Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I work in a Business School: Shut down the Business School

Martin Parker (left) tells us in his new book, Shut Down the Business School (below right),  what we already know. We know that Business Schools are – to use that always unhelpful metaphor – cash cows – for universities the world over. They are a volume business in themselves. They also sell a product – the dream or aspiration of riches with the right formula learned at the Business School.

That definition of riches – or personal wealth – is a capitalist-managerialist one. It is one in which (let me turn this into a powerpoint presentation):

  • bosses boss and everyone else does as they are told;
  • bosses – managers – are worth more than the people who work for them (defined in salary and benefits/perks)
  • managers’ decisions are right (until they are not);
  • meeting or exceeding shareholder expectations is the purpose of firms;

Business Schools are multi-disciplinary – that is definitely a plus – and the aggregate business discipline is a social science. The disciplines, for Parker, are (pp 26-34):

  • Finance (always assuming that earning rent on capital is a legitimate and perhaps even praiseworthy activity, with skillful investors being lionized for their technical skills and success);
  • HRM (not particularly interested in what is like to be a human being);
  • Management information systems (premised on the sensible assumption that high-quality, relevant and timely information is necessary to make high-quality relevant and timely decisions, but agnostic about direction or context of the made decisions);
  • Operations management (aimed at shrinking time and space, and when successful destroys the local);
  • Accountancy (the production of different versions of the truth for different purposes);
  • Marketing (predicated on maximising the number and value of transactions within a given organisation, market or economy, promoting hyper-consumption);
  • Strategy (an attempt to predict the future and shape an organization in such a way that it profits most from what that future looks like).

Economists are spared character assassination, MBAs (the award and the award holders) are not, and there is not much that is good to be said about professional organisations such as Business School accreditation and Accountancy bodies. Government and regulators are also chastised and the universities obliquely for currying favour with them.

Of course, practitioners in these disciplines are likely to be unhappy with these characterisations. But Parker is trying to make a point and breaking a few eggs in the process. For whilst in each Business School there are scholars happily teaching to formula, many are not. He puts himself in the not category as a critical management theorist. These iconoclasts are generally tolerated in Business Schools. And successfully ignored, though their books and papers are, usually, counted in the compilations of league tables of excellence in publishing.

Where is this going?

This book follows the formula for the books that I currently read and review: tell a ghastly story of how it is, and then lead the reader to a new and enlightened future. For the Business School, Parker has a number of ideas. The marketisation of education has turned education into a product. The Business School then provides the customer – students, their parents – with what it thinks they want; namely, the formula for being a manager, creating wealth (for self and others) and “success” (judged against spurious measures).

Parker’s solution is a School for Organising; one that does not view organising and management as synonymous. There is no reason – as demonstrated in countries such as Germany – for workers and their representatives to be excluded from Executive Boards. There is no reason for firms to prioritise shareholders over employees, workers and community. There can be no justification for the raison d’etre of firms to be to externalise pollution and bring about the collapse of civilisation (which is the likely outcome of uncontrolled climate change). The “hollowed-out” state, as we witness currently (writing in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in the UK), has left citizens vulnerable to a virus for want of Personal Protective Equipment, the provision of which in the UK was outsourced and subject to minimal inventory control, something that the managers of the supply companies and the politicians, learned in Business Schools.

The new Business School asks “How can people come together to do stuff”? (p113). What are the alternative modes of organising, both political (for example, anarchy) and business (for example, co-operatives such as wholefood wholesaler, SUMA, pp116-119)? It is truly interdisciplinary – not just within the School’s disciplines, but external, too. Other faculties such the natural sciences and humanities (art and business are very good companions). For myself and my own writing (I am writing a strategy textbook, please get in touch if you want to read it), the natural sciences are the starting point of our business courses. The planetary boundaries are the starting point for organising, not an afterthought. It is the job of the new Business School to alert students to the possibility of alternative ways of organising, evaluation and making decisions.

The disciplines ridiculed earlier are repositioned. “Accountancy is no longer about finding and hiding profits” (p169), marketing works for the people who buy things, not those who sell; operations management correctly prices carbon and other pollutants against speed and price. Economists teach de-growth or reformulate GDP in human terms.

Parker is also aware of the dangers of setting up a School for Organising. Over time, it becomes its own Business School, packed with salaried professionals with pensions detached from the people who are subject to the School’s teachings. There is a need, he argues, for de-schooling (drawn from the work of Ivan Illich), a much more co-operative approach to learning – learning being the operative word. That said, there has to be room for study – a discipline, a task – without which more bad decisions get made. De-schooling to its natural conclusion of no School at all is no panacea. The Business School is politics and politics is about power and the control of resources. There is nothing, however, to say that what the Business School teaches has to be capitalist-managerialist.

Picture: University of Leicester

 

 

 

Food security in the UK – time to worry

Tim Lang (right), professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy, is the go-to person by the media when food policy and security make the headlines. He was a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme when it became clear that the UK faced food shortages in the event of a hard Brexit. Reading his latest book, Feeding Britain: our food problems and how to fix them, one can see the extent that he should host the show, not just contribute to it when the headlines demand. Food security in the UK is a big problem, and its fragility has much to do with British exceptionalism, a situation that, in the context of Brexit, is fast receding. This is the first book that I have read that actually makes a credible case for Brexit; it is not intended to do so and it is something that Lang stumbled upon rather than explicitly endorsed. More on that in a moment.

Feeding Britain is published by Pelican Books (below left), an imprint of Penguin/Random House, The imprint publishes work on hugely topical issues in accessible styles. In reading Lang, one senses the haste with which it was written. It is in no way sloppy, far from it, but Lang knows every reference whether it be a long-published academic article, government report or personal interaction. It has inspired me to get moving on my own work. It demonstrates what is possible from a life of accrued knowledge. There are 470 pages of text. Each one is a gem.  Each one leaves the reader out of breath.

Where to start? Actually, it is quite simple – some history basics. Britain’s imperial past is, to put it generously, chequered. It is, seemingly, the origin of the British thought, paraphrased here, that someone else will feed us, so we do not need to bother growing stuff ourselves. The growing is usually done by people in far-away lands, the rural poor, who receive a small fraction of the value of the product ascribed to it by end users, usually in the rich West. And even when fresh produce comes from near neighbours such as Spain, the back-breaking work is done by migrant labour often paid below minimum levels in the country, and affording them a lifestyle far short of that enjoyed by the beneficiaries of their labour. It also comes with a huge carbon footprint, a consequence of mono-culture and extensive transportation.

Coupled with the imperialism argument, the concentration of land ownership in the UK which started with the Enclosures of common land in the 17th and 18th Centuries; annexation of Church land under Henry VIII and more recently, enclosures arising from the privatisation of much of the public sector since 1980. Lang puts a figure on it – 189,000 families own 2/3 of UK land or one-half of England is owned by 25,000 people (p368). This is all made worse by the commodification of land – it is an investment, not a source of sustenance or habitat. 3,660 per cent is the figure by which land values have increased in the last 50 years. This means that, at the very least, it is difficult for small farmers to produce appropriately and sustainably. It forces tenants – and they usually are tenants – to use intensive methods to increase yield and further inflate the value. And on top of that, owners attract production subsidies from the EU – and post Brexit, presumably from UK taxpayers! (That mechanism is described in pages 370-7.)

Allied to the land ownership debate, Lang charts the changing percentage of income people spend on food vis-à-vis other things; notably, housing costs. The land owners, by this argument, not only enclose land and extract a high Gross Value Added from it (relative to the growers), they also own the properties in which the majority live. In extracting more from tenants, the margin has to be squeezed out of food prices (and by definition costs). Cheap food, argues Lang, is then equated with good food (not because it is nutritious, but because it seems to be good for someone else’s wealth). Moreover, the price of food rarely incorporates the externalised costs of production – environmental damage, health and society more generally such as life expectancy (which bad food shortens).

More positively, shortening supply chains would be a positive example of taking back control! And this is the Brexit argument. Though we know only too well, that Brexiters see the extension of food chains as being a Brexit benefit, and with it a reduction in quality, safety and increased insecurity, the UK no longer has the capability to defend those supply chains against hostile state actors or have the global influence to guarantee supply in time of scarcity, unlike in the imperial past. Security is also threatened by cyber attack on those supply chains, something that Lang believes is under appreciated within Government (and society more generally).

Lang argues that the National Minimum Wage or the National Living Wage needs to be re-calibrated to pay for, what he calls, sustainable diets. The factors above have been made worse – and particularly in the UK – by the population moving on to super-processed foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). Again, the costs of this are externalised (the National Health Service costs obesity alone as £6.5bn and a wider societal cost of £27bn – p207). Lang is adamant that an escalator tax on HFSS foods needs to be introduced. Pension funds, too, should divest from firms that manufacture HFSSs. Ad-spend (marketing is also disproportionate relative to health promotion, and it is targeted at children through social media. Lang also argues that the large supermarkets – singling out Tesco with its 30 per cent share of UK grocery market should be broken up.

Lang is not making an argument for growing out-of-seasonal foods in the UK in the middle of winter under lights and heat (even if

cattle

Source: Billy Hathorn

they had taste, which he clearly thinks such produce does not); that does not help the carbon footprint much. Rather, he is saying, that we have to grow more food in he UK (the country produces only 53 per cent of its own food) that is consumable directly and not, as seems to be true of much of arable farm produce in the UK, fed to animals, some of which like ruminants are hugely inefficient converters of plants into meat as well as huge greenhouse gas manufacturers. They fart. A lot. Land use is dominated by rearing and feeding animals. That very process, too, has an external cost that could be fatal in the future, antibiotic resistance as such valuable medicines are routinely fed to animals to retain “yields”.

There are also things about imported foods that I had not thought about. For example, we should not take water for granted, even though the UK is temperate and generally wet. If we import food from countries that are short of water, but whose products are full of it (fruit, vegetables, etc.), there is a net imbalance and a cost to the growing country and its people, nothwithstanding their foreign earning from the produce (often imported by air). Huge volumes of water are in foodstuffs that we do not anticipate, such as rice. Lang’s section on water imperialism is a must-read, pp225-44.

illustration

Cornish Aromatic apples (source: Brogdale)

Lang highlights that the UK produces so little of its own fruit. Whilst many exotic soft fruits are not viable in the UK, apples, pears and berries are eminently feasible and desirable. The population does not get anywhere near 5-a-day fruit and vegetable consumption (which seems truly bizarre and frightening at the same time). On horticulture, in 1950, there were 3000 apple growers in the UK, by the mid-1990s there were 800. Government grubbing regulations facilitated the destruction of orchards through subsidy! (p91). Lang contrasts the UK case with France where small growers and cooperatives are significant suppliers (the cooperatives provide the scale). Scale in the UK is provided by very large and concentrated growers and importers.

Finally, there is an important role for education, not only in terms of teaching children about food, its origins, how to grow it (sustainably), and how to cook primary ingredients, but also in what children are fed at school. Diet regulations for school meals, argues Lang, need to be universal, not just in the poorest, most regulated schools.

OK, I’ve done some hard work on the reading; it is time for us all to do some hard work in changing the way food is understood, used as a political tool, traded and prepared.

 

 

Pillar boxes and buses

On 21 March I uploaded my first pictures from my new project, Pillar Boxes and Buses. So, the challenge is, photograph UK pillar boxes with the added challenge of getting a bus, preferably one that is moving, inpillarbox the frame, too. My latest reel of film came back today with mixed results. First is a curious box – it is actually embedded into a gatepost of one of the large houses on Marina, in St Leonard’s on Sea, Sussex. Currently there is one bus per hour in each direction on the 99 route. The shot has the added complication of lots of parked cars and scaffolding. The results are not great (right) but I’ll be back with a faster film that should help with the depth of view (50mm lens, 200asa film and shutter speed of 250th sec f11; 2 April 2020 at 1830). The bus is a ADL Enviro200. The Stagecoach Hastings fleet can be found here.

pillar boxMoving on to Rock-a-nore in Hastings. This one (left) is a free standing GR VI box taken on 21 March in the early evening. There was just not enough light to get the shutter speed fast enough to catch the bus, but actually the motion is quite good. The bus in question was a ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery).

 

 

Then on to a box that has been intriguing me for a few days. It is located on Hastings Road in Bexhill close to the Ravensdale trading estate. What is so wonderful about this box is that at a certain time in the day, the sun illuminates it like a spotlight on a performer in a theatre. So, to do it justice I needed a sunny evening and no one really in the way (it is popular with joggers, though I am not sure why. This effort (top right) dates from 24 April at 1845, again with a shutter speed of 250th second, f11, film speed 200 asa. The two additional shots are taken at the same time on the two subsequent evenings. pillar boxpillarpillar
pillar box Next is me revisiting the relatively small free-standing box outside the now dis-used post office on Cambridge Road in Hastings As noted in my earlier entry in November, it serves as a reminder of how post offices are being assimilated into more traditional retail outlets – for better or worse. Anyway, here it is with a bus in the background which I take to be a Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400!
Still in Hastings, this is Queen’s Road, a central loading area opposite Priory Meadow Mall. The box is classic ER Type B. The buses, Scania N230UD ADL Enviro400 (double decker) and ADL Enviro200 (Hastings Arrows livery). pillar
pillar I work in Brighton, and the bus-pillar box opportunities there are substantial. This is the Avenue off Lewes Road in the North East of the town. The box is a classic GR example. The bus is a Volvo Wright Gemini B9TL DP43/28F Built 2013.  Anyone interested in the B&H fleet should go here.

I have a bit of research to do on my pillar boxes now. Some have design names, others seem not to. If I am going to do this right, I need to be adequately informed.

How capital took on labour and gave us climate change in 400 pages

 

Back in 1989 when I was a student, I took a “course”, as they were called then, entitled Political Sociology. I took it because the other options were over-subscribed. I don’t know whether it was because I was not favoured that particular year and simply did not make the cut for other courses, or whether someone unbeknownst to me, concluded that Political Sociology was just what I needed. If the latter is correct, whoever it was, thank you. Without it I would not/never have read Stuart Clegg’s phenomenal book, Framworks of Power (left). There were 10 weeks of seminars (no lectures) and, each week, I or one of my peers would lead a chapter. Under normal circumstances, this would have been quite straightforward, but this book is tough going. Really tough going. Each chapter, I recall, took about 7 or 8 hours to get anywhere near understanding. Clegg was mischievous, he knew how difficult he had written it. He knew that students like myself would be required to read it. It is that requirement that meant that one had to persevere. The seminar leader was uncompromising on that, thankfully. The rewards for completion and assimilation were immense.

And so it is with Andreas Malm’s, Fossil Capital (right). This book takes no hostages. Its 400 pages are some of the most uncompromising prose. Malm is not in a hurry; and the reader is not invited to be in a hurry either. To be so would result in a less-than satisfactory outcome. It lends itself to being the subject of a “course” with 10 weeks of study. I am not sure that happens anymore. Malm’s book is basically in three parts. The first section is a history of the machinery that delivered the industrial revolution in Britain. The machinery was powered by coal (steam generation) – the reasons for that “prime mover” makes up 250 of the 400 pages. The second section is philosophical – Malm applies an essentially Marxist analysis (about 80 pages) to get to the nub of the cause. The third section is Malm conceding a certain pessimism about the future; about humanity’s ability to get out of this mess. Verso, the publisher, was, apparently, committed to the project. They must have because had they not been, an editor would have cut by a third, if not more. That would have been a shame because the detail, often repeated, assists with the final analysis.

Prime Movers in the industrial revolution – water or steam

The detail is awesome. Malm’s account of the work of Robert Thom’s water projects, the pinnacle of which was

Greenock Cut sluice building

the Greenock Reservoir and its 6-mile long acqueduct (the Cut). Much space is given over to Thom and his projects in order to demonstrate how water as a “prime mover” – with imaginative and skilled civil engineers at the helm – could have provided all of the power needed by the textile industry. That was not the purpose of the Greenock reservoir, but the engineering that delivered water to the town could also deliver water to mills, turning wheels to power spinners inside factories. In fact, the Greenock project offered 1666hp as a basis for a “vibrant” – probably sustainable – cotton industry around the town. (It was calculated that mills could share this power, each with 50hp – the average from steam at that time was 29hp.) The potential was never realised and the reasons clear.

First, flowing water was a shared resource. It was a commons – it could not be owned, only managed. The mill owners simply could not co-operate to provide the necessary investment and also self-regulate. Some sites were better than others; the less-well served sites would require other users to regulate their own consumption to maximise the utility of the resource on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Plans for developing the River Irwell in Lancashire ultimately foundered here. Other schemes were unable to get parliamentary approval not least because cotton industrialists were well represented in the House of Commons.

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire

Second, labour militancy and mobility. On the latter, water mills were located along river courses outside of main towns and cities, such as Manchester. In order fully to attract and maintain a workforce, mill owners had to provide additional resources such as housing, education, leisure and places of worship. There are exemplars – Richard Arkwright’s so-called colony in Cromford, Derbyshire and Finlay’s in Catrine, Ayrshire, for example. Colonies had their issues, but they provided sanitary conditions for employees and their families. The benevolence was not always appreciated and workers often “absented” themselves which resulted in owners taking on “unfree” workers – nothing short of slave labour, that was dispensed with after 10 years’ of indentured service. The apprentices were recruited from the age of 12 and often came from workhouses. The colonies also bred labour militancy – wages were going down and work rates increasing. In March 1830 there was a definitive and violent strike in Arkwright’s New Eagely Mill.

The Apprentice House, Quarry Bank Mill

Where capital is not mobile, it is not optimised. Whilst coal needed for the steam engines that drove the spinning machines was expensive relative to water, it was mobile. It could be deployed in major towns and cities relinquishing the need for additional “colony” investment. It could be controlled and managed by individuals – the owners themselves. Labour was also eminently more controllable. With no colony commitments, costs were managed. Coal was expensive to transport so mills and mines were often co-located (e.g. Wigan, Oldham, Ashton).

Steam engine,_Nortonthorpe Mills, Scissett

Come the legal curtailment of the the working day in the Factory Acts of 1833 and 1844, whilst consistently violated by mill owners, eventually capital substituted machines for labour and intensified the work of those remaining (easier to do with steam than water). Though this new intensity often led to steam engines exploding! Resistance was inevitable and the targets were the steam engines (whose plugs were pulled releasing the water) and the coal mines. The resistance movement is usually remembered as that of the Chartists seeking representation (of men) in the Parliament. From 7 August 1842 increasing numbers marched through the mill towns pulling the plugs on steam engines (seemingly more damage than that was done to mills). There was little resistance.

The ability of strikers to maintain their action was, however, tempered by two factors: hunger and the intervention of the state. The army was deployed on 14 August in the mill towns enabling the mill owners to re-insert the plugs and restart their engines. Malm notes that some 15000 “[S]trike leaders and Chartist agitators were nabbed in batches” (p235). Perpetrators were imprisoned, some were transported (to foreign colonies); meanwhile, damaging or sabotaging coal mines was made a capital offence leading to the execution of textile workers.

Explaining why steam

Andreas Malm

Malm’s logic circuits are never opaque. When one finally reaches (p255) his analysis chapters, there are no great surprises. What is a surprise – though I have no idea why I am surprised – is the lengths that he goes to to eliminate independent variables as causes of steam/fossil over water as industry’s prime mover. It is clear already that Malm points the finger at capital’s control over labour. Malm, however, has to deal with the arguments from others such that coal was a means for humans to realise the natural inclination towards growth and overcoming a dependence on nature for life. He refers to this as the Rickardian-Malthusian explanation. Growth using fossil fuels was always latent, it just needed the right moment to flourish, goes the argument. He concludes that this is rather circular: “The shift to fossil fuels is explained by the impossibility of self-sustaining growth without them, the onset of self-sustaining growth by the shift to fossil fuels.” (p259) Step-by-step Malm takes away competing theories leaving one only: capital. At the heart of capital is ownership – property rights, rentierism. The crown privatised land and minerals below it in the 1570s – the so-called Elizabethen leap – leading to further enclosure of the commons. Granting of mineral rights lead to the commodification of coal.

Comparative advantage – globalisation of capital

Environmental Kuznets Curve

The Kuznets Curve (right) posits that as populations get richer, pollution – and greenhouse gas emissions – declines. Whilst the initial growth is dirty when incomes are low, the environment is cleaned up as incomes grow. Malm points out, however, that the Kuznets curve is only “true” if capital is static. The rising incomes are geographically specific. However, capital moves usually as Foreign Direct Investment. Generally it moves to where incomes are low (drawing on comparative advantage). An element of the comparative advantage, argues Malm, is carbon emissions. Firms relocate their dirtiest activities to countries with low incomes in order to externalise their emissions. Those emissions are then not counted against emissions for the firm’s host country or the consumer’s. Significantly, Malm writes: “In 2001, China entered the WTO, dismantled the remaining barriers to investment, abolished restrictions on foreign ownership, relaxed requirements on local cooperation and, in general, flung the gates wide open: then the real explosion began.” (p331). The western world externalised CO2 emissions to China in exchange for unimaginable growth in GDP. The Kuznets Curve is reversed. Rising incomes lead to fresh waves of capital mobility and more environmental degradation geographically dispersed.

Fossil fuels always win out against renewables

In 2006 Shell sold its solar subsidiary. By 2013 BP had exited the solar business, too. The margins were insignificant and the electrical energy generated were too cheap to make the necessary profits. For as long as oil had a market price, company boards look to focus on maximising earnings, not contributing to climate change mitigation – which is perhaps what the solar industry had become. Oil and coal still have healthy market prices for a number of reasons: when countries like China are looking to industrialise fast, they turn to coal to produce the electricity for the factories. Not to renewables. Coal and oil are commodities. They are tradable and they themselves have an exchange value in the chain or flow of production. They are commodity inputs that add value and require considerable capital deployed on which numerous other stakeholders benefit – from banks, pension funds and other industrialists. Moreover, the assets are long-lived. Coal-fired power stations coming on line now will produce electricity for 50 years or so; and for some of that time, they will produce electricity at high margins once the debt has been serviced.

Those with vested interests in fossil fuels do not necessarily deny human-induced climate change, rather they advocate a technical solution rather than a social and structural one. Bill Gates (right), notes Malm, is one of the biggest global investors in geoengineering research. He owns shares in a venture that seeks to put sulphates into the higher atmosphere to reflect away the sun and cool the planet. This technology has dramatic side-effects and has to be administered yearly. Sulphates “deplete the ozone layer, upset precipitation patterns, possibly shut down the Asian monsoon, disrupt photosynthetic productivity, whiten the sky, tinker with the balance between day and night as well as winter and summer, contribute to thousands of air pollution deaths per year…lower the efficiency of solar panels by diluting the sunlight”. (p387) Other geoengineering options include carbon capture and something to do with mirrors!

That leads to a further challenge – and it is the same problem that besets attempts at carbon mitigation; namely, global coordination. Humanity simply cannot do it. The current incumbent of the Whitehouse sees the world in zero-sum terms: winner takes all. No politician is willing or able to countenance the structural changes necessary to bring about the scale of change needed. I write this whilst in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown in the UK. The UK Government was not even willing to join with EU member states to procure PPE for health service workers, let alone coordinate global climate mitigation. Indeed, the pandemic has shown us only too well how incapable the international community is to work for some kind of global good that does not confer advantage, and that facilitates a transfer of wealth from the rich to poorer, even if such a transfer is it own interests (rich countries, that is). Consumers, too, are complicit, especially those of us in those rich countries. Are we prepared to consume less, or are we, too, looking for the technological fix that enables business-as-usual? We seem to be prepared to wait and see what Bill Gates comes up with. There’s a 10-week course in there somewhere.

Pictures:

Greenock Cut: Dave souza

Quarry Bank Mill:  Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)

Apprentice House: Peter Fuller

Steam Engine: Chris Allen / Steam engine, Nortonthorpe Mills, Scissett

Andreas Malm: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/292496.Andreas_Malm

Environmental Kuznets Curve: Kjeffreytaylor

Bill Gates: DFID – UK Department for International Development

 

Climate Watch: update on airlines

As predicted, the airline industry is now trying to wriggle out of its commitments on carbon emissions and climate change. Only last month, the industry agreed a protocol whereby airlines would pay to increase carbon emissions (through offsetting) based on some sort of average for 2019 and 2020. As we now know, 2020 will be a record low carbon year, and the airlines, many of which have all planes grounded because of Covid-19, are now saying that committing to this new level would make them bankrupt, notwithstanding that many of them are already.

To be fair, the industry body, ICAO, has not yet shifted, but it is being lobbied hard – understandably – by airlines to re-evaluate the threshold. Seemingly, it was already going to cost the industry between £4bn and £18bn (not much of a difference there, is there?) – which just goes to show how much more carbon they intended to put into the environment on growth projections (now, of course, unlikely).

And then there is easyJet. Readers may already have been following the story of how founder and major shareholder, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, wants the firm to cancel its order for 107 Airbus A320 Neos, planes that are necessary if easyJet is to meet its targets for carbon reduction. However, for Haji-Ioannou, that is no longer viable. By which he means under the current easyJet and industry business model and not under an ICAO – or other – environmental commitment. At what point does he smell the coffee?

Pic: Adrian Pingstone

Climate watch: watch the airlines wriggle

The airline industry thought it was being clever. Its pledge on climate change engineered by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) – bizarrely a specialized agency of the UN – was to commit to not breaching carbon emissions above the averages for 2019 and 2020. Any increases would be paid for in carbon offsets by the offending airline. But of course the current year, had it gone according to plan, would have been a record year for aviation. Now with most planes on the ground indefinitely, the committed target will be really really low. So, yes, let’s embrace it.

Shareholders against the planet – knowingly or unknowingly

Stelios Haji-Ioannou (right) is founder and major shareholder (about 34 per cent) in easyJet, the budget airline. When he established the airline that challenged incumbent “full-service” airlines back in 1995, climate change was not well understood in business circles (though as we know, the science was maturing and the Earth summit had taken place 3 years’ earlier in Rio). Easyjet is now a very large airline with over 300 aircraft and a market capitalisation of £4bn.

In recent times airlines have become environmental villains responsible for almost 3 per cent of all carbon emissions (and about 12 per cent of all emissions from transport). The low-cost model of easyJet and others has encouraged travel and made it possible to commute over long distances. This has been regarded as a good thing economically. A global pandemic, however, sees airlines at the forefront of a new battle against another invisible enemy, Covid-19. That market capitalisation has collapsed, and the 300 aircraft grounded indefinitely. Easyjet – along with other airlines – may well seek state aid to support the business through the crisis.

The question of state aid for airlines – major contributors to climate emissions and hence climate change – puts the Government in a difficult position. Neo-Liberal Governments like that in the UK are generally opposed to state support. Indeed they do not even protect strategic industries and businesses from foreign buyers. So any support eventually given to scheduled airlines serving a free market (I accept that some airlines serve niche, fragile and social markets such as Logan Air) will challenge neo-liberal ideology and raise questions about ministers’ proximity to business leaders in the industry. Cash transfers to easyJet would lead to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic receiving similar. That would be difficult to countenance.

The management at easyJet now has an added problem. Knowing full well that their industry is a problem in the carbon economy, there are two – what one calls – mitigating policies. One is more effective that the other, but neither are a solution. The first is offsetting; in the easyJet case, that involves committing to planting trees, though there are many offset schemes that involve investing in developing countries’ own mitigation policies. The second is buying a fleet of more efficient aeroplanes. Easyjet has opted for a fleet of Airbus A320 Neos and they are arriving in batches.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou is not, seemingly, very happy with this. He is now calling for the whole order to be cancelled. He believes, with some justification, seemingly, that the order threatens the solvency of the company. Moreover, as Nils Pratley in the Guardian writes, the company may need to be recapitalised: “Haji-Ioannou says he would support a rights issue – as he should given that his family has collected £620m in dividends since 2011, including £60m this month – but he is vowing to make his backing dependent on an Airbus cancellation. Given the size of his shareholding, he has some clout.”

So here is the conflict of capitalism laid bare. Without the new planes the company will see carbon emissions increase and probably be subject to some regulation or tax (or both). The company will also lose considerable customer credibility on anything it says in the future about caring for the environment. But with the planes, at best shareholders will have to recapitalise, at worst, the company goes under. Plus, very rich man determines the future of the planet. Which side are you on?

Picture: Audiopedia

Climate Watch: the EU’s Climate Law

The new EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyan, and her deputy, Frans Timmermans (left), are championing climate change. There is a Green Deal for Europe which will facilitate the creation of a sustainable new growth model. The Deal’s critics range from activists like Greta Thunberg and climate scientists Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Van Ypersele argues that the deal does not seek to keep temperatures below the 1.5 degrees agreed at Paris in 2015. Indeed, he argued, that the EU should be pushing for carbon neutrality by 2040 rather than 2050.

With that in mind, how do we explain the EU’s lack of ambition, for want of a better term? Could it be the fossil-fuel lobby? Aude Massiot, writing in the Guardian, has identified the lobbyists and their targets, and they are uncomfortably close to one another. Guido Bortoni, Croatia’s environment minister, current holder of the EU presidency, goes to his mailbox and finds a dinner invitation from MEPs part of the European Energy Forum (EEF), headed by Jerzy Buzek (right), a MEP for the European People’s party (EPP). He’s a former prime minister of Poland, a former president of the European parliament and chairs the industry research and energy committee. The forum has associate membership – with a €7,000 a year in membership fee. There are 82 of these all from the oil and gas sector. And dinner is sponsored by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). No journalists, no NGOs. The IOGP’s access is seamless. On 17 December it met Ditte Juul Jorgensen, the head of DG Energy; though seemingly other EU directorates are equally accessible.

Prior to this dinner IOGP spent €350,160 in 2018 lobbying in Brussels. The real lobby costs are much higher, perhaps as much as €250m. Thinktanks are common vehicles for influencing legislation. In this case the favoured thinktank was the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Lobby breakfasts have been attended by key policy makers such as Timmermans who is directly responsible for the composition of the law. Moreover, the lobbyists often have accreditation to the European Parliament building. Also watch out for this year’s Eurogas conference on 19 March in Brussels; the keynote speaker will be Kadri Simson (above left), the energy commissioner. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the industry.

Massiot calls this “revolving doors”. Former officials of the EU becoming lobbyists and vice-versa; for example, Jean-Arnold Vinois (below right) is energy policy adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute. Delors, for course, was a former EC president and so the thinktank that bears his name seems to be respectable enough. However, Vinois is also an honorary director for energy at the commission and a consultant at FleishmanHillard, another Brussels-based lobby organisation. FeeishmanHillard has an interesting customer portfolio; including, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Gas Naturally and Fuels Europe all rather interested in keeping things just as they are.

For readers looking for indicators of scepticism and keeping things as they are, any firm or lobbyist suggesting the carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a solution, should be a clue. CCS has potential, no doubt. But it is only potential and has insufficient capacity and scalability to make much of an impression in carbon emission totals towards 2030. Eurogas is, notes Massiot, working closely with the Global CCS Institute to promote the technology and conceivably divert resources away from reducing carbon emissions toward an unproven and unrealisable technological fix. The fix is simple: reduce carbon emissions, keep fossil fuels in the ground, consume less and stop deforestation and promote reforestation.

Pictures: Timmermans, European Parliament from EU

Jerzy Buzek, Euku – Own work

Kadri Simson – subject’s own work, Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kadri_Simson#/media/File:Kadri_Simson_2017-05-25_(cropped).jpg

Jean-Arnold Vinois – screen grab from youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tu3S7FW-2iw

 

 

 

 

Onshore wind turbines again supported by the British Government

Out of the blue – at least for me – comes the news that the British Government is lifting its opposition to subsidising onshore wind turbines in support of meeting carbon emission targets. In order to meet those targets, it is estimated that onshore wind turbines will need to triple in number in the next 15 years. Wind turbines are unloved by Conservatives but are the cheapest and cleanest source of renewable energy. Whilst projects can now compete for funding against other renewable sources, it is not clear how the planning system will accommodate the change.

Picture: Erik Wilde from Berkeley, CA, USA – harvesting wind

Darning socks

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to knit my socks. I did think it was very uncool to wear knitted socks. Even worse, when a hole appeared, my mother darned the hole. My feet were always warm. And as a child, sartoriality was not much of a factor.

Today I have darned my own socks. Two motivations; first, the environment. It the past, holes such as those (left) would have warranted disposal. Against the backdrop of climate change, darning them is now just another one of those Sunday tasks. Second, I am on strike. This is knocking quite a hole in my finances. Repairing saves money. And quite a bit. It is not just about buying another pair of socks. I do not think I ever go to the shop and buy only what I intended to buy. The solution is not to go to the shops at all!