Brexit and Trade: Moving from Globalisation to Self-Reliance

This report explores options for trade post-Brexit. The authors, Victor Anderson and Rupert Read from the Green House Think Tank, conclude that a radical shift in economic policy, which reduces dependency on exports and makes the UK more self-sufficient, is the only chance there is of making Brexit successful. All other models of trade – such as falling back on WTO rules or new trade deals outside the single market – would lead to a worsening economy and threaten environmental standards and workers’ rights, says the report.

Summary leaflet

Full report

Commenting on the report which she commissioned, Molly Scott Cato said:

“I believe above all else the vote to leave the EU was an expression of a loss of control over our lives and a rejection of politicians who have failed to challenge corporate power or the negative consequences of globalisation. 

“This report is about reinterpreting Brexit in the light of our longstanding Green critique of globalisation. Greens have always argued for greater self-reliance and stronger local economies. It now looks like such a path will be the best future on offer for the UK outside the EU. 

“The recommendations offer some exciting ideas on how we can begin to think our way out of the destructive globalisation of recent years. They offer the prospect of building stronger communities, creating new jobs through re-skilling or learning new skills and reducing our environmental impact. It is a vision of hope in a world dominated by corporate globalisation.”

A PRINCIPLE worth standing up for

The precautionary principle remains the greatest safeguard against reckless decision making that ignores risks to humanity, but we will need to fight for it in a post-Brexit world.

By Rupert Read and Samuel Webb, previously published in the ENDS report

These are hard times for those wanting to believe in Aristotle’s definition of humankind as the “rational animal”. The western world appears to be lurching backward into unveiled greed and denial in regards to the reality of our global ecology.

A more-than-symbolic example is US president Donald Trump’s brash move to redact climate research from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website. This is an audacious attempt to censor and alter the facts of climate change to suit his administration, which is chock-full of fossil fuel interests.

Unfortunately Trump’s perspective on environmental policies risks resonating in the UK. With climate deniers also present at the highest levels of government, and that government’s dismal record on all matters green, Britain’s position on combatting climate change is tenuous at best. Uncertainties over which policies are to be culled with the coming ‘Great Repeal Bill’ should raise cause for concern.

Times like these need entrenched defences for ecosystems. A key such defence is the ‘precautionary principle’. This offers a decisive, sceptic-proof argument in favour of climate and genetic protection.

The principle is reasonably well entrenched in the EU. But, so far as Britain is concerned, for how much longer will we be subject to the defence? Caroline Lucas recently asked a parliamentary question on what effect Brexit will have on the principle. The answer was that it will be absorbed into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Bill process. But this does little to reassure because it could be struck out by a simple parliamentary majority at any time afterwards.

The principle is currently subject to systematic propagandistic assault at the hands of a reckless, growth-at-any-cost ‘innovation principle’. Apologists for short-termist commercial interests do not want any significant regulation interfering with the money they want to make from biotech and the like. The case of GMOs demonstrates why adopting the innovation principle would be utterly reckless.

The alleged evidence that GM crops are safe is statistically insignificant when considered against the backdrop of the kind of timescale against which evidence should properly be judged: an ecological and evolutionary timescale – thousands of years.

Across such a long period, our exposure to as yet unseen, disastrous events becomes a very serious consideration. Where severe tail risks accompany new technologies, precaution thus enjoins us not to take those risks; risks of ruin should be considered far weightier than benefits, because the potential benefits of a technology simply cannot outweigh the potential for a truly disastrous outcome, even if the chances of that outcome are relatively small.

Unlike the innovation principle, which misses the point that growth-for-its-own- sake is surely an irrational aim in a ‘developed’ society such as ours, the precautionary principle remains the greatest safeguard against reckless decision making.

But there is a real danger that unless people stand up for the principle, we will lose it if we leave the EU; pro-GM interests are already actively gunning for it. And our view is that ending precaution and ushering in recklessness with regard to commercial ‘innovation’ could lead to a much bigger exit – humanity exiting the gene pool.

Without the principle to proactively protect us against climate catastrophe or bio- and eco-disasters, that final exit becomes a real prospect. To echo Churchill, who addressed a parallel question in the wilderness years: this is not “alarmism” it is rather a much-needed raising of the alarm.

Rupert Read (pictured) is reader in philosophy at the University of East Anglia and chair of thinktank Green House. Samuel Webb is an undergraduate student and research assistant on UEA’s precautionary principle project

positive response to new piece “Climate change is a white swan”

New restrictions on targeting kids with junk food ads need to go much further, campaign group says:

‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ welcomes the news that children will no longer be targeted by junk food ads on certain internet media. This ban is one small step in the right direction. But it is only a small step. Why should young children continue to be targeted by junk-food pushers in other media ? And, more important, why should commercial interests be allowed constantly to manipulate children of primary school age and younger through advertising toys, clothes, and child-orientated brands of all sorts to them?

The advertising industry is one of the largest employers of psychology graduates in the country. It hones its techniques of ‘persuasion’ on adults and then turns them on children, children who in every other respect we protect from manipulative adults whose primary aims are not to promote the best interests of our kids. Our children should not be seen as little consumers in the making.
If retailers and manufacturers want to promote things for our children then advertise them to us, their parents. It’s our role to make informed decisions on their behalf.

Leave Our Kids Alone will not rest until advertisers are forced to leave our kids alone. Full stop.

After Brexit and Trump: don’t demonise; localise!

Rupert Read and Helena Norberg-Hodge analyse how to respond to the Trump-Brexit wave in The Ecologist

“Both Trump and Brexit can be explained by the failure of mainstream political elites to address the pain inflicted on ordinary citizens in the neoliberal era, write Helena Norberg-Hodge & Rupert Read. In the US and the UK, working class voters rightly rejected the corporate globalisation that has created so much poverty and insecurity. But the real solutions lie not in hatred, but relocalisation.”


Why are Liberals losing the war of soundbites

“From Donald Trump’s triumphant slogan to the Brexiteers’ ‘take back control’, political discourse is saturated with powerful images or ‘frames’. Should the left fight fire with fire – or will that make things even more toxic?”

Excellent piece in the Guardian…and I’m quoted as founder of the “Green Words Workshop”

The precautionary case against GMOs is as strong as ever, today’s dangerous Select Committee report notwithstanding

(This is a piece from the archives, first published @ thenewshub 26 Feb 2015)

The House of Commons Select Committee
have published today a report, in which they argue that there is no precautionary case against GM food. They are comprehensively wrong. Here’s why, in a nutshell.

lt might be true that the evidence against GM food is weak. Even if that were true, that would in no way license the conclusion that GM food is safe. One needs to consider the vast unevidenced realm of what else might have happened in the past but didn’t and of what might happen in the future (which by definition hasn’t happened yet), and not just the thin sliver represented by the best available evidence.

The Select Committee were offered this argument in evidence to their inquiry. They chose to ignore that evidence.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee now claim that:

The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques.

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

With all due respect, that is false.

Speaking for myself, I am willing to accept that there probably isn’t strong scientific evidence that GM crops have harmed humans or animals to date. And even the evidence of harm to ecosystems, though real, is not overwhelming. That’s common ground that I am willing to concede to the advocates of GM. But even granting that doesn’t help prove their case. For the fundamental point that Nassim Taleb and I make in our work on GM, work that the Committee sadly seems to have ignored despite my having brought it to their attention, is that absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of potential harm. The scientific evidence is not “clear” that GM crops pose “no” more risk than other crops. On the contrary, a genuinely precautionary approach will not stake our future recklessly on top-down engineering of the very thing that we live off: our land, nature, and our crops.

It didn’t help the Committee that the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Mark Walport, so evidently fails to understand the Precautionary Principle itself (see sections 111-112 of the Select Committee report), and is seeking to ‘dumb it down’ to be more or less vacuous. Sir Mark would do well to read the piece that Taleb and I wrote.

The Committee claim that: is clear from the evidence given to the Committee that…simply because a crop has been produced via genetic modification [does not mean that the precautionary principle needs to be invoked].

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

Again, this is very far from clear. In fact, the Committee have clearly prejudged the issue, against the Precautionary Principle, as I have pointed out before today. They have failed, ironically, to actually take an ‘evidence-based’ approach to their own inquiry. They clearly went into this exercise already quite determined on what the outcome they would reach would be. They fitted the ‘evidence’ to the conclusion that they wanted, and not the other way around.

The Precautionary Principle ought to be invoked when an action surrounded by uncertainty risks unleashing ruin. The potential destruction of our food system or of our natural biodiversity is just such an uncertain risk.

As I warned at the outset of the inquiry, along with colleagues, the very terms of reference of the Committee biased the pitch against precautiousness, and in favour of ‘evidence-based’ approaches. Who could object to being evidence-based? But essentially what the inquiry amounts to – to be seeking to justify – is a reckless disregard for precaution, and instead a peculiar dogma that states that until we have evidence that something is harmful, it should be presumed to be safe. But to say again the crucial point; absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. Being ‘evidence-based’ is a soundbite-excuse for not considering precaution, and for not considering ethics.

In relation to GM food, that we don’t have a great deal of evidence of harm is not a sound evidence-based reason for thinking that we have evidence of absence of harm. We do not. And precaution dictates that we should therefore be precautious.

Future generations may barely get the chance to reproach us, if we fail to be.

As a post scriptum, one of those ‘evidence-based’ members of the Science and Tech Select Committee is David Tredinnick MP, who made the news yesterday because of his belief in astrology. Somehow, I think we can do better than this.