What to hope for? That 2011 is a breakthrough year for ecology and social justice: that we dare to reclaim politics from corporations, and for community; that we replace the boom and bust cycle of the profiteers, and reclaim the economy for the people. Simple.
All the main parties are caught up in the logic of corporations; all are caught in the mind-set of there being no alternative. There is. Staring us in the face, we have two clear alternatives:
(i) Continuing a process in which corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for shareholders through externalising the social and ecological costs – a process which devastates communities and ecologies across the world; or
(ii) Deciding we’ve had enough, that its time for corporations to internalise those costs rather than avoid their responsibilities, including – in many cases – the responsibility to pay their taxes.
Looming over every blog post, Christmas roast, morning toast, over every child being walked to school, debates on independence, who does the dishes, whether this relationship is working or not – looming over everything – whether we acknowledge it or not – is the gathering Tsunami of ecological devastation: soil, forest, water, oceans, and especially climate.
According to the science, we have little time left to slow and stop the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere leading to runaway feedback loops that will mean climate chaos is upon us whatever we do. According to those who are supposed to be savvy, we are not supposed to mention this because it will upset people and put them off.
Clive Hamilton’s recent review of the climate science does more than mention it: he finds that climate science has consistently proved its earlier predictions far more optimistic than they should have been. He writes that:
“The conclusion that, even if we act promptly and resolutely, the world is on a path to reach 650 ppm is almost too frightening to accept. That levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will be associated with warming of about 4C by the end of this century, well above the temperature associated with tipping points that would trigger further warming. So it seems that even with the most optimistic set of assumptions – the ending of deforestation, a halving of emissions associated with food production, global emissions peaking in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades – we have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change. The Earth’s climate would enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years before natural processes eventually establish some form of equilibrium. Whether human beings would still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point.” (Clive Hamilton 2010: 21-22. Requiem for a species: why we resist the truth about climate change. London: Earthscan)
At the same time, looming over the UK is the threat of cuts that will hit the poor hardest, while large corporations are allowed to avoid paying the taxes the rest of us would be in court for not paying. Over at the Bright Green Scotland Blog, it is politicians like Nick Clegg who have been voted ‘Dick of the Year’; the bankers have vanished from the scene. The politicians play their part as lightning rods for public discontent, allowing the corporates to continue largely unseen.
Hamilton’s conclusion that ‘we have no chance of preventing emissions rising above a number of critical tipping points’ is only true if we continue to operate from within the dominant corporate logic. If we decide to act from outside that logic, and decide to care about what is happening to other species and other people right now, we can still stop just short of those irreversible tipping points, and in the process we’ll be making a better world.
How do we kick start a process that ensures greater wealth for the poor, reins in corporations, and means that Scotland is not simply setting world-beating targets for CO2 reductions, but is actually acting on those targets and rapidly reducing emissions now?
Well, why have a Parliament if we don’t use it to make possible what would be impossible without it? People talk a lot about the powers and processes of the Parliament – but the key issue is what is it for, how can it make a real and radical difference not only to Scotland but to the world?
If the UK/ EU/ UN decides to make the structural changes needed to stop the processes driving climate change, then brilliant, but as Robin McAlpine said at last years Yes Yes Yes meeting: the closer you get to the centres of power the harder it is to make creative radical changes because those with the power are making sure they don’t lose it. The Scottish Parliament level is close enough for us to have a hope of having an impact, and is globally visible enough to inspire others to act likewise.
So what should we be demanding Parliament does?
In the run up to the election, a whole range of people (under the Holyrood 350 umbrella), people who are actively working to reduce our communities carbon emissions and in many cases working to rebuild our local economies and to prepare for a world in which oil will be scarce, will be heading to Parliament on March 17th to thank the Government and MSPs for not only setting ambitious emissions reduction targets, but for establishing the Climate Challenge Fund to support communities to establish their own ways of taking action. We’ll be asking all parties to commit to continuing and expanding that support for communities the length and breadth of Scotland, especially in marginalised and deprived areas.
We are also asking the Government and MSPs of all parties to make changes so that the structures of the economy stop getting in our way. Using a logic they are familiar with – the logic of the free marketeers who want the state to role back so the supposed free Market can flourish – we are asking for Government to get out of the way where that helps communities to flourish, and to step forward boldly when needed, in order to stop the economy getting in the way of community action.
One of the key ways the structure of the economy gets in the way of community action and action on climate change, is that it does not internalise the exponential cost to the climate of using finite ‘cheap’ fossil fuels. The cheapness of these fuels means companies have to use them to stay in the game, and means that game can involve flying produce from across the world and sabotaging local production.
There is a simple policy which can revolutionise this whole situation, and which we could be asking all parties to commit to introducing after the May election. You may already know it – it’s called Cap and Share.
The pre-eminent climate scientist, Jim Hansen, recently wrote that we will inevitably continue to use whatever fuel is cheapest and that if we are going to halt climate change before it becomes unstoppable, then we need to make fossil fuels expensive. He writes that Caps by themselves are meaningless (simply saying we will cap emissions means nothing) and that making fossil fuels expensive in a way which redistributes the rise in prices directly to the public is the key. In other words the key is to introduce a ‘Cap and Share’ type system.
Jim Hansen writes:
“A steadily rising carbon fee must be collected from fossil fuel companies. All funds should go to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will become increasingly unprofitable and will be phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and increased energy efficiency. This is the economically-efficient path to a clean energy future – the cure to fossil fuel addiction.”
This is the game changer. This is what is needed.
The impact would not just involve a shift to renewables but a shift to local as opposed to global production, and a shift of wealth from the most excessive to the poorer. It would immediately kick-start a rapid reduction in emissions, support the building of resilient communities, and transfer wealth to the poorest.
Peoples’ first experience of this policy would be as a cheque landing on their doormat or arriving in their bank account every month. The money would be needed to cope with the inevitable rise in the cost of those goods and services with high fossil fuel content, since the fossil fuel companies will pass on the fee they are having to pay for the right to bring fossil fuels into the economy. If you are a high fossil fuel user (the wealthiest 20%) the share you receive to cope with the increase in prices will be pretty meaningless, if you are in the other 80% of the population you will be financially better off, particularly if you are in the poorest 20%. That is the policy at its simplest – there could be a range of ways of reshaping it: from not distributing any portion of the money to the wealthiest 20% (for whom it will make little difference) and redistributing it instead to those in poorer communities, possibly as is being done in Brazil and Mexico.
It is simple game-changer, but the consequences are enormous in terms of the potential for demonstrating to the world how we can begin to rein in corporations and secure the future. Why seek anything less?