Tag: Capitalism

Why Owen Smith is a Red-Tory

By Daniel Margrain

Last week a prominent independent journalist claimed on Twitter that my assertion Owen Smith was effectively a Tory was “intellectually lazy”. Coincidentally, a few days later on Thursday’s (September 8) edition of BBC’s Question Time during the Labour party leadership debate between challenger Owen Smith and incumbent Jeremy Corbyn, a studio audience member and Corbyn supporter accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”.

Smith responded angrily to this suggestion by denying this was the case and asserted that the claim amounted to a term of abuse. Smith’s view was supported the next day (September 9) on Twitter by Smith supporter, John McTernan who said that such a suggestion was “ludicrous”. Of course, nobody is claiming that Smith, in the literal sense, is a Tory, but his voting record in the House of Commons and his commercial activities outside it, would indicate that he might as well be.

So let’s take a look at his record. Since at least July, the public relations professional, Smith, has pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn. This implies that Smith is first and foremost concerned with image and branding as opposed to adopting a principled political and ideological position.

The ‘soft-left’ Smith had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them. This is one of the significant passages from a section of the study that Smith was keen to promote:

“The focus groups… explored areas of choice that do not yet exist in the UK – most specifically the use of direct payments and the ability to choose to go directly to a specialist without first having to see the GP.”

In other words, Smith favours direct payments from the public to doctors as a replacement for current NHS services. This policy strategy is consistent with the 1988 Tory ‘self-funding’ privatization blueprint for the NHS drawn up by Oliver Letwin and John Redwood. In the document ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: ideas for radical reform of the NHS’, Letwin and Redwood suggest that the aim of charging is to “replace comprehensive universal tax funding for the NHS.”

Smith’s conflation of greater choice with an ability to pay, represents one more stage in the execution of Letwin and Redwood’s plans. The implementation of these plans were accelerated by Blair and Brown as documented by Leys and Player in their book The Plot Against the NHS. Smith intends to continue where Brown and Blair – then Lansley and now Hunt – left off as part of the final stages of the wholesale Letwin-Redwood privatization blueprint of which the 2012 Health & Social Care Act  is a major component part.

Since the 2015 general election, the Tory government have explicitly admitted that the NHS should be modelled on US-style “accountable or integrated healthcare” which is where Smith’s connections to Pfizer come in. In addition to his Policy and Government Relations role for the giant US corporation, Smith was also directly involved in Pfizer’s funding of Blairite right-wing entryist group Progress. Pfizer gave Progress £52,287 while the latter has actively pursued the agenda of PFI and the privatisation of NHS services.

So while Smith’s image is largely predicated on his attempt to convince the Labour membership that in policy terms he publicly supports Corbyn’s position that the NHS should remain a universally free at the point of delivery service, in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies that have continued under the Tories as well as assiduously courting the arms industry of which his support of Trident is a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July last year by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In an Orwellian rejection of socialist values, Blairite Iraq war apologist and establishment gatekeeper, John Rentoul, affirmed his support for the policies of Owen Smith on Twitter:

As the graphic above shows, and as Craig Murray correctly posits:

“There is no evidence whatsoever that Smith is a left winger. There is every evidence that he is another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist, adopting a left wing pose that he thinks will win him votes.”

The graphic below highlights the hypocrisy of Smith and, by extension, his total contempt for ordinary Labour party members.

 

 

Smith’s acquiescence to corporate power is indicative of a wider democratic deficit within the liberal democracies of the West in an era of globalization more generally. But his close relationship to the PLP and the Tory-Labour establishment consensus that they represent, reflects a relatively recent historical pattern in which governments of both the left and the right have prioritized the interests associated with private capital over and above that of labour.

Thus the first serious attacks on the welfare state in Britain came not in 2008, or even with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but several years previously, with that of a Labour government in 1974. Contrary to popular belief, dismantling the welfare state was not a key priority for Thatcher following her election in 1979. It was not until her third term of office in 1987 that Thatcher and her advisers (notably the Sainsbury’s chief executive Sir Roy Griffiths) began to develop the neoliberal ideas of the Chicago School.

These ideas were subsequently picked up and developed by New Labour under Tony Blair following his election victory in 1997. It was during this point that the introduction of competition into public services, ideas about the state as purchaser of public services and the outsourcing and privatization of health and social care services, became the norm.

The privatization of the NHS, made possible by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, arguably poses the most immediate threat to the welfare state in the UK in its totality in which the outsourcing of services becomes the default position. The functioning of a welfare state that increasingly serves the minority interests of capital at the expense of fulfilling the needs of the majority of the population, is a process driven by a neoliberal-driven ideological consensus rather than any pragmatic attempts at ameliorating deficits and the encouragement of socioeconomic and environmental sustainability.

It’s the continued satisfying of minority elite interests rather than the wider public good that Owen Smith and the establishment – of which he is a part – are embedded. That’s fundamentally the reason why there is nothing that separates Owen Smith from the neoliberalism of Blair, Brown, Miliband, Major, Thatcher and May.

Whether one agrees with Jeremy Corbyn’s politics or not, he at least offers a genuine alternative to the consensus view that Smith represents. Even the right-wing commentator, Peter Hitchens, recognizes that the emergence of Corbyn is important to the adversarial nature of political discourse and, by extension, to democracy itself. If the UK was a healthy democracy instead of an effective corporate-political-media oligarchy, this development would be welcomed. Instead, Corbyn is demonized and smeared at almost every opportunity.

 

Is authenticity possible under capitalism?

By Daniel Margrain

williamsburg.jpg

The anti-capitalist slogans ‘The World Is Not A Commodity’ and ‘Our World Is Not For Sale’ which emerged out of the great anti-capitalist demonstrations from Seattle and which many of us take for granted, are tremendously powerful statements about the world. One of Karl Marx’s most profound insights was his understanding of how the workings of the capitalist system is bound up with the process of turning ‘things’ from the ‘productive sphere’ to a ‘consumptive sphere’ realized as commodity value.

For Marx, the notion of turning ‘use values’ into ‘exchange values’ is an inherent feature of capitalism’s drive for the accumulation of capital. Capitalism does not create commodities or markets and, similarly, it does not create money. The problems, as Marx sees them, is not that capitalism brings these things into being, but brings them into being in a particular way that expands and extends the process of capital accumulation through the extraction of surplus value realized as profit.

Over a century and a half ago, Marx grasped the existence of an inherently competitive struggle between rival units of capital to turn increasing spheres of life over to private production and therefore to extend the sphere of commodities which have come to dominate the people that produce them. Formally, capitalists and workers are independent of each other, but in reality inextricably connected.

From the 19th century, production no longer took place in the home but in factories where new systems of discipline operated. For the first time in history, humans came to be defined by how and what they consumed. By turning society and production over to the production of ‘things’ that the direct producers have little or no control over, means that capitalism is an alienating system.

The devaluation of public life increases in direct relation to the increase in the value of the world of things. Real social relationships are governed by an external power which attains control over the individual. In The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx asserts:

“The alienation of the worker means not only that his labour becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as hostile and alien.”

Although we make and buy ‘things’, the antagonistic nature of the capitalist market means we are detached and alienated from them and each other. The system produces a world of isolated and egoistic individuals, bound together by calculation and crude monetary terms rather than the establishment of community life. The capitalist system of generalized commodity production is so pervasive that it seems an inevitable and natural condition of humanity.

Commodities acquire social characteristics because individuals enter the productive process only as the owners of commodities. As Marx succinctly put it“the impact of society on the individual is carried out through the social form of things.” This adds another dimension to alienated relationships because “the characters who appear on the economic stage are merely personifications of economic relations. It is as the bearers of these economic relations that they come into contact with each other.”

The notion that human will is separated from the social organization that overrides it and where powers are conferred to inanimate objects, is what Marx meant by ‘commodity fetishism’. It is a process in which “the capitalist mode of production takes over the totality of the individual, family, social needs and, in subordinating them to the market, also reshapes them to serve the needs of capital.” In this way culture is packaged within what appears to be an era of all-pervasive globalization where:

“The local and exotic are torn out of place to be repackaged for the world bazaar. So-called world culture may reflect a new valuation of difference and particularity, but is also very much about making a profit from it.”

Commodities also take on a mystical character. As writer, Kitty S Jones has shown, under capitalism the world has become devalued and society debased. Under these conditions, rather than the state providing services directly, it’s role is to act as a purchaser of public services which are then farmed out to the private sector. Working conditions are unilaterally altered as a result, and the path of individual redress begins and often ends with automated answering services of the great bureaucracies.

The frustration has reached such epic proportions that in those services where staff have to confront the public, they either have to be physically protected by screens or notices have to be posted warning the public of the dire consequences of assaulting staff, as now happens on London buses and tubes. All this is compounded by market-inspired jargon that seems to promise the opposite of this frustration.

The dominance of the cash nexus and privatization within public life is such that trains now carry customers not passengers and nurses tend clients not patients. Bewildering consumer choice is offered by the same few large corporations. The near universal mechanisms supposedly designed to provide accountability and increase public trust through regulation, inspection, target-setting and audit are, in reality, making things worse.

Ira Katznelson outlines the all-pervasive and distorting power of capitalism in relation to cities:

“Capitalism creates the city; the city creates a consciousness that reflects its varied reality; yet that unconsciousness deflects attention away from the primal forces of the capitalist mode of production that underlie the production and functioning of cities. This is the great secret of the capitalist order. Not only does the city give the accumulation process the capacity to secure a spatial fix, it also misshapes class struggle by deflecting it into fetishistic dimensions.”

The result of the direct subordination of cultural production to the priorities of profitable accumulation can be witnessed daily on television. In Britain today – the European vanguard of neoliberalism – government ministers refer to the ‘cultural industries’ without any sense of paradox or discomfort, and the Financial Times has a regular supplement called ‘Creative Business’.

This understanding of culture as part of the profitable accumulation process, is very different from the understanding of cultural theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. When, for example, they coined the expression ‘the culture industry’, they intended it as an ironical and critical concept. Nothing seemed to them to be more absurd or contradictory than to reduce the creative process to an industry governed by the same logic of rationalization as any other.

Throughout the public realm, what appears to be the hegemonic subjugation to the market of communities and societies, means that many people are oblivious to alternative narratives which challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of neoliberalism. Postmodernism helps reinforce this consensus view because it seeks to prohibit a discourse of social criticism to the experience of neoliberalism. The high priest of the deconstruction of authenticity, Jean Baudrillard, for example, writes:

“All our problems today as civilized beings originate not in an excess of alienation, but a disappearance of alienation in favour of a maximum transparency between subjects.”

For Baudrillard, critical thought and political struggle have been rendered obsolete in society, not of the spectacle but of simulation where images no longer represent but now constitute reality. Marx’s concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism, however, infer a contrast between an authentic subject and existing social relations that deny it self-realization.

This contrast is implicit in the critique developed during the 1960s by the Situationists of ‘the society of the spectacle’. Situationist Guy Debord writes of “the global social praxis that is split into reality and image” and says that “within a world really on its head, the true is a movement of the false.” The tradition in which the Situationists built on Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism is one, therefore, that’s committed to the idea of pursuing the critique of existing reality as part of the struggle of what Marx called ‘human emancipation’.

The re-emergence of Marx’s concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism in recent years marks the breakdown of the hegemony that postmodernism has exerted over much academic thinking during the last few decades. For Alex Callinicos, postmodernism is predicated on a neoliberal ideological discourse that dovetails in with urban corporate spatial strategies designed to extract value by dissolving the aspiration to authenticity and community through identity politics.

According to Rosalyn Deutsche, corporate planning strategies frequently cast homogeneity and unanimity in the shape of ‘community’ with the goals of consolidating communities and soothing conflicts. The aim is to dissociate democracy from conflict. Conflict is “simultaneously acknowledged and disavowed, a ‘fetishistic’ process whose repercussions generate certitudes about the meaning of public space.” Thus the struggle for authenticity through recognition of identity and differentiation, and the effort to disembody ownership from representation in urban spaces, is the struggle for community and democracy itself.

The community in this sense appear as negative images embroiled within a discursive economy that both masks and legitimizes socioeconomic domination by obliterating difference, inequality and oppression. The merging of ownership and representation as a tool of statement production only serves to extend these operations of power and to further undermine the possibility of resistance.

In this way, corporate structures are able to appropriate representative claims for authenticity and embody them within a framework of ownership that privilege an integrated concept of space distanced from a discourse of threat and conflict. Thus urban spaces can appear to be abstract and neutral allowing urban planners to divorce the urban fabric from class content. So, for instance, the dominant response to the English inner city riots of the 1980s was for better ‘design solutions’ to control social problems rather than on focusing attempts to challenge entrenched socioeconomic relations that gave rise to them.

An inclusive Marxist vision of democracy is one in which, the ‘subject’ as opposed to the ‘commodity’ becomes the universal category. Marx, therefore, is able to transcend the capitalist totality by providing a theoretical basis by which authenticity can be realized without the need to turn to market-based objectified concepts.

In my next article I will examine how misplaced notions of authenticity have influenced the way many of us perceive the Cuban experience

Why Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ still resonates today.

By Daniel Margrain

Commodification and objectification, concomitant to the growth of consumerism in modern society, is the fuel to the engine that drives capitalism on. As I explained in a previous post, the social pressures on young women to conform to certain media expectations that capitalism places upon them and from which these processes are manifested, is immense. As I will outline below, Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – arguably the greatest piece of art produced in the 20th century – challenged this manifestation of capitalism during the early stages of its development. I will show how the cultural significance of the painting still resonates today.

Les Demoiselles

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the most famous examples of cubism. It is an oil painting on canvas begun by Picasso in late 1906 and completed in the summer of 1907. It is eight feet tall, seven feet eight inches wide, and has hung since 1937 in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 by Pablo Picasso

In this painting, Picasso abandoned all known form and representation of traditional art. He used distortion of the female body and geometric forms in an innovative way, which challenge the expectation that paintings will offer idealized representations of female beauty. It also shows the influence of African art on Picasso and is said to be a reaction to Henri Matisse‘s Le bonheur de vivre and Blue Nude.

Its resemblance to The Large Bathers of Paul Cezanne, Statue Oviri of Gauguin and Opening of the Fifth Seal of El Greco has been broadly talked about by critics. When it first exhibited in 1916, the painting was regarded as immoral. According to art critic, Leo Steinberg, the reversed gaze, that is, the fact that the figures look directly at the viewer, as well as the idea of the self-possessed woman, no longer there solely for the pleasure of the male gaze, may be traced back to Olympia, 1863 of Manet.

The critic Jonathan Jones described the painting as “marking the birth of modern art” in the sense that it dispensed with the portrayal of the naturalistic or the ‘realism’ as developed during the Renaissance. Modern art either distorts physical appearances or abandons them altogether. This is not to say, of course, that it was possible for the Renaissance painters to ‘realistically’ depict things that do not in reality exist like angels.

The point is, depictions of say, breasts and faces in art during this epoch, were easily recognizable as faces and breasts. Picasso was the first to break from the Renaissance tradition in which a great deal of attention was paid to detail, craft and specific skills – factors which were widely regarded as the true sign of quality.

Although it could be said that impressionism marked a shift in the emphasis on the premium of these ideas as being the marker for great art, it was Les Demoiselles that provided the art world with its decisive break. In 1907 it would have looked like not just a move away from the traditional skills, but a full scale assault on them.

Up until the 19th century, harmony, form and certain subject matter were regarded as the aesthetic marker for beauty in art and anything that didn’t conform to this rationalization was deemed to be of a lower order. Think of A Rake’s Progress, a series of eight paintings by 18th-century English artist William Hogarth, as an for example of this.

In Les Demoiselles, not only does Picasso not attempt to make the women ‘beautiful’ but, by the conventional standards of the day, his use of the African masks, insists on their ugliness. Les Demoiselles was the painting that was the starting point for the development of the revolutionary art of the 20th century.

The significance of Picasso’s innovative painting should be viewed within the wider context of modernist culture as a whole, understood as the emergence of the technological innovations that typified the industrial revoultion, the artistic break from the aristocratic traditions that existed more or less until the early 20th century, and the social revolutions of the period that were linked to them.

Les Demoiselles fits neatly into this schema within the context in which the impressionists and the post-impressionists were all met with derision. The development, and first mass production of, the automobile happened during this time. The Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris. Marconi established the world’s first radio station in 1897 on the Isle of wight and opened the first wireless factory in Chelmsford in 1898.

All this happened during a period when Europe was pre-occupied by Revolution in Russia. Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird was composed in 1910, and The Rite of Spring between 1912 and 1913, while the Ballet Russes was formed 1909 and first performed L’Aprèsmidi d’un Faune in 1912. In literature Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu was begun in 1909, James Joyce’s Dubliners appeared in 1914, Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony in 1914 and his Metamorphosis in 1915. Les Demoiselles formal innovations that are indicative of modernism, preceded all of the formal innovative breaks with the past in the artistic fields described.

But the impact of the painting extends beyond the development of modern art in purely formal terms. Perhaps above all, it’s the contemporary relevance of the subject matter which resonates most powerfully today in a society where objectification and commodification inherent to capitalism increasingly permeates popular culture.

It’s perhaps tempting to ignore the fact that the picture is about prostitution let alone about being confronted up close and personal by five prostitutes. However, some journalists recoil from confronting the fact that the core subject is about looking at, and being looked at by, prostitutes and instead replace it with other evasive interpretations. But although the picture is ostensibly about prostitution, to me it’s saying something much deeper that goes beyond the critique of one particular social institution.

The central feature of Les Demoiselles is the confrontation between the artist/brothel client/viewer. As highlighted by the gaze of the central women (second and third from the left), they are one and the same. We are left with a feeling of being gazed at with contempt by the prostitutes which initiates in us a intense discomfort.

In turn, this mutual antagonism reflects a sense of estrangement that the institution of prostitution exemplifies within the formal structures of the state. In my view, the themes that Picasso explored in Les Demoiselles could only be expressed as part of the radical break he made with the traditional forms of naturalistic representation.

What Picasso achieved with his assault on conventional standards of beauty and the use of African masks, was the de-sentimentalization and de-glamorization that capitalism, through objectification, sentimentalizes and glamorizes.

Whether Picasso was intellectually conscious of all of this as he worked on the painting is questionable. The point though, is the picture which revolutionized art cannot plausibly be considered autonomous from the nature of a society from which its creator emerged.

The Rich Need To Be Forced To Pay Their Way For The Benefit Of All

Leading American venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has argued that the actions of capitalists’ need to be reined in through a system of planned and coordinated regulation in order for the capitalist system to be sustainable. This is what he said in a BBC TV interview in front of a live audience:

Capitalists have the idea that THEIR things will be bought by everybody else as a result of higher wages paid by OTHER capitalists. But this logic of paying higher wages to staff to help improve business activity more generally, doesn’t seem to apply equally to them since they will insist on paying THEIR OWN workers next to nothing thereby not absorbing the costs themselves resulting in them gaining a competitive advantage over their rivals. The simple truth is, if a higher minimum wage was introduced universally, not only would it be affordable, but something like 40% of American’s would be able to buy more products from everybody thus benefiting all capitalists across the board. Business is challenged today because fewer and fewer people are able to buy things [1].

The implication, in other words, is that the capitalist system needs to be regulated by governments’ in order to save it from the rapacious actions of competing capitalists driven by their insatiable need for profit maximization. This rationale was long ago grasped by Karl Marx who understood that the essence of the capitalist system is, in his phrase, “accumulation for accumulations sake.”

So why don’t capitalists insist on using free labour and make their workers work all the hours under the sun? After all, wouldn’t that lead to higher profits? And one might also ask why their representatives within the elite political establishment would bother to spend any money at all on welfare? The simple but correct answer is that where they have a choice, they don’t. Where labour supply is low, the state is in effect forced to intervene on behalf of capitalists by introducing welfare as the means of preserving and reproducing labour.

But where labour is plentiful, the state rarely feels compelled to introduce health and safety, minimum wage laws and welfare.The rationale for this is that if a worker dies of malnutrition or has an accident at work, he or she can be easily replaced by another worker. Under such circumstances, the state regards these kinds of misfortunes as a price worth paying. Consider this account of the conditions of child labour in the lace industry in Nottingham in 1861 by a local magistrate:

Children of nine or ten years are dragged from their squalid beds at two, three, four o’clock in the morning and compelled to work for a bare subsistence until ten, eleven or twelve at night, their limbs wearing away, their frames dwindling, their faces whitening, and their humanity absolutely sinking into a stone-like torpor, utterly horrible to contemplate [2].

Compare and contrast that to a recent study of the conditions of life for rural migrants in contemporary China:

The trafficked children] came from faraway Liangshan in Sichuan and most of them are not yet 16. The overseers sought and recruited them from families mired in poverty, promising them high wages; some were even abducted and sent off in batches to Dongguan and from there distributed by the truckload to factories across the Pearl River Delta. On unfamiliar soil these children are often scolded and beaten and have only one proper meal every few days. Some little girls are even raped. Day after day they undertake arduous labour. Some children think about escape, but the road is blocked. The overseers threaten them and warn them that if they try to run away, there will be a price to pay [3].

What the above illustrates, is that the plentiful supply of labour power was as pertinent during the early days of the industrial revolution in Britain as it is to present day China. In both cases the introduction of welfare as the means of preserving and reproducing labour was not a concern for capitalists or the state. Consequently, welfare provision is as scant in China today as it was in 19th century Britain.

Similarly, while the deaths of more than 1,100 garment workers in a factory building collapse in Dhaka,Bangladesh, in April 2013 [4], most of them women on subsistence wages, is an unspeakable tragedy for their families and friends, it is of much less significance, other than concerns about negative publicity, for companies such as Primark for whom they were producing cheap clothes, simply because there are plenty more desperate workers who will take their place [5].

Where, however, the supply of labour is less plentiful or where labour becomes more skilled and consequently more expensive, losing workers through injury or disablement, or through working them to death doesn’t really make economic sense. But that doesn’t mean that capitalists in Britain or America wouldn’t insist that their workers work all the hours under the sun in the short term for peanuts if they thought they could get away with it.

One of the contradictions inherent to capitalism is that the system as a whole needs to spend money to make profits, yet every individual capitalist wants to spend as little as possible. The lengths to which giant companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks will go in order to avoid paying tax shows how that dilemma is played out.

In the longer term, having workers working 14 or 16 hours a day for peanuts is very wasteful. It’s like over-exploiting the soil. However, given that individual capitalists themselves won’t do anything about it for fear of losing their competitive advantage over their rivals, the state as the representative of the capitalist class as a whole is forced to step in.

This brings me back to the wisdom implicit in the Nick Hanauer quote at the beginning of this article. Hanaeur’s argument about the necessity of the United States government to substantially increase the legal minimum wage across the board in order to save capitalism from itself, is in principle, no different from the minority of capitalists in 19th century Britain who argued in favour of the introduction of the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s which set down a maximum length for the working day.

An advanced low wage and minimal welfare provision capitalist state like Britain is the modern equivalent of its counterpart during the industrial revolution prior to the introduction of the Factory Acts. What is required is a radical re-think with regards to our current direction of travel.away from the failed neoliberal economic model of austerity which economist Paul Krugman describes as:

A con that does nothing but harm to the wealth of this nation. It has been discredited everywhere else: only in Britain do we cling to the myth.[6].

It’s in Britain where the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top continues at apace, much of it as a result of huge subsidies paid to the richest landowners [7]. As inequality continues to rise so does the potential for public disorder. At present, the richest tenth pay 35% of their income in tax, while the poorest tenth pay 43% [8]. Is it too much to ask that those with the deepest pockets pay their way, thus creating the potential for the kind of equitable society in which everybody wins?

This is not pie in the sky stuff but a pragmatic solution to the problems we face. Individuals as politically and ideologically as far apart like Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Nick Hanauer, Joseph Stiglitz, and other top economists and capitalists, understand what’s required to get us out of the mess we’re in. It’s a pity that people like Duncan Smith, Cameron and Osborne prefer to put ideology before pragmatism.

The ‘Marxist’ Venture Capitalist’s Vision To Save The World

“Inequality and the rise of a super rich elite is undermining the foundations of capitalism. The trappings of capitalism could be swept away by the pitchfork of revolution unless capitalism is fundamentally re-imagined”, so says American venture capitalist Nick Hanauer,

In an interview with the BBCs Stephen Sakur as part of the Hard Talk series of programmes, one of America’s wealthiest individuals argues that capitalism as currently configured is not working. The thing that drives Hanauer on is status not money:

“I’m not driven by money but by the need to be king of the hill. If capitalism doesn’t change fundamentally, it will destroy itself. If you allow wealth to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands over time, in the end it cannot be good for anybody, particularly people like me”, he says. “You show me a highly unequal society and I’ll show you a police state or a revolution.”

According to Hanauer, the notion that in ‘go get’ societies like the U.S people are able to crawl out of the clutches of poverty is true. However, there are limits: “Aspiration is a good thing”, he says, “But aspiration in the absence of opportunity creates resentment, anger and violence. The idea that if the disenfranchised are given more incentives they would magically become software engineers or Wall Street executives isn’t true.”

For Hanauer, the problems are more fundamental: “If we don’t get inequality under control then it’s likely to lead to war – a similar pattern that followed the last period of massive inequality between 1925 and 1940. The most capitalist thing you can do to prevent war is to build up the middle class. From a capitalists perspective, although it may seem a good idea in the short-term to impoverish the typical family, in the long-term it’s a catastrophe.”

Although Hanaeur posits that as an economic system capitalism has been beneficial to millions of people and “is the greatest system ever produced for lifting people out of poverty”, he nevertheless accepts it’s flaws. It fails, for example, to sufficiently “knit together agreements” thereby undermining the potential for a more equitable and sustainable distribution of the wealth that growth brings:

“In my state”, he says, “since 1990, close to 100% of growth has been accrued to just 1% of the top earners. People are beginning to get angry and increasingly less patient with a system that rewards nearly all of the benefits of growth to a tiny minority at the top.”

According to Hanauer, the crisis of capitalism is more acute than ever before and its problems are exacerbated by any lack of purpose which capitalism encourages: “Because we are social creatures, the only thing that gets to define society is our capacity to cooperate. In the absence of a shared purpose, people will not cooperate at which point the society will dissolve”, he says.

“Trickle down economics – the idea that the money of people who become rich – permeates down to the poor, is nonsense. How can it be anything other than nonsense given the fact that inequality is on the rise and socioeconomic mobility is in reverse? I’m not arguing against capitalism but simply saying that there are ways to optimize it – to make it better for everybody.”

Hanaeur is clear that his argument isn’t intended to be a moral one: “I’m not saying that we capitalists should pay workers more because we feel sorry for them, But the more they get paid, the better it will be for venture capitalists like me. The more money ordinary folks’ make, the greater the opportunity people like me have to innovate, create enterprises and sell them stuff. The better they do, the better I do”,

Hanauer then goes on to make the contention that the converse isn’t true: “A thriving middle class causes growth, not the other way round”, he suggests. “You can’t drive a consumer-based economy – which our economies are based on – with only the extreme wealth of the few. What we need to do is to boost the minimum wage in the U.S to 15 dollars an hour.”

Hanauer then goes on to imply that capitalism needs to be further controlled through a system of planned and coordinated regulation:

“Capitalists have the idea that THEIR things will be bought by everybody else as a result of higher wages paid by OTHER capitalists. But this logic of paying higher wages to staff to help improve business activity more generally, doesn’t seem to apply equally to them since they will insist on paying THEIR OWN workers next to nothing thereby not absorbing the costs themselves. The simple truth is, if a higher minimum wage was introduced universally, not only would it be affordable, but something like 40% of American’s would be able to buy more products from everybody thus benefiting all capitalists across the board. Business is challenged today because fewer and fewer people are able to buy things.”

As far as the possibility of change in the future?:

“Most American’s have accepted this bankrupt idea of how you create growth in capitalist economies. If you think that wealth trickles down from the top; if you think that the rich are the wealth creators, and if you think that the more rich people you have the more jobs you will create, then the notion that the introduction of a high rate of tax for rich people makes no sense. However, if you reject that false idea of how capitalism works and you accept a more realistic 21st century notion that the more workers earn, the more customers’ businesses have and the greater the level of jobs that will be created, then you will understand that it’s part of a feedback loop in which everybody wins. The battle ahead is to change the parameters of debate around these things. At the moment we are on the wrong track.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05ndjm9/hardtalk-nick-hanauer-venture-capitalist

Copenhagen: The Great Global Warming Deal Swindle?

From today (December 7), some of the most powerful people on the planet will meet in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), the stated aim of which is for the government’s of the world to agree to a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

For many, the fate of humanity rests on the outcome of the conference. Will any agreed global climate deal at Copenhagen, of which Kyoto is the template, be sufficient in curbing runaway climate change and who will bare the brunt of the costs involved?

Previous conferences have widely been regarded as having been fudged and have failed to address the underlying issues in respect to the climate change and its effects (1).

Many see Copenhagen as a turning point. But is there any justification for this optimism?

For Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and incoming COP 15 president (pictured below), failure is not an option: “If the world fails to deliver a political agreement at the UN climate conference … it will be the whole democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is, and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.” She calls Copenhagen a “window of opportunity” which should not be missed, arguing that it may take years to rebuild the momentum (2).

Ivo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while apparently optimistic of a “successful” agreement, expressess what he considers to be the reservations from the business community:

“I get the impression talking to business people that they still want clarity from Copenhagen. If you’re making investments now, for example in the energy sector, in power plants that are going to be around for the next 30 to 50 years, you can’t really afford to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for governments to say where they’re going to go on this issue (3).

What do the official pronouncements of Hedegaar and de Boer and the the pro-business solutions implied by the comment of the latter, tell us about the current state of play in respect to global warming?

For the answer to the question, we need to examine the issues that underpin Copenhagen.

Undoubtably, one of the main reasons why previous conferences have failed to deliver is due to any effective political pressure from mainstream society. Although grass-roots activism has been a constant feature of successive conferences, awareness of the underlying issues amongst the general public in respect to global warming appears to a large extent to be lacking, characterized in no small part by a general feeling of apathy.

Arguably, the basis for much of this apathy is the misguided belief amongst a significant minority that global warming is a myth. Many of the sceptics appear to have been taken in by either the mis-information and propaganda emenating from certain individuals, most of whom are the paid hirelings of the fossil fuel corporations or their front organizations which have a vested interest in propagating climate change denial (4).

Further, documentaries such as The Greenhouse Conspiracy and The Great Global Warming Swindle, have played a significant part in fuelling public cynicism. Indeed, the latter had a huge impact, persuading many people that manmade climate change is not taking place. Both films used misrepresentation, distortion or fabrication to sustain claims that environmental problems do not exist and are the fantasies of a self-serving group of mendacious and fanatical scientists (5).

A spokeswoman for pollster Ipsos Mori, showed that there had been a decline in the number of people who believed that global warming was a real phenomenon – primarily, she said, as a result of The Great Global Warming Swindle (6).

Another major factor adding to growing public scepticism, was the recent Climate Research Unit e-mail hacking incident, also known as Climategate, that involved the hacking of a server used by the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) in which sceptics have selectively quoted words and phrases out of context in an attempt, it has been argued, to sabotage the Copenhagen summit (7).

Global warming denial has undoubtably become a growing industry against a background of consensus within the scientific, political and environmental fields, affirming that global warming is a reality. This is underlined by the authoratative Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which states that there is a 90 per cent certainty that the causes of global warming are man-made (8).

The “very high confidence” the IPCC expresses in the global warming thesis, is the strongest statement any reputable scientist would make about his area of study. The thesis that an increase in global temperature (which has been increasing over the past 50 years) is primarily human induced, is unequivocal (9).

The consensus stretches to heads of government and even heads of (some) of the very corporations most responsible for global warming.

A useful summary of this consensus came in a speech made in September 2004:

The emission of greenhouse gases [principally carbon dioxide]…is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long term. And by long term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence…
Let me summarise the evidence: the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1990. Over the last century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius: the most drastic temperature rise for over 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere.
Extreme events are becoming more frequent. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88cm by 2100 threatening 100 million people globally who currently live below this level.
The number of people affected by floods worldwide has already risen from 7 million in the 1960s to 150 million today… By the middle of this century, temperatures could have risen enough to trigger irreversible melting of the Greenland icecap – eventually increasing sea levels by around 7 metres.

The man delivering the speech was Britain’s former New Labour prime minister Tony Blair (10).

News headlines about severe storms, cold snaps, heatwaves, floods or hurricanes certainly focus debate and attention on climate change. It is impossible to link individual short term weather events with global warming. The earth’s climate system is far too complicated for such a simple mode of causation and prediction. But when such events coalesce into a general pattern, as seems to be happening today, the causal link with global warming is much clearer.

Global warming is caused by the growing concentration in the atmosphere of a series of gases which act as a blanket, trapping the sun’s heat. By far the most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, and 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.

The concentration of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, has 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 with a systematic 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 across the globe (11).

The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immedietly, 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 IPPC has predicted by the end of the century. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres (12).

As Gerald Meeh, a lead scientist on the definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, argues:

“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” (13).

A recent paper shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop” (14).

Climate-related changes are already observed, for example, in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change.

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage (15).

The threat posed by global warming is not restricted to the US but is global, and many of the unusual weather patterns which have marked the last decade may be linked to the rise in global temperatures.The result will be a major increase in storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings. Dealing with this will be among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades (16).

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little sign of any meaningful cuts. The potential consequences are that extra heat in the earth’s atmosphere will melt glaciers and polar ice caps at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades). Significantly raised sea levels could submerge whole areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London (17).

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature patterns 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 is beyond doubt.

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 would be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval if the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, due to human activity, is not halted and reversed. Arguably, such a scenario represents a threat to the future viability of civilization on the planet (18).

So, these are the realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change. The science is clear. But what does the science indicate needs to be done to curb and reverse the situation, and why is the current negotiating process apparently unable to translate the science into affirmative action?

The Blair quote that I cited above – although specific to the UK, is supported by the science and gives an indication of what is required on a global scale – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 (19).

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol. Kyoto is a complex deal, but its centrepiece is a general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. Some countries went further, with Britain for example pledging a 12.5 percent cut 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, refuses 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 will do nothing significant to halt global warming and climate change even if fully implemented.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on climate change, 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 (20).

Business and many governments argue that there is nevertheless a key feature of Kyoto which will deliver real emissions cuts – ‘emissions trading’, a market where companies and countries buy and sell the right to pump out quotas of carbon dioxide. And some NGOs which have a good record of campaigning on climate change have accepted this as part of the solution. It is not.

One of the most important emissions trading schemes was formally launched by the European Union in January, 2005. The theory is that the market will set a price on the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent amount of five other greenhouse gases). Companies will then have to buy a permit for the amount they pump out. The idea is that if the price is high enough market pressure will cause companies to find ways to cut emissions.

The idea at first glance can have an easy appeal, as is often the case with theories based on the market – but in reality is an illusion. When the scheme was piloted in January 2004 the price of the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide was around 12 euros. By the time the scheme came into full operation in January 2005 it had fallen to around 7 euros.

Currently there is little market pressure to change behaviour at all. Even enthusiasts for the scheme acknowledge that the price needed to rise, not fall, to force any switch. The Green Alliance think-tank, in a study of the scheme, concludes bluntly, ‘The first phase of emissions trading from 2005 to 2007 is not going to deliver emissions reduction’ (Quoted on BBC news report, 16 February 2005. (21).

The scheme only applies to a limited number of establishments. Some 12,000 are included in the scheme, accounting for less than half of the European Union’s emissions.

It is also open to crude manipulation. For example, in 2005, Britain’s government attempted to increase by 3 percent the baseline emissions for the 1,000 establishments big enough to be included in the trading scheme. It then claimed that under Kyoto targets its own quota should be set 5.2 percent below this increased baseline, in effect watering down the Kyoto cut from 5.2 percent to just 2.4 percent. Even the European Union thought this New Labour scam a little too blatant and blocked it. The British government, a supposed global champion of action on climate change, launched legal action against the European Union to win the right to fiddle its emissions figures (22).

Things get worse still when you find out that an absolutely central role in the emissions trading process will be played by an entity called the Prototype Carbon Fund – an arm of the World Bank. The Transnational Institute and Carbon Trade Watch argue in a definitive report on emissions trading:

“Trading programmes in effect privatise the problem of air-pollution. Government and communities lose control over environmental protections, placing it in the hands of the polluters. When the incentive to reduce emissions is profit and cost-effectiveness, there is incredible pressure to cheat by overestimating reductions, while underestimating emissions” (23).

In this way, “carbon markets create a muddle” and “…leave much room for unverifiable manipulation” (24).

Carbon Trade Watch argue that it places disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change (25).

The report is a devastating critique of emissions trading, based on schemes that are already under way. It concludes that emissions trading schemes remove any credibility at all from the Kyoto protocol:

“A country will be able to meet 100 percent of its Kyoto reduction commitments through purchasing credits in the market rather than reducing climate change emissions at source… Unfortunately the protocol’s market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading allow countries and companies to escape their responsibilities to reduce their own emissions. With the inclusion of these ‘flexible mechanisms’ this hard-fought agreement may actually be a first step backwards.”

An indication of how flawed the system is, relates to a scandal that erupted in April 2005 around one of the first schemes backed by the Prototype Carbon Fund. This involved the Plantar corporation setting up a massive eucalyptus plantation in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil to produce wood for making charcoal to be used in pig iron production. The corporation argues that otherwise it would have used coal, producing even more carbon dioxide, and is claiming a carbon credit under the Kyoto scheme with the backing of the World Bank.

A whole series of Brazilian and international NGOs and social movement groups have united to slam the fraudulent scheme, which involves the forcible eviction of people from land in the area to establish a huge monocultural plantation. These organisations have signed an open letter calling for the Prototype Carbon Fund to be shut down. They draw out more general arguments about emissions trading which those climate change campaigners who have accepted emissions trading as part of the solution would do well to heed:

“The Prototype Carbon Fund was born out of the World Bank’s efforts to promote neoliberalism. It is an instrument to commodify the atmosphere, promote privatisation and concentrate resources in the hands of a few, taking away the rights of the many to live with dignity. The PCF is not a mechanism for mitigating climate change.
Having followed the PCF’s activities and projects to date, we have learned by its doings that it does not avert dangerous climate change but instead increases hardship for local communities. This exposes inherent flaws not only in its own projects, but in project-based ‘carbon trading’ as a whole and the offset culture underpinning it. Any other similar fund or trading regime will systematically replicate these flaws.
The PCF extends the World Bank’s unacceptable political activities into a new sphere with its own special technical impossibilities. The PCF accordingly must be closed down as a first step in the right direction. It is neither ‘carbon’ nor pollution that is being traded, but people’s lives and paper certificates claiming to be carbon credits. Offset culture and pollution trading must be rejected as false solutions to climate change” (26).

Emissions trading is not the only scam. In recent years, many businesses and governments have latched on to what is dubbed “carbon sequestration” as the answer. Oil companies, in particular Norway’s Statoil and Britain’s BP, have been particularly keen to push this idea, and both have major projects under way. In essence the idea is to capture some of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels and store or “sequestrate” it in secure deep rock formations or in exhausted undersea oil reservoirs.

Ron Gueterbock, one of Greenpeace’s climate change experts, rightly argues: “This whole approach is the wrong way to tackle climate change” (27).

It diverts resources away from measures to cut emissions and is an attempt by the giant fossil fuel corporations to say we can have business as usual while they come up with a technical fix which will get us off the hook of climate change.

With the creation of a market for mandatory trading of carbon dioxide emissions within the Kyoto Protocol, the London financial marketplace has established itself as the centre of the carbon finance market, and is expected to have grown into a market valued at $60 billion in 2007 (28).

23 multinational corporations came together in the G8 Climate Change Roundtable, a business group formed at the January 2005 World Economic Forum. The group included Ford, Toyota, British Airways, BP and Unilever. On June 9, 2005 the Group published a statement stating that there was a need to act on climate change and stressing the importance of market-based solutions. It called on governments to establish “clear, transparent, and consistent price signals” through “creation of a long-term policy framework” that would include all major producers of greenhouse gases (29).

By December 2007 this had grown to encompass 150 global businesses (30).

All the major oil companies, with the exception of Exxon, may now talk of the need to take action on climate change, as do the car, tyre, power and other corporations responsible for pumping out greenhouse gases (31), and Shell and BP may have moved into renewable energy. But no one should be fooled into thinking this is a strategic shift away from fossil fuels. Behind the greenwash it is business as usual.

Whatever the views of those at the top, and however genuine their concern over climate change, they are prisoners of the remorseless logic of profit by which corporations live or die. On average all the oil companies still depend on fossil fuels for 95 percent of their revenues and profit. So renewables account for just 0.8 percent of Shell’s global investment, and for just 1 percent of the $8 billion BP spends a year on fossil fuel exploration and production. It is the same story with the car firms. Ford, for example, makes lots of green noises about climate change. But it is utterly committed to selling more and more cars, expanding into newer markets like India and China, and so contributing even more to global warming (32).

It may be argued that the measures needed to tackle climate change are not necessarily incompatible with capitalist society. And it is quite easy to imagine how the giant polluting corporations can profit by adapting to the production and sale of renewable energy. Indeed, there is no reason in abstract why capitalism has to be dependent on fossil fuels and industries linked to them. Capitalism can profit from anything it can turn into a commodity-and the history of capitalism is one of showing a remarkable facility for turning just about anything imaginable into commodities (33).

The future of civilization literally depends on the extent to which capitalism is able to break from the relationship it has with fossil fuels and the speed at which any transition to renewable sources of energy takes place. But in doing so, agreements must be meaningful and genuinely deliver.

Up until now, the figures climate talks have set bear no relationship to the science and are negated away by loopholes and false accounting. Some countries like the UK are meeting their obligations, but outsource their pollution to other countries, whilst a country like Canada, flouts them with impunity as a result, for example, of its practice of extracting tar sands that involve the biggest open cast mining operation on earth (34).

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell (35), a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment.

The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it (36).

The British bank RBS, 70 per cent of which belongs to the government, has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands (37).

A radical departure from the kinds of deceitful practices described in this article is needed if politicians are serious about saving the planet – practices which have seen opportunities squandered by denial and delay, and have led to the current situation whereby the years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented, have passed (38).

Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, suggests that even global cuts of three per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with four degrees of warming by the end of the century(39).

At the moment emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, nobody knows what will be the effects in terms of temperature rises.

What all this illustrates, is that mitigating the effects of global warming (limiting greenhouse gas pollution), has failed.

Moreover, when one considers that the costs of mitigation have apparently been underestimated (40), the need for a shift away from the present orthodoxy becomes an urgent necessity.

This shift would arguably involve the governments of the world either exiting from the capitalist system altogether – a system that necessarily prioritizes the competitive logic inherent to the accumulation process which is at the root of the global warming crisis – or finding ways to restrict the worst of the projected devasting impacts of global warming, through a policy of adaption.

As the environmental activist George Monbiot points out, the costs of stopping climate breakdown – as high as they are – are far lower than the costs of living with it. Germany is spending E600 m just on a new sea wall for Hamburg. The Netherlands will spend E 2.2 bn on dykes between now and 2015; both of which are likely to be inadequate (41).

The UN suggests that the rich countries should be transferring $50-75bn a year to the poor ones now to help them cope with climate change, with a massive increase later on (42). But nothing like this is happening.

The rich nations have promised $18bn to help the poor nations adapt to climate change over the past seven years, but they have disbursed only 5 per cent of that money (43).

In real terms, this amounts to a net gain for the poor of nothing (44).

Oxfam has made a compelling case for how adaptation should be funded: nations should pay according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index (45).

On this basis, the US should supply over 40 per cent of the money and the European Union over 30 per cent, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance.

But there appears to be no chance of them ever meeting these obligations.

Regardless of whether they meet there obligations or not, there is a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems.”(46).

At this point there’s nothing that can be done, for example, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about 3°C” (47).

The IPCC also finds that, above three degrees of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon” (48).

This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to five or six: the end – for humans – of just about everything.

So the situation facing humanity is critical. But who is going to pay for the global warming crisis?

A relatively new framing set by Copenhagen, is the growing demand for the repayment of climate debt which is coming predominantly from the developing world, led by the government of Bolivia and other Latin American governments, and it has been joined by the coalition of least developed countries which are primarily in Africa.

What they are saying is that the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world.

There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75 per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population.

There is a geographical irony to this, which 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 (49).

According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world (50).

So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

It is in this context that we see a growing movement from the developing countries that really are on the front lines of climate change, saying those who created the crisis (the rich world), owes them a debt – tangible reparations for the creation of this crisis. And those reparations should be paid in three forms.

Firstly, through deep emissions cuts in the developed world – at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

Secondly, they are saying the rich world, the G-8  industrialized countries, should pay for the huge costs that poor countries face in adapting to climate change.

Thirdly, they are arguing that they would like to leapfrog over the dirty energies, the fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis.

But they point out that this is expensive, and more expensive to shift to cleaner green technology than it is to develop with cheap, dirty fuels, which is the way we did in the rich world.

So, the developing countries are committed to positive changes, but they don’t think they should have to pay this additional cost because the problem, they argue, is not of their creation.

Essentially the climate debt arguments is the “polluter pays” argument, which is a familiar argument to people in the United States, its a basic principle of jurisprudence. Another way of putting this is “you broke it, you bought it” (51).

But judging by the previous conferences, it is unlikely these demands of the poor will be heard by the rich.

What for activists, will be regarded as the measure of success for the conference?

For writer and activist Naomi Klein, the definition of success has been lowered and lowered. She states:

“A few months ago the definition of success in Copenhagen was countries agreeing to lower emissions, to levels that climate scientists were demanding. And the science is very clear that we really do need cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

The other definition of success was rich countries coming to the table with levels of funding for the developing world that once again meet the actual need. And we know what those types of figures are. The World Bank for instance, has estimated the cost faced by developing countries to simply adapt to a changing climate dealing with droughts, dealing with increased flooding, is $100 billion a year. The cost of leapfrogging over those dirty energies is $500 billion-$600 billion a year. That’s a figure from independent UN researchers. But now what we hearing from the UN is there hope for Copenhagen is that they can get developed countries, rich countries, to agree to $10 billion a year” (52).

At Copenhagen, will the decision-makers continue on the path of hoodwinking the public into believing that something meaningful is being achieved, or will they commit to the required C02 emission cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels as argued by Klein? Further will they insist that the rich world pays for the costs of the pollution that they are fostering onto the poor?

What is certain, is that the consequences for the planet are catastrophic if we continue on the path that we appear to be committed to at present.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.

References:

(1) www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/03/17/a-self-fulfilling-pr0phecy/

(2) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2257

(3) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=876

(4) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107)

(5) www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/21/distortions-falsehoods-fabrications/

(6) Dr Lucy Arnot, October 18, 2007.

(7) https://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/CRUupdate

(8) www.ipcc.ch

(9) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(10) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/sep/15/greenpolitics.uk(11). (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(11) (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(12) www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/sea-level-rises-climate-change-copenhagen

(13) www.ens-newswire.com

(14) www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

(15) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(16) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(17) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(18) http://www.isj1text.ble.org.uk/pubs/isj88/mcgarr.htm

(19) www.rcep.org.uk

(20) The Guardian, 10 February 2005

(21) www.bbc.co.uk

(22) The Guardian, 12 March 2005

(23) www.tni.org/reports

(24) www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4680ee18-f393-11db-9845-000b5df10621.html/?nclick_check=1

(25) www.carbontradewatch.org/

(26) www.tni.org

(27) The Guardian, 5 September, 2003

(28) www.pointcarbon.com/

(29) www.weforum.org/pdf/98_climatechange.pdf

(30) www.epa.gov/climateleaders/partners/

(31) The Observer, February 20, 2005

(32) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(33) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(34) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/30/canada-tar-sands-copenhagen-climate-deal

(35) http://peopleandplanet.org/tarsands/localimpacts

(36)  ibid

(37) The Financial Times, November 16, 2009

(38) http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-%e2%80%a6-canada/

(39) www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/journal_papers/fulltext.pdf

(40) Dieter Helm, Tanner lecture, Oxford, February 21, 2009

(41) www.monbiot.com

(42) John Vidal, The Guardian, February 20, 2009

(43)  ibid

(44) (Oxfam, May 29, 2007

(45)  ibid

(46) www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter19.pdf

(47) ibid, Table 19.1

(48) IPCC, 2007b, ibid

(49) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(50) http://beta.worldbank.org/climatechange/

(51) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(52) ibid