Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Makers and Takers, review

There I am in the bookshop and the owner offers me Rana Foroohar’s lastest book, Don’t be Evil..., about the inherently evil Big Tech. He detects my interest, but not quite in this book at this moment. Then he reaches for Foroohar’s earlier work from 2016, Makers and Takers. In true Douglas Adams style I bought it because it was slightly cheaper, but unlike the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it did not have a reassuring title (Don’t Panic). Indeed, this book’s subtitle, How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street, could actually be re-titled, Panic. It is that troubling.

How does this book fit into my current reading? Regular readers know that climate change is occupying my thoughts at the moment, indeed my current reading (right) is shockingly pertinent (also used by my bookseller to cause an exchange of money from me to him). The finance industry is both a cause and solution to the climate crisis. To understand how it might solve the crisis, it is worth knowing – or at least reminding oneself – about the dark side of finance. How, despite the financial crisis of 2008, in Jarvis Cocker’s words, The cunts are still running the world. And indeed, ruining it.

This is a gripping book. I know most of the story, but here it is nicely sewn together. Essentially as a Financial Times journalist – unusually so – Foroohar has been a chronicler of the story in bite-sized chunks, in real time. She reminds us about the banking industry’s original functional purpose for capitalism, to provide the funds for investment in the productive economy. She takes us through the deregulation of the industry in both the USA and the UK that crucially broke the separation of boring, low-return retail and business banking and lending and the riskier investment, speculative and hedging activities. Moreover, the central banks in those countries are both lenders of last resort (always reassuring when engaged in risky trading), regulators and, in tandem with the state, secure a compliant civil society and the system of law that favours capital over labour.

Wall Street is also complicit in the financialisation of business. Faroohar reminds us how large firms avoid tax by offshoring their earnings abroad; how they increase the value of their firms by share buy-backs financed by lending (for example, Apple) at the expense of innovation in product and services; and how the executives of these firms remunerate themselves not on the basis of salary like their employees, but rather by shares attracting capital gains tax rather than income tax. This provides the incentive to inflate the value of the firm independent of its products. Here Faroohar cites the case of Pfizer, so desperately short of innovative products, but rich nonetheless.

We see how the finance industry thrives on private and public debt, itself fuelled by low interest rates. The lower the interest rates, the more lending (and hence money generation) becomes feasible. The lower the interest rates, the more money there is to buy property which squeezes out of property ownership a good percentage of private citizens – or at least gets them to overstretch themselves in pursuit of loans. And when whole neighbourhoods become bankrupt, the finance sector provides the money for equity funds to buy up swathes of cheap properties, rent them out, often supported by the state and tax payers, and take rather than make.

The finance sector steals our pensions, ensures the high price of commodities, including essential foodstuffs. And, particularly in the USA, personnel enjoy the revolving door between Government and Banking and vice versa, over and over again. We see how the banks, private equity, and their customers monetise public goods like research and development executed in publicly-funded universities and research centres but privatise the benefits. By offshoring their profits, they return only a fraction of the value generated to source.

Where does the environment come into this? The climate crisis that is ramping up can be still solved by investing in zero carbon technologies, infrastructures, public procurement, education and lifestyle changes. It does not. The finance sector has become an end in itself rather than the means by which an economy can be radically changed in a relatively short space of time. Not only do they not lead in investment in green technology, but they actively lobby against it. And because of the revolving door, a bubble is generated whereby business-as-usual – that is, making money – remains the priority. Challenging this is the struggle of the century. And if we do not win it, the climate will change. Badly.

UK General Election, 2019

Back in 1983 I recall the disappointment of seeing the Labour Party under the (then) EC-sceptic, Michael Foot, heavily defeated in the polls. I admired Foot’s intellectualism, but his programme – once billed as the “longest suicide note in history” – was too backward looking. The past it referred to was never going to cut it. My early 20s, then, were haunted by Thatcher “reforms”. It seemed like every evening I came home from work and listened to the radio some new regressive policy was being announced by some ugly minister. In particular, Nicholas Ridley and Norman Tebbit. But there were more ugly ministers than them.

Finally, in 1997, the egregious Tory Governments imploded and the fresh Tony Blair led Labour to victory. Many of us had hoped to see John Smith as a Labour Prime Minister; but his sudden death on 24 May 1994 – I shed a rare tear on hearing the news – paved the way for Blairism. Blair was elected on a platform to accept the early Thatcher neo-liberal “consensus”; for example, not rolling back anti-trade union law. Indeed, the Labour Government furthered the project. In not putting a check on many of the Thatcher excesses, it made it very easy for Cameron to take over in 2010 where Thatcher and Major left off. Even worse, in deregulating financial services, a Labour Government enabled the financial crisis of 2008 and the wicked austerity that followed, the Brexit referendum, and now, with the election of a majority Conservative Government packed with characters that would make Thatcher’s Cabinets blush, an assault on all public services, institutions and the fragile constitution that so outmaneuvered May and Johnson as they attempted to get dodgy legislation through the Parliament in the face of far smarter people than themselves – here I think of Dominic Grieve and Hilary Benn, but again, there were others.

I’m not going to reflect further at this point. At a personal level, where we are now is quite the most frightful and positively scary place we could be. A demagogue now sits on a very large majority who can – and will – do what he wants. In the face of a climate emergency where every month counts, I am particularly concerned. But as I have written before, democracy is a process, not an event. I am part of the process.  Come with me.

Al Gore – What if

By Erik Charlton from Menlo Park, USA

When I am home alone, I usually eat with some video accompaniment. At the moment that is dominated by Trump’s impeachment hearings and the commentaries by Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah. Meyers has his near-daily, ten minute “Closer Look” monologue (search through Youtube). Funny, interesting, intelligent. And when it ends, the algorithm directs me to more of the show which is quite show-biz focused. Not my bag. Last night, however, it took me to clips of him interviewing Al Gore, the former US Vice President who almost became President in 2000. We got Bush instead. In light of my previous reading of Rob Hopkins’ book, What if? What if? But we are where we are.

OK, it seems that I’m now bingeing on Al Gore. Back in 2008 he did a TED talk. I watched it this morning over my lonely breakfast. Two observations to share with my readers. First, When Gore was VP, he had to deal with conflicts which he classified as local, regional and global/strategic. Each level requires different skills, organisational forms and resource allocation. This is the essence of decision, to reference the title of Graham T. Allison’s famous book. Environmental issues, argues Gore, fit into three categories, too. Climate change, however, is global/strategic. That means global organisational forms, global resource allocation and a pooling of skills and knowledge.

Second, investments in tar sands and shale oil are “sub-prime carbon assets”. Remember, this was just at the time of the financial crisis. On reflection, he is wrong. Sub-prime mortgages nearly brought down the the global economy; in the end it enriched those who had caused the crisis. No bankers went to prison, austerity was inflicted on the victims of the crimes not the perpetrators. The bankers were rewarded with positions in Government (Trump administration, for example). By contrast, climate change will bring down civilisation. Those investing in the extraction of carbon from the earth and burning it will not be rewarded this time around. Economics is within our control, it is a human construct. Climate change is physics. We’ve got 10 years. We’ve got the technology.

In the UK there is a general election next month. Let us start there. Let us make GE 2019 the climate election, not the Brexit election.

Post script: Gore says, I paraphrase, let us make it that in the future great orchestras, poets, playwrites are able to create their art with the knowledge that the current generation of leaders did indeed do the right thing.

Hopkins on imagination and What If?

I’ve been working my way through Hopkins’ book (left) over the last few days. It has left me thoughtful. As readers already know, this book prompted me to end my addiction to Twitter – without which I would currently be reading tweets rather than writing and reflecting.

But what is “what if”? It is predicated largely on the realisation that things have to change. There is one thing the climate emergency absolutely forces us to do, that is to conceive of a climate catastrophe. We cannot avoid it. It makes “what iffing” so much easier. We can get roads closed – albeit temporarily – and turn them into green spaces, play areas, spaces to meet, discuss, choose, decide. This is what happened in Tooting High Street in London, the bus terminus turning circle, was closed on Sunday in July 2017; the A259 trunk road through Hastings, where I live, was closed for a day in September 2019 and transformed into a music stage, a bicycle repair workshop, an arena for a wheelie competition and a  political discussion and debating area, amongst other things.

“What if every university declared a climate emergency and all of its courses were taught through that lens? What if we created a fossil-fuel-free energy system within 20 years? What if every new house built generated more energy than it consumed? What if urban agriculture became utterly common place? What if our cities became huge biodiversity reserves? What if single-use plastics were something we only saw in museums?” Schools are perhaps more aware of climate change than are universities, but they maintain a pedagogy that, according to Hopkins, suppresses imagination in their forced pursuit of grades, regulatory approval and attendant rankings.

Hopkins takes us to various places where examples help with our often depressed imaginations: Totnes in Devon (not so revealing); Liège in Belgium (ever so revealing). Liège, a city I pass through frequently on my way to Munich by train, set itself a challenge back in 2013 to create the means to grow the majority of the City’s food on the land in the immediate surrounding area. Liège now has mass co-operative food projects, vineyards, organic mushroom growing off coffee waste, a brewery, sustainable distribution and restaurants. There is a Co-operative of Co-operatives that has political and economic bargaining power. What if?

The book is not just about climate change. Readers are asked to consider wider issues mediated through liberated imagination,  but that itself requires major structural changes to education and the reversal of trends against art in schools. Unrestricted play – play of the imagination, unmediated by technology – argues Hopkins, needs to start in school and migrate to the workplace and community.

Another major inhibitor of “what if-ism” is our own health. Modern life is stressful and society itself is plagued by anxiety and deeper mental health issues. These block imagination in a way, perhaps, that is functional for the economic and political forces of inertia that at best shape our lives, at worst, destroy our humanity and with it the environment that sustains us. But stress is also a chemical process that impacts on the Hippocampus – our “hub of memory” in the brain. We damage it at our peril, affecting both long- and short-term memory. It is the interaction between the two, notes Hopkins, that facilitates imagination – and with it, future scenarios.

Then there is nature; actually, we are at our least stressed when with trees and listening to birdsong, it seems. From my own experience, I know my own blood pressure is reduced by contact with nature. Here in Hastings, a walk along the beach is only matched by half a bottle of wine in efficacy. One of these is healthier and indeed cheaper than the other. This realisation makes the transformation of our towns and cities into green zones logical and politically feasible: parks, playing fields, city farms, swimming pools and gardens are all exploitable in this respect.

We have a general election imminently in the UK. There are rumblings of alternative models – the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, was laughed at when he suggested that we should work only for four days per week rather than five, despite there being plenty of evidence that such working arrangements do not come at the expense of productivity. Working longer does not benefit society. To be laughed at over this is bizarre. The PM, Boris Johnson, was laughed at when he claimed trust was important in government and society. That I can more understand as a response.

We have to get smart.

 

My current climate change reading

I have been writing some short entries on my LinkedIn page recently. I thought it might be worth adding them to this blog.

  1. One of the issues with climate change is that we are finding that the estimates of, say, the rate of glacier melt, ice sheet loss, etc. is greater than we anticipated. This gives deniers the opportunity to say that the science is wrong. Why do scientists get the estimates wrong? A recent scientific American blog (https://lnkd.in/eP4k_k8) offers an insight into this. In a nutshell, there are different groups working on the estimates. “Consider a case in which most scientists think that the correct answer to a question is in the range 1–10, but some believe that it could be as high as 100. In such a case, everyone will agree that it is at least 1–10, but not everyone will agree that it could be as high as 100. Therefore, the area of agreement is 1–10, and this is reported as the consensus view.” The consequence is that if the few researchers estimating on or near to 100 are actually correct, their estimates are not reported. Instead, the consensus view is taken as a correct estimate rather than one that itself is subject to some error and judgement rather than as fact. Scientists make judgements on the basis of data; some may feel, understandably, that there are insufficient data to shorten the estimates. Essentially more work is needed. In the meantime, the ice melts.
  2. Furrer et al Business & Society (2012) 51(1). surveyed banks to investigate the concept of decoupling, the process by which firms enact policy relating to a theme or topic, but do not sufficiently integrate it into the core business, such that it is rendered non-strategic. The identify three types of bank in the context of climate change – hesitators (they have a policy but do not do much beyond buying electricity on a green tarrif, but are the majority); Product Innovators (products are linked to environmental impact of investments, but are not linked into the value creation of the bank); Process Developers (have created inimitable climate-sensitive processes and products that potentially give competitive advantage, but still insufficiently developed in the value creating activities of the bank), Forerunners (integration of climate-sensitive products into the banks’s value-creation processes). Interestingly forerunners are the bigger global banks. There does not seem, in any statistically significant way, to be a link between local environmental imperatives and flexibility in the banks’ policies, suggesting that all policy is set centrally, probably globally. This might explain why European banks may not sell services around emissions trading for their clients.
  3. Böhm, Misoczky and Moog (2012) Organization Studies, 33(11) have another look at carbon markets. As suggested in earlier posts, carbon trading was pushed in Europe by the British partly because of a distinct possibility that some firms, like airlines, could make money out of the trading process. Böhm et al consider emissions trading between members of economic blocs (the EU) and between nations of the North and South both (the formal Clean Development Mechanism and the informal Voluntary Offset Market). Their conclusion – in line with the work of Newell and Paterson (2010) – all of these initiatives constitute climate capitalism which enables firms and elites further to accumulate, find new markets and exploit the poor (polluting, land accumulation, etc.). They are badly – or corruptly – regulated and are manifested in, often, unrecognisably-green large capital projects. Essentially, emissions trading is not a viable regulator of carbon production in its current form. The question is, can it be reformed or is Green Capitalism an oxymoron?
  4. Continuing on my informal literature review on business management and sustainability, yesterday I read a couple of papers. The first by Natalie Slawinski and Pratima Bansal, “A matter of time: the temporal perspectives of organizational responses to climate change”, Organization Studies (2012) 33:11 makes the following point: firms can be classified as short-term or long-term. Short-termers are firms that invest in and utilise technology towards reducing environmental impact such as carbon capture, with a view to reducing costs. Long-termers are not so good with the technology, but are more holistic, invest in alternative sources of energy, where cost reduction is not the primary objective. Neither is better than the other, necessarily. The second paper from the same journal, volume and issue, Gareth Veal and Stefanos Mouzas, “Market-based responses to climate change: C02 Market design versus operation” discusses carbon trading as a mechanism for reducing carbon emissions using the European Emissions Trading Scheme as a study. There is a lot of discussion about whether commodifying carbon is a good mechanism. I did learn that in the mid 80s when the UK held the EU presidency, it led on devising and implementing this scheme and ensured that European airlines were subject to it.
  5. Today I’ve read research by Lesrud and Meyer (2012) in framing climate change. Their empirical work involved surveying professional stakeholders in Alberta’s shale oil and tar sands industries. Not surprising there is some scepticism about human-generated climate change. What I did not know was that Canada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol in order to exploit these carbon-intensive resources.
  6. I’ve just been through the 14 most recent volumes of Strategic Management Journal and found not a single article on climate change. There are a few articles discussing CSR and stakeholder perspectives, but these are not focused on climate change; rather shareholder value.

Pond update

Regular readers will know that we built a pond.  My beloved has been working hard to turn it from a wet hole-in-the-ground to a living ecosystem. And what an amazing transformation. Ok, it has become a bit green with algae, as anticipated. However, there is now an extraordinary bit of filter technology at work (top right corner of picture, Oase Durchlauffilter BioSmart UVC, 14000) which is slowly managing algae growth.

There is now an array of water plants, including lilies, establishing themselves in the water.The pond was slightly  extended after my original dig in order to create a few steps on the three sides whose original form created an unhelpful sheer drop. The extension has enabled a few plants to be located around  all sides, not just one.

Stones have been placed on some sacking (which covers residual pvc pond lining). Though that in itself is a bit of a story. The local crows (right) were watching and decided, quite rightly, that sacking is a good building material for nests. It is spring after all.

Birds are, of course, rather privileged in our story. Their ability to scan the environment from vantage points helps in the pond’s development. A few days’ ago the pond was visited by a couple of mallards (left). And the first amphibian has arrived, a newt. One at the moment, but we are anticipating the newt word will get around.

 

 

Plants that are now living in the pond:

 

Greta Thunberg – she’s got them rattled

Greta Thunberg (left) has risen from unknown Swedish schoolgirl to omnipresent climate emergency ambassador and conscience. I first heard her speak – not in person, but through a link in my Twitter feed – when she addressed COP24 in Katowice, Poland. My first impression was one of awe, not because of what she was saying, but that her message was given in perfect English and in front not only of the international delegates, but the world’s media as well. Some feat for any 15 year old. But Greta Thunberg appears not to be just any 15 year old. And I think some in power are beginning to realise that.

She went to the World Economic Forum at Davos (on the train) where the real unelected power wielders and brokers go annually to make things worse. She told them – and us – that she and her peers are not looking for hope but rather action. She wants us to panic and act as if the house is on fire, because it is on fire. Again, I marvel at the language skills and composure. The message is unequivocal.

But then I fall back into Brexitland. Thunberg has had her platforms. Great theatre. But surely it is time for her to go back to school (she has been on school strike, each Friday, since September)? Seemingly not. She fronted an international school strike on Friday 15 February 2019. And this really got the goat of the politicians. In the UK, the British Prime Minister berated the strikers accusing them of wasting teaching time (that of their teachers and increasing their workloads)* and damaging their own education as a result. Her spokesman said “That time [school time] is crucial for young people, precisely so they can develop into the top scientists, engineers and advocates we need to help tackle this problem.”This was a well rehearsed ignorant response to the strikers.

In the USA, veteran – and I mean this in a pejorative sense – Senator, Dianne Feinstein (right), patronised a group of young people lobbying her to support the Green New Deal – claiming that her long service in the Senate and her recent re-election vindicated her position and that they should wait their time and listen a little bit more.

As the young people keep trying to tell policymakers, there are plenty of top scientists arguing for action to little effect. And by the time the young people become scientists, policymakers, etc. it will be too late. That seems genuinely difficult for the politicians, in particular, to understand. I have two observations. First, the politicians are rattled, being upstaged by articulate children who are supposed to comply. Even if the British Prime Minister does not understand the climate change emergency she reveals the true deficit in the democracy – and political system more generally. The system cannot manage fundamental change of the kind needed to meet the challenge with its hackneyed metrics for “wellbeing” such as economic growth (GDP) which positively counts environmentally destructive activities such as deforestation, but not positive elements such as caring, non-consumptive leisure, re-use and most conservation including energy efficiency. It cannot countenance universal incomes, reduced working hours or wealth redistribution.

My second observation is a concern. Thunberg is now 16 years old. She was at COP24 and Davos. These are invitation only. And neither were cost-free. Who is behind her? Now I sense that she is not going away in a hurry; but the going will get tough as she fronts up more action in the coming months and years. Politics is an ugly business and the gloves will come off. I hope there are some good people behind her. Please.

*  The irony here is that the government through targets and prescriptive teaching has wasted more teaching and learning time than any school strike could match.

Update – Thunberg goes to the EU: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2019/apr/16/greta-thunbergs-emotional-speech-to-eu-leaders-video

Pictures:

Thunberg: Jan Ainali

Feinstein: Now This News

The Terrestrialists – Bruno Latour’s new-materialists

Regular readers will know that I have taken a little time out away from my regular work to read a few books to try to get an understanding of where we are, how we got here and how we might get out of here. Alive. Some discomforting answers are supplied in the reading of Eatwell and Goodwin’s book on nationalist populism; the latter, I think, can be extracted from Bruno Latour and his new book (left). I am sure there are many others, however (for example, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and Diane Coyle’s (2014) unpackaging of GDP as a measure of  national wellbeing).

Both Eatwell and Goodwin and Latour are pretty clear that liberal democracy is a cause. Moreover, we must keep reminding ourselves, for example, that liberal democracy is relatively new in human history. Baby boomers and their offspring (myself included here), however, have no experience of other forms of democracy, illiberal or otherwise (illiberal democracies are now to be found in Hungary, Poland and increasingly in Italy). It has been the underpinning of economic growth and – what seemed until recently to be – inexorable globalisation. I am grateful to a single essay by John Gray to help me with this also.

I have not really had much reason to consider Latour’s work; I have probably been more scared of it than I should have been. I was nudged towards it after reading an article in the NYT magazine about him, his methodological perspective (actor network theory) and its applications. Often seen as post-modern French philosophy – now conveniently rebranded by others as a philosophy of post-truth – it can be inaccessible.

Bruno Latour, 2017

There are four major events that Latour uses in constructing what he deems to be a hypothesis. Hypothesis because he does not try to prove anything. He recognises that he comes from a landed bourgeois family and is, himself, a boomer. But dismiss him – or his reasoning – at our peril, I sense. So, the events are: the Brexit vote in the UK; the election of Trump in the USA; the resumption of mass migrations caused by wars, failed attempts at economic development and climate change. The fourth event, however, is the most significant for Latour and it, itself, comes in two parts. First, the signing in Paris on 12 December 2015 of the Climate Change Accord; second, Trump’s policy to withdraw from the Accord.

On the former Latour says: “…on that December day, all the signatory countries, even as they were applauding the success of the improbable agreement, realized with alarm that, if they all went ahead according to the terms of their respective modernization plans, there would be no planet compatible with their hopes for development. They would need several planets; they have only one.” (p. 5). On the second, “By pulling out of the Paris Accord, Trump explicitly triggered, if not a world war, at least a war over what constitutes the theater of operations. “We Americans don’t belong to the same earth as you. Yours may be threatened; ours won’t be!”” (p. 3).

Latour’s method is systematic, if a little post-modern and hence, non-linear. Liberal democracy is capable of delivering the Climate Accord, but not implementation. Even if all signatories tried to implement the Accord, liberal democracy with its growth, modernisation, globalisation and universal wealth (measured in material terms) philosophy is incompatible with delivery. At some point, leaders – obscurantists, in Latour’s parlance – have to tell electorates that under the current economic and political models, “climatic catastrophe” is unavoidable. Latour, however, interprets Trump in an interesting way. I have often thought that climate change deniers actually believe that climate change is not caused by human activity out of ignorance and failure to look at the evidence. For them, it is merely a natural phenomenon that governments need to prepare for. Depriving people of the benefits of capitalist modes of production, trade and consumption would, therefore, not help the environment. However, my naïvety, as is often the case, is clear. The actuality is that the climate change deniers are of two kinds – literally for Latour – the “Out-of-this-World” types who care little for evidence (p. 34, and maybe Trump is the cheerleader here?) and those who know only too well that human activity is the cause not only of climate change, but also of the increased rate of change and the cause of the 6th Great Extinction.

Let us add more to this; socialism is no better at dealing with climate change than is economic liberalism. The left, just like the right, is bi-directional. There are those deep internationalists who believe that modernisation, which usually incorporates economic and political globalisation, is equally important for the socialist realisation of equality (just like the economic liberals). There are also those who think about the local – tradition, the familiar, predictable, local production, etc. Increasingly this perspective captures the so-called “left behind” or “abandoned” on the left who seek controls on immigration, protection for strategic industries and sovereignty (whatever that is). As Latour puts it, “those who value ethnic homogeneity, a focus on patrimony, historicism, nostalgia, inauthentic authenticism”  (p. 53). The UK Labour Party is trying to reconcile these two perspectives against the backdrop of Brexit and goes some way towards explaining the Labour leadership’s support for withdrawal. Many modern social democratic parties in Europe are trying to do the same but losing out to overtly populist parties and Greens alike. For Latour, they are un-reconcilable in one party.

So far there have been three “Attractors” – global and local (both with plus and minus elements, winners and losers) and “Out-of-this-world” those for whom reality triangulated by science and presented by educated elites, scientists, publishers and seemingly opaque institutes has no meaning. There is one more Attractor; namely the Terrestrial (p. 40). This is neither left nor right. In Actor Network terms, Latour’s thing, the Terrestrial is an actor itself. The other attractors are all about human history, human geography, human advancement, the modernisation of the human condition. The Terrestrial, argues Latour, puts human beings back into nature. That nature includes living things as well as the biosphere. It is the critical zone on the planet that makes life – human, animal and plant – possible. The Terrestrial, therefore, is an actor because, in Latour’s terms, it has agency and fights back (p. 41) – or at least responds to stimuli, largely human induced. Civilisation (human of course) is the product of the last 10 millennia of human (often brutal) interaction.

Terrestrialism is, essentially, a third-way. We’ve seen third-ways before. New Labour in the UK was packaged as such back in the late 1990s informed by the work of Anthony Giddens. But that was perhaps a third way in name only. It was an old consensus, a neo-liberal one at that. Latour’s Terrestrialism is a third way not between left and right, but between global and local, plus and minus and climatic catastrophe. Nice theory, but as Latour honestly notes, this is an essay written from the comfort of a Paris residence with no empirical underpinning. There are a few suggestions for how “we” might become Terrestrialists. That is the subject of another – later – blog entry.

References:

Diane Coyle. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014

Anthony Giddens. Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 1998

Bruno Latour. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity Press, 2018

Picture: Latour KOKUYO

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

Brenda says…

Brenda is just an ordinary woman in Bristol. She was questioned on the street by a BBC journalist and she said that she was fed up with politics – there is too much of it about at the moment – and she just wanted to live her life in peace. That is a bit of a paraphrase, but only a bit.

Let me be clear, I do not want an election. What is the point in a fixed-term parliament if an insecure Prime Minister decides that she needs a personal mandate for her mendacity and push for majoritarianism and the limited state? However, if we are going to have one – precipitated to some extent by the EU’s interregnum over exit terms – then so be it. But this is no ordinary election. I’m 53 and I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. We can let the Conservative Party for the foreseable future dominate the executive and legislature (not to say judiciary if recent experience is anything to go by) or we can stand up for something bigger.

This is not a party-political election in the normal sense. Notwithstanding Brexit, this is an election to stand up for public services, the NHS, education, housing, social care, the environment, liberty and decency. All of these things the Conservative Party seem to be willing to denude or abolish in pursuit of power. Not the public good.

This will be an ugly island if May achieves her aim. All opposition parties have to work together on this one. This is not about Labour, LibDems, SNP, Green. This is about a future. Brenda needs to engage, vote and learn.

End.