Why aren’t we acting to save ourselves on climate – my latest OneWorldColumn

In the wake of the very tenuous ‘success’ of the just-concluded Cancun climate conference (see http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/15/why-climate-talks-in-cancun-failed-miserably/ ), it is more important than ever to think about why the human race seems to be failing so miserably to address this existential challenge to civilisation on Earth. I have a suggestion as to why, and a suggestion as to what we can do about it.

Let me begin with this very thoughtful post that carefully makes the argument that those opposing serious action on dangerous climate-change eerily echo the arguments of those who opposed serious action to stop slavery. It points out for example the striking parallels that exist between the arguments of the capitalists who called for only voluntary action to reduce the negative impact of slavery, and the arguments of the capitalists who call now for only voluntary action to reduce the negative impact of manmade climate change.

But I believe that the parallels can be taken one stage further:

Global over-heating is happening because of our burning of ever more fossil fuels. This burning gives us access to a vast energy glut, compared to which almost all the preceding existence of human beings has been extraordinarily low energy. But Peak Oil and the soon-to-follow Peak Gas mean that this glut will be temporary. In future, people will not have access to cheap energy in vast amounts; and they will have to deal with the potentially-utterly-dire consequences of our burning up fossil fuels into greenhouse gases like there is literally no tomorrow… In effect, we have grown accustomed to depending on what I call ‘fire-slaves’, to run our cars, to heat our homes, to do just about everything that our economy-on-speed depends upon. We use (up) non-renewable fire-slaves in huge numbers – thus depriving tomorrow of access to them, and heaping on tomorrow a dire burden of climate instability.

In other words: like the slavers before us, we today, in our profligate and selfish use of ‘fire-slaves’, are imposing terrible costs — unfreedoms, manmade ‘natural’ disasters, sicknesses unto death — on other human beings. Unlike the slavers, we can’t see most of them, for most of them have yet to be born. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility. It just makes it all the more acute. For at least a few slaves managed to escape, to survive, to win their freedom. At least the slaves triumphed in the end, and the proud American South was even defeated, humbled over the issue (and a damn good thing too). Whereas: if we are not careful we will utterly trap our descendants into a life (or death) where they are energy-poor while having to cope with disasters which Hurricane Katrina and the like are only trailers for. For them, there will be no escape.

We ought to think long and deep about the parallels between being soft on slavery and being soft on climate-inaction. When this parallel really strikes us as it ought, and when we wake up at last to care for future people like our own children (have a listen to me here for more on this) then we may begin to turn the corner, as we succeeded in doing on slavery two centuries ago — despite all the dire warnings about how it would mean economic ruin, etc. . . .

If we handle the climate crisis wrong, there won’t be an economy, because there won’t be a society. If we handle it right, then it can actually help our economy (see http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/joss-garman-obamarsquos-new-fear-is-a-cleanedup-china-2158047.html ). But my key point in this piece is: it is simply the most basic justice (not to mention love or care or fellow-feeling), to not enslave our children … and so we need to stop depending on fire-slaves. It is obscene to rely (either way) on arguments about economics alone, when what is actually at stake is a slow mega-holocaust…

Response to Lawson and Harris’s piece in the _NS_

Neal Lawson’s and John Harris’s major piece in the NEW STATESMAN recently, “The paradigm shift”, lays out a reasonably-ambitious set of ideas for a genuinely revamped policy programme for Labour under Ed Miliband’s leadership, that Lawson and Harris call “New Socialism”. There are important omissions (e.g. there is much talk of manmade climate change and even of questioning the desirability of further economic growth, but no mention of the concomitant and vital issue of the preservation of biodiversity; and there is surprisingly little commitment to a far more equal society, a la Wilkinson and Pickett, that could be achieved by a mixture of much more progressive taxation and equal ‘carbon rations’); but the direction of travel is certainly welcome. What Lawson and Harris are recommending sounds, in other words, like at the least a sort of ‘lite’ version of the Green Party manifesto.
  If the policy reviews that Mr. Miliband has now initiated come up with proposals similar to those recommended by Lawson and Harris, then that will be good news for this country. But I would strongly advise against any breath-holding.
  And here is my question for the increasingly-pluralist members of Compass, Neal himself included: If the policy review process does NOT take Labour in the direction of a ‘New Socialism’, then will Socialist-minded Labour members accept the implicit logic of “The paradigm shift”, and join the growing Party that already has most of these policies on tap…namely, the Green Party?

Bowthorpe Road crossing plans in the local rag


Businesses in Bowthorpe Road, Norwich, call for rethink on crossing plans


Norwich City Council was to begin work on a new £50,000 zebra crossing at Bowthorpe Road in the new year.
But the proposals have alarmed the owners of four businesses because they include the loss of parking spaces.
Now the traders have grouped together and submitted a 231-signature petition to the council calling on it to rethink the plans, and the authority has announced a fresh consultation after coming up with a second proposal, so that both options can be considered.
Lisa Holmes, a co-partner at Merry-Go-Round, on the corner of Bond Street, said even the revised proposal would cause problems for customers, and she said the petition showed the strength of feeling about the plans, dwarfing a previous 38-signature petition sent in my supporters of the crossing scheme.
“Being a baby shop our customers have got at least one baby on the hip and a bag of stuff to bring in and they need to park outside for the convenience,” she said. “We have 15 staff between the four of us, that’s 15 families drawing an income from these businesses.
Ann Wynn, from Rene’s Florist, who has worked at the family business since 1971, said: “We are really worried if it goes ahead that it’s going to put us out of business,” she said. “The only place this crossing will go is the cemetery which closes at 4.15pm.”
Green councillor Rupert Read, who has campaigned for a new crossing, said it would boost trade and improve the area.
“I’ve spoken to some of the business people and I understand their concerns, but at the end of the day the question is are we going to put this crossing at risk for the sake of business worries about one or two parking spaces, when what’s really at risk is people’s lives,” he said.
Norwich City Council spokesman Amy Lyall, said: “We’ve had an awful lot of response to the plans and a second option has been put forward. We are going to consult on both options before they both go before the highways committee. A decision has not yet been made, we want to see what people think.”

Compass and pluralism – good news!

Compass’s decision last weekend to look seriously over the next two months at opening up its full membership (see http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=11722 ) is very welcome. This in effect responds to the call I made – http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/07/compass-must-practice-what-it-preaches-on-pluralism/ – and gives real hope that a ‘progressive alliance’ can be built that could take this country in a different direction over the next 5 years. If there is another balanced Parliament after the 2015 General Election, we need to make sure that we are ready to have something else replace the ConDem government. Compass pluralising could be a key basis for being ready in that way: and would also fit well with the new political environment that will evolve in this country if the AV referendum is passed (See here for why: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/06/28/why-the-left-will-always-be-at-a-loss-without-vote-reform/ .).
As a Green who is a member of Compass, but who is at present excluded from participating in Compass’s internal affairs (because of my membership of a Party other than Labour), I earnestly hope that Compass will make the right decision over the next couple of months. If that happens, then it really will be ‘the new politics’.
Here is the resolution that the Compass AGM passed:
‘The AGM commits the Management Committee to:
  • Hold a further Special General Meeting to be held by the end of February 2011 to decide specifically on the issue of opening up the Compass membership.
  • That a constitutional amendment(s) will be tabled by the Management Committee to that Special General Meeting that if voted on by a 2:1 majority in accordance with the constitution would open up the Compass membership.
  • Therefore commits to a process of further consultation with the membership immediately after this AGM as part of a thorough democratic process in reaching a decision on Compass membership.’

Statement from UEA occupation

The following is a statement release by the occupying students of UEA. I
understand that about 20 of them are occupying the Council House:

"We are occupying to support the cause of free education and in opposition

to all public sector cuts. This is a peaceful occupation and we do not

intend to damage the building or its contents. The occupation is in

solidarity with all facing increasing fees or cuts in their workplaces

and/or services. However we do not claim to represent anyone else. We also

apologise if we have interrupted or inconvenienced anyone by our actions.

The occupation is orchestrated to coincide with Aaron Porter's visit to

campus and we acknowledge his stance in favour of peaceful direct action."