|Climate Report Calls for Green "New Deal"|
The world needs leaders with the vision to forge New Deal-type policies to tackle the potentially disastrous combination of climate change, high inflation and economic slowdown, say the New Economics Foundation in a new report.
23rd July 08 - Jeremy Lovell, Reuters
"A New Green Deal", a report issued by the New Economics Foundation (nef), uses the convergence of the credit crunch, climate change and booming food and fuel prices to make the case for a new economics for the 21st century.
Key points in the report are that every home must generate its own power, an oil legacy fund must be set up using windfall taxes on oil and gas firms to help pay for green transformation, and carbon should be priced according to its climate impact.
Interest rates should be cut to help investment in green energy and transport infrastructure, and monolithic financial institutions should be broken up so the failure of one would not destabilize the economy, said the NEF, an independent group.
"A credit crisis, coupled with high and rising oil prices and long-term climatic upheaval, are conspiring to create the perfect storm," said NEF director Andrew Simms.
"Instead of desperate baling-out, we need a comprehensive plan and a new course to navigate each obstacle in this new phenomenon.
"We need a modern Green New Deal that has the scale, boldness and vision previously only seen, for example, in Roosevelt's response to the Great Depression," he added.
President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was a series of programs between 1933 and 1938 aimed at helping the poor, reforming the U.S. financial system and stimulating an economy that had plunged into depression after the Wall Street crash.
Urgent action needed
Today, economists say global economic growth is slowing, and most scientists say urgent action is needed to stop the planet entering a period of unstoppable temperature rise caused largely by rising carbon emissions.
"The credit, climate and oil crunches are all individually serious issues, but in combination their impact could be catastrophic for our economy, and for our way of life," said Tony Juniper, co-author of the report and former head of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.
"We need real leadership and vision to get through this, and right now we are not seeing it. Politicians from across the spectrum should signal their willingness to think differently and to embrace new ideas," he added.
The report also calls for a low-carbon energy system, financial incentives and policies to promote energy efficiency, closer scrutiny of exotic tax avoidance instruments, a clampdown on tax havens and new capital controls.
"We need a comprehensive plan which would involve far tougher regulation of capital, changes to tax systems and a sustained programme of investment in energy conservation and renewable energy," said Larry Elliott, economics editor of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper and co-author of the report.
It's time for a New Green Deal
4th July 08 - Andrew Simms, The Guardian (UK)
Can you hear the rustle of green handcuffs fastening around your patio heater, the wheels on your urban 4x4, or your hope for a long weekend in Los Angeles?
Calls to save civilisation from runaway climate change finally seem to be changing attitudes. But a vocal cabal of anti-environmentalists, exploiting current concern about the state of the economy and rising fuel and food prices, are trying to paint the green movement as a threat to freedom.
Wailing can be heard, from the bewildered outrage of Jeremy Clarkson, like a child caught and told "no, you cannot keep torturing the cat", to the calculated contrarianism of both far left and far right thinktanks. Odder is the free market Czech president, Václav Klaus. His book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, published by the ferociously conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, suggests, in effect, that combating climate change is a threat to liberty on the scale of Soviet communism. Somehow, though, opposing measures to reduce pollution lacks the moral oomph of campaigning for the freedom of religion or association, democracy or universal suffrage.
But the backlash is only likely to grow. Without a dramatic intervention, the orthodox expectation that "goodwill" spending suffers when the economy stutters is likely to come true. The triple crunch of the credit crisis, surging oil prices and the economic impact of climate change could be enough to leave environmental ambitions speechless. In promoting his recent book The Enemies of Progress, Austin Williams revelled in extracting some small notoriety from a review that condemned his call for "the right to leave lights on in empty rooms, wallow in deep baths, drive cars, get fat and unfit, and fly further".
Behind the lamentations is a teenage fantasy of blithe, consequence-free, self-pleasuring that denies the needs of millions in poorer parts of the world who lack electricity, potable water or transport. Our grotesque over-consumption spits in the face of real global poverty, and drives potentially irreversible environmental degradation that hits the poorest first and worst.
In an age of global warming, talk of "green shackles" is like talking about "anti-child labour shackles", or the shackles of laws that prevent us burning down each other's houses. We need parameters to be set around sufficient levels of consumption to prevent the footprint of our lifestyles outgrowing the shoe of the planet, and trampling others in the process.
Fortunately, the contrarians seem to be losing the public debate. The recent Guardian/ICM poll revealed a majority urging the government to prioritise the environment over the economy, and skewered a resilient myth about green issues being the preserve of the wealthy middle classes. Support for putting the environment first was, in fact, stronger outside the most well-off social groups.
As far as the anti-green ideologues go, they're also brazenly ignorant of the positive potential in responses to the financial, energy and climate crises, and in their understanding of freedom.
Seeing that one person's freedom to unlimited luxury might deny another's freedom to survive is hardly new, nor anyone's exclusive intellectual property. Conservative philosopher, Karl Popper, pointed out that "proponents of complete freedom" such as Williams, "are in actuality, whatever their intentions, enemies of freedom". In The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper reasoned that unrestrained individual behaviour, "is not only self-destructive but bound to produce its opposite, for if all restraints were removed there would be nothing whatever to stop the strong enslaving the weak".
Commentary on the credit crisis obsesses over whether people will stop buying in the shops. Our behaviour as atavistic consumers is treated as the weather vane for the whole economy and society. It's underpinned by the mantra of consumer choice. But we are pursuing the endlessly retreating shadows of our own wellbeing down blind alleys of conspicuous consumption.
It is consumerism, not environmentalism, that has enslaved us and become a threat to our collective freedom. In its cause we have become chained to the workplace, turning our backs on friends, family, the environmental foundations of our livelihoods and the sources of real contentment. We work longer hours to earn, to buy the junk that promises happiness, but delivers only listlessness and dissatisfaction. Why?
Studies of consumer behaviour reveal that too much choice is actually inefficient and counter-productive. It carries high psychological and economic costs. And, it's not just about choice, but amount. In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz describes a study of lottery winners whose levels of happiness were no different from the general population. Schwartz explains that "first, people just get used to good or bad fortune. Second, the new standard of what's a good experience (winning the lottery) may make many of the ordinary pleasures of daily life (the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the new blooms and refreshing breezes of a lovely spring day) rather tame by comparison."
For all their bluster, the architects of environmental backlash seem utterly bereft of their own ideas about what to do differently. The green movement, on the other hand, overflows with proposals. One initiative, soon to be launched, is the call for a "Green New Deal". Organised by a group of environmentalists and experts in finance, it proposes joined-up policies to tackle the triple crunch. At its heart is an acknowledgement of the profoundly distorting role of footloose and feckless finance.
The Green New Deal will call for the re-regulation of finance and taxation, linked to a transformational economic programme to substantially reduce fossil fuel use. In the process, it will create countless green-collar jobs to tackle the unemployment and decline in demand caused by the credit crunch. The Green New Deal is a modern translation of the politics of hope and pragmatism employed by Roosevelt in the 1930s. Then, as now, someone needed to pick up the pieces of a system failed by short-termism and unenlightened self-interest.
By contrast, the eco-contrarians are behaving like one of those gangs who, for kicks, attack ambulance crews at the scene of an accident. A Green New Deal will have plenty more voices complaining. Action to rescue civilisation from an increasingly hostile environment, it will be said, represents an unacceptable and oppressive barrier to owning TV screens the size of football pitches.
Yet, as Keynes wrote while drawing up plans for how to save and conserve resources for Britain's war effort in 1940: "I have been charged with attempting to apply totalitarian methods to a free community. No criticism could be more misdirected. In a totalitarian state the problem of the distribution of sacrifice does not exist ... It is only in a free community that the task of government is complicated by the claims of social justice."
If we do, now, manage to balance human need, wellbeing and social justice with the available resources of our parent planet, we will not be left cursing green shackles, but breaking our carbon chains and praising liberation ecology.
Andrew Simms is co-editor of Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth?, policy director of the New Economics Foundation and a founder member of the recently formed Green New Deal Group.
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