Thursday, March 20, 2008

vote blue, go blue

Oh my fuck, the local elections are looming again.

The Conservatives are running national billboard campaigns with the slogan taken from their theme song, Jimmy Cliff's classic You Can Get It If You Really Want. Bastards.

I doubt too many Tories were listening to Trojan reggae when it came out. Too busy listening to one of their MPs making the Rivers of Blood speech. That's progress for you. Forty years to move from a snarling 'send em all back' to a fraternal 'I suppose they're alright but I wouldn't want one living next door'.

In keeping with local election tradition, the main parties are insulting our intelligence by issuing leaflets that look like a concerned frequently published local news letter.

To add insult to, well, insult, the Chester Tories have come up with a winning slogan. Forwards, not Backwards. Their explanation features a flock of them holding placards. In case it's too subtle for the reader, and to remove the great ambiguity inherent in the phrase, the placards underline 'not'.

Chester Conservatives holding 'Forwards NOT Backwards' placards

It's even more blatant than Labour's meaningless and stupid 'Forward With Britain'.

Our direction is forwards. There are no other alternative routes forwards. Any other direction is backwards. You wouldn't want to go backwards would you? Of course not.

In case belief were not already beggared, the Chester Tories are using that 'Vote Blue Go Green' logo we first saw last year. Over the page they have a piece about how they are introducing policies to encourage more people to visit their city by car.

There is one towering green issue of our time, climate change. The science of it is clear. In order to have a good chance of avoiding runaway climate change, we need a global cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 60% in 30 years. For the overemitting nations like us, that's at least a 90% cut. It is possible with technology that already exists. But not if we play by Tory policy.

They're very big on talking about environmental issues. Indeed, their Blueprint For A Green Economy report may contain some predictable freemarket guff but it also includes extraordinarily radical stuff.

The social cost of material growth is becoming increasingly clear. Even as the global economy continues to consume beyond its ecological means, the long-assumed link between increased financial wealth and increased social wellbeing is showing signs of stress.

Levels of income and consumption have soared over the last three decades in most developed countries. Yet consistently, the people of those same countries report no increase in their sense of contentment or wellbeing. In many cases they report a decline. It seems that in wealthy countries, a continued increase in economic growth, is not increasing wellbeing.

Here in Britain, the signs of this are everywhere. Levels of mental illness, drug abuse and ‘binge drinking’ are rising even as our economy continues to grow. The Samaritans report that five million people are ‘extremely stressed.’ Unicef research suggests that British children are the unhappiest in Europe. Crime levels continue to rise.

Meanwhile, surveys show that nearly nine out of ten members of the public think British society is ‘too materialistic’, and that a quarter of 30 to 59 year-olds have voluntarily ‘downshifted’, accepting less income in exchange for more free time.

Yet, according to standard economic and political thinking this ought not to be. Economic growth, measured as an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should bring a correlating growth in our happiness and wellbeing and any attempt to prioritise environmental social health over economic growth is widely supposed to make people less content.

The truth, though, is beginning to seem more complex. Evidence from many quarters suggests that human wellbeing does not rise indefinitely alongside gains in material wealth. In fact, that once we reach a certain level of income and material wealth, gains beyond that level can actually begin to exacerbate social problems, from ‘status anxiety’ to a deteriorating work-life balance. These findings challenge the assumption that environmental and social wellbeing parallel economic progress and raise questions over the very nature of economic growth and its role in society.

Our increasing awareness of the need to phase out fossil fuels rapidly is accompanied by an awareness that economic growth based on them is only part of what improves human lives. The real questions now are beginning to focus on what defines 'progress’, what is ‘quality growth’ and what determines a ‘good life’.

greening of economic growth does not just involve a series of green tweaks to the ‘business as usual’ model. Human activities are ultimately constrained by environmental limits. The problem with relying solely upon ‘green growth’ is that it deals primarily with mitigating the relative impacts of consumption, but fails to respect absolute environmental limits. Putting a price on environmental damage is important but it can only take us so far. Other mechanisms must also be used to protect and enhance the environment. We may, for example, need regulations to set
aside crucial areas or vulnerable habitats.

A fixation on the idea that the market can manage all things if ‘externalities’ are 'internalised’ is wrong, firstly because of the scale and urgency of the challenge which means that we simply do not have time for the market to ‘adjust over time’, and secondly, because we have a far from perfect understanding of the complex interactions between the climate, biosphere, soils and other elements which make up the delicate balance of the Earth. We know too little of the potential implications of the changes in sea p.h., temperature and salinity. We don’t fully comprehend how these interact with climate or how climate impacts on sea life and the fish stocks upon which large sections of the global population rely.

It is areas of debate such as this that it is clearly not possible to put a value and ‘price’ on the natural world. Simply to ignore anything of which we are not certain would be irresponsible so we have to protect where we cannot be utterly certain.

If, however, our appetite for material goods continues on its current trajectory, it is unlikely that resource-use efficiency in and of itself will halt or reverse our impacts on the planet, and in particular its ability to maintain a stable climate. It is also crucial to understand that in some circumstances increasingly efficient or ‘greener’ production processes can lower the costs to business and thus, paradoxically, ultimately lead to higher total rates of production and consumption.

Simply cleaning up existing lifestyles and patterns of economic growth will not take us far enough, not least if we are to achieve equitable global development within the natural limits of the planet. After all, if everyone on Earth equalled the resource consumption of our citizens here in the UK, it would take three planets to support us. If we all aspired to US patterns it would demand five planets.

The issue is not whether but when we recognise that fact. The current economic model, relying on universal cheap energy, is bust. There are sticking plaster solutions but, in the end we have to find an alternative way forward. Sensibly, we should do that before we damage the environment irreversibly. If we are stupid, we’ll fail to act now and then seek the solution in extremis when, even if an answer is still possible, it will be immeasurably more difficult and infinitely more expensive. If society at large can shift its thinking away from ‘what can I buy?’ to ‘what do I want from life?’ or ‘what needs do I have?’ then perhaps we can decouple economic growth from resource input. This is our challenge.

Really talking the talk there aren't they? If I'd asked you who wrote it, how many guesses would you have needed before you got it right?

But forget about them ever trying to walk that talk. They can't even come out against aviation expansion. The Tories are still directed by millionaire bankers, and they are still committed to freemarket capitalism and its need for perpetual economic growth.

Their actual policy - let alone what they'd do once in power - hasn't taken on board any of that nettle-grasping stuff their own report tells them. Their green talk is just that. It is posturing with as much meaning as the Chester party's vacuous slogan.


Anonymous said...

Life imitates 'The Simpsons', it seems. And how!

If anyone recalls the Treehouse of Horror episode (Citizen Kang) where the green aliens take over the earth, Kang's campaign speech includes the line...
"We must move forward, not backwards, not to the side, not
forwards, but always whirling, whirling, whirling towards freedom."

It was written to illustrate the sort of ridiculous nonsense that gets spoken by politicians. And true to form, the tories are once again demonstrating why satire is dead.

merrick said...

Life imitates 'The Simpsons', it seems.

not for the first time! My post a couple of weeks ago mentioned the misreporting of Heather Mills' statement that it was as unnatural to drink cows milk as it would be to drink rats milk. It got reported as 'drink rats milk says Heather Mills'.

someone came on to coment that there's a Simpsons episode where Fat Tony had a scam going supplying rats milk.

Life, to the undoubted distress of Bush Snr, is obviously less like the Waltons and more like the Simpsons.

peacockpie said...

You wouldn't want to go backwards would you? Of course not.

I'm reminded of the old political howler that goes "We're on the edge of a precipice, but we are about to take a great leap forwards."

Although I still cherish John Major's plan of attack:
"When your back is to the wall, the only thing to do is turn around and start fighting."
Think about it ;)

Paul said...

We stand at the brink of catastrophe.

If you look at it that way, their slogan makes sense.