Wednesday, 2 December 2009

It's The Age of Stupid, stupid

Darlington Friends of the Earth hosted a showing of the climate change documentary film, The Age of Stupid, at the Quaker Meeting House last night. Following what can only be described as an avalanche, or melting glacier, of publicity from FoE directed at councillors, half the cabinet turned up, while I and a number of members of the local Lib Dem executive were also there. Sadly, no-one from the Conservative group was present. Maybe they were at home booking their flights for next year's holidays in the sun.

The film lacks the weight and authority of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, but makes up for this with passion and a wry humour. Shots from a battle between climate change protestors and NIMBY wind farm opposers in Bedfordshire were telling and also relevant to issues in the villages around Darlington.

One part of the film I was uncomfortable with was the portrayal of a young Indian entrepreneur who was setting up India's first budget airline, as the film's anti-hero. Quite unnecessarily, and done simply to try to portray the guy in a bad light, the film showed him shouting at a couple of his employees. The problem here is how we in the developed world, who have produced, and continue to produce, most of the greenhouse gases which are causing this problem, can cast this Indian businessman as the bad guy when all he's trying to do is provide his countrymen with the same service the developed world has been enjoying for many years. There was no mention made of the Labour Government's decision to build another runway at Heathrow!

Much as this film was successful in bringing its doomsday message to its audience, for as long as Jo Bloggs sees millions of others buying fast cars, jetting off on holidays and weekend breaks and buying food flown in from the other side of the globe, it is not reasonable to expect him to change his own behaviour. The "why should I bother when no-one else does" attitude will be impossible to break down, maybe until it's too late.

That's why, while those of us who care about this can each do our bit by changing our individual behaviour, and while Governments can impose macro solutions by investing in greener methods of energy production, the only way we will alter the behaviour of billions of individual people across the globe, which is what this film aims to do, is not by exhortation but by hitting us where it hurts: in our pockets. Green taxes, progressively and increasingly penalising those activities which contribute to climate change, will force people to alter their behaviour, especially if Jo Bloggs can see that it's being fair to everyone.

And now comes the party political bit:

The Lib Dems' taxation proposals published earlier this week include green taxes aimed at air travel. It's a start, at least. And it is the Lib Dems who lead the way in other aspects of the fight against climate change, as I'm sure you'll all want to read here.


james said...

AoS is quite a depressing film. The documentary strands are engaging, it was a mistake to link them using the Archivist from the future.

About the young Indian "entrepreneur", he's from an established and wealthy family who lives a life detached from that of his employees or the rural poor. The result of India's emulation of the neo-liberal model of economic development has been to exacerbate existing inequalities: How do you operate a budget airline? Undercut your competitor by delivering a reduced service, with fewer safety inspections, by a staff which work longer under worse conditions and with less pay. The adverse social effects are of no concern, just another externality, like the cost to the environment of carbon emissions. No doubt if ordinary Indians had the power to decide their country's transport policy, they'd invest in rail infrastructure!

This underlines the film's point about that capitalism - an economic system where a minority control investment solely on the basis of profit-maximisation - is unsustainable, not only ecologically but economically, because it requires quantitative growth and results in periodic systemic crises.

Re: Taxation to change behaviour - this is actually unsustainable. If you succeed in changing the behaviour, you lose the tax revenue. The shift in focus in recent years from the Lib Dems supporting a higher top rate of tax to then switching to green taxation was part of a process of the Lib Dems being successfully Thatcherised, with the Liberals nudging out the Social Democrats. In recent years, the Liberal leadership has not only got the party to swallow privatisation (hugely unpopular in opinion polls) and green taxation (ditto).

The Nobel prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom has studied the ownership structures of common-pool resources such as forests and fisheries and found that they are best managed by the people who use them rather than by corporate or state bureaucracies.

Consider how our private banking system failed because the owners were interested in profit-maximisation and unable to hold senior bankers to account. The failure of this ownership structure led to the current economic recession. The building societies, owned by and run for their members, behaved sensibly by comparison...

The way to tackle pollution is not by imposing punitive measures on ordinary people, but to restructure economic institutions to enable the active and direct participation of workers and consumers in decision-making.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you James surely your not old Labour in the nu Labour party are you? It must be rather uncomfortable being a socialist within the Labour party these days, maybe the beast of Bolsover’s spirit is still alive albeit in a weakened state (closely monitored by a heart monitor and on a ventilator, lol).

I also have serious concerns regarding the free market model but it’s the one we have and isn’t going to change anytime soon. So what do you do, give up and go home? Cry how unfair the worlds socio economic engine is? Or make it work for the benefit of us all and future generations? I for one choose the latter, we need to change the rules not the model. Make it deliver the desired results by adopting indicators away from simple shareholder dividends to say CO2 reduction credits and emissions trading schemes. The European Union launched EUTS (European Union emissions Trading Scheme over a year ago as a tentative step at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, see the following from the Guardian;
“One year ago the EU launched a system of carbon trading as a first step towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the scheme, 12,000 organisations that emit carbon dioxide - from power generators to factories and even prisons and hospitals - were given allocations for the amount of the gas they can discharge each year. If they want to exceed their quota, they have to buy allocations from other organisations with a surplus through the EU emissions trading scheme (Euts), meaning that polluters have to pay for the damage they cause. Cleaner organisations, meanwhile, benefit financially by selling their carbon allowances for cash. The biggest scheme of its kind in the world, Euts is a model for other regions, which are expected to follow suit".
That’s one example, I can provide you with others of how you can use business models and systems to change market behaviours. Ironically such systems produce benefits for the countries taking part with creation of specialism, monitoring techniques, auditing and technologies to ensure compliance. As someone who has been involved with EUTS since it was first muted over eight years ago as both regulator and “the regulated” I can tell you the system works. All we really need and have needed for a long time is political will. You simply can't point the finger at any party James when your Labour have been in power since 1997. How about the PM usinge this "special relationship" we allegedly have with the USA to get them to sign up as well! Surely fighting two wars for America has earned us a few brownie points, hasn’t it? Incidentally Labours record on climate change is worse than Mr Brown sitting on his hands, a whole host of broken promises and unsubstantiated spin have pured out of number 10 since 1997, even Mr Poritt saw the error of his mistaken trust of Tony Blair and did a runner. If you truly believe in environment protection and upholding socialist values and dare I say it beleive in trade unions have a word with Mike Barker and ask him for a membership form for the Lib Dems.

james said...

Is that you Mike?

Seriously, though, I was making the point that, as Ostroms studies appear to show, market participants are more likely to behave in sustainable ways if there is co-ownership and a level of direct participation of decision-making. Priorities are therefore likely to include things which are of need to ordinary people, and greedy behaviour is more likely to get knocked on the head.

Carbon emissions trading might be promising if the cap was lower - but corporate lobby groups have pretty much taken the sting out of it. It does create another financial vehicle for spivs and speculators, mind...

On political parties, it's worth noting that the level of democratic participation has fallen generally - declining membership and participation. Partly this stems from the neoliberal economic model which destroys social capital and necessarily centralises decision-making. I've no doubt that had the Liberals had control of parliament they would have acted in largely the same way as New Labour. The Liberals backed all but one of Blair's wars, after all.

Meanwhile, the choice at the next general election isn't between Labour and the Liberals, it's between Labour and the Tories. One a party with long-standing links with the trade union and cooperative movement, the other with long-standing links with big business and the bankers...

Mike Barker said...

No, James old son, it's not me.

Sadly I have not spent eight years involved with EUTS.

Furthermore, I would never write "your" for "you're", nor do I ever use "lol" (the one and only time I did use it was when I was under the impression it stood for "lots of love", which caused some confusion, as you might imagine).

However, anonymous is right, you are an unreconstructed old leftie in a young person's body, aren't you James?

Anyway, I've just accepted your kind offer to be your Facebook friend. I'll soon be in double figures, though between the two of you, you and Chris Close fill up my home page so effectively I have to scan down several pages to find up what my kids have been up to!

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

Nor is it me James. Anonymous' posting about carbon trading is not something I have paid much attention to and is a bit beyond me.

I found the film on Tuesday evening and the discussion afterwards thought provoking.

I wished the film had been shorter and the discussion longer because there was a lot of good ideas which came out of the discussions and a programme for action could have been developed on Tuesday evening which the decision makers in the Borough could have taken away with them. After all half the Cabinet were present including the Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Sustainability.

We do need a programme for action to get government and people to embrace alternative sources of energy and alternative sources of transport.

I support wind farms as alternative sources of power despite my initial reservations. I am disappointed that opposition is building to the wind farm at Barmpton. Someone will have to persuade the opponents that it is in all our interests to have wind farms.

I long for the day when my youngest son and his mates can cycle to and from school without having to encounter the horrible, polluted and congested A1150.

I made two suggestions on Tuesday evening about education on climate change in schools and employers being responsible for getting their employees into work and back home at the end of the day.

I will wait and see what develops from Tuesday evening and hope it is not a chance lost.

ian said...

I am afraid that, like many, i remain sceptical about these doomsday phrophecies, especially when we can see the process being used as an excuse to raise taxes.

Even the Green Party Leader confirmed when interviewed on tv only the other day that world temps have NOT increased for 11 yrs (presumably hence the subtle change in refence from "Glodal Warming" to "Climate Change".)

So if Gore was right with his graphs showing a clear correlation between Co2 and warming, how can this be the case?

I have a gut feeling that in the next 25 yrs we may well see a whole new scientific concensus as the to the real causes of any climatic changes.
It is not be pc to be a sceptic at the current time but i do remain unconvinced. there are just too many people looking to benefit financially from this doomsday scenario.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point, I was not commenting on support for wars from political parties rather using some of the good will generated supporting America for some good. Blair received the Congressional medal for taking us into Iraq and I am yet to see how that benefited the Country in anyway. On an associated theme, I see Blair is giving evidence to the Chilcott enquiry in March before an election in May (ouch)!
Jeez, Mike is grammar that important that you attempt to belittle someone’s dyslexia. It must be fascinating at Christmas playing Scrabble in your household. I wonder what happens if someone passes the Port from the right? Are they sent to the corner of the room with a notice around their neck announcing them unclean to the world? Grammar may be mute point to you but thankfully, the worlds turned a bit since we forced children to write with their right hand even if naturally left handed.

Mike Barker said...

My apologies, "anonymous". If you had a name I would not have drawn attention to your grammar. However, those who post anonymously, I'm afraid, have no grounds for complaint on this score. Don't let that stop you, though. Even anonymous contributions are welcomed: you just can't expect the same personal respect as those who are prepared to put a name to their opinions.

james said...

I would not describe myself as a "leftie", old, unreconstructed or not. I think it's unfortunate that rather engage with the points I've made, people would rather use name-calling.

Ianh - it's neither here nor there about what causes climate change. High carbon energy sources are going to get more expensive in coming years (already are!) so if we can generate power and conserve power, then it makes economic sense to do it.

Alan - I agree with you it would have been nice to have more time to debate. Certainly, all suggestions will be taken up by Darlington Friends of the Earth.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.

James. Thank you. Interesting news in the Northern Echo this morning about the proposed wind farm at Barmpton. Those closest to it are not oppposing it.