Tag Archives: linkedin

Reclaiming the language of austerity

Reclaiming the language of austerity:  an ecological, people’s recuperation of the cuts discourse.

We’re all in this together.
Yes we really are, because we all depend on the ecosystem to make our life possible on the surface of the earth.  Nobody can buy their way out of the crisis and in the end, nobody can make the crisis hurt some and not others.  The ecological crisis makes us equal again and it requires action for and by all.  That isn’t to say that some should not lose more than others: the millions living on less than £5 per day have nothing to give up and a lot to gain  from a fairer and sustainable system but those who consume disproportionate resources will lose that privilege, and justly so.

Austerity
How do you sell austerity?  Because it is a kind of austerity that is needed.  We have to reduce drastically the throughput of resources, reducing the exhaustion and extinction of the and the production of their polluting end products to levels that are consistent with the rate of replacement or substitution (inputs) and safe absorption (outputs).  But that kind of austerity does not mean that people should endure poor housing, that old and disabled people should not get enough help and care, that people should work for longer, or indeed that people should be unnecessarily idle.  By and large, these things have nothing to do with the necessary, real, ecological austerity but everything to do with the strategic austerity imposed by the rulers of a system that forces people to pay for the failures of a false economy disconnected from the real real economy that provides food and air and water, the conditions for life on earth.

We’ve been living beyond our means
Oh yes, the system has.  It has squandered its resources on the production of horrible trinkets, trinkets that break or decay very quickly, trinkets that offend against the harmonious living in community with one another and with the earth’s systems.  It has wasted its resources to produce millions of tons of effluent which has meant we are beyond the safe operating limits of the natural systems that sustain human life.  And while doing this it has condemned millions to poverty, exclusion and fear, increasing want as it increases false needs.  But we have not been wrong to expect comfort, fairness and freedom from want, illness and idleness.  To construct a system that satisfies these needs is not to live beyond our means; it is to live fairly in accordance with them.

 

Advertisements

Living Well in Manchester.

A new short pamphlet from the Irwell Group looks at the zero-growth option for Manchester’s economy in the light of economic recession and the spectre of runaway climate change.  The old approach of trying to get 3.5% growth for ever is not going to work, and if it did the results would be increased inequality and climate suicide.

Go to the Irwell Group site:  http://irwellgroup.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/102/

Urban plants’ role as carbon sinks ‘underestimated’

This is an interesting study that seems to show that plants growing in urban areas (Leicester in fact) can make a significant contribution to carbon sequestration.  The example is similar to what Permaculture originator Bill Mollison was saying 30 years ago – lawns are deserts (that also use a large amount of petrochemicals) – growing more trees makes a difference and also provides useful products for a local economy.

However, the research calculates the static carbon sink – the amount locked away, not the annual sequestration rate – it would probably be salutary to compare that to the rate of CO2e produced in urban areas (and in their ecological footprint).

BBC summary of the study:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14121360

 

 

Worst ever carbon emissions mean 2C target almost out of reach

Today’s Guardian has this exclusive story based on unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
This is profoundly depressing – not only is there systemic failure to ‘scale up’ sustainable practice, but the policies of government are woefully inadequate to the scale of the problem.  Indeed this is not altogether surprising – the governments at Cancun committed the world to a suicidal 4C rise in temperature.
I have recently made some rough comparisons of proposals from various sources at http://tinyurl.com/3j3apwz .  Few of them have any emphasis on reduction of energy use and with the exception of Zero Carbon Britain’s excellent work, there is no recognition of the need to exceed international targets here because of our historical and outsourced emissions.
But what is sadly missing from all this is any coherent praxis: how do we get this stuff more squarely on government and party agendas? How do we rapidly build a social movement underpinned by a vision of a better way of living with the strength and capacity to secure real change?  How do we do this in solidarity with people in the global south who are already experiencing the worst of the climate emergency (see the Bolivian government’s work on this)?

Energy and emissions in the NorthWest: comparing ambitions, Jevons paradox and shale gas.

It is interesting to compare proposals for energy use and production as they apply to our region.

In the chart below I have plotted the carbon reduction proposals from the following documents:

1) Sustainable Energy Action Plan for Greater Manchester (SEAP), Commissioned by AGMA.

2) The UK Carbon Budget no. 3 from DECC.

3)  CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain, 2030 (ZCB 2030)

4) The World Wildlife Fund /ecofys Energy report (WWF / ecofys)

5)  The Welsh Assembly’s proposal, cited in the UK Carbon Budget paper.

Thee plans all propose to reduce carbon emissions but they differ greatly in the pace of change proposed.   As we will see they also differ in how they think they will get there.  The figure plotted is the proportion of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as a percentage of the 1990 baseline.

Carbon reduction according to 5 different plans

click to see larger version

Below is the table of data that sits behind the graph.  To give a common basis for comparison I have had to interpolate some date and also because SEAP uses 2005 for its baseline year I have converted their figures to a 1990 basis.

1990 2005 2020 2030 2050
Carbon reduction target (target CO2e as % of baseline)
SEAP 100 95 62.7 38 11.4
UK carbon budget no. 3 100 95 66 45 20
ZCB 2030 100 95 40 0 0
WWF / ecofys 100 95 70 30 0
Welsh Assembly 100 95 60 44 24

The important points are:-

Both WWF and ZCB2030 propose a reduction to zero net carbon emissions while the three government sources do not envisage this.

As a result ZCB and WWF both have a more rapid decline in emissions, and this is critical – you have to look at the area under the line to understand the continued build up of greenhouse gases.   The ZCB plan notes that in the developed countries we need to go faster than the average because of our per capita higher emissions.

Rather lost in this summary are the assumptions.  ZCB in particular combines an an ambitious reduction in energy consumption (Power Down) with plans to replace the use of fossil hydrocarbons.  They also take account of land use emissions.  The government’s carbon budget does not include clear targets to Power Down.  WWF also propose a reduction, but to 85% by 2050 rather than ZCB’s 50% by 2030.  David MacKay in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air makes an identical proposal to that of WWF – it is good they propose powering down, but this is likely to be too little and too late.  Perhaps someone would like to calculate the difference between WWF and ZCB in terms of CO2e put into the atmosphere?

Neither ZCB nor the WWF propose the use of Nuclear.

Here are some additional comparisons.  They are less complete due to the gaps in some of the plans (to be slightly charitable here, the government has noted that there are a number of possible pathways to its inadequate 80% 2050 target).  I have added David MacKay’s projection on reduced energy consumption and the SNP government’s impressive target for production from renewables (although it would be difficult to generalise from the Scottish case to the NW).

Increase in renewable production
SEAP 2 6
ZCB 2030 100
WWF / ecofys 100
Proportion of energy from fossil hydrocarbons
ZCB 2030 0 0
WWF / ecofys 0
SNP 0
Energy demand (%) of baseline)
SEAP
UK carbon budget no. 3
ZCB 2030 50
WWF / ecofys 100 85
MacKay 100 85

Here the lack of ambition of the SEAP report becomes clear.  While they do leave out some areas of potential change as outside the scope of the Greater Manchester decision makers / local authorities / AGMA, nevertheless the very limited renewables projection really requires challenge.  Likewise the lack of clear and challenging power down targets.  On the positive side, there are some indicators that if applied will enable us all to track progress within the bioregion.

This point about Power Down is absolutely crucial.  We now know very well that increases in energy efficiency, if not accompanied by clear proposals for powering down will just mean that more energy overall is used.  This is called the Jevons Paradox.  Why so important in the North West now?  Because of the new threat of exploitation of the Bowden Shale for gas.  This involves natural gas,  trapped in shale rock, that has to be extracted by a process of pressurised injeuction of huge quantities of water, sand and solvents, called fracturing.  As this preliminary report from the Tyndall Centre makes clear, exploiting this resource may have some significant risks (although the methods being used in USAnia that have caused such concern will -probably- not all be used here), but most important will (despite the propaganda from the prospectors) have a negative impact on greenhouse gas production, delaying necessary action.

So far as I can see AGMA’s environment commission hasn’t commented on this burning (well not quite yet) issue on our doorstep – further argument for a bioregional approach rather than focussing on the urban conurbation as the definition of the subregion.  However, the Co-op (which funded the Tyndall research), the Green Party and the Labour Party have opposed the drilling (the latter provisionally.  Of course the risks and assessments have been ignored by our golpista prime minister.

Know your (environmental) limits

SDC logo

The coalition vandals have ended (from 1 April) the Sustainable Development Commission.  Here is one of their last contributions – a useful piece of work that helps us operationalise the notion of ecological limits at a local (and therefore also bioregional) level.

“‘Living within environmental limits’ is one of the five principles of sustainable development. It is easy to talk about environmental limits, and many of us accept that such limits must exist. But how do we recognise them? How do we know when we’re bumping up against them? What can we do to prevent those limits being breached? And with the re-energised focus on local decision making we ask, what do they mean for local areas?

“We have proposed a definition of environmental limits and examined seven ‘key’ environmental areas under OECD’s ‘Pressure-State-Response’ framework, highlighting existing legislative limits and where these do not exist. We have considered ‘land use’ and ‘soils’ as particular areas for government action as there is currently little or no action taken to recognise environmental limits in these areas. The report also makes suggestions for action by local governance bodies and community groups.”

Link to the full report. (so long as they pay the website subscription ….).

Stop Peat Extraction Here in Manchester

Campaigners from Save Our North West Green Belt have called for people to object to new  planning application for peat extraction on land owned by Peel Holdings …… William Sinclair Horticulture Limited have submitted a revised application to Salford City Council to continue extracting peat for another 15 years,  after having its Environment Statement rejected last August 2010.  
read more (Mule)

read more (Wildlife Trust)

This is vital – peatlands are a very important carbon store and we just can’t have them continually destroyed for the sake of profit – especially when better alternatives exist.


Bioregional perspectives – handout

Readers might find this handout helpful in that it sets out on a couple of pages the bioregional perspective.  Prepared for the Climate and Capitalism conference held in Manchester, 23 October 2010.

Download the handout

Keeping going on the economy

The paper:  Getting Started on the Economy has just been updated.

Theses on debt, economy and ecology

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the interconnected themes of

  • Economic growth – and its unsustainability
  • Steady state economics
  • The financial melt down and its relationship to the crisis of capitalism
  • The relationship between economic growth and household debt
  • The relationship between debt and growth
  • The cuts in public expenditure
  • The relationship between economic growth and capital accumulation

But I’ve yet to find anyone who is putting them all together, because they certainly do interconnect.
So here is my first attempt – done in the form of a set of theses or propositions.
As ever, comments, suggestions, counter-arguments and additions would be really helpful.

Theses on debt, economy and ecology

1.  Economic growth is unsustainable since it requires absolutely increasing material throughput.  This throughput creates devastating pollution of the ecosystem, most notably through greenhouse gas emissions.  It will also be constrained by resource limits.

2.  Economic growth is a result of capitalism, a system that requires the incessant expansion of capital.

3.  Capitalism is beset with recurrent internal crises.  It resolves these through fixes of various kinds including technological and spatial.

4.  Periodically capitalism moves into a mode of expansion characterised by the creation of speculative bubbles.  Most recently this has been seen in the hyper-development of finance capital relative to industrial capital.

5.  Since the 1970s there has been a downward pressure on wages.  The impact of this on consumption has been offset by the increase in household debt via easy credit.  It is the bundling of various forms of debt in ultimately unsustainable pyramids that has precipitated the collapse of the current financialisation phase of capitalism.

6.  States (which serve the interests of capital) have attempted three strategies to keep the motor of capital accumulation, and hence economic growth, running.  The first was the bail out of failing financial institutions – the transfer of public wealth to private finance capitalist firms.  The second was fiscal stimulus via cuts in interest rates and the printing of money.  Both these were funded by borrowing money via the issuing of government securities (gilts in the UK).  The third strategy has been to cut the government debt by cutting public spending and raising receipts, including taxes (themselves reduced through the reduction of economic activity in the recession).

7. This third strategy, by reducing incomes will further increase household debt (already three times government debt in the UK).

8.  By borrowing, and paying interest, households subsidise capital accumulation by increasing the level of purchases above the level of earnings paid by the capitalist economy.  This represents a third source of capital accumulation (the first is the theft of surplus labour, the second the theft of common assets).

9.  Therefore the economic crisis involves a restructure of the relations between public assets (public services, government spending, government debt), household debt, and private profit (for capital accumulation).  The crisis allows the state to re-stimulate capital accumulation and hence economic growth using a combination of rescue of banking services (and the availability of credit), fiscal stimulus of consumption and private borrowing.  Reduction of incomes through public sector cuts and economic recession is a necessary component of that strategy whereby short run reductions in demand are traded off against the longer term reinforcement of the accumulation engine.

10.  The economic crisis creates an opportunity to renovate the motor of capitalist accumulation and thereby restore economic growth.

11.  State strategies, whether in the form of bank rescue, fiscal stimulus or reduction of government debt, all damage the environment by restoring economic growth.

Mark Burton

Version 1.1

June 27, 2010