Thursday, 22 December 2016

2016 the Year in Blog Posts

These posts are the top ones, by month, as judged by page views, on this blog in 2016. Happy holiday to everyone.


Survey Finds that Every £1 Invested in Parks and Nature Reserves Delivers Over £50 in Social Benefits

Joel Kovel too talks about the rupture of ecosystems wrought by capitalist production, and of course human beings are ecosystems themselves, and by being placed in what is an alien environment, the daily struggle to earn money, just to survive, causes much mental ill health, stress, depression etc.


Now DWP Bullying Disabled Staff as well as Claimants 

The DWP appears unperturbed by these findings and in a twist of the truth claims, that the result reflects their efforts to get civil servants to report these incidents, so really they should be congratulated. You really couldn’t make it up.


Why Greens Should Vote to Leave the EU 

I am equally unimpressed by the absence of explicit anti-capitalism, for me such is integral to Green politics.  Despite this important absence, policies like genuine decentralization and self-sufficiency would genuinely undermine the EU if implemented, but the fact the Green Party don’t either realise or accept this is unfortunate.


Cameron is in the Panama Papers Scandal up to his Neck 

The Prime Minister is not having good time of it at the moment. What with the ever widening split in the Tory Party over the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, now the leaked Panama Papers, show that his late father was a director of a company registered in the Bahamas to avoid paying British tax.


The EU Referendum Campaign Debate is Dismal

As we enter the final four weeks of the European Union (EU) referendum campaign, the public must be in despair at the ridiculous arguments espoused by both sides of the debate.


Labour Party Coup – Blair is responsible for Brexit, not Corbyn

Almost as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the Labour Party leader less than twelve months ago, Blairite MPs have been plotting to overthrow him. It has only been a matter of timing when the daggers will be drawn, not whether they would be.


Interview - Jonathan Bartley, Green Party Co-Leadership Candidate

We have to open up our political system to many more people.  It’s no wonder it is so out of touch.  Job sharing is just one way of doing it, but it’s an important one.  And I hope that we can blaze a new trail in this respect.


I think by far the likeliest explanation for this rise in this poll (which isn’t reflected in other polling), is the ongoing shambles in the Labour Party. Look at Labour’s polling figure of 26% in this poll (which is reflected in other polls).


You might well expect this kind of thing from the Whig press. The Guardian, let us not forget, urged its readers to vote for the Lib Dems in the 2010 general election, and look how well that all worked out?


I didn’t see my job as making people even poorer, I was trying to help them get back on their feet, and I had a fair bit success of getting people into work. This became increasingly unimportant to the management though, once the Coalition government was elected. Sanctions were the only game in town.


Richmond Park Byelection - Green's Decison not to Stand Provokes Fury amongst Membership

Judging by the forums mentioned above, I'm not the only Green Party member who thinks the decision not to stand in Richmond Park is a bad one. I think it is wrong on many levels, and I'm broadly in favour of a 'progressive alliance' (anti-Tory is probably a better description), at the next general election, with a commitment to proportional voting for future elections.


An internal party report written by the Chair and two other senior members of Kingston Green Party, reveals that pressure was put on the two local parties which cover the Richmond Park constituency, not to stand a candidate in the recent by-election. 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

A Socialist Economy for the 21st Century

First published at the Next System Project

In Next System Project Report 3, author and Tellus Institute co-founder Richard A. Rosen explores the changes he deems necessary for a modern definition of “socialism”, and describes key concepts and issues that arise when aiming to restructure the American economy to include social and environmental sustainability in the Twenty-First Century.

To elucidate some of these concepts and issues, Rosen analyzes a set of economic sectors that have very different mechanisms and structures for determining prices, and very different environmental impacts, including: chemical manufacturing, small businesses, housing, defense manufacturing, nonprofit sector, agriculture, and finance. Through these seven-industry sector analyses, Rosen offers a number of changes to each– many of which are also applicable to the economy at large.

More specifically, the author proposes a major transition to cooperative and public ownership followed by the adoption of new regulatory structures that are grounded in democratic participation (through Industrial Review Boards); heavily regulated – or even abolished – real estate markets; price and market adjustments that ensure social optimality; the recognition of certain sectors as “public service” in which profit should play no role; and the revival of small towns and cities to attract new farming families and to develop a system of sustainable agriculture across the country.

In addition to these proposals, Rosen outlines important lessons from the past. As he points out, one common theme among these sectors is the problematic feature of existing market structures for capital, as well as for goods and services.

Consequently, he concludes that when restructuring the economy “markets cannot be the sole or even the major determinant of how we get where we want to go in any economic sector.” Another lesson is the need for new, stricter regulatory standards to ensure environmental protections and to mitigate climate change.

But just as important as Rosen’s proposed changes and lessons learned are the questions the author raises throughout his report to ensure an effective restructure of American economy. In suggesting areas where additional research is required, A Socialist Economy for the Twenty-First Century is a concerted effort to further advance the system change conversation, and presents a framework for thinking about a new economy that takes environmental sustainability and social justice into consideration.

Download the full report

Dr. Richard A. Rosen received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Columbia University in 1974.  Soon thereafter, Dr. Rosen switched his area of research to energy systems and energy policy at the Department Of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. In 1977 he helped to found what became the Tellus Institute, and has pursued his research and consulting interests there in the fields of energy policy, economic system alternatives, electric utility policy, planning and operations, and climate change economics and policy. Dr. Rosen has written or coauthored dozens of reports, papers, and items of testimony that he presented before professional conferences, public utility regulatory proceedings, federal courts, and in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Richard Rosen

Friday, 16 December 2016

George Monbiot Edges Towards Ecosocialism

Wanstead Flats in north east London is a Commons

The Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, wrote a piece on Wednesday, entitled 'The case for despair is made. Now let’s start to get out of the mess we’re in.' Those familiar with his writing will know that his political outlook is of a lefty liberal, I hear he was an anarchist in his youth, but there is nothing too radical about his politics today. That is not to say that he doesn't write a good, interesting column, and he is good on green issues too. I've learnt stuff from him.

We have looked at Monbiot's politics before on this blog, and concluded that he is a green neo-Keynesian, so his column caught me by surprise a little, when I realised he was writing about the commons. I became less surprised as I read through the piece though, because Monbiot applies a kind of liberal, market interpretation to the commons, as though he is trying to shoe-horn it into the capitalist system.

He scoffs at Corbyn's Keynesianism as irrelevant for good measure, but then describes nothing too scary for the establishment. It's this way of thinking which takes Monbiot away from any sort of radical politics, but he is at least moving in the right direction here.

As he points out, the commons do still exist in the capitalist, neo-liberal world of today, albeit they are shrinking fast, but with some heartening new initiatives as well. But surely the point is that the remaining commons are being enclosed, and new commons are largely isolated entities, a kind of last gasp of a once thriving alternative economy.

Monbiot says, 'The market alone cannot meet our needs; nor can the state,' which is quite right, and the commons, which is a very important concept in ecosocialism, is one of the ways an alternative economy would work. So why does he then suggest things like auctioning licences for burning fossil fuels and banning corporations from securing intellectual property rights? Why not just ban the corporations from existing at all, and all private property rights, so production can then be undertaken by cooperatives, in an ecologically centric way? Which is another form of commons.

Because all of this would be a direct threat to the capitalist system, and therefore unthinkable, for a Guardian columnist, anyway. The logic of Monbiot's thinking should be to replace capitalism, rather than all of this good intentioned tinkering. Surely he must know that the commons is incompatible with the how capitalism works. It must enclose, or else it will not be able to expand, and if it can't grow, it will die.

This doesn't mean that struggles to maintain the commons and the invention of new forms of commons are not very important. But they need to be seen as points of conflict with the system, and used to educate people about the subject, so they will see the status quo from a different angle. People live the struggle between capital and commons, and others see it happening and learn. We probably need to go through this stage to build the momentum for revolutionary thinking. Peaceful revolution, of course.

The commons doesn’t need to be rooted to a strip of land, it is an idea about struggle against property and commodification, and the battle between the commons and those who would enclose it manifests itself in many ways.

The ecosocialist writer, Joel Kovel writes in his book The Enemy of Nature, ‘Each in its way is a battle for a kind of commons, a piece of human ecosystem, more integral, more formed, more realised. Each points towards ecosocialism.’

This where we need to get to, and Monbiot's piece may contribute to the debate, so I welcome it. He may be even be changing his own thinking, edging a little closer to an ecosocialist solution to our problems.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

What Really is Labour's Policy on Brexit?

Days after the referendum, in which Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU), the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, called for Article 50 to be triggered as quickly as possible, to set in motion our formal negotiations to leave the organisation.

A couple of months later, Corbyn and John McDonnell, the party's Shadow Chancellor, having seemingly had a bit more time to think about it, stated that we should retain the free movement of people with the EU, but leave the single trading market. This vision had the rare distinction of being a policy position, that displeased both remain and leave voters in equal measures. The worst of both worlds, for everyone but the Labour leadership. Not only not a vote winner, but a massive vote loser.

Then a month ago, John McDonnell told a meeting in London, "Labour accepts the referendum result as the voice of the majority and we must embrace the enormous opportunities to reshape our country that Brexit has opened for us."

He went on to say "It is time we all were more positive about Brexit."

So we come to yesterday's speech by Keir Starmer, Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary, at the London office of Bloomberg, of all places, which takes a very different view of what Labour's policy position should be.

This is from Labour List:

Laying out Labour’s vision for the future on Brexit, he said that there “are two versions of our future that could be negotiated. The first is a future that tears us apart from our EU partners. Out of the single market. Out of the customs union. Reverting to World Trade Organisation rules which would entail a range of harmful new barriers to trade and a desperate rush to sign new agreements with third party states to compensate.”

“A global race to the bottom which would not only put our economy and jobs at risk, but which would also abandon our shared scientific, educational and cultural endeavours with the EU. A so-called ‘hard’ Brexit.”

“The second version of our future is a version where we exit the EU but build a new and strong relationship with our EU partners based on the principles of co-operation, collaboration and mutual benefit. A future which preserves our ability to trade in goods and services with our biggest market. A future that values joint scientific, educational and cultural work with our EU partners.”

Sounds rather different from McDonnell's "we cannot hide from the fact that too much of the EU also had aspects of the old model, putting the interests of big business over ordinary people."

At least the Tory government are also sending out conflicting signals of their intentions on the kind of Brexit they want. But Labour should really be after the government on this, it is the single biggest political issue for the UK by miles. The government is split, Labour's obvious contradictory confusion is letting the Tories off the hook.

If the government mess this up, then the voters will need to have faith that Labour can do a better job of it, and I don't get the impression that people are too confident of what Labour really thinks about the issue.

I think the membership are nearer to Starmer than McDonnell on this, and certainly Labour MPs are. Not much support for the leadership's position at all as far as I can see it, in Labour.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Degrowth Is Punk as Fuck

Written by Aaron Vansintjan and Sam Bliss and first published at Common Dreams

Very serious people often tell us that the word “degrowth” is too negative. People like happy, positive, nice things. Sure, the economy is systematically destroying life on earth. But nobody wants to degrow it.

Instead, these critics prefer words like “post-growth,” “a-growth,” "re-growth", even the mythical “green growth.” They want to create a circular economy, a green economy, a new economy, a prosperity economy, well-being economy, or a steady-state economy.

What do all these terms have in common?

They’re boring.

Here’s what degrowth naysayers don’t seem to get: degrowth is actually punk as fuck. We’re nonconforming, anti-establishment, DIY punks. And we’re not trying to sound nice. Take your positivity and shove it.

The term "sustainable development" shows what happens to concepts that aren't hardcore. It's been integrated into international agreements for over two decades, yet here we are, at the precipice of reaching dozens of tipping points that will send Earth's climate spinning into chaos.

The problem wasn't that not enough people got behind sustainable development, it was that everyone got behind it because it didn't challenge anything at all. In 2014, Goldman Sachs commissioned a report “Attaining Sustainable Development of Oil and Gas in North America” (emphasis ours).

That's why we use degrowth. Goldman Sachs won't be able to co-opt it. Unlike post-growth, re-growth, or a-growth, we think degrowth has something special: that "de-" is a little middle finger at the establishment.

Very serious people shoot back that degrowth, in using the word “growth,” just strengthens the language of the status quo. All it does, according to “framing” enthusiasts, is further reinforce the dominant pro-growth “frame” that supposedly makes degrowth seem scary and bad.

To this, degrowthers respond reasonably: we actually don’t give a flying fuck. We don’t want to be fake-nice about it. We want to name and shame our enemy.

Very serious people claim that degrowth, like some punk culture, is nihilistic, that it doesn’t inspire hope or change. We denounce growth but do not describe alternative values, they say.

Sure, degrowth is nihilistic, but in the Nietzschean sense: a healthy refusal of the present, one that is necessary to think differently. We reject growth to make space for different concepts and values: international solidarity, the commons, financial reform, basic income, conviviality, care, to name a few. We've done our research, and we urge for practical policy proposals, long-term utopian visions, and disobedient direct actions—because the very serious politicians aren’t listening yet. If you've come to any of the last five degrowth conferences, you'll know how forward-looking and positive degrowthers can be.

Very serious people think that punks don’t get very far: no one listens to them, no one empathizes with them. Why not focus on the establishment, why not bribe them with words that are easier to swallow?

We beg to differ. Think of the Occupy movement. With little plan beyond stirring shit up, those punks redefined politics and forced politicians to finally pay attention to inequality. Think of the Windows employees who spent their time at the office coding open-source programs, using Microsoft money to pave the way for a new kind of cyberspace: one based on sharing and mutual aid. It wasn't the soothing March on Washington For Jobs And Freedom that convinced President Kennedy to sign the civil rights act; it was the threat of disaffected black youths rioting in the streets in every major US city.

This fall, we stood with Standing Rock. The Lakota gathered against the DAPL not to be nice, but to register their dissent, to stand in the way of a system that has tried to crush them for centuries. Their dissent delivered a striking victory against the establishment.

We understand, but don’t agree with, those who voted Brexit and Trump as a big “fuck you” to the establishment. They are punks too, and we lament that the Left has been so preoccupied with being nice, professional, and reasonable, encouraging many of these promising punks to vote for a new breed of white supremacists and oligarchs.

We think the suburbanites tinkering in their backyard are punks as well—their DIY creations objections to the industrial economy. We are in solidarity with the foot-draggers, the wildcat strikers who don’t care about their company’s competitiveness. We agree with Paul Lafargue, who scoffed at “the right to work” and demanded “the right to be lazy!”

To us, nurses, teachers, small farmers, and childcare workers are punks too. Capitalist society considers these jobs basically worthless, but people do them anyway, because fuck you, that's what they do.

At home, many of us degrowthers are squatters. Some of us dumpster dive and graffiti over advertising. We cook big meals for each other. We throw big weddings and big funerals. We are weirdos who’ve never quite fit in in board rooms.

Last week, one of our own presented degrowth inside the pearly halls of the UK House of Commons. Federico Demaria, one of the co-editors of the book Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era, shared the parliamentary stage with Kate Raworth, who coined the unobjectionable phrase Doughnut Economics, Tim Jackson, who wrote Prosperity without Growth, and two of the authors of the 1972 book Limits to Growth. Unlike the other panelists, Federico was willing to be radical, willing to think differently. The audience loved it: he wasn't boring. Of course, some of his very serious co-panelists patronized him as a big-dreaming, radical youngster.

The serious people tell us that politicians will never support degrowth. They tell us to stop acting like teenagers, put on suits, and come up with innocuous words that the representatives of every country will applaud in the UN General Assembly.

We know that sort of work is necessary. Sometimes you will find us putting on those awkwardly fitting suits and creeping through the halls of power, our tattoos and piercings and bad haircuts not very well hidden.

But that’s not our audience. Our sympathies lie with the misfits, the outcasts, the mischief-makers, the queers. They are our kind of people. And that’s why people like us: at heart, whoever feels like a political outsider is a bit of a punk.

Aaron Vansintjan is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London and the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is an editor of the website Uneven Earth and enjoys wild fermentations, decolonization, and long bicycle rides.

Sam Bliss is a PhD student at the University of Vermont in the Economics for the Anthropocene research initiative. He loves reading, singing, and slow travel and strongly dislikes post-environmentalism.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Do Recent Political Events Signal the End of Neo-liberalism?

The Austrian Presidential election last week appears to have bucked the trend in a year of political victories for the right, indeed the far right. The left leaning and former Green, Alexander van der Bellen, defeated Norbert Hofer the far right candidate, and by a comfortable majority, in what seems to be a return to business as usual politics.

The Italian constitutional referendum, held on the same day, did see the President, Matteo Renzi, lose the vote, and is resigning his post, although this was not as immediately as he first suggested. But this was only a partial victory for the Italian far right, as many leftish voters also rejected his reforms, probably more than those who voted against, from the right.

All of this comes on the back of the Brexit referendum result in the UK and Donald Trump winning the US Presidential election, both of which were mainly victories for the right and far right of the political spectrum. The Ku Klux Klan supported Trump.

I had a discussion with a friend a couple of weeks ago, who I have known for a long time, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that he voted to leave the EU, as that has always been his position. A former Socialist Worker Party member, now ‘hanging around’ the Revolutionary Socialism for the twenty first century party (RS21). He told me of his surprise that he had been allowed to pay the £25 supporters fee, and voted for Jeremy Corbyn in this year’s Labour Party leadership election.  

He puts the Brexit vote and Trump as part of a piece, and welcomes Corbyn’s success saying that for the first time in his life the next UK general election will be a proper left versus right election, especially now the European Union will likely be out of way by then. He also thinks that voters have taken these positions because the neo-liberal economic system has failed, which it clearly has, and that this is a big opportunity for the left, which I think it is too, but I am less confident about.

But, why have the right been the beneficiaries of this change, so far anyway? Trump will clearly do little about neo-liberalism, apart from maybe introducing some tariffs on imports to the US. His whole programme is based on keeping immigrants out, as was the Brexit campaign, when they weren’t just spreading downright lies about more money for the NHS after Brexit.

I think there is an element of rejecting the economic system in these votes, but I think these votes are more to do with a cultural shift in the electorate, or some of the electorate anyway. The rust belt states that won Trump the election and parts of the UK that have never recovered from the post industrialisation of the 1980s, clearly have not done well out the system, but also have similar cultural attitudes. These cultural attitudes are also very different from say, California and London, places which did not vote for Trump or for Brexit.

Immigration is not an issue in California or London, and the people who live in these places take a very different world view, open, liberal and cultured. Suzanne Evans, who stood unsuccessfully to become leader of the right wing UKIP party recently, commented a couple of year’s back, on why she thought UKIP had done poorly in London elections. She said that the people in London were ‘too young, well-educated and cultured,’ and I think she was spot on in her assessment of the situation.

California and London are held in contempt by people in the rust belt and Brexit land, yes because they are relatively more prosperous, but also because of their outlook on things generally. The right in the UK are always accusing the Labour Party leader, as being an ‘Islington liberal’ and so out of touch with Labour’s core voters in the north of England. To be fair, there is a lot of truth in that, but it comes down to cultural differences more than economic success. Perhaps the two go hand in hand, so this should not be surprising.

All of which leaves the Labour Party with a lot of difficulties, in trying to please both sets of supporters, or former supporters. For this reason, I think the next general election could well be a complete disaster for Labour, and the broader left in general. Labour could win less than 200 seats, perhaps not many over 100.

I said to my friend, be careful what you wish for, I think the political (far) right are on the march now, and his obvious optimism, is not well placed if we judge it by the facts. Time will tell, but I am very pessimistic about the future of politics.    

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Richmond Park Donation Scandal Rocks the Green Party

An internal party report written by the Chair and two other senior members of Kingston Green Party, reveals that pressure was put on the two local parties which cover the Richmond Park constituency, not to stand a candidate in the recent by-election. The other local party involved is Richmond and Twickenham Green Party.

I first came across this report when a link was posted to it on the Green Left FaceBook page last Saturday, it was posted elsewhere on Facebook too. Green Left rejected the post once admins noticed the confidential nature of the report, but it remained on another Facebook page for several hours until it was removed. The poster of the link called themselves Sara Leeks, and had only just joined the Green Left page before posting the link to the report.

I read the report, which to be honest didn’t tell me an awful lot that I didn’t know already from what has been in the public domain, and postings to an internal Green Left email list. But there was one detail of how pressure was applied to Kingston Green Party to not stand a candidate, by the leadership of the Green Party of England and Wales, which was the part played by a £250,000 donation to the party, conditional on the Greens not putting a candidate up at the recent by-election in Richmond Park. It was said that if the Greens agreed to withdraw in favour of the Lib Dem candidate, this would prove the party’s seriousness about forming a ‘progressive alliance.’

Given the confidential nature of the report, which was sent to the Green Party Executive Committee and the Green Party Regional Committee, I decided not to comment publicly on the matter, and await the findings of the internal review. It was also obvious that this report was potentially very damaging to the Green Party. However, I thought the report would re-surface again somewhere on the internet, and sure enough today it did.

The report has been re-published in full via the Guido Fawkes right wing political website, with a follow up story to get full value out of the revelations. The report claims that pressure was brought to bear on the local parties, by the Green Party leaders, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley and other senior figures in the party, and the donation offer played a part in adding to this pressure.

The Green Party did not accept the donation in the end, because it either was against the party’s ethical code for donations or it was dodgy in some other way, possibly it was judged to be illegal under Electoral Commission rules for party donations. But before that decision was made, the report claims that Green Party staff made it known that their jobs were at risk if the donation was not accepted and the Green Party did not withdraw their candidate from the by-election.

Green Left has now drafted a statement on the affair to the Green Left committee:

Green Left  welcomes the GPRC’s decision to consider the serious  issues raised in the so-called ‘Richmond Report’. Transparency and accountability are essential in this process.  We look forward to the Green Party 2017 Conference democratically arriving at a clear policy on the ‘Progressive Alliance’.    

I would add to this that the Regional Committee should review this report as a matter extreme urgency, given that I think the plan is to do this in mid-January next year. We can’t wait that long for an official response, because the cat is now out of bag, and whilst the world ponders on the allegations, a delay in a full official open response, is now heaping even more damage onto the party than is necessary. A bad situation made worse, if you like. But this is my opinion only at this stage.

The Green Party also needs to stop any further collusion with other political parties, or ‘progressive alliances’ until the party has come to a proper democratic decision via the party’s processes, which in practice means at Spring conference next year.

I worry very much for the immediate future of the Green Party, with it rumoured that over a thousand members have already resigned from the party since the decision was taken to stand down in favour of the Lib Dems in Richmond Park. Let us get all of this out into the open and an agreement or not reached, before any more pressure is applied to local parties over the mooted, and that is all it is at the moment, participation in any electoral pacts, and with whom.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Bill McKibben - How to Save the Planet From President Trump

Written by Bill McKibben and first published at Common Dreams

We’re going to be dealing with an onslaught of daily emergencies during the Trump years. Already it’s begun — if there’s nothing going on (or in some cases when there is), our leader often begins the day with a tweet to stir the pot, and suddenly we’re debating whether burning the flag should lose you your citizenship.

These crises will get worse once he has power — from day to day we’ll have to try and protect vulnerable immigrants, or deal with the latest outrage from the white supremacist “alt-reich,” or confront the latest self-dealing scandal in the upper reaches of the Tower. It will be a game (though not a fun one), for 48 months, of trying to preserve as many people and as much of the Constitution as possible.

And if we’re very lucky, at the end of those four years, we might be able to go back to something that resembles normal life. Much damage will have been done in the meantime, but perhaps not irreparable damage. Obamacare will be gone, but something like it — maybe even something better — will be resurrectable. The suffering in the meantime will be real, but it won’t make the problem harder to solve, assuming reason someday returns. That’s, I guess, the good news: that someday normal life may resume.

But even that slight good news doesn’t apply to the question of climate change. It’s very likely that by the time Trump is done we’ll have missed whatever opening still remains for slowing down the trajectory of global warming — we’ll have crossed thresholds from which there’s no return. In this case, the damage he’s promising will be permanent, for two reasons.

The first is the most obvious: The adversary here is ultimately physics, which plays by its own rules. As we continue to heat the planet, we see that planet changing in ways that turn into feedback loops.

If you make it hot enough to melt Arctic ice (and so far we’ve lost about half of our supply) then one of the side effects is removing a nice white mirror from the top of the planet. Instead of that mirror reflecting 80 percent of the sun’s rays out to space, you’ve now got blue water that absorbs most of the incoming rays of the sun, amping up the heat. Oh, and as that water warms, the methane frozen in its depths eventually begins to melt — and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Even if, someday, we get a president back in power who’s willing to try and turn down the coal, gas and oil burning, there will be nothing we can do about that melting methane. Some things are forever, or at least for geologic time.

There’s another reason too, however, and that’s that the international political mechanisms Trump wants to smash can’t easily be assembled again, even with lots of future good will. It took immense diplomatic efforts to reach the Paris climate accords — 25 years of negotiating with endless setbacks.
The agreement itself is a jury-rigged kludge, but at least it provides a mechanism for action. It depends on each country voluntarily doing its part, though, and if the biggest historic source of the planet’s carbon decides not to play, it’s easy to guess that an awful lot of other leaders will decide that they’d just as soon give in to their fossil fuel interests too.

So Trump is preparing to make a massive bet: a bet that the scientific consensus about climate change is wrong, and that the other 191 nations of the world are wrong as well. It’s a bet based on literally nothing — when The New York Times asked him about global warming, he started mumbling about a physicist uncle of his who died in 1985. The job — and it may not be a possible job — is for the rest of us to figure out how to make the inevitable loss of this bet as painless as possible.

It demands fierce resistance to his silliness — clearly his people are going to kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but perhaps they can be shamed into simply ignoring but not formally abrogating the Paris accords. This is work not just for activists, but for the elites that Trump actually listens to. Here’s where we need what’s left of the establishment to be weighing in: Fortune 500 executives, Wall Streeters — anyone who knows how stupid a bet this is.

But we also need to be working hard on other levels. The fossil fuel industry is celebrating Trump’s election, and rightly so — but we can continue to make their lives at least a little difficult, through campaigns like fossil fuel divestment and through fighting every pipeline and every coal port. The federal battles will obviously be harder, and we may lose even victories like Keystone. But there are many levers of power, and the ones closer to home are often easier to pull.

We also have to work at state and local levels to support what we want. The last election, terrible as it was, showed that renewable energy is popular even in red states — Florida utilities lost their bid to sideline solar energy, for instance. The hope is that we can keep the buildout of sun and wind, which is beginning to acquire real momentum, on track; if so, costs will keep falling to the point where simple economics may overrule even Trumpish ideology.

And of course we have to keep communicating, all the time, about the crisis — using the constant stream of signals from the natural world to help people understand the folly of our stance. As I write this, the Smoky Mountain town of Gatlinburg is on fire, with big hotels turned to ash at the end of a devastating drought. Mother Nature will provide us an endless string of teachable moments, and some of them will break through — it’s worth remembering that the Bush administration fell from favor as much because of Katrina as Iraq.

None of these efforts will prevent massive, and perhaps fatal, damage to the effort to constrain climate change. It’s quite possible, as many scientists said the day after the election, that we’ve lost our best chance. But we don’t know precisely how the physics will play out, and every ton of carbon we keep out of the atmosphere will help.

And amidst this long ongoing emergency, as I said at the beginning, we’ve got to help with all the daily crises. This winter may find climate activists spending as much time trying to block deportations as pipelines; we may have to live in a hot world, but we don’t have to live in a jackbooted one, and the more community we can preserve, the more resilient our communities will be. It’s hard not to despair — but then, it wasn’t all that easy to be realistically hopeful about our climate even before Trump. This has always been a battle against great odds. They’re just steeper now.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and co-founder of His most recent book is Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Zac Goldsmith – Arrogant Prat gets his Comeuppance

With something like a swing of 22%, the Lib Dem candidate, Sarah Olney, won the Richmond Park by-election, overturning a Tory majority of over 23,000 votes at last year’s general election. Zac Goldsmith, resigned from the Tories (sort of) to protest against the decision to build an extra runway at Heathrow Airport, causing the by-election.

Results like this don’t come along very often, and the Lib Dems and those supporting their rear-guard action against Brexit, are hyping this by-election result as a political game changer. It is being likened to the Ribble Valley by-election which preceded the abandonment of the Poll Tax, and the subsequent demise of the Prime Minister of eleven years standing, Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

But is this really going to have a big influence on our politics in the immediate future? I think the honest answer to this is no. What was the beginning of the end for Thatcher, was primarily the unpopularity of the Poll Tax in fairly marginal Tory held constituencies, particularly in the north of England. Many Tory MPs were worried about losing their seats because of the Poll Tax, and this forced a retreat by the government.

With constituency boundaries not certain as yet, for the next general election, it looks to be only a handful of Tory seats, would be vulnerable to an anti-Brexit vote favouring the Lib Dems, perhaps as many as seven constituencies. Of course a loss of seven seats would lose the government its majority in Parliament, but that would be only if they failed to pick up any gains, from pro-Brexit parts of the country, probably at the expense of Labour.

Although the government has a reduced majority after this loss, ironically it has probably made an early general election less likely. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is known for her caution, and at the moment the government’s working majority of 13 seats is enough to carry on, at least for a year or two anyway.

It is also unlikely that the government will change its strategy, if we can call it that, for negotiating a settlement with the EU for life after Brexit. Richmond Park is not a normal constituency. A wealthy, leafy suburb in west London, where a majority of residents have a university degree, and where over 70% of the electorate voted to Remain in the EU in June’s referendum. Many people living there are employed in the City of London.

Goldsmith also did himself no favours with his Islamophobic campaign to become Mayor of London this year. Like most of London, the constituency is ethically mixed, and quite happy about this. Once reasonably popular locally, he was tarnished by his disgraceful campaigning tactics, in the London elections.

One thing that this result does seem to confirm, is that the Lib Dems have been forgiven for their part in propping up a minority Tory government in the last Parliament, by Labour voters. Labour humiliatingly lost their deposit in Richmond Park, polling barely above 3.5%. It looks as though, so called ‘tactical voting' is back with a vengeance, which tends to benefit the Lib Dems most. Whether we end up with a formal progressive alliance or not at the next general election, it looks as though the voters, or Remain voters anyway, have voted with their feet, and have formed into an anti-Brexit alliance.

I have written here on this blog before, that the Green Party should have stood a candidate in Richmond Park, and made the case for no airport expansion (anywhere), but it looks as though Green votes may have just swung this election in favour of the Lib Dems.

I can’t say I’m unhappy though, that Goldsmith’s arrogance has been punished, and trust we have seen the last of him as an MP for good. Don’t worry, he won’t starve.