What Hopes for Scotland in 2011?

Part three of our Hopes and Visions series (see Pat Kane here) and Peter Geoghegan) here.

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?

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  1. Elaine Morrison says:

    Excellent piece as I would expect from Bella and Justin. I only hope that the planned campaign to secure the CCF includes a reframing for an explicit link between climate change and social justice – broadening participation to those disempowered by poverty and structural inequality to engage where the current climate change activist class is so able.

  2. R Bell says:

    My biggest problem with the so called carbon taxes is that they hit the poor hardest, and are not progressive at all. If you drive a Chelsea tractor and holiday in Phuket, then of course you’ll be able to afford them, but the old woman down the street whose heating is on full to stop her pipes freezing and to avoid catching pneumonia is chased for being energy inefficient.

    This unfairness is very rarely commented on, even by the left, which I find bizarre.

    The government is always looking for new means to tax, and environmental taxes are a great example of this. Don’t expect most of that tax revenue to go on useful projects though, such as alternatives to petrol.

    1. dcomerf says:

      Look at the Hansen quote! Read the link! “All funds should go to the public on a per capita basis ” This does not hit the poorest hardest but directly causes those who drive a Chelsea tractor and holiday in Phuket to give money to the poor.

      These blinkers (including simply not reading the information in front of you) are the biggest obstacle to getting well meaning, generally lefty folk on board with essential climate change policy(*). I’m at a loss as to what’s to be done…

      (*) Remember the SSP’s opposition to the Edinburgh congestion charge on the grounds that poor and working family drivers would also have to pay. This was despite the fact that the poorest 40% of families in Edinburgh had no access to a car and would have benefitted from the public services (tram route 3 as I recall) that were due to have been funded with the revenue raised.

      1. R Bell says:

        You’re missing my point. Green taxes are unfairest on the poor, because they are NOT progressive or calculated by income.

        The congestion charge in Edinburgh was a revenue raising exercise by the Labour council, not an environmental one. The referendum for it cost six million. And a lot of wasted paper.

      2. R Bell says:

        ““All funds should go to the public on a per capita basis ” This does not hit the poorest hardest but directly causes those who drive a Chelsea tractor and holiday in Phuket to give money to the poor.”

        – Aye, and this will be AFTER they’ve paid these unfair taxes. The poor still pay – they buy groceries, use transport/electricity etc.

  3. Totally agree Elaine:

    – As someone in a marginalised community put it: “Is the CCF only giving resources to communities who have the resources to apply for this funding? If so, it is making the gap between the haves and the have-nots even wider”. To be fair the CCF is trying to address this, and I know of several initiatives who are working with neighbouring more marginalised communities to support them to make applications to the CCF. But you’re right there needs to be structural change to proactively support such communities – any suggestions how?

    – On a more general level, what’s interesting is that many who have been focused on action on climate change are now turning their attention to fighting the cuts and much more explicitly combating the economic system of which climate change is just one symptom. As I’m sure you know, there’s a really interesting (and brief!) post on this by Adam Ramsay at: http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2010/10/a-movement-builds/

    R Bell:

    – dcomerf has already responded very clearly to the issue you raise.

    – There are two reasons why we need to find a way of dealing with rising fuel prices:
    (i) We NEED the price of fossil fuels to rise so that we can put a brake on climate change. But in any case
    (ii) Fuel prices are inevitably rising sharply (but not sharply enough from a climate change point of view) since all fossil fuels are finite resources and it is getting more and more expensive to extract them from the harder to reach sources (the easy ones have already been used up).

    – Leaving aside climate change, the issue is whether we watch as the poor have to cope with rapidly rising fuel prices, or whether we do something about it.

    – Cap and Share, or TEQs or similar systems (but NOT Cap and Trade, which is a BP designed way of making profits for corporates out of citizens concerns about climate change) are ways of ensuring the poor can benefit from prices rising, and a way of making sure that the rich (those who have benefited most from the existing system) carry the cost.

    – Cap and Share does not involve any tax, it involves companies who bring fossil fuels into the economy paying a steeply rising fee for the right to do so, and that money being redistributed by a Trust to all the population on a per capita basis. That means that everyone would receive hundreds of pounds a month to cope with the rapidly rising price of energy and goods that are carbon intense. The richest 20% would be much worse off, the poorest 20% would be much better off and Cap and Share would really help to pull them out of poverty. Have a look at the section on the electoral appeal of such a system at: http://holyrood350.org/resilience-strategy/

    – However, you do raise a real issue here, in that there DO need to be accompanying measures to ensure that, for example, those in remote rural areas can still afford transport, and to ensure that – as you put it – “the old woman down the street whose heating is on full to stop her pipes freezing and to avoid catching pneumonia” gets much more support than the amount of money she will receive through Cap and Share (although this is money that she would not currently receive).

    – What additional measures would be the best ways to tackle this?

    – Should the share of the fee that was going to be given to the wealthiest 20% be given instead to the poorest 20% (in addition to the money they will already be receiving)?
    – Should it go into schemes to provide further support to those groups who would otherwise not get as full support as thy should?
    – And/ or should we be thinking of schemes like Cap and Share as part of a series of interlocking approaches? One such approach could be free public transport, which congestion charging could help pay for – the SSP was completely right in proposing free public tansport, but dcomerf is completely right that their opposition to the congestion charge was completely misguided.

    Holyrood 350 is proposing 4 interlocking approaches to enable the Transition to sustainable, resilient and socially just society. They’re just a start and any feedback on these would be very welcome! Either here or to justinkenrick AT yahoo co uk

    1. dcomerf says:

      My only feedback is that it should be kept simple. Complex schemes breed loopholes and exemptions (one of Jim Hansen’s main concerns with cap and trade). The only vital addition to a basic cap/tax and share scheme that I see is a major investment program (a la SGP budget proposals from a couple of years ago) so that people below average income don’t consume energy at an above average rate because of inefficient housing.

  4. R Bell says:

    Most of the fuel price in this country is government tax.

    Where is it going?

    Not on investigating alternatives to petrol or environmental causes, that’s for sure.

    1. dcomerf says:

      FFS! “Green taxes are unfairest on the poor, because they are NOT progressive or calculated by income.” Dinnae be obtuse – there are alternative ways of specifying a “fair” system.

      Consider poor person A who has income of £200 & buys goods costing £100 with associated pollution of 100 tonnesCO2 & rich person B who has income of £2000 & buys goods costing £1000 with associated pollution of 1000 tonnesCO2.
      Government now introduces cap&share which adds a tax of £1 per tonneCO2 cost and an overall cap of 1100 tonnesCO2. Income unchanged. Suppose expenditure also unchanged, then A & B can only just afford their purchases. Effect of the share part of cap&share though is that A receives a cheque for £550 (whilst having only paid £100 into scheme) while B receives £550 (whilst having paid £1000 into the scheme). Notice that A is increasingly better off as the tax rate is increased.

  5. NH says:

    We are experiencing the bonus of low growth, which must continue, changing our economy. Education and manufacture must both be enabled to grow at the expense of financial services (banking in particular). The risk-taking casino aspect of banking may produce taxes for Westminster but is otherwise of little or no social benefit. Scottish banks should be asked to give £10bn to the Scottish exchequer as a penance, ‘encouraged’ by targeting business rates (the only instrument available, I think).

    Education is the key to a cultural renaissance, providing skills and enabling a rounded basis for the fulfilled life. Education must also focus, inter alia and appropriately, on population control.

    Business should be financed on the Scott Bader Commonwealth or John Lewis Partnership models rather than through share issues. Bonds with fixed coupons, whether dated or not, are preferable to shares. They reduce volatility and tend to discourage malpractice.

    Introduce negative income tax: all adults complete a self-assessment and all tax returns must be published online. Those below a given threshold receive tax, those above pay it. This will enable means testing for bus passes, winter fuel payments, etc. If, perhaps, impracticable for Scotland alone, make strong representations for Westminster adoption.

    Curb city growth, particularly Edinburgh’s megalomaniacal ambition to become a top Northern European city, ‘punching above its weight’. Population growth entails more schools, doctors, police, firemen, etc., and secures little advantage for current citizens. Indeed, it compromises our amenity in so many ways. Make employment take root where there are houses or where they can be built. Insulation is key. Whatever it takes, house prices should be made to fall, gradually. We Scots already have the intelligence and resourcefulness to improve the lot of the less well off with careful planning and shrewd leadership.

    Finally, and as an aside: reduce the number of MSPs and redesign the Holyrood debating chamber to make it a more gathering assembly with MSPs closer together, facing one another, without desks or microphones and on fixed, non-swivelling benches.

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    Seating arrangements may be key

  7. R Bell says:

    “Consider poor person A who has income of £200 & buys goods costing £100 with associated pollution of 100 tonnesCO2 & rich person B who has income of £2000 & buys goods costing £1000 with associated pollution of 1000 tonnesCO2.”

    Yes, and you want to put the price of living up even more. Despite the fact we already have the highest cost of living in the world. It’s not the answer. Politicians will love it, not because of environmental benefits but because it fills their coffers.

    The answer is not just making everything cost more (that was proposed as the solution to our alcohol problems not so long ago), it comes in proactive solutions. Not so long ago around here if you wanted to recycle anything here you had to go to an out of town shopping centre and wander across a car park. Not many people took that option surprisingly. Now we get uplifts for recycling outside our doors.

    1. dcomerf says:

      You’re wilfully ignoring the details of the scheme. It will not fill politicians’ coffers because it’s a cap&share scheme. Proceeds are redistributed to the people on a per-capita basis.

      Perhaps you could outline a “proactive solution” for climate change policy. Remember, to qualify as a solution we must reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2050. I haven’t heard anything more convincing than cap&share.

      I suspect that you’ve let your dislike of fuel duty to cloud your judgement of any schemes that raise the cost of energy, I don’t like mayonnaise – but I don’t rule out all foodstuffs as a result…

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