet to ensure our long-term future.

The penetration of the market into all our lives and forms of thinking, is indicative of a self-obsessed culture guided by narrow short-term economic interests which will almost certainly lead to catastrophic social and environmental costs.

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Climate Change: Truth, Deception & Denial

By Daniel Margrain

The 2015 National Security Strategy sets out the tier-one threats faced by the UK. These are international terrorism, cyber-crime and climate change. The characteristics of the latter are extreme weather patterns and rising temperatures. These are becoming more frequent and unpredictable.

Nine days before the world’s largest populated city, Shanghai, experienced its hottest day in its recorded history, the planets biggest ice berg, Larsen C, broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf. This followed the collapse of the more northerly Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and Larsen B in 2002.

Climate change is likely to be contributing to the altering of wind patterns and weather throughout the world. With temperatures in the Arctic rising at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, the sea ice area is already below what would have been a yearly low in the 1980s with nearly two months still left in the melt season remaining.

The comparison highlighted in the graphic below shows the clear long-term decline of Arctic sea ice fueled by the global rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The dramatic shrinkage of sea ice over the past few decades is driving major changes, from the loss of crucial Arctic habitat, to the potential influence of weather patterns around the world.

Current Arctic sea ice area compared to the averages from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Sea ice level in mid-July is already below the annual low of the 1980s.
Source: Zack Labe/JAXA

Arctic sea ice reflects incoming solar rays back to space, helping to regulate the planet’s temperature. But as human activities have released more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the ensuing warming has caused ice to melt. That melt means more of the ocean is open and absorbs solar energy, raising temperatures more and driving more melt in a vicious cycle.

The potential consequences are that at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades), raised sea levels could submerge areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London.

The poor nations of the developing world are particularly vulnerable, These are places where millions live on the edge, directly impacted by climate change, dealing with the effects, from cyclones and droughts to erosion and floods. Tuvalu, near Fiji, and other island nations, for example, are concerned that rising sea levels will wipe their countries off the map.

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the most important of which is carbon dioxide, is the cause of global warming which leads to the kind of destruction outlined. The gasses act as a blanket trapping the suns heat. The main source of the extra carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

Deforestation, which accounts for more than 10 per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions, also plays a role in driving climate change. Dense tropical forests are critical to keeping the climate stable because they suck up large amounts of human carbon pollution from the atmosphere, storing it in tree trunks, leaves, roots and soil.

But according to a new study, a chunk of the world’s forests the size of Mississippi was decimated in 2015 because of wildfire, logging and expanding palm oil plantations. About 49 million acres of forest disappeared worldwide in 2015, mainly in North America and the tropics, putting the year’s global deforestation level at its second-highest point since data gathering began in 2001. In all, the globe lost 47 percent more forested land in 2015 than it did 16 years ago.

Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, have increased at an unprecedented rate as measured by air samples taken year-on-year in Hawaii over recent decades, and further back from ice core samples taken in polar regions. This growing concentration of carbon dioxide is directly correlated to the rise in global mean surface temperatures over the last century, and especially over the last few decades.

Beyond question, the general effect of heating up a system like the earth’s climate will be an increase in extreme weather events of the kind witnessed in recent months in countries like Spain, Iran and Pakistan. The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted tomorrow, global temperatures are likely to rise by another half a degree Celcius and sea levels could be two or three times as great as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) has predicted by 2100. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres.

As far back as 2005, leading climate scientist, Gerald Meeh, argued:

“Many people don’t realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere.”

A paper from 2008 showed that “climate change is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US, for example., while major incidences involving storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings, will be among the major challenges facing humanity.

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little meaningful sign that global warming will not exceed 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels — the primary goal of the Paris Climate Agreement, There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions.

Seventy-five per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population. The geographical irony to this, is that the effects of climate change are felt overwhelmingly in the developing world and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis. According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world. So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature and on the related ocean water and heat circulation patterns. The details of these shifts are inherently unpredictable, but that they will occur with dramatic impact on global and local climate, agriculture and much else.

Changing climate will also see shifts in the global distribution of disease-carrying insects, with potentially huge impacts on human health. The consequences of all of these effects could be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval with the threat to the future viability of human civilization on the planet a real possibility.

The realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change and the science underpinning it is clear, and yet the translation of the science into affirmative action – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 – required to combat it, is not happening.

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. By November 2009, 187 states had signed and ratified the protocol. Its centrepiece was the general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012.

A major problem is that the state responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other, the US, with a quarter of all global emissions, refused to sign the Kyoto agreement or any other international agreement on climate change.

But that is not the only thing wrong with Kyoto. All the fanfare around the deal is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is utterly worthless. The cuts in carbon dioxide emissions envisaged under Kyoto have done nothing significant to halt climate change.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on the issue, yet when its governments met during the time of Kyoto’s implementation in 2005, they too refused to set any post-2012 targets for emissions cuts at all.

The catalyst for even greater failure was probably the Copenhagen conference in December, 2009. What emerged from the debacle was the realization that the global warming the rich world is largely responsible for, will continue to be disproportionately paid for by the poor nations in the global south.

The politicians failed to deliver on activists demands, which included large emissions cuts, the payment of ecological debt to climate victims, and the decommissioning of carbon markets. No binding agreement was forthcoming. In this sense, it was “business as usual”.

The fault for this can be laid fairly and squarely with the rich world who sidelined the developing world from the discussions from the beginning. Thus, the limitations of a non-transparent decision-making process which granted a disproportionate amount of leverage to the former – principally the US – was brought to bear on the conference from the outset.

As the Indian environmentalist and activist Sunita Narain put it:

“The breakdown” [in the negotiations] happened because “the United States…wants to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol. They want to dismantle the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is based on the notion of equity…and replace it with a completely different multilateral system [designed to suit their interests].”

This much was apparent to the discerning observer. In this regard, it was clear the rich world were motivated by a very different set of negotiating conditions than the poor world – the template for the former being the implementation of a non-binding arrangement that the poor were urged to sign up to. This explains why, for example, the US was able to put on the table a very small number, three percent cut in emissions below 1990 levels, when it needed to cut 40 per cent.

The next major conference that promised much but delivered nothing, was the Paris conference 2015 (COP 21). Former Nasa scientist, James Hansen remarked that the discussions were “a…fraud… a fake,”. He added: “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises….”.

Meanwhile, the United States used the fact that it hadn’t ratified any human rights statute internationally as a poison “divide and rule” pill against the developing countries. The aim was to pick off the most vulnerable as their justification for shifting blame for the crisis on to the smaller nations.

Kenyan political ecologist, Ruth Nyambura summed up the impasse well when she said:

“We want to get out of this sinking ship, but countries like U.S. are holding the lifeboats.”

The settlement that emerged in Paris was extremely weak due largely to the negotiated consensual interplay between the most powerful players. This meant they were able to use each other to take things off the table they didn’t want. This interplay, to a great extent, was determined by the influence the oil, coal and gas companies had on proceedings as well as the banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions who fund them.

The giant corporations garner an enormous amount of power in terms of their ability to be able to influence the decision making processes of the most powerful governments’. This often takes the form of the lobbying of leading politician’s of these governments by the giant corporations. Conflict of interest issues remained a feature of Paris.

Thus, the potential for corruption was as strong as ever, aided ostensibly by credible figures who misrepresented consensus research. Those involved in the scandal included climate change professors who Greenpeace exposed as individuals who were willing to produce pro-fossil fuel industry research by concealing the source of their funding.

The rejection of legitimate climate science research also extends to corporate mainstream journalists like Christopher Booker and James Delingpole whose roles are little more than conduits for the kinds of power they are supposed to hold to account.

The leverage that climate change denying journalists, powerful corporate lobbyists, former politicians and others within the denial industry are able to exert in order to deceive and mislead the public regarding the science, can not be underestimated.

One such figure is journalist, Peter Hitchens, who ought to know better. The writer, who has many credible and sensible things to say about the conflict in Syria, apparently bases his authority to deny the reality of climate change on misleading glacier figures published online by the ‘Science and Environmental Policy Project’ (SEPP) run by a discredited environmental scientist called Dr S. Fred Singer.

The data has been reproduced by several other groups and had also found its way into The Washington Post. According to George Monbiot, the figures which were published by these groups, were subsequently used not only by Hitchens but other notable denialists like Melanie Phillips and David Bellamy to support their respective positions.

However, the groups have one thing in common: they have all been funded by Exxon. The intention is to create confusion and the impression of uncertainty within the scientific community, when in reality none exists. The science is settled. Even Exxon’s own research conducted decades ago, that was until recently covered up, confirmed the role of fossil fuel in global warming.

But this fact hasn’t initiated any retractions. On the contrary, it has resulted in the “digging in of heels” and the questioning of the consensus that underlies the science of man-made climate change. The strategy of those who deny the reality, is to cynically exploit the space that exists between public perception and scientific fact (ie the “consensus gap”).

In response to the misinformation campaign to deny the existence of the expert consensus, the authors of seven climate consensus studies — including Naomi OreskesPeter DoranWilliam AndereggBart VerheggenEd MaibachJ. Stuart Carlton, and John Cook — co-authored a 2016 paper that nails the attempt to disseminate fake news on the issue once and for all.

Lead author, John Cook, explains:

Despite this, the damage has arguably already been done. Governments’ can only ameliorate the worst affects of runaway climate change. It’s too late to stop it in it’s tracks. As the consequences of climate change feedback begin to take their toll, we will soon be reaching the tipping point. This will almost certainly be hastened by US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord.

If by 2030, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere remain as high as they are today, then ecosystems will begin to release carbon dioxide as opposed to absorbing it. At this point climate change will not only be out of our hands, but it will accelerate without our help. With our dependency on fossil fuels continuing to increase year-on-year, it appears that this scenario will indeed come to pass. The complicit role denialists like Hitchens and Bellamy played in it must never be forgotten.

I rely on the generosity of my readers. I don’t make any money from my work and I’m not funded. If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. You can help continue my research and write independently..… Thanks!


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What Kind of A Society Are We Prepared to Fight For?

By Daniel Margrain

Pushing Earth of a cliff

In my February 21, 2017 article for Scisco Media I focused on the “conscious cruelty” inflicted by recent Labour and Tory governments’ on some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in our society. The piece proved to have been quite popular, reflecting a widespread hatred of a largely out-of-touch political class whose underlying set of principles are not much different to those that typified the rise of Nazism during the 1930s.

I pointed out that New Labour “feminist” ideologues like Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper were complicit in ensuring that Tory attacks against the sick and disabled would be implemented. The notion that both the Tories and Right factions within the Labour party consider Britain’s “low-lying fruit” as a drain on society to be eliminated, is not as far-fetched as some might believe.

This was certainly the view of Pat Hibernian McQueenie who commented:

“Good piece, it is time for JC and JMCD to remove the linen glove and put on the Iron Fist. If these two Politicians are removed from their posts the British Working Class will cease to exist. A new Class will be born or I should say reborn The British Slave Class will be implemented by the Right Wing.

Queuing at Work Premises I would use gates but there are not that many Left anyway all you who voted for the Tory be afraid be very very afraid. Death Camps will spring up in isolated places and I think you know the rest. All of You Should Have Watched “THE NAZIS A WARNING FROM HISTORY”

I hope whatever God if any You Worship Forgives You because I a disabled Human Being who worked all his Life from 9 until being struck down at the age of 59 WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU SELFISH SCUM SOCIETY You are the Worst Stupidest EVER.”

My piece also appeared to have struck a chord with Elizabeth Newport who wrote:

“Labour’s apathy since 2010 over the appalling benefit reforms upsets me more than the fact the tories have done it. I expect the tories to scapegoat and demean the vulnerable, that’s what they do, but I expected Labour to make their lives very difficult and for charities to be extremely vocal.

The truth is no one cares about the vulnerable, the electorate voted the tories in knowing what their plans were. Labour rolled over on the welfare reform bill. When we have all died from stress and poverty or killed ourselves they will find a new group to scapegoat. I can honestly say that as a mentally disabled person I have never felt so hopeless with regards to any political changes. I was a single parent in the early 1990’s when single parents were blamed and targeted. This is even worse.”

Elizabeth is partly right. The Tories did not mention who their intended target was for the cuts. Not one mainstream journalist leading up to the election pressed then DWP minister, Iain Duncan Smith, for clarification, and therefore, the Tories had no mandate with which to implement their stated programme of cuts.

Pathological

Although it could be reasonably argued that people rarely base their decision to vote for a party on a single issue, the notion that poor people vote in large numbers for the Tories who clearly have them in their sights, is only incomprehensible if one is of the opinion that such people are immune from directing similar forms of pathological hatred against those who are even poorer and weaker than they are.

Of course, the far-right tabloid media play a major part in fanning the flames of hate. But it’s insufficient to put the blame solely on them. Despite falling sales, Murdoch continues to shift millions of copies of the Sun on a daily basis and nobody is physically forcing working class people into the shops to buy it. It’s not just the Tories who pander to the whims of Murdoch either. New Labour under Blair and Brown, were only too eager to appease the racist demographic in the country.

Charity-industrial complex

A corrupt corporate media-political system dominated by power and money means that, literally, the government is getting away with murder. This injustice was articulated by Iam Klaatu in the comments section:

“I do not understand why this is allowed to continue? There are so many breaches of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Articles 23 and 24, and even United Nations condemnation! And under Articles 2 & 4 of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, we have EVERY RIGHT, to see not just politicians and Lords, but EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBLE, from politicians, civil servants, job centre staff and managers, they can and WILL be made accountable for this crime against humanity!

The passive approach among what I refer to as the “charity-industrial complex” also play a complicit role. Klaatu continues:

“So why doesn’t Scope, MENCAP, MS, Cancer Research, etc etc etc , get off their backsides and unite, and stop this genocidal policy??? Or are they afraid of seeing their funding cut??? Their apathy is sickening!!! David Cameron, has even made patron of a charity, whose people are just one group of people that HIS government has hounded and starved to death!…It is an outrage!!!”

Eugenics

It’s my view that what we are witnessing in Britain today, is an early manifestation of a policy of eugenics which will become increasingly more obvious in the years ahead, particularly as robots begin to create a growing pool of idle ‘useless eaters’ among the existing white collar and blue collar workforce. Eventually, a critical-mass point will be reached in which the government of the day will be forced into making binary political choices.

Future governments will be faced with either funding a Universal Basic Income system or resist the necessity for change and, therefore, be prepared for mass civil disobedience on the streets of our towns and cities. As successive governments over the last 40 years have preferred the punitive ‘stick’ rather than the incentivising ‘carrot’ approach, the introduction of a UBI system is far from being a formality.

Of course, none of these potential policy proposals can be announced publicly by the government of the day, or by their media mouthpieces. Rather, the aim is to introduce them incrementally. It’s clear that the eugenics policy is one that is already well under way in Britain in 2017.

The latest in a series of appalling stories to have emerged, concerns Nicola Jeffery, a single parent from south east London. Nicola has fibromyalgia which causes chronic pain across the body. She is one of thousands of people with “invisible disabilities” whose benefits have been axed by the Tories as a result of new “reforms” to the personal independence payment (Pip) benefits system.

The “reforms” are part of a wider long-term strategy of welfare retrenchment, austerity and cuts to those most in need. The aim is the destruction of civilized society. All associated notions of civilization that people have come to take for granted – NHS, social care, fire service, education, public child care provision etc – are being whittled away and sold off for the benefit of private capital and shareholder’s, many of whom are working class people.

So we have to ask the question, what kind of a society do we want?

It’s no longer acceptable to solely blame the Tories for the problems we face. Many ordinary people who vote for right wing parties, including a corporate-corrupted Labour party dominated by a neoliberal core of war-monger’s, Friends of Israeli ethnic cleansing and austerity apologists, have to start looking in the mirror and begin educating themselves about what’s going on in their own communities; their own country; their own world.

Taking responsibility

Many of the problems stem from the fact that for far too long, too many people have not been prepared to take responsibility for their own actions, nor to evaluate how the individual decisions they make on a daily basis impact on society in general. The easy option in which people are prepared to look the other way for perceived short-term gain, can no longer be tolerated.

People who litter and fly-tip on our streets and fields, drive aggressively and at speed in built-up areas, in addition to engaging in other forms of anti-social behaviour, need to be politely confronted. We also need to minimize our individual carbon footprints the best we can, buy locally sourced and organic produce and reduce our consumption of meat.

The attitude for many seems to be that as long as they, as individuals, are not directly being affected by the travails going on around them, then they would sooner prefer to be oblivious to them, irrespective of their adverse impacts.

This lack of awareness and compassion for others, rooted in selfishness and crass individualism, is the bane of society and civilization. Although it might not be the case that the individual or close family member is seemingly unaffected, the nature of the direction of travel in society is such that in the absence of viable alternatives, it will nevertheless become the case further down the line.

Finite planet

Although it might not be the situation today, tomorrow or the day after that, the fragile nature of the planet humanity inhabits, means that the infinite grabbing of finite resources will eventually result in insurmountable negative repercussions in which even the super-rich will not be immune. After all, environmental degradation affects everybody and air pollution is democratic.

Never has Pastor Niemoller’s famous aphorism been more relevant. Climate change is altering the very fabric upon which the functioning of civilized society rests. What use can a depleted planet wrought by a system that prioritizes the accumulation of wealth for wealth’s sake, serve for an elite that continuously craves it? The answer, of course, is that such a planet is of no use to any living thing.

The time to save humanity from itself is fast running out which is why we need to act. However, political shifts at the ballot box alone won’t be enough. We need collectively to go beyond naval-gazing towards positive action. We need to start getting informed about the real issues that humanity faces going forward and start to begin to look for radical solutions.

But we can only do this if an informed public is in a position to be able to correctly identify the cause of our collective malaise. Instead of devoting our energies on attacking the Other for the problems we face, we need to identify and target the source of our oppression. This means we have to think Big.

The local-global nexus, has arguably never been as relevant as it is now. This is because unlike previous epochs, we are the potential authors of our own destruction. In the past, as we moved from one socioeconomic and political form of organisation to another, we confronted, head on, the challenges we faced.

From hunter-gatherer societies through to feudalism, humans were master’s of their own destiny and they survived and prospered along the way. But during the latest capitalist phase, we have seemingly failed to acknowledge our limits as a species.

We cannot reason that lack of knowledge is the cause for our downfall. At the crossroad point along the metaphorical super highway, we made the informed choice to turn rapidly right in the certain knowledge that at the end of the road was a cliff whose precipice we were fast approaching but decided to continue along it’s fatal path regardless. For a species that claims to be at the top of the intellectual food chain, we sure are dumb.

Falling off a cliff

The truth is, we’ve not only sped to the cliff’s edge akin to being passengers of an out-of-control juggernaut, but we are plunging, free fall, towards a giant burning cauldron. We possess parachutes that are, in theory, capable of saving us from the affects of free-fall, but are fast reaching the point where the only eventuality will be hitting the ground with a thud.

Currently, we are at a critical stage between an insurmountable fate and a precarious survival. One of the things that can save us from our mass hypnosis and passivity in the face of a self-inflicted untimely death, is mass collective action. But collective activity in the strict political sense of the term is not enough either.

We also have to start radically changing our behaviour as consumers. This means a dramatic shift in expectations. It’s no longer reasonable for people to expect to spend £2 on a tee-shirt that has been produced by sweated labour in Pakistan, or to feign ignorance in order to justify other forms of immoral decision-making. Crucially, we need to stop buying ‘things’ we don’t need with money we haven’t got.

Because consumption is effectively the oil that lubricates the capitalist system, alternative forms of collective action on a massive scale will naturally correspondingly alter the way the current set of consumption-production relations function. This can only be beneficial for humanity and the planet.

Like the impact of a stone that lands in a pond whose ripples gradually spread further afield, the individual choices we as consumers make, in conjunction with our political choices, can eventually begin to set us free. But we need to hurry up because time is fast running out.

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Why Trident is a useless waste of public money

By Daniel Margrain

Monday evenings vote by the UK parliament to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme which is planned to begin in the early 2030s at an estimated cost of £205 billion, speaks volumes about the malaise at the heart of British parliamentary democracy. The disconnect between Labour members and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is, in part, indicative of this broader schism in liberal social democracy more generally.

This is highlighted, for example, by the fact that the democratically-elected leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, who commands a 20 point lead over his rival, Owen Smith in the renewed challenge to his leadership set for September, voted against the renewal of Trident, while 60 per cent of Labour MPs, the vast majority of whom are opposed to Corbyn’s leadership, voted in favour.

The replacement of the current stock of nuclear submarines is predicated on the 2006 White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent, which asserts that the UK needs nuclear weapons in order:

to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.

The assumed logic underpinning this reasoning is that nuclear weapons provide states with the protection they need against potential adversaries. On the basis of this reasoning, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that theoretically and, as an issue of consistency, every state should be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. But contrary to state propaganda, this eventuality will inevitably make the world less, not more, safe. As Caroline Lucas eloquently and succinctly put it when she addressed PM, Theresa May, during the parliamentary debate:

“If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our security and safety, does she accept the logic of that position must be that every other single country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons? And does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.”

One only needs to look at the example of Iraq, which was attacked on the basis that Saddam was said to have had in his possession a functioning weapons programme that could be used to attack Britain within 45 minutes, in order to underline the truth of Lucas’ argument.

Secondly, both the Conservative and New Labour establishments’ claim that the Trident system is an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. The reality is that Britain is currently only one among nine states ­in the world that does not possess an independent functional nuclear weapons system and the means to deliver it.

The notion then, that a U.S-supplied UK missile system is free to strike any target in the world is fanciful, particularly as its functionality is dependent upon the vagaries of US-UK relations at any given time. Of course, all of this is underscored by the fact that under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Britain has an obligation to disarm.

The third illustration why Trident renewal is unsound, relates to the nature of the threats societies’ face in the 21st century. The 2015 National Security Strategy sets out the tier-one threats faced by the UK. These are international terrorism, climate change and cyber-crime. The obvious reality is that nuclear weapons are not a deterrent against any of these threats. How is it the case that over 180 countries in the world don’t feel the need to acquire this ‘deterrent’?

As the governments own Strategic Defence Review suggests, the threat of nuclear war is rated a two-tier level risk below international terrorism, climate change and cyber crime. It’s precisely because we live in an uncertain world where more countries aspire to get nuclear weapons, that the opportunity for terrorists to get hold of nuclear material becomes greater. The fact that nuclear weapons make the world less safe is the central premise which determines an ongoing UN process involving some 130 countries who are engaged in discussions about banning nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, the UK government is not a party to these discussions.

The arguments for maintaining Trident fall like a house of cards whose foundations are built on sand. The theory that having nuclear weapons makes the country safer is an entirely unproven one, and nor can it be proven. In logic, one cannot prove a negative insofar that doing something causes something else not to happen. The reason why nuclear attacks haven’t happened since the U.S attack on Japan, may be the result of any number of factors, or simply may be due to exceptionally good fortune. Indeed, many military experts argue that nuclear weapons make the country less safe, primarily because it increases the likelihood of them being used.

Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons exacerbates uncertainties and leads to the very scenario it is designed to avoid. If Trident is so effective in protecting the British people, why is it also not the case for every other country in the world? How can the UK government possibly try to deny the right of other countries to acquire them under circumstances where the UK government upgrades its own nuclear weapons?

The one argument that the proponents of Trident renewal frequently cite is the supposed loss of jobs that would allegedly result from any decision to de-commission or not to renew Trident. But, as SNP MP Mhairi Black argued in an erudite and passionate speech to the House of Commons, there is no evidence to suggest, given any political will to examine likely alternative employment opportunities, that job losses would inevitably be the result in any decision not to renew.

The billions that the government is proposing to spend on Trident renewal could conceivably be spent on utilizing the skilled engineers, scientists and other workers elsewhere by investing in energy, engineering and other alternative specialist areas. In addition, greater sums could be invested in preventing climate change. This latter diversification alternative would, as Black emphazises, seem to be particularly pertinent given that climate change is a tier-one threat. The notion that the Trident renewal argument as a defence against a two-tier threat trumps the threat posed by climate change which is a tier-one threat, defies all logic. As Peter Hitchens put it:

“Trident is like spending all your money on insuring against alien abduction, so you can’t afford cover against fire and theft.”

Furthermore, the decision to renew is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive. This is because such a process, as Caroline Lucas contends:

“gives out an incredibly negative message to the rest of the world that if you want to be secure then you have to acquire nuclear weapons. To that extent this vote will drive nuclear proliferation.”

Britain’s nuclear weapons capability does nothing to tackle the real threats the country faces. Rather, it has more to do with augmenting the perception throughout the rest of the world that a faded imperial power is still a significant player on the world stage. Maintaining a nuclear ‘deterrent’ is, in other words, about sending a message to the rest of the world that the projection of power by any means is necessary. Central to maintaining this illusion, is the assurance that the UK secures its permanent member status on the UN Security Council. The Trident nuclear weapons programme serves no other purpose than to satisfy the ego of the British establishment and the propping up of the arms industry.

In the context of an era of welfare retrenchment and austerity, the public are constantly being told by politicians that ‘difficult decisions’ have to be made in terms of the ‘necessity’ to cut disability, unemployment benefits and pensions, while the spending of billions on Trident is essential for their safety and security. The conservative political commentator and television personality, Michael Portillo, manages to cut through the spin as the graphic below illustrates:

As Portillo correctly implies, spending obscene amounts on what are frankly useless, unnecessary and immoral weapons of mass destruction, is an indefensible act of self-serving and short-sighted political narcissism.

 

 

Cameron fiddles while England drowns

By Daniel Margrain

James Bevan, the chief executive of the environment agency who said it was the job of the government to hold him to account, spoke out in support of its chairman, Philip Dilley. Bevan rebuffed criticism that the environment agency avoided telling journalists that Dilley was in Barbados at Christmas at the time of some of the worst flooding the UK has ever seen, while at the same time claiming he had been honest, transparent and straightforward. The paradox was not lost on this writer.

Meanwhile, according to analysis by the Committee on Climate Change, homes continue to be built in England’s highest flood risk areas at almost twice the rate of housing being built outside of flood plains. Housing stock in regions where flooding is likely at least once every thirty years has grown at a rate of 1.2 per cent every year since 2011. By contrast, housing outside of flood plains in areas with less than one in a thousand years’ chance of flooding, increased by an average of just 0.7 per cent over the same period.

So we are building houses on flood plains at twice the rate we are building houses in places where its far less likely to flood. Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t it illogical to build twice as many houses on flood plains given that flooding devastates lives and communities and, according to analysis by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, flood damages could run as high as £1.3bn?

It would appear that the government is not taking climate change seriously enough and therefore are not preparing adequately for it. Perhaps Prime Minister David Cameron is taking his cue from the BBC’s Weather’s Sarah Keith-Lucas who appeared to be unaware that the mild and wet conditions throughout December in the UK are related to climate change.

Whatever the case, Cameron cannot use the excuse that he wasn’t warned about the impact cuts to defences would cause in terms of flood damage. In 2011, for example, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated the annual cost of flood damage in England to be £1.1bn. So one might reasonably ask why the Conservative government then proceeded to cut flood defences by 8 per cent resulting in the loss of 1,500 jobs?

All this comes on the back of government promises to build a million new homes in climate change ravaged Britain by 2020. Yesterday (January 4) the Tories pledged the commissioning of the construction of 13,000 homes on public land owned by the tax payer, describing it as a huge shift in policy, the first of its kind since the Thatcher government. But how many of the 13,000 will be affordable and will the million target be met?

The situation at present is that the combined efforts of the government, councils and the private sector are in no way sufficient enough to meet Britain’s housing needs. The other day, I had a walk along the Thames and the visible presence of cranes and other signs of construction activity on the nearby brownfield sites looked, on the surface, impressive. However, when one looks behind the facade an altogether different, less optimistic, story begins to emerge.

Home ownership in Britain is at its lowest for a generation and the actual supply of homes for sale is not meeting the demand for them. In part, this is explained by the fact that there are an insufficient amount of new homes on the one hand, and that there is a scarcity of second-hand housing on the other. The solution to solving the lack of available housing requires more than the vague and repeatedly unfulfilled promises of this current Tory administration.

What is needed is the kind of boldness and vision that was adopted after WW2 in which the term “homes fit for heroes” was first coined. At that time, a coordinated house building programme of some 300,000 council homes were built for the masses over many years. This figure is similar to the amount that Jeremy Blackburn from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is calling for today. “We…. need 240,000 units a year....”, Blackburn said. “We are not building enough….There are a number of other things the government can do including enabling local councils and housing associations to build more.”

Despite this, house builders such as Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey are sitting on huge plots of land enough to create more than 600,000 new homes. RICS predicts that the current supply shortfall will push up house prices by 6 per cent across the UK this year with the highest rises likely to be seen in East Anglia which is forecast to rise by 8 per cent.

Paradoxically, East Anglia is one of the areas in Britain that is at the greatest risk of flooding as a result of climate change but is among the areas where the greatest amount of new homes will be built. I can only assume that the higher predicted percentage increase in property values in East Anglia will be as an indirect consequence of any expected rise in ecotourism in the region.

For those who already cannot afford to buy, there is a rent increase of 3 per cent on the horizon for 2016 too. With the options for renting and buying increasingly becoming out of the reach for many, particularly the young, the battle lines are being drawn between those who are effectively being denied the right to a home on the one hand, and the government who are not living up to their promises to meet demand on the other.

In London and other major cities, access to what little remains of council housing is almost non-existent. This is being exacerbated as a result of the decision of numerous local councils throughout the country to ‘gentrify’ former council estates (of which the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle in London is emblematic) through a process of social cleansing that increasingly involves the relocation of entire communities from the localities that normally have long established roots.

The social cleansing of communities has negative knock-on affects in terms of the undermining of long held social networks and local economies upon which local businesses depend for their livelihoods. Increasingly major cities, particularly London, are becoming hubs for the property investment portfolios of the super rich who, in many instances, buy up entire reconstituted apartment blocks only for them to subsequently be left empty or rented out at exorbitant rates.

The hollowing out of inner city communities in this way is the product of specific social policies adopted by governments’ predicated on an ideological template intended to bolster the interests of a small minority, many of whom have little or no connection to the communities they invest in. These investors are given priority over and above those who are anchored in the said communities, who do have links.

Given the political will, the housing crisis, could and indeed should, of been solved many years ago. But the point is, there is no political will on the part of the government to solve the crisis because the interests associated with international capital run counter to such an eventuality. We are currently in the frankly absurd situation whereby apartments’ – in many cases entire blocks – lie empty or are occupied for part of the year by transient populations’, while simultaneously growing numbers of British people are unable to afford, or otherwise are being denied access to a necessity of life which is what a home of ones own is.

This madness is indicative of the irrational and contradictory nature of capitalism in arguably its most debased form. It’s the fact that capitalism is first and foremost premised on greed rather than satisfying human need means it is one of the most wasteful and inefficient economic systems for allocating resources known to man. The current housing and flood crisis are both symptomatic of this.

In terms of the latter, we only have to see how flood policy is determined by perverse incentives, often as the result of public money (via farm subsidies) that not only make flood disasters inevitable but are specifically intended to:

“prioritize the protection of farmland above the safety of towns and cities downstream. By straightening, embanking and dredging rivers where they cut through fields, drainage boards accelerate the flow of water, making flooding downstream more likely. protect the rich landowners and their country estates rather than the towns and villages.”

For Tories like Cameron, the moral concept of community and the satisfying of fundamental human needs, of which the former is dependent, implies the rejigging of ‘market forces’ away from the priorities associated with capital towards human beings. But such a ‘bucking of the market’ requires government intervention and the Tories only intervene when the need for the redistribution of wealth presents itself in an upwards direction.

Yesterday on twitter, I was reminded of the consequence that decades of neoliberalism has had in this regard. According to the latest figures on inequality, the share of wealth of the richest 1 per cent now exceeds that of remaining 99 per cent.

Cameron’s announcement yesterday offers no new extra investment in affordable homes, just as there was no new extra investment for flood defences. People on modest incomes will have little hope of being able to afford to buy or rent in the future.

The proposed construction of one million homes by 2020 is a pledge that Cameron’s government which predicates its policies on short term goals for short term electoral gain, has no intention of ever meeting. Perhaps the best, and perhaps only solution, will be to utilize the impacts of climate change by living on a barge in the swamp flood plains of the new British terrain.

 

Barefoot economic values, TTIP & the democratic retreat.

By Daniel Margrain

Equality before the law is one of the most fundamental principles underpinning justice. It is therefore an act of utter insanity to want to roll back the gains that has seen societies’ flourish as a result of the enactment of these principles and yet that’s precisely what the UK government like that of the US and 13 other EU members seem to be sleepwalking into rubber stamping.

Fifteen years ago, George Monbiot analysed the extent to which the UK government – through the dictates of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI)- had essentially become captive to the infiltration of the state by corporations’ on the national level. What is now being proposed transnationally, is essentially the capture of national sovereignty by multi-national corporations.

The Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), a procedural mechanism that allows foreign investors to sue states’ for damages in a tribunal of arbitration, have in recent years, increased in number and value. They are set to grow exponentially if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which sets the provisions for ISDS, is allowed to go ahead as expected next year.

It will effectively mean that corporate lawyers across the EU and US will be allowed to overturn the laws of individual democratic governments’ with a view to them seeking massive compensation claims on behalf of the corporations they represent on the basis that likely “future anticipated profits” would be adversely affected.

The provisions of the draft agreement which was conducted in secret and only came to light after their contents were leaked to the media in March 2014, followed the results of a public consultation undertaken by the European Commission. Neither appears to have done anything to ally public concerns over the proposed deal which, should it end up being finalized in its current form will, as I will attempt to show below, have profound negative implications for Western democracy.

In December 2013, a coalition of over 200 environmentalists, labour unions and consumer advocacy organizations on both sides of the Atlantic sent a letter to the US federal agency responsible for trade policy, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), and European Commission demanding the ISDS be dropped from the trade talks, claiming that it was “a one-way street by which corporations can challenge government policies, but neither governments nor individuals are granted any comparable rights to hold corporations accountable”.

Clearly, the clauses in the trade agreement relating to investment protection are open to abuse, as is the undermining of national sovereignty resulting from this potential for abuse – issues that were tackled in a Guardian article by Owen Jones. Expanding on this, Martti Koskenniemi, professor of International Law, warned that the planned foreign investor protection scheme within the treaty, similar to World Bank Group‘s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), would endanger the sovereignty of the signatory states by effectively allowing for a small circle of legal experts to be given the power to usurp democratic legislative procedures and standards.

Professor Colin Crouch describes TTIP as “post-democracy in its purest form”. By this he means it represents a deficit in democratic accountability in which the structures of the state have ceded their powers to the imperatives associated with multinational capital. Post-democracy in these terms equates to the shifting of power towards corporations’ where deals are often struck in secret out of the reach of public bodies whose democratic role is to scrutinize them in the public interest.

Whenever scrutiny is removed, the burden of both economic and environmental risk relating to deals between political elites and corporate lobbies, tend to tilt towards the public sphere who pick up the pieces by way of what economists euphemistically refer to as “externalities”. Often, for example, deals involve the construction of large infrastructural vanity projects including football stadiums, Olympic villages and the like, that usually come with negative knock-on environmental, ecological, employment and economic impacts.

The London mayor Boris Johnson’s less than transparent involvement in the Olympic Stadium deal between the London Dockland Development Corporation (LDDC) and Premier League football club, West Ham United, brokered by Lady Brady, is an example of how both the political and business elites mutually benefit from these kinds of potentially environmentally and economically (for the tax payer) damaging and secret deals.

As the Blatter scandal, and more recently, Sebastian Coe’s cozy relationship with Nike and his other underhand dealings illustrate, the corporate, government and national authority ties within the high echelons of sport, are indicative of a wider corruption, albeit an informal kind that, unless you happen to be foreigner, is rarely acknowledged within the British establishment.

In such cases, corruption is normally regarded to be an activity restricted to “tin-pot” dictatorships in the developing world rather than something that has arguably become “normalized” and symptomatic of a broader societal and economic malaise conducive to political life within formal Western liberal democracies’.

With virtually every public asset being up for grabs in the era of neoliberal globalization (and hence reduced to a crude form of exchange value by the elites), means that all aspects of our existence are to be potentially ceded to the altar of profit and multilateral economic growth. This is precisely the aim of TTIP.

But of course not all values are perceived in this crude narrow sense. Employment, environmental, and even food standards protection which TTIP is set to undermine, for example, are concomitant to the public good. Within the context of a finite planet, the same cannot necessarily be said of economic growth.

Another value that cannot be measured in strictly economic terms is happiness and contentment. Can it really be said with any conviction that we, in the first world, are generally happier and more content than people in the developing world?

Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef brings some valuable insights into play within this area. Having worked for many years of his life in extreme poverty in the Sierras, in the jungle and in urban areas of different parts of Latin America, Max-Neef recalls:

“At the beginning of that period, I was one day in an Indian village in the Sierra in Peru. It was an ugly day. It had been raining all the time. And I was standing in the slum. And across me, another guy also standing in the mud — not in the slum, in the mud. And, well, we looked at each other, and this was a short guy, thin, hungry, jobless, five kids, a wife and a grandmother. And I was the fine economist from Berkeley, teaching in Berkeley, having taught in Berkeley and so on. And we were looking at each other, and then suddenly I realized that I had nothing coherent to say to that man in those circumstances, that my whole language as an economist, you know, was absolutely useless. Should I tell him that he should be happy because the GDP had grown five percent or something? Everything was absurd.

He continues:

We have reached a point in our evolution in which we know a lot. We know a hell of a lot. But we understand very little. Never in human history has there been such an accumulation of knowledge like in the last 100 years. Look how we are. What was that knowledge for? What did we do with it? And the point is that knowledge alone is not enough, that we lack understanding….”

The overriding factor that has given Max-Neef hope in the poor communities that he has lived and worked in is:

“Solidarity of people… respect for the others. Mutual aid. No greed. Greed is a value that is absent in poverty. And you would be inclined to think that there should be more there than elsewhere, you know, that greed should be of people who have nothing. No, quite the contrary. The more you have, the more greedy you become, you know. And all this crisis is the product of greed. Greed is the dominant value today in the world. And as long as that persists, well, we are done….”

According to Max-Neef, the best principles of economics are based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle:

“One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

Two, development is about people and not about objects.

Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.”

In developing postulate three, Max-Neef explains:

“Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be dialoguing here now. So development has no limits. Growth has limits. And that is a very big thing, you know, that economists and politicians don’t understand. They are obsessed with the fetish of economic growth” [My emphasis].

Crucially:

“…In every society there is a period in which economic growth, conventionally understood or no, brings about an improvement of the quality of life. But only up to a point, the threshold point, beyond which, if there is more growth, quality of life begins to decline. And that is the situation in which we are now.”

The aim of TTIP, is the promotion of multilateral economic growth (of which the ideology of progress is seen as emblematic). Paradoxically, this corresponds to the decline in the quality of life characterized by runaway climate change and the undermining of environmental protection that this implies.

The law of diminishing returns as inferred by Max-Neef, would suggest that humanity is currently at the threshold point. It’s up to us to determine our future path and those of our children and children’s children. In order to do that we need to break with the current socioeconomic paradigm.

 

COP21 resolves nothing

By Daniel Margrain

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Academic research supports the hypothesis that environmental degradation is linked to economic growth. As economies grow the countries’ in which the growth rates occur pump out correspondingly higher rates of the gas responsible for the greatest single cause of human induced climate change into the earth’s atmosphere. The tendency among humans to consume more and more of the finite resources of our planet, is predicated on capitalism’s inherent drive for growth upon which the maximization of profits is dependent. This is what Naomi Klein talks about when she refers to the capitalist system as one in which the ruthless drive for expansion is kept going by “consumption for consumption’s sake”.

If one accepts this line of reasoning then it follows that in order to ameliorate the affects of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it’s necessary to challenge the growth based profit seeking logic of capitalism that gives rise to it.

Here we are faced with a major contradiction. The economic growth that is generated by capitalism creates employment opportunities. But in so doing, it also creates an insurmountable environmental and ecological crisis which, taken to its logical conclusion, negates the need for economy and hence employment. It’s this fundamental contradiction that undermines the COP21 in Paris and all of the other UN Climate Summit’s that preceded it.

This rather depressing reality, is underscored by the fact that these summits are primarily concerned with satisfying the demands set by capitalist growth, as opposed to creating the necessary conditions for environmentally sustainable societies’. Although this truism is rarely openly and unambiguously stated, any cursory analysis of the situation reveals that job creation and the “need” to maximize economic growth, overrides environmental sustainability considerations.

The insatiable demands of investors on the one hand, and the urgent need to cut down on global carbon emissions, on the other, are necessarily incongruous concepts. The failure of successive summits, most notably, in Copenhagen, in addressing the incompatibility between economic growth – a factor intrinsic to capitalism – and environmental sustainability that limits it, is a recipe for disaster because it perpetuates the conditions in which further environmental degradation of the planet will occur.

It’s precisely this logic that explains why it is that one of the key players at the COP21 discussions in Paris, Saudi Arabia, attempted to undermine them, even though climate change forecasts suggest that the Gulf region will become uninhabitable as a consequence of the failure of the Arab state agreeing to a radical shift in its negotiating position at the summit.

The rationale for the world’s largest producer of oil in its derailing of negotiations, is based on narrow short-term economic self interest. Saudi Arabia are among the most powerful of the 195 nations who attended the conference in Paris who, alongside their powerful allies, are empowered to block any meaningful negotiations in terms of emissions through a process of informal consensus.

Conversely, the poorer nations, were effectively not in a position to wield sufficient enough power to be able to offset the decision-making processes of the most powerful – the negative impacts of which, as Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, noted – they will disproportionately be on the end of.

For example, the numerous islands that comprise the small Pacific states’ who are among most likely to be adversely impacted by the worst consequences of climate change, had emphasized the need to act on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, while their powerful counterparts adamantly arrived at a higher “consensual” non-binding figure reviewed once every five years.

All this, and the fact that Saudi Arabia introduced a set of unreasonable negotiating pre-conditions against the emerging economies, are the main factors that arguably, in part, prompted the former Nasa scientist, James Hansen, to comment that the discussions in Paris were “a…fraud… a fake,”. He added: “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises….”.

Meanwhile, the United States used the fact that it has not ratified any human rights statute internationally as a poison ‘divide and rule’ pill against the developing countries with the aim of picking off the most vulnerable as their justification for shifting blame for the crisis on to the smaller nations.

This underhand tactic serves a dual purpose in as much as the source of the problem – the rich elites’ pattern of consumption and their lifestyle – is conveniently admonished. That the ‘1 percent versus the 99 percent’ narrative remained a feature of Paris, is to my mind, the most depressing aspect of the summit. Kenyan political ecologist, Ruth Nyambura summed up the impasse well when she said: “We want to get out of this sinking ship, but countries like U.S. are holding the lifeboats.”

The reality is the settlement that emerged in Paris is an extremely weak one due largely to the negotiated consensual interplay between the most powerful players. This meant they were able to use each other to take things off the table they didn’t want. This interplay, to a great extent, is determined by the influence the oil, coal and gas companies had on proceedings as well as the banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions who fund them.

The giant corporations garner an enormous amount of power in terms of their ability to be able to influence the decision making processes of the most powerful governments’. This often takes the form of the lobbying of leading politician’s of these governments by the giant corporations. Paris was no exception. The issues to do with conflicts of interest remain.

Thus, the potential for corruption is as strong as ever, aided ostensibly by credible figures who misrepresent consensus research. The misrepresentations in Paris included climate change professors who Greenpeace exposed as figures who were willing to produce pro-fossil fuel industry research by concealing the source of their funding.

The denialism also invariably extends to apparently skeptical mainstream journalists like Christopher Booker and James Delingpole whose roles are little more than conduits for the kinds of power they are supposed to hold to account. The reality is that the relationship between fossil fuel emissions and climate change is scientifically indisputable. To quote George Monbiot in his book ‘Heat’: “To doubt today, that manmade climate change is happening, you must abandon science and revert to some other means of understanding the world: alchemy perhaps, or magic.”

Nevertheless, the influence that journalists, powerful corporate lobbyists, former politicians and others within the denial industry are able to exert in order to deceive and mislead the public regarding the science can not be underestimated. One such figure is journalist, Peter Hitchens, who ought to know better.

The writer, who has many credible and sensible things to say about the decision of the UK government to go to war in Syria, apparently bases his authority to deny the reality of climate change on misleading glacier figures published online by the ‘Science and Environmental Policy Project’ (SEPP) run by a discredited environmental scientist called Dr S. Fred Singer.

The data has been reproduced by several other groups and had also found its way into The Washington Post. According to George Monbiot, the figures which were published by these groups, were subsequently used by Hitchens as well as other notable denialists like Melanie Phillips and David Bellamy to support their respective positions. However, the groups have one thing in common: they have all been funded by Exxon.

But this fact hasn’t initiated any retractions. On the contrary, it has resulted in the ‘digging in of heels’. The intention is to create confusion and the impression of uncertainty within the scientific community, when in reality none exists. The science is settled. Even Exxon’s own research conducted decades ago, that was until recently covered up, confirmed the role of fossil fuel in global warming.

Despite this, the damage has arguably already been done. Governments’ can only ameliorate the worst affects of runaway climate change. It’s too late to stop it in it’s tracks. As the consequences of climate change feedback begin to take their toll, we will soon be reaching the tipping point.

If in the year 2030, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere remain as high as they are today then ecosystems will begin to release carbon dioxide as opposed to absorbing it. At this point climate change will not only be out of our hands, but it will accelerate without our help. If this does indeed come to pass, then the world will be taking to task the complicit role the denialism industry played in it.