This paper is the text of two talks given at St Mark’s Church, Broomhill on the 23rd and 30th of November 2011. It has been lightly edited subsequently. Because the climate debate changes so quickly, anything one says about it must be provisional and this certainly applies to this paper.
It is an attempt to think through some of the key questions but inevitably it is partial. I have made no reference to population, important though this is, and the way I have suggested the creation of an environmental infrastructure could be financed falls far short of dealing with the byzantine complexities of our financial dilemmas.
However I hope that people will respond to this paper and comment on it. I hope that it will help us, in some small way, to grapple with the profound social, economic and environmental challenges that face us.
22 February 2012
The climate crisis is seen as being intimately linked to the economic crisis, which, with its inexorable drive for growth, fuels the climate crisis. The case is argued that rather than the unsatisfying drive for prosperity as growth, we should be striving for prosperity as human flourishing with emphasis on greater equality. The million climate jobs campaign provides a model because it links action on the environment with action on the economy by providing jobs. Various strategies are explored, such as sharing work, a more localized approach to agriculture and a more imaginative approach to public procurement and housing. Suggestions are made about the nature of the moral/spiritual crisis that threatens us and ways in which we might go forward.
The climate situation
It is bad and getting worse. According to the International Energy Authority the greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 were a record 30.6 gigatonnes. This was a rise of 5.5% on 2009. It was also a surprise because a slight fall had been expected because of the recession.
“If current trends continue and we go on building fossil fuelled power stations then by 2015 at least 90% of the available carbon budget will be swallowed up by our energy and industrial infrastructure. By 2017, there will be no room for manoeuvre at all – the whole of the carbon budget will be spoken for according to the IEA is calculations.”
In the light of this it is astonishing to read that “the UK, EU, Japan, US and other rich nations plus the UN are all now united in opting to put off an agreement on a new climate treaty until 2020.” (The Guardian, 21 November 2011)
But I do not wish to go on convincing you about something about which I think you are already convinced. I do not think that I have to convince you about the lack of interest by our politicians and the public in doing anything effective about it. Why not? The main reason is preoccupation with the economic crisis. It looks as though the economic crisis has prevented us from facing up to the climate crisis. More worrying still is that the answer all governments see to the economic crisis is growth, regardless of whether it is sustainable or not.
We have allowed the climate crisis to be pushed into a pigeonhole of its own where it can be ignored, but it needs to be seen as one of a series of overlapping crises which can be identified as distinct but have to be considered together. The other crises are
- Health, Care, Social Support, Social Functioning
- Food and Land
At the moment I want to concentrate on the link with the economic crisis because it is critical. It is critical because the growth of the economy is fuelling greenhouse gas emissions. The growth of the world economy has been prodigious. Since the middle of the 20th century it has increased by over 5 times. If the same rate continues up to 2100 it will have increased by 80 times. If a world population of 9 billion reaches the same level of affluence as in OECD nations, such an economy would need to be 200 times bigger than in 1950. From 1958 to 2008 the number of cars in the world increased from 86,000,000 to 620,000,000. The number of air passengers increased from 68 million in 1955 to 2 billion in 2005. I take it that we agree that we cannot go on fouling and degrading the planet.
Our present economic system requires growth
The capitalist economy is intensely competitive because companies put emphasis on the efficiency with which labour, capital and resources are used. Continuous improvements in technology mean that more output can be produced for any given input. These improvements in efficiency stimulate demand by driving down costs (that is goods become cheaper therefore people buy more). But it also means that fewer people are needed to produce the same amount of goods. As long as the economy grows fast enough to provide more jobs for those who have lost them elsewhere, because of the greater productivity, there is no problem. The workers can continue to earn money which they can spend buying the goods which keep the system going.
But if the economy does not grow fast enough then
“increased labour productivity means that someone somewhere loses their job. If the economy slows for any reason… then the [trend built into the] system towards improved labour productivity leads to unemployment. This in turn leads to diminished spending power, the loss of consumer confidence and further reduces demand for consumer goods.
“From an environmental point of view this may be desirable because it leads to lower resource use and fewer polluting emissions. But it also means that retail falters and business revenues suffer. Investments fall. Investment is cut back. Unemployment rises further and the economy begins to fall into a spiral of recession.
“Recession has a critical impact on the public finances. Social costs rise with higher unemployment. But tax revenues decline as incomes fall and fewer goods are sold. Lowering spending risks real cuts to public services. Cutting spending affects people’s capabilities for flourishing – a direct hit on prosperity.” (Jackson, pages 62–63)
Yet increasing material prosperity does give a sort of sense of well-being. As Jackson says: “This kind of materialism, flawed though it may be, even offers some kind of substitute for religious consolation. In a secular world, having something to hope for… when things are going badly is important. Retail therapy works for a reason.” (Jackson, page 99)
An integral part of the process is what Jackson calls ‘creative destruction’. “The cycles of creative destruction become ever more frequent. Product life times plummet as durability is designed out of consumer goods and obsolescence is designed in… The throwaway society is not so much a consequence of consumer agreed as a structural requirement for survival. Novelty has become a conscript to the drive for economic expansion.” (page 97) As a result: “Individuals are at the mercy of social comparison. Institutions are given over to the pursuit of consumerism. The economy is dependent on consumption for its very survival” (page 101). We must recognise how powerful a force consumerism is and how entrenched. Consider all the ways in which it is reinforced, for example by fashion, envy and huge advertising budgets.
But as far as human flourishing is concerned, more stuff and higher living standards do not lead to happier lives. Richard Layard, a key person in this field, writes: “The evidence is that for most types of people in the West, happiness has not increased since 1950. In the United States people are no happier although living standards have more than doubled.” He goes on: “Here is the paradox. When people become richer compared with other people, they become happier. But when whole societies have become richer, they have not become happier” (Layard pages 29-31). We are caught in ‘the iron age of consumerism.’
I hope I have said enough to make it clear how tightly the crisis of climate change is related to the economic crisis. So, far from the economic crisis being an obstacle which stops us confronting the environmental crisis, it can be one of the main ways in which we can tackle the environmental crisis. The overlap of the two crises can be a means by which we can bring the climate crisis centre stage, not independently but linked, as it must be, with our economy, which also needs radical overhaul.
The Great Depression, the 2nd World War and the post-war reconstruction
We can learn something from our recent history.
The lesson from the Great Depression of the 1930s is very clear. Cutting government expenditure in times of repression is disastrous and deepens the depression.
During the war we saw the impact of greater fairness and equality. This was shown for example by food rationing. By and large rationing was accepted because it was the same for everyone. One of the successes of rationing was that it distributed the available food fairly with the special needs of, for example, children being catered for. The results were startling. The average height of a 10-year-old went up by two inches between 1940 and 1945. Maternal death rates and infant mortality rates came down as did rates of mental illness.
At the end of the war we were broke and battered. The national debt was 240% of gross national product. What did we do in that situation? Did we cut back so that we could reduce the debt? That was a complete nonstarter. The new Labour government had a mandate to build a fairer society based on the Beveridge report of 1942. This was an immensely popular report with the public, though not with Churchill. This led to a stream of the key acts which set up the welfare state. Indeed it started before the end of the war with the 1944 Education Act, then, after Labour won the 1945 election, there came the National Insurance Act of 1946, the National Health Service Act also 1946, the National Assistance Act, which abolished the hated poor law and the Children Act, both 1948.
All this was expensive but possible because of the overwhelming demand in society at large for a fairer and juster society. During and immediately after the war there was a much clearer understanding of ‘the common good’ than now. A growing economy gradually reduced the national debt and the economy was remarkably stable up to 1974. It was this growing economy which funded the creation of the new welfare infrastructure. But the way we grew economically out of the grim situation of 1945 is not open to us now. The Labour Party Manifesto for the 1945 election said: “Overproduction is not the cause of depression and unemployment: it is under consumption that is responsible.” But we cannot afford growth in consumption despite the fact that this is exactly what practically every government in the world is trying to do now. But while we should not have growth in consumption, we do need growth in jobs – sustainable jobs.
The most obvious, powerful and creative way in which we can square the circle between the need for growth and the need for a reduction in consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is by focusing on growth in the right type of jobs in order to create our new environmental infrastructure. This is exactly what the Million Climate Jobs campaign does which is set out in their booklet. But before I come to that two important principles need to be set out.
Prosperity as human flourishing
What I have said so far about growth has been largely negative. It has been associated with ‘the iron cage of consumerism’ and this indeed is what we do not want. But what do we want? There is a fine statement by Jackson about where he stands:
“Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society. Economic recovery is vital. Protecting people’s jobs – and creating new ones – is absolutely essential. But we also stand in urgent need of a renewed sense of shared prosperity [and] a deeper commitment to justice in a finite world.
“Delivering these goals may seem an unfamiliar or even incongruous task to policy in the modern age. The role of government has been framed so narrowly by material aims and hollowed out by a misguided vision of unbounded consumer freedoms. The concept of governance itself stands in urgent need of renewal.
“But the economic crisis presents of us with a unique opportunity to invest in change; to sweep away the short-term thinking that has plagued society for decades; to replace it with considered policy capable of addressing the enormous challenge of delivering a lasting prosperity.
“For at the end of the day prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and a sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.
“Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times” (pages 15-16).
Greater equality is essential
We have already seen that more stuff does not lead to greater happiness but in addition, as I indicated earlier, greater equality is also essential. Again, Jackson makes the point pithily and well.
“A core element in this strategy must be the reduction of social inequality. Unproductive status competition increases material throughput and creates distress.” In his book Affluence, clinical psychologist Oliver James presents evidence that more unequal societies systematically report higher levels of distress than more equal societies.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have gone even further in documenting the damage caused by unequal societies. The Spirit Level draws together astonishing evidence of the benefits of equality across OECD nations in a range of health and social impacts. Life expectancy, child well-being, literacy, social mobility and trust are all better in more equal societies. Infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancy, homicide rates and incidence of mental illness are all worse in less equal ones. Tackling systemic inequality is vital, argue Wilkinson and Pickett, and not just for the least well off. “Society as a whole suffers in the face of inequality” (page 155).
These two points, prosperity seen as human flourishing and the importance of greater equality, will be guiding principles throughout what I have to say.
One Million Climate Jobs
The booklet One Million Climate Jobs has been produced by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group in conjunction with the Communication Workers Union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Transport Salaried Staff Association and the University and College Union. Although these are not the really big unions there is growing support from within the union movement.
They are very clear about the definition of climate jobs. “Climate jobs are jobs that cut down the amount of greenhouse gases we put into the air and slow down climate change.” They distinguish these from the vague green jobs which can mean anything – water industry, national parks etc. They mean “new, permanent, decent, fair, safe jobs run by the government for the sake of speed” (page 8). The climate jobs will create other jobs in the supply chain. They reckon that the one million climate jobs would cost about £52 billion. But the government would save money on taxes and benefits. On average every time the government employs someone on £27,000, they save £13,000 on that person’s taxes and benefits . In addition they reckon that these million jobs will create a further half million indirect jobs plus the return on what the workers make and do such as building wind turbines, paying electricity bills etc. They reckon that the savings from all this would amount to about £34 billion. Therefore they claim; “The real cost of 1 million climate jobs is only £18 billion a year” (page 10).
How will that money be raised?
- If the richest 1% paid 5% more income tax that would raise £5 billion.
- Close tax loopholes by increasing staff in HMCR.
- Impose a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions.
- Plus a variety of ecological taxes.
Redirect Quantitative Easing
When the banks were in trouble in 2008 the government spent £850 billion in loans and gifts to banks. At least £200 billion of that looks as though it is lost forever. In 2009 the government produced another £200 billion of quantitative easing through the banks. Inflation appeared to be no problem and there is talk now of a further £200 billion of quantitative easing and the million climate jobs would only need £18 billion. Putting money into the economy via banks is grossly inefficient. It gets stuck in the banks which use it to boost their balance sheets, pay themselves bonuses and fail to lend it where it is most needed, that is to small and medium-sized businesses. Surely there is a strong case for getting money into the economy by giving it directly to the people who need it most, especially the poor because they spend it and it goes straight into the economy and is not hoarded. This would be done both by the creation of climate jobs and ‘non-consuming’ jobs (see below).
We should also remember what happened in 1945. The national debt to them was 240% of GDP. Now it is only about 75%. Finding money need not be a problem. The question is how to make it happen politically. I will return to this vital question later.
What with the jobs be?
- Renewable energy; about 425,000 jobs
- Jobs in homes and buildings: about 175,000 jobs
- Jobs in transport, making public transport popular and therefore used more and electrifying the transport system about 300,000 jobs.
A further hundred thousand jobs would be found in industry and energy and education.
This is only a very rapid summary of the booklet which is well worth getting. One of the great points about One Million Climate Jobs is that it puts together a response to both the economic and environmental crises in a way which has significant trade union support and is entirely practical, politically possible (though a real struggle with the present government) and should be able to attract widespread public support as unemployment goes remorselessly up, especially the unemployment of young people.
But we need more than 1 million jobs. When you add all the people who would like a job but don’t count as unemployed the current 2.8 million would probably go up to about 4 million. Is it unrealistic thinking on that scale? If our concern is with human flourishing then I think we must face it.
These are jobs which do not directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions but their impact is small and their consumption of stuff is minimal, minimal that is compared with such schemes as the car scrappage scheme. Non-consuming jobs are important because we need more than a million jobs . There is a massive amount of work that needs to be done in the field of health, caring and generally looking after one another. Consider the appalling report published in late 2011 on the care of elderly people in hospital. One reason for the lack of care was lack of time. Paid people are needed to feed old people who cannot feed themselves. Consider to the report out which came out in November 2011 on the steady increase in the number of elderly people who are living alone at home. Time was when a home help would have had a morning to look after the needs of an old person living by him or herself at home. Now they are lucky if they get 15 minutes.
The needs are widespread, clamant and getting worse because of funds being cut, families being under pressure, unemployed young people being bored, libraries being closed. I will leave you to complete the list.
I want to extend the logic of the million jobs campaign to these sorts of jobs. I would argue that the overall cost of employing people in such jobs is much less than the cost of not doing so. The New Economic Foundation’s report 21 hours makes an important point:
“A state that gives priority to prevention will have a different framework for decision-making – one that recognises the value of investing in upstream measures, where benefits accrue across sectors and over the longer term. It will seek to prevent ‘ill-being’ by addressing the underlying causes of unequal opportunity and tackling avoidable risks to physical and mental health.”
It also talks about the informal care that family friends and neighbours give as ‘the real economy’. The nature of the relationship between in formal and informal care can be critical. The notion of interweaving formal and informal care balances the needs and strengths of both.
The report has grasped what the enterprise is about: “The aim is not to adapt society to the needs of the market economy, which has been the pattern until now, but to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment” (page 24). They give a striking example of this in their central proposal about how the available work should be shared.
Sharing work, reducing hours and type of work
Some firms are already sharing the available work rather than making people redundant. There is an important principle here about human flourishing. Improved productivity can lead to more leisure time rather than making people redundant. “In 1930 John Maynard Keynes imagined that by the beginning of the 21st century, the working week could be cut dramatically – not just to 21 hours but 15 hours. He anticipated that we would no longer need to work long hours to earn enough to satisfy our material needs and our attention would turn instead to “how to use freedom from pressing economic cares”. Keynes was wrong in his forecast but right in his thinking” (21 hours, page 6).
What is acceptable can and does change. At the moment long hours of work are the norm in the USA and the UK, but in the USA in the 19th century the 60 hour working week was common. Beginning in 1870 total hours began to fall for decades as a significant proportion of growth in productivity was used to create leisure time, but this stalled in the 1970s. The principle of sharing the available jobs around equitably seems important as does the associated principle of using increased productivity to increase leisure. An African friend of mine said: “You (Europeans) have the clocks: we (Africans) have the time.”
A further instance of this approach comes from another of the NEF’s reports, The Great Transition.
“Take the example of wood furniture manufacturing. At the moment, the manufacturer is not penalised for sourcing wood unsustainably. They pay for the wood, make their chairs and put a price on it based on their costs and the margin they want to make. If we value forests and require anyone that buys unsustainable wood to pay for the environmental costs of deforestation, then the price of the unsustainable wood and all the furniture made from it would go up relative to sustainable wood. Repricing in line with what we value would fundamentally change incentives for consumers and so for business. Successful companies will be those who manufacture sustainable goods in a socially responsible way” (The Great Transition, page 39).
Food and agriculture
This is another of the crises that overlap with the climate crisis. The problem is simply stated. The world is facing a shortage of food (a present reality for many) and, especially in the light of the prospect of a decline in oil supplies and increasing its price, our present agricultural system is unsustainable. What clues do we have for tackling this?
The classic example is Cuba. This has been portrayed graphically by the film The Power of Community. When the USSR collapsed in 1990, they stopped supplying Cuba with subsidised oil. Oil imports dropped by over 50% and they also lost about 80% of their export markets. In addition the USA had imposed the trade embargo. Cuba experienced what could affect us when the production of oil peaks and then falls. The results for Cuba were initially catastrophic but they readjusted quickly, for example bikes were imported from China and made locally by the million and all education was localised.
But the most exciting change was in agriculture. They changed from a highly mechanised industrial system to one using organic methods of farming on a much smaller scale and local, urban gardens. After 2 or 3 years urban gardens were providing up to 60% of the fruit and vegetables for Havana and, of course, the food miles were minimal.
What can we learn? Of course the situation is very different to ours. The two most striking differences are that they have a command economy and the climate is much more favourable. But we could learn much from their highly localised food growing, equally localised distribution system and also the way in which they farm without fertilisers, which they have to do of necessity. The move to organic small-scale agriculture was much more labour-intensive and therefore many more people were employed and farmers are now quite well off.
My question is whether we should be moving in the direction of smallholding agriculture. It is more sustainable; able to employ more people and it could rejuvenate rural areas. However one has to admit that it raises serious questions. Would inner-city school leavers really welcome working rather hard in a smallholding in the countryside? Maybe if the money was reasonable, he or she was with some mates and there was something to do in the evenings it might be possible. Certainly there are some successful therapeutic farms. I should add that one member of the audience, who had been brought up on a smallholding, was extremely sceptical, to put it mildly, about such an idea. However the Sheffield-based Abundance movement gives a hint about what might be done, as does community supported agriculture.
The Transition Movement
Rob Hopkins and the peak oil school argue in The Transition Handbook that we are very near the point when oil supplies will decline and prices will soar even higher than they have done recently. We cannot fully replace oil and coal with sustainable forms of energy like solar wind and power. Nuclear power or hydrogen cannot save the situation either. Given peak oil and climate change, we must accept a transition to a much lower energy usage. We must rebuild local resilience and develop what are called ‘Energy Descent Action Plans’. We need a great reskilling, for we have lost many of the historic skills of local self-sufficiency.
Hopkins argues that we, the ordinary people, should simply get on with the transition ourselves, rather than waiting for politicians to impose top-down solutions. Thus he promotes transition initiatives, like that in Totnes, which capture local idealism and energy in developing local alternatives to oil dependency. Hopkins and his colleagues have devised fascinating methods for engaging local interest.. They take seriously local people’s perspectives and concerns. They capitalise on the fact that many of us enjoy growing things and they have a great capacity for making things fun.
The transition movement is important because, of all the various organisations trying to persuade us to act responsibly in the face of climate change, they have engaged by far the greatest number. They therefore deserve to be taken seriously.
East Ayrshire School Meals
“Public procurement,” say Morgan and Sonnino, “is a powerful instrument for creating a sustainable school meals service… But in cost based contracting cultures, like the UK and the USA, the biggest barrier to sustainable procurement has been a systemic tendency for low-cost to masquerade as best value” (State of the World 2011,page 71).
They provide a good example of a switch from the traditional economist’s approach to one based on human flourishing. In 2002, well before Jamie Oliver got in on the act, the Scottish Government commissioned a report Hungry for Success, which introduced new nutrient-based standards to improve the quality of food served in schools and emphasised the need to echo the message of the classroom in the dining room.
In 2004 the rural county of East Ayrshire introduced a pilot scheme in one of its primary schools based on the use of fresh organic local food. It was so successful that today all the primary schools in the county are in the programme.
“Central to the process was the adoption of a creative procurement approach that aimed to help organic and small suppliers become involved in the school meals system. For example, some of the ‘straightness’ guidelines for the Class 1 vegetables were made more flexible to attract organic suppliers; the contract was divided into smaller lots to help smaller suppliers cope with the scale of the order; and award criteria were equally based on price and quality. At the same time, the Council actively worked to create a shared commitment to the ideals of the reform all across the food chain. Specifically, training sessions on nutrition and healthy eating were organised for catering managers and cooks. Farmers were invited into the classroom to explain where and how they produce food. Parents were also taken on board through a series of ‘healthy cooking tips demonstrations.’
“In East Ayrshire, school food reform has delivered important outcomes from a sustainable development perspective. As a result of the council sourcing approach, food miles had been reduced by 70% and packaging waste has decreased. Small local suppliers had been provided with new market opportunities, while users’ satisfaction with the service has increased significantly… Even more important perhaps, the school food revolution in this deprived rural county has created a new shared vision of sustainable development that is cutting across the realms of consumption, production, and procurement, challenging widespread misconceptions about the potential for procuring quality food.”
The city of Rome has a similar approach and “today 67.5% of the food served in the city’s schools is organic” (State of the World 2010, page 72-73).
What can we learn from this?
- What a Local Authority can do if it has control of schools and indeed what any large organisation such as a university, hospital or company can do.
- What can be done if you get away from a blinkered financial approach.
- How approaching the problem via finance and food can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.
- How you can create and support local sustainable jobs.
This is another of the overlapping crises. I referred earlier on to the ways in which the housing stock needs to be climate proofed and in the process a lot of climate jobs could be created. But we also have a serious shortage of houses. This is leading to higher prices and rents and this in turn is leading to people being trapped by high rent and mortgage payments and can also lead to homelessness. We need a lot more houses. What sort of houses are going to be built? While the building standards in this country have been improving, there is a serious question over how effectively the standards are being enforced. One of the Occupy Movement’s demands in Sheffield is: “We want regulations to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.”
One example of what can be done given political commitment and quite a lot of money is Freiburg in south-west Germany. Freiburg is a city of 220,000 people. 10,000 people are employed in the environmental and solar industries. It has not only integrated industry, planning, transport and housing, but it also involves its citizens extensively in the execution of the plans. The most advanced example of ecologically sound housing is that in the suburb of Vaubon, which has a population of 5000. Here low-energy buildings are compulsory; some buildings are so-called ‘low energy plus’ which means that they put more energy back into the grid and they use; there is very limited car access and 80% of the population have no car but it should be noted that there is a good light tram system and extensive cycle paths; the layout is good with attractive common areas including ample playspace.
Of particular significance is the political situation. Freiburg has had a Green council since 1995. The Greens now have an overall majority. The city is quite wealthy and the Land (county) in Germany has much more autonomy than our local councils. The electoral system in Germany is much more friendly to small parties so the Greens are much more successful in Germany. However it does show what local determination can do given the right framework.
There are some good examples in this country. For example BedZED is a carbon neutral development and social housing experiment in inner London. An article by Peter Newman mentions the importance of “education to ensure households and communities want to make the changes needed” (State of the World 2010, pages 133-134). Perhaps they have something to learn from Freiburg’s major programme of citizen involvement in the entire process. Kirklees also has an impressive programme of insulating houses and Sheffield programme of insulation is not insignificant. But these are on the edge. Politically Freiburg has embraced the sustainability agenda as a whole.
The Social, Spiritual, Moral Crisis
Jackson suggests that: “Western society appears to be in the grip of a social recession” (page 144). George Monbiot makes a similar point about the values we hold. I think he might call it a ‘moral recession’. “The sharp shift to the right, which in the UK began with Margaret Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown – all of whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success – has changed our values. The British Social Attitudes survey, for example, shows a sharp fall over this period in public support for policies that redistribute wealth and opportunity. And this shift has been reinforced by advertising and the media. And the progressive response to this trend has been disastrous. Instead of confronting this shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it. Once progressive political parties have tried to appease altered public attitudes: think of all those New Labour appeals to Middle England, which were often just a code for self-interest. In doing so they endorse and legitimise extrinsic values… People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want, not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are sympathetic and kind; and against others, on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we can then become the change we want to see” (Resurgence, March/April 2011 page 11).
Monbiot is quite right. I became aware when I was writing the section about the ways in which we can counter our fixation with competition and growth, that part of me was thinking all the time: ‘This is unrealistic. You cannot have something which will not make a profit. You have to grow. It is just not realistic.’ Then I realised that I have been brainwashed. I think our society has been brainwashed into accepting subconsciously that ultimately what matters is the bottom line and everything else is window dressing. The greatest obstacle lies within ourselves.
The prophets of the Hebrew Bible in the Old Testament had a great deal to say about this, for example Micah chapter 6, verse 8: “The Lord has told you mortals what is good, and what it is that the Lord requires few; only to act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
Elsewhere the prophets attacked the sin of ‘betsa’ or ‘overweening greed’. Jesus’ position is perhaps best summed up in the way he puts together the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The other great religions and philosophies echo this in their own way. All are examples of intrinsic values. The apostle Paul in a letter to the church at Corinth says:
“The aim is equality; as Scripture has it: ‘Those who got much had no more than enough, and those who got little did not go short'” (2 Corinthians, chapter 8 verse 14).
Bishop John Taylor uses this quotation in his book Enough is Enough published in 1974. What makes this book so encouraging is that it is emphatically not a hair shirt approach.
“The prodigal son remembered his father’s house as the place where even the lowest paid servant had ‘enough and to spare’, and this is the emphasis which the New Testament gives to the theology of enough. Excess is not simply prohibited; it is replaced by a lavish generosity of both give and take.
‘Give, and gifts will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; for whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you in return’ (Luke 6:38).”
If we know what really matters in life, then we do not have to keep looking over our shoulder worrying about what other people will think. People of goodwill of all faiths and none have allowed themselves to be cowed by the great God (or perhaps we should say the great idol) of the Market. This is perhaps the most important point the Occupy Movement is making. This does not mean that the market is totally evil but is simply asserting that “the aim is not to adapt society to the needs of the market economy… but to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment” (The Great Transition page 24).
Thus it seems to me entirely proper and reasonable to say, for example, that we want everyone who wants a job to have one, especially young people leaving education.
Some societies have decided that this is a priority, for example communist East Germany and China before it became super capitalist. These societies had and have very serious downsides. In East Germany the Stasi were horrific but I take them as examples of states where they decided that giving everybody job was a priority.
In short I think Monbiot is right in saying that we must assert our values. Enough is enough and a civilised society will ensure that every one can have a job.
What examples are there that give some clues and encouragement as to what we can do. I want to provide some framework for that by looking at the importance of the local, the importance of the global and by making a suggestion of the national level.
The importance of the local
There is a contradiction here. For many people for a scheme or project to come real, it needs to be local, but for many their locality means very little. Local areas can easily have all the life sucked out of them and most of the money. This is well illustrated by the impact of the local Walmart.
“When two American economists, Stephen Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, carried out a detailed study of the links between Walmart stores Inc (Walmart) and dwindling social capital – the community cohesion and mutual support that makes neighbourhoods work – they found that if there was a Walmart nearby all the measures of social capital went down over the decade studied. Communities that gained a Walmart during the decade had fewer local charities and local associations such as churches, campaign groups and business groups per capital than those that did not. Walmart’s presence was also shown to depress civic participation. Strikingly, communities that had or gained a Walmart store during the 1990s also had lower voter turnout” (The Great Transition, page 63).
This points to the importance of developing as local an economy as possible for economic, social and environmental reasons such as:
- Non-local firms can easily move. Local ones can’t.
- Local business owners living in a community can lead to greater social and environmental responsibility. “A business owner can be shamed into thinking twice about polluting freely if, for example, the victims are attending the same church or going to the same school” (Michael Schuman, State of the World, page 112).
- Local businesses tend to use local materials and sell to local markets and therefore consume less energy. Note the similarity to the experience of the East Ayrshire school meals service.
- Creating local jobs for local people in local firms is more cost-effective. Note especially the value of local money circulating locally. “For instance, two economists studied the impact of a proposed Borders (like Waterstones in the UK) bookstore in Austin, Texas, compared with two local bookstores. They found that $100 spent at Borders would circulate $13 in the Austin economy, while $100 spent of the 2 local bookstores circulate $45 (State of the World 2010 pages 111–112).
The importance of the global
I have not referred to this much, not because it is not important, but because I wanted to focus on the main source, up to the present, of the consumption which is fuelling climate change, namely us in the rich West. Now I want to look at the relationship between us doing things more locally and developing countries and their economies.
Let me give just one example.
We import cut flowers and vegetables from Kenya.
This comes by airfreight which we can say is bad and therefore should stop.
But less CO2 is used in this way than in flowers grown in heated greenhouse in the UK or Holland, therefore you could argue that this is all right.
But flowers grown in Kenya use water which is reducing seriously the water available for the cattle of the pastoralists in that area ,therefore it should stop.
But the flowers provide a major part of Kenya’s income. Loss of that would be serious. Therefore it is all right.
But again the land and water are needed to grow food for local people.
But they are poor and do not have the money to buy it, therefore the local farmers would fail. And so it could go on.
The problem is essentially the same as here. Money and resources are being taken out of the local economy. What needs to happen is to grow a stronger local economy in Kenya. Such a process is not easy but we should note that over the past 20 years the exact opposite has been happening. A large part of Africa has been de-industrialised because of cheap imports from the developed nations. In addition African agriculture has been devastated by cheap subsidised food from the EU and the USA.
The local and global are intimately linked. We have to recognise that the situation is complex. But the evidence is increasing that a major strand in tackling our environmental, economic and social problems should be the encouragement, worldwide, of action at the local level. Consider, for example the film Economics of Happiness: Globalisation vs Localisation, A story of the worldwide movement for economic localisation.
Action at the national level
Charles Secret, formerly in charge of Friends of the Earth in an important article called “Environmental activism needs its own revolution to regain its teeth” writes:
“The UK environment movement has grown into a behemoth. Organisations like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF have memberships in the millions, employ thousands of intelligent staff… and spend over £100 million annually. They work hard on environmental and development issues together… and endlessly lobby government and industry to green the economy and embrace sustainability. But tactically the movement has stalled…
Protest tactics do raise public awareness, win the occasional battle… and they are still necessary. But they are not sufficient to alter the destructive path travelled by virtually all governments and most corporations. They are defensive moves against the unremitting pressure of market forces and the priorities of mainstream political parties.
Something much more powerfully pro-active is required to persuade the majority to change course before it is too late – something that stirs up a social force to match (peacefully) the citizen revolutions overturning the established order across the Middle East” (The Guardian, 13 June 2011).
He does not offer a solution.
My reason for focusing so much on jobs is that it is now affecting so many people that it does have the potential to generate a mass movement which would also necessarily include concern about the environment. This is a way, perhaps the only way, of getting climate change central stage at the moment.
But here I want to pursue a different tack, which takes seriously the limited impact of all the NGO activity of recent years. All the campaigns have been shouting from outside the political system. I know NGOs have developed a lot of links with political parties and many are skilled lobbyists, but they are not right inside the political system – for that you have to be in one of the parties.
Those fighting and campaigning in the Middle East are trying to get their voices heard by creating a real, effective, democratic system. We already have one, even if flawed. We should use it more directly. The parties have a democratic structure which we should use. Local membership is low: ward meetings have problems being quorate. Constituency meetings are not much better. It is entirely possible proper for determined groups of people with something important to contribute to make their presence felt through the democratic structures of the parties by joining. They have the chance of making a considerable impact if they play their cards right.
This could be a useful part of any overall strategy to tackle the environmental/economic crisis. Work would have to be done to decide what specific policies such a group would want to pursue, but a major first step has been made by the million climate jobs campaign.
I am going to finish by quoting from the last chapter of Tim Jackson’s seminal book Prosperity without Growth. The chapter is called ‘A lasting prosperity’.
“The less we share in terms of common endeavour, the more and more powerful the social logic of private affluence becomes. Beyond the provision of nutrition and shelter, prosperity consists in our ability to participate in the life of society, and our sense of shared meaning and purpose and in our capacity to dream. We’ve become accustomed to pursuing these goals through material means. Freeing ourselves from that constraint is the basis for change.
This won’t happen by allowing the market free rein, nor will it happen simply by exhortation. Individual or community-based action offers a vital avenue for change. But I’ve argued strongly that attempts by one group to persuade another to forego material wealth are morally suspect. It’s like asking people to give up certain social and psychological freedoms.
Progress relies crucially on the construction of credible alternatives. The task is to create real capabilities for people to flourish in less materialistic ways. At a societal scale, this means re-investing in those capabilities physically, financially and emotionally. In particular, we need to revitalise the notion of public goods. To renew our sense of public space, our public institutions, of common purpose. To invest money and time in shared goals, assets and infrastructures.
It sounds grand but it needn’t be. Green space, parks, recreation centres, sports facilities, libraries, museums, public transportation, local markets, retreats and quiet centres, festivals: these are some of the building blocks for a new vision for social participation” (page 193).
Jackson, Tim (2011) Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet. London, Earthscan.
Layard, Richard (2005) Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. London, Penguin.
Wilkinson, Richard & Pickett (2009) The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. London, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press.
Campaign against Climate Change trade union group et al. (2010) One Million Climate Jobs: Solutions to the economic and environmental crises. London, Campaign against Climate Change.
NEF (2010) 21 hours: Why a shorter working can help us all to flourish in the 21st century. London, New Economics Foundation.
NEF (2010) The Great Transition. London, New Economics Foundation.
Hopkins, Rob (2008) The Transition Handbook: From oil dependancy to local resilience. Totnes, Green Books.
Starke, Linda & Mastny, Lisa (eds) (2010) State of the World 2010: Transforming cultures from consumerism to sustainability London, Earthscan.
Taylor, John V (1975) Enough is Enough. London, SCM Press.