Climate Change

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A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 1:22am in

By James MacGregor Palmer

Sir David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure in the UK. The 93-year-old nature broadcaster’s lyrical but soft-spoken narration is instantly recognizable, providing the backdrop for many Britons’ most vivid on-screen encounters with the natural world.

Attenborough’s career has spanned well over half a century, bringing the world’s wildlife to our screens. While initially his focus was merely on bringing viewers a taste of the planet’s brilliant biodiversity, over the years a new concern has emerged: Biodiversity is shrinking. And Attenborough feels an obligation to use his platform to do something about it.

That’s why, even at his advanced age, he’s joined Instagram, hoping to influence a younger generation that will bear the majority of the burden of the climate crisis. It’s also why, though tentatively and incrementally, he has begun to point the finger of blame at something so deeply embedded in our hegemonic psyche that it has seemed for so long beyond criticism—capitalism. In doing so, he is (perhaps unwittingly) becoming a great asset to those of us who believe in steady-state economics.

Globe (a life on our planet)

From outer space it’s crystal clear that we live on a planet of a finite capacity. (Image: CC0, Credit: PIRO4D)

Attenborough’s latest film, A Life on Our Planet, is his “witness statement.” It documents the loss of biodiversity that has occurred during his lifetime. Biodiversity is a term that has somewhat shifted off the mainstream media’s radar in recent years; yet here it is brought front and center. But throughout, there is a consistent theme that this loss is not merely caused by human carelessness but by a systemic need for ever more consumption. This need must be overturned if we are to stand any chance against the climate crisis.

The Importance of Visual Metaphors and Frames

Some of Attenborough’s key points can be viewed as a coherent and digestible argument for steady-state economics. They also highlight the idea that the message lands better when it is presented as part of a broader philosophical worldview, rather than as a set of cold, hard economic principles.

First, Attenborough sketches out a rather vivid picture of monitoring the 1968 Apollo mission, the first time humanity had seen our planet from the outside:

I remember very well that first shot. You saw a blue marble, a blue sphere in the blackness and you realised that that was the earth, and in that one shot there was the whole of humanity with nothing else except the person that was in the spacecraft taking that picture.  And that completely changed the mindset of the population, the human population of the world. Our home was not limitless. There was an edge to our existence. It was a rediscovery of a fundamental truth. We are ultimately bound by and reliant upon the finite natural world about us. This truth defined the life we led in our prehistory—the time before farming and civilization.

This is a powerful visual metaphor. While we walk on this planet, it is easy to become lost in its vastness, to fall into the trap of believing on a subconscious level (though on a rational level we know this to be untrue) that it is infinite. Once we view our planet from another angle, one from outside its atmosphere, it is easier for us to grasp its finitude. Widespread realization of this “fundamental truth,” as Attenborough calls it, is vital if steady-state ideas are to be accepted by the general public. Reducing steady-state economics to the fundamental truth at its core—the reality that Earth is finite and should be treated as such—could be a key element of simplifying the message. When we acknowledge this truth, and that, as Attenborough states, “anything we can’t do forever is, by definition, unsustainable,” it becomes a case of simple logic that endless economic growth is incompatible with the limits of our planet.

The power of the visual image of a finite Earth is not the only frame that A Life on Our Planet lends for potential application to steady-state economics. Another is in the following:

We had broken loose. We were apart from the rest of life on Earth. Living a different kind of life. Our predators had been eliminated. Most of our diseases were under control. We had worked out how to produce food to order. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves. We would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.

Forest

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. (Image: CC0, KANENORI)

The idea here is that humans have become separate to the rest of life on Earth, subduing it and refusing to be confined by it, changing the environment instead of ourselves (an idea Attenborough first posited way back in his 1979 documentary Life on Earth). This is another mode of thinking that, if we were able to successfully challenge, would make steady-state economics far more palatable to the general public. When we view ourselves as separate from the living world we inhabit, it is easier for us to see it as there for our consumption rather than our cooperation. While many accept the fact that current hegemony encourages us to think in individualistic terms, few extend that premise beyond other people to other forms of life. Hegemonic individualism and consumerism encourage us not only to see other people as merely assets to be exploited but also to apply the same logic to the natural world. We continue to exploit all the assets available to us until there are none left. Steady-state economics is a direct challenge to this logically flawed position, but in order to become widely accepted as a legitimately workable economic theory, we must first challenge the underlying ideology that predisposes many to subconscious opposition of degrowth ideas.

A Step Forward

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. While anthropogenic climate change is now broadly acknowledged as a “root cause” of our current environmental crisis, the challenge for us is to illustrate the “deeper root”: endless economic growth. We all see the loss of biodiversity around us and we all lament it. We lap up nature documentaries because we have an innate sense of awe for the natural world. If we can bring into plain view the link between the loss of the natural world and the idea that growth is always good, we may stand some chance of winning people over.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough: Serious about protecting the planet and on the cusp of steady statesmanship. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Mikedixson)

A Life on Our Planet takes a big step in making that connection. Yes, it may be tentative. And yes, Attenborough is careful to avoid any explicit reference to economics, but what the film does do is advocate a fundamental shift in human thinking. That has to be the first step toward general acceptance of the steady state economy.

In fact, Attenborough went further into detail on a BBC podcast following the release of the film, stating his belief that “we must curb excess capitalism” in order to combat the climate crisis. A national figure talking about capitalism as the “deeper root” of the climate crisis on a state broadcaster no less. This is big stuff.

Now, as journalist George Monbiot pointed out on Twitter the following day, Attenborough still felt the need to qualify “capitalism” with “excess,” pointing the finger at the adjective and not the noun. But Monbiot himself has written about the incompatibility of perpetual growth with continued human life on Earth on multiple occasions over the last two years in the prominent British newspaper The Guardian. We are beginning to see mainstream voices questioning the moral and theoretical underpinning of the hegemonic ideology that compels us toward perpetually increasing consumption, and that is a crucial first step toward overthrowing that ideology.

Returning to Our Roots

Steady statesmanship is not just an economic principle, it is a counter-hegemonic ideology. We are fundamentally opposed to the neoliberal capitalist worldview, which makes the task of communicating our ideas immeasurably harder. But the lesson from A Life on Our Planet is that we can use universal visual and experiential metaphors to our advantage. We all experience and love the natural world. We all get some sense of existential awe when we realize the enormity yet finitude of the planet we live on. The task for those of us who believe in change is to convince others that the world’s dominant economic model is responsible for the rapid erosion of our relationship with the natural world around us. In the words of Sir David Attenborough:

“When you think about it, we are completing a journey. Ten thousand years ago, as hunter-gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later, it’s once again the only option. We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature once again.”

James MacGregor Palmer graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Music with Politics in 2019 and is pursuing a master’s degree in International Journalism at the University of Stirling.

The post A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Roundup: Environmental Rollbacks and the Climate Movement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 7:16am in

Regulatory Rollbacks and Stories from the Movement to Fight Back Tracking deregulation in the Trump era: “[…] a selection of delayed, repealed, and new rules, notable guidance and policy revocations, and important court battles across eight major categories, including environmental, … Continue reading

The post Roundup: Environmental Rollbacks and the Climate Movement appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The Supreme Court Battle and the Climate Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 3:18am in

Roe v. Wade and Obamacare aren’t the only things endangered by Republicans’ rushed nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Continue reading

The post The Supreme Court Battle and the Climate Crisis appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

How About a Green Green New Deal?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 4:24pm in

The Australian Greens have been asking for a local version of the Green New Deal.

 

After SmoKo's budget, people may have started listening:

 

You’ve probably heard of the Green New Deal in the US — is it time for one in Australia? Kate Crowley, University of Tasmania

After the 2008 global financial crisis, Green New Deals were proposed in various countries as a way to pick up the pieces of the economy. The general idea is to create jobs while rebuilding societies, by targeting environmental innovation as the key to economic recovery.

We’re in the midst of another global financial crisis that’s infinitely more crippling than in 2008, and the global pandemic that brought it on shows no signs of easing. So is now really the right time to, yet again, advocate for a Green New Deal?

Read more: Why it doesn't make economic sense to ignore climate change in our recovery from the pandemic

In his speech to the National Press Club last week, national Greens leader Adam Bandt reiterated his push for the deal. He lambasted the Morrison government’s economic response to COVID-19 in the federal budget, which largely shunned renewable energy investment, calling it “criminal”.

The Greens’ proposal echoes Labor, business, unions and environmental groups, and even some conservatives, who think green policies are vital to strengthen the economy post-pandemic.

And they’re right, the Green New Deal is explicitly designed to assist recovery after a crisis. With many countries already taking on similar ideas, the Coalition government’s steadfast investment in fossil fuels will only hold Australia back.

What is a Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal is an environmental version of economic stimulus, modelled upon US President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of massive public spending to create jobs after the 1930s depression.

It couples climate action with social action, creating jobs while reducing emissions, and reducing energy costs by adopting renewables. It’d come at a cost, however, to the fossil fuel industry.

Read more: Politics with Michelle Grattan: Adam Bandt on Greens' hopes for future power sharing

The Greens want Australia to quit coal by 2030, and have an independent authority, Renew Australia, to manage a just transition for workers, create jobs and see no one left behind in the transition to 100% renewable energy.

Even the International Monetary Fund sees a global green fiscal stimulus, with investment in climate change action and transitioning to a low carbon economy, as the right response to the COVID crisis.

Green New Deals around the world

In the socially democratic Scandinavian countries, green-led economic recovery has been the go-to policy response to political, banking, fiscal and resource-based economic crises in recent decades.

Energy taxation, offset by cuts in personal income tax, and social security contributions have driven economic recovery. As a result, Nordic economies have grown by 28% from 2000–17, while carbon emissions have fallen by 18%.

In late 2019, before the onset of COVID, the European Union announced a Green New Deal worth €1 trillion in public and private investment over the next decade to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Read more: 'Green Deal' seeks to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050

However, this funding is no longer assured. The COVID crisis has put a hole in EU finances, caused divisions over spending priorities and seen few environmental strings attached to member country bailouts.

In the US, the Green New Deal featured strongly in the Obama administration’s grappling with the global financial crisis. Now, during the pandemic, it’s featuring again as a proposal from the Democrats.

Between September 2008 and December 2009, South Korea and China outstripped the post-GFC efforts of the rest of the G20 nations with their astonishing green stimulus spending of 5% and 3.1%, respectively, of GDP.

Today, South Korea is using its COVID response to trigger environmentally sustainable economic growth, spending US$61.9 billion to invest in wind, solar, smart grids, renewables, electric vehicles and recycling.

Read more: South Korea's Green New Deal shows the world what a smart economic recovery looks like

It’s clear nations around the world have decided a Green New Deal is exactly the right stimulus response to crises, including the current fallout from the global pandemic. So how is Australia tracking?

Australia risks being left behind

The lessons for Australia are, firstly, that it risks being left behind in the technological advances that come with shifting to a greener economy, if it neglects the environment in its COVID stimulus planning.

It should embrace the COVID crisis and the climate crisis as dual challenges, given Australia’s urgent need to reduce its emissions in electricity, transport, stationary energy, fugitive emissions and industrial processes.

Australia can be confident investment in clean energy that sets it on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050 will not only be rewarded economically, but also diplomatically, as it joins the global, willing climate coalition.

The UN chief economist, Elliott Harris, has called for Australia and other nations to

place more ambitious climate action and investment in clean energy at the centre of their COVID-19 recovery plans.

Instead, the Coalition government has given fossil fuels four times more stimulus funding than renewables, and has prioritised coal-fired power, carbon capture and storage, and gas industry expansion in its recent federal budget.

This is a risky investment strategy. The International Energy Agency sees a poor economic future for fossil fuels, with demand for coal on the decline and jobs in renewables expected to increase.

Read more: 'Backwards' federal budget: Morrison government never fails to disappoint on climate action

However, the government’s COVID advisory commission — led by a former mining executive, and criticised by independent MP Zali Steggall for lack of transparency — is recommending a gas-led, not green-led, recovery.

If the Coalition were to attempt it, a Green New Deal would ease the shift away from fossil fuels. It would focus, as such deals do elsewhere, on creating jobs by accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. It’s time to get on board.The Conversation

Kate Crowley, Associate Professor, Public and Environmental Policy, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A continent that burns. And a world that’s getting hotter. Welcome to the Pyrocene.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 3:01am in

Last summer’s catastrophic bushfires burnt more than 18.6 million hectares, destroyed over 5900 buildings (including 2779 homes) and killed at least thirty-four people. Fires started in Queensland in August, and large areas of land that normally ‘don’t burn’—like subtropical and cool temperate rainforest—went up in flames. Towns burnt to the ground, and huge internal displacement during the busy summer tourist season along the east coast saw direct economic costs likely to exceed the record $4.4 billion set by 2009’s Black Saturday blazes.

Furthermore, an estimated three billion animals were killed and the ecological consequences are mind-boggling. To give a few examples from Victoria: 31 per cent of the state’s rainforests were burnt, as well as 24 per cent of wet or damp forests, and 34 per cent of lowland forests. All of the potential habitat of the East Gippsland galaxia (a small native fish) and more than 40 per cent of the Victorian habitats of the sooty owl, diamond python, long-footed potoroo, long-nosed bandicoot and brush-tailed rock wallaby were wiped out. It was a disaster that will be hard to forget.

Fire has been an intrinsic part of our land for millions of years, and many hundreds of generations of traditional owners have used it as a land-management tool. But invasion and colonisation disrupted this long custodianship, and now settler society is trying to understand how fire should be used to manage the landscape so that it is a positive force for biodiversity, human safety and agricultural production. Following last summer’s fires there has been huge renewed interest in cultural burning, and a growing profile of Indigenous-led fire approaches, such as the Firesticks Alliance.

But on top of this, we have the increasingly obvious hand of climate change. The world has heated as a result of human activity and now all fire events occur in a warmer environment. This is well documented. We have known it for years. Back in 2008 the Garnaut Climate Change Review’s final report said that predictions ‘suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense’ and that ‘this effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020’.

More recently, the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action noted that:

Australia’s Black Summer fires over 2019 and 2020 were unprecedented in scale and levels of destruction. Fuelled by climate change, the hottest and driest year ever recorded resulted in fires that burned through land two-and-a-half times the size of Tasmania. While unprecedented, this tragedy was not unforeseen, nor unexpected.

There have been a range of government investigations into the fires, all of which have documented the impacts of climate change. The bushfire Royal Commission was explicitly asked to look at mitigation options, but not drivers of global heating. In spite of this, it found that further warming of the Australian climate over the next twenty years ‘appears to be inevitable’, meaning that catastrophic bushfire conditions will become more common. The NSW Bushfire Inquiry found that ‘climate change as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions clearly played a role in the conditions that led up to the fires and in the unrelenting conditions that supported the fires to spread’. In Victoria, the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) said ‘the incidence of large, severe and recurrent bushfire events in Victoria has increased exponentially over recent decades and shows no sign of slowing’. The IGEM elaborates on this, saying:

The past is no longer a reliable guide to the influence of climate and weather upon bushfires into the future. Climate change is influencing the patterns of natural hazards globally. In Australia, increases in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns are contributing to an increase in extreme fire weather across much of the country. In south-east Australia there have been long-term decreases in rainfall. The bushfire season in the 21st century begins earlier and ends later.

So why is this fact ignored by so many media outlets and commentators? Because of the politics of ‘business as usual’ and the culture war. Climate deniers are unable to accept material reality, and are trying to deflect the public debate into a ‘blame’ frame that lets the fossil-fuel companies and their backers in government off the hook. It also plays on people’s natural fear of wildfire to try to wedge the community away from environmental voices into a grossly simplified world view that sees fuel-reduction burning as the solution to bad fires.

While the fires were raging, much of the conservative media ran the false claim that arson caused the fires. For instance, in January The Australian ran a story entitled, ‘Firebugs fuelling crisis as arson arrest toll hits 183’. In this, the mainstream media was playing into a right-wing extremist conspiracy pushed online by bots and trolls and enabled by the big tech companies. As noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Australia’s bushfire crisis—like other crises, including the burning of the Amazon rainforest in 2019—has been sucked into multiple overlapping fringe right-wing and conspiracy narratives, which are generating and amplifying disinformation in support of their own political and ideological positions’. However, as the NSW Bushfire Inquiry noted, arson was not a key factor in the catastrophic NSW bushfire season. The IGEM inquiry found that ‘almost every significant fire in Victoria during the 2019–20 season was as a result of lightning strike’.

The next argument from the conservatives and climate deniers was that ‘greenies’ had stopped fuel-reduction burning and so were to blame for the scale of the fires. Once again, this simply isn’t true (apart from anything else, states set fuel-reduction targets, and the ALP and LNP, not the Greens or environmentalists, control all state and territory governments in the country). And, as noted in the IGEM report, ‘fuel reduction burning is not a simple panacea’.

What do we need to do?

The denialists will continue their campaigns, and once fires start this season we will see a continuation of the disinformation campaigns that have been prevalent in the northern hemisphere during their summer (such as the false claims that ‘antifa activists’ were deliberately lighting fires in Oregon). But in the real world, the fires will continue to grow, and we need to respond to this reality.

Fire seasons will become longer and more intense, which has huge implications for ecosystems. For example, it is estimated that more than 90 per cent of snow-gum woodlands in Victoria have burnt in the past twenty years—multiple times in some areas. Up to 10,000 hectares of alpine ash forest face ‘ecological collapse’ in Victoria because of repeated fires.

An extended fire season also has implications for our ability to fight fires. Currently, resources—people, trucks and planes—are shared between states and territories, and between countries. While we have a fleet of several hundred planes and helicopters to fight fires, many of these are leased through the international market. As California and Oregon suffer through a dreadful fire season, and as the fire season has already arrived in Queensland, there is overlapping, and thus greater, demand on planes. This will drive up the cost of fighting fires.

If there are huge fires across large areas, as happened last summer, we simply won’t have enough crews and trucks to go around. In Victoria, the fires’ economic impact on tourism is estimated to have been between $330 million and $350 million in the first half of 2020. The cost of fighting the fires in that state is estimated at $1.5 billion, and by 2025 it is estimated to be around $2 billion. By 2055, modelling indicates that it might be almost $5 billion.

Then there is the fact that we don’t have enough firefighters. Australia has suffered a 10 per cent decline in the number of volunteer firefighters over the last decade. While the volunteer workforce has shrunk, the number of professionals has grown, which is good, but it clearly isn’t enough to offset the loss of volunteers.

The forecast from the Bushfire and Natural Disaster CRC is for a ‘normal’ fire season this summer. This gives us time to be fully prepared for future seasons that may be more intense. Here are some ideas:

  • Seriously engage with, and resource, traditional owners in relation to cultural burning. We need local knowledge to suit local ecosystems. The Victorian Traditional Owners Cultural Fire Strategy outlines six core principles  that underpin cultural burning practices in the state. State governments should continue to develop cultural burning programs with traditional owner groups. Groups that are already engaged in cultural burning programs, such as the Dja Dja Wurrung in Central Victoria, could be resourced to share knowledge with other traditional owner groups. Settler culture in Australia largely lives in denial of First Nations. Unlike in places such as Aotearoa/New Zealand, there are no treaties with First Nations peoples here. We have built economies that are deeply out of step with the reality of living on an old, dry and fire-prone continent. Without a treaty, we are living on stolen land. As climate change drives ever-worse fire seasons, I hope that we finally seize the opportunity to resolve the unfinished business that has flowed from invasion and colonisation. Our long-term survival on the continent depends on it.
  • The fires of 2019–20 showed that, in a bad year, we just don’t have enough air capacity to fight wildfire. Before this summer starts, we need a deeper commitment from the federal government for firefighting. The Bushfire Royal Commission suggests that we invest in a ‘modest, Australian-based sovereign [very large aerial tanker/large aerial tanker] capability’, as the climate emergency means that northern- and southern-hemisphere fire seasons are running together. 
  • Include local knowledge in fire and fuel management. Around the country, land-care and local environmental groups act as custodians. Their knowledge should be invited into land management when it comes to fire. One proposal is to create local volunteer GreenFire groups to work with land managers on fuel reduction and fuel-load management, which might also involve the use of non-fire techniques and allow for maximum ecological benefits of land-management programs. Involving volunteer community groups will ensure that local ecological knowledge informs how and where burning programs occur. These groups may also seek direction and guidance from local traditional owner groups skilled in cultural burning and other land-use techniques.
  • Victoria needs a new volunteer remote area firefighting team, as New South Wales and Tasmania already have, and the federal government needs to create a national remote-area firefighting team to help protect national parks and World Heritage Areas.
  • We should be opening up volunteer opportunities for people based in large cities to get involved in firefighting efforts. Setting up urban brigades who can be deployed over summer would greatly add to the ‘surge capacity’ that is needed in a bad fire season.

And, of course, we must play our part and do everything possible to reduce Australia’s contribution to global warming. Reducing emissions won’t impact what happens next summer, but it is an investment in our collective future, as it is clear that more greenhouse pollution equals worse fire seasons in years to come.

The Australia Institute is proposing a National Climate Disaster Fund, funded by a levy of $1 per tonne of all coal, gas and oil produced in Australia, to help pay for some of the increasing costs of these climate disasters, fuelled in large part by these very industries. This would require confronting the powerful grip that fossil-fuel companies have on our democracy.

A $1 levy on fossil-fuel production in Australia would currently raise around $1.5 billion a year. While the institute suggests that the money could be allocated to sectors and communities that are affected by climate change, such as First Nations and farmers, some of it could also be allocated to firefighting capacity, including planes.

We are clearly in a rapidly deepening climate crisis and we must respond at emergency speed to reduce climate pollution. Furthermore, we must hardwire justice and human rights into our response to the crisis. We must simultaneously:

  • mitigate impact by drastically reducing emissions and changing land-management practices
  • build resilience in communities to respond to emergencies such as fires
  • build our capacity to fight fire
  • plan for long-term habitation in Australia.

At present, many of our land-use practices are based on exploitative and short-term thinking—for instance, continued land clearing, farming practices that destroy topsoil and rely on dangerous chemicals, over-extraction of water from rivers and groundwater, and low-density sprawl that destroys remnant vegetation and farmland. Our economy is still based on a ‘quarry’ approach of exporting vast volumes of raw materials while actively pursuing economic policy that has seen the destruction of our manufacturing sector. Our cities and urban areas are poorly prepared for the realities of living on what is already the driest inhabited continent in a time of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the problems of our economy: growing social exclusion and inequality, and the failure of the neoliberal model. Ultimately, we need a transformation of our political and economic structure. Late-modern capitalism is simply not up to the task.


WILL THE FIRES CHANGE EVERYTHING?

Alison Caddick, Mar 2020

We are passing into an elemental moment, but do we have the language for grasping this?

What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations?

Instead of more political rhetoric and more of the same orthodox solutions dressed up as change, we need radical progressive action to pave the way for a kinder, more equable and sustainable future.

 

Planet Earth in handsImage by Anja from Pixabay

After this crisis, if anybody dares mention a ‘need’ for austerity or tax cuts for ‘wealth creators’ aka useless parasites, or calls for pointless fiscal retrenchment, then ridicule their rank stupidity, economic illiteracy, immorality and their inability to learn simple lessons.’

Phil Armstrong, GIMMS Associate.

 

The debt warriors are continuing their rear-guard action. In the hope that all is not lost in the battle for minds as people get wiser; the battle to keep people believing that the vital extra spending, which has in effect kept the economy afloat, is going to have to be paid for. Sustaining the illusion is vital for their purpose and the people need reminders and nudges to keep them in the dark and demonstrate that the government is fiscally responsible. Where have we heard this before? And look how that ended up. Ten years of punishing austerity and the killing off of our public services in the name of balanced books.

This week, the Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin said on BBC Politics Live.

‘It’s the right time to talk about [balancing the books] because we have to maintain the confidence of the bond market.’ We have a plan to bring the public finances under control’

This little gem suggesting that government is beholden to the bond markets (when it is not) followed Rishi Sunak who said in his conference speech earlier in the week that he had ‘a sacred duty’ to ‘leave the public finances strong’ hinting that there might be tax rises ahead. He continued by saying that ‘If… we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?’

Hard choices would have to be made as he pledged to ‘balance the books’. He posited that the public would accept that taxes would have to rise given the size of public spending during the crisis and suggested that the government might have to break some of its manifesto pledges. Wait for it…it’s coming.

The implication is that those billions of pounds borrowed to keep the economy afloat and functioning will have to be paid for and that the burden, if not addressed, will pass to future generations in the form of higher taxes. Keeping the illusion going was further emphasised at the weekend when the government rejected extra support for workers in lockdown areas because ‘the national debt is rising’ and it would cost too much.

So deeply is the ‘tax pays for spending’ narrative embedded in the public consciousness that research published this week by Ipsos Mori suggested that of those responding almost half favoured raising taxes to fund public services in the context of Covid-19 with the most favoured option being a wealth tax for people earning over £500,000.

Still resolutely stuck in the ‘taxes fund spending’ mode, people implicitly understand that somewhere along the line they have lost out, not just personally but in terms of a public infrastructure which Covid has demonstrated is no longer fit for purpose due to cuts. And, quite rightly they want redress, as long as perhaps it’s not them that have to pay. Whilst there is a big difference in approving a concept and actually accepting it as the reality for one’s own pocket, the government is relying on that false narrative for it to get away yet again with murder.

In the light of monetary realities, knowledge of which is increasingly coming into the spotlight and challenging the status quo orthodoxy, in searching for answers the better questions to ask the public might have been:

Do you want the government to spend more on improving our public services in the interests of the nation?  

Do you want to restore those public services to publicly paid, managed and delivered provision?

For the truth is, that these decisions are political ones, not linked to taxes or borrowing or the state of the public finances.

At the other end of the political spectrum, this week on Double Down News Grace Blakely exposed, quite rightly, the increasing horrendous gap in wealth distribution and its damaging effects on society. However, she then went on to suggest that the billionaires should pay the costs.

At a time when the Swiss Bank UBS reported this week that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter at the peak of the crisis when at the same time millions of people were losing their jobs or struggling to get by on furlough schemes and Universal Credit it might seem a just call to ask the extremely wealthy not only to pay what they owe but pay more. After all, over decades, working people have seen their living standards fall, as their share of productivity has ended up in the hands of ever fewer people so it is infuriating to see that the gap between the haves and have nots which was already huge, growing even more rapidly as billionaire’s wealth hits new highs. An increase in the pay of politicians announced late this week (the Tories having already rejected a pay increase for nurses) shows little solidarity with people’s struggles and it must surely start crossing people’s minds that something is seriously awry not just in terms of wealth distribution but also in the way they understand how power works and who pulls the strings.

But it is equally disheartening to note that we have left-wing economists and commentators reinforcing the mantra of ‘tax pays for government spending’ in the daily smoke of mirrors that suggests that state spending is like a household budget and that the solution is to get the filthy rich to pay more.

While our public infrastructure continues to crumble before our eyes and people suffer it’s time for the left to stop talking about getting the rich to pay for it, however much that appeals to a sense of fairness. Only by recognising how government really spends and using that knowledge to propose an alternative vision for the future can we win that battle. If it does not, then any plans that future progressive governments propose will always be constrained by this false narrative.

In the words of Deborah Harrington, who sits on GIMMS advisory board:

‘Billionaires can’t ‘pay for’ the coronavirus crisis. Only governments can. The left should stop promoting the neoliberal theory that we are all dependent on and beholden to the rich for our public services. They are cheering their support for Thatcher, May and all the others who claim the government has ‘no money, only taxpayers’ money’. Tax the rich because they are too rich. Tax the rich because inequality is damaging to a healthy society. Tax the rich because they use their disproportionately accumulated wealth to buy government policy that makes them even richer. Have the courage to say that the extremely wealthy are a drain, not a gain, for society. Stop trying to push the idea that if you could only persuade them to pay their taxes willingly everything would be just fine. Even better, have pre-distribution mechanisms that stop them accumulating so much in the first place.’

The question some might ask is have politicians on any side learned anything? Forty years of economic orthodoxy have left many economies around the world in poor shape and unable to address the crisis. And yet whilst Rishi Sunak considers disingenuously and publicly how he is going to ‘pay for‘ his fiscal injection (to keep the right narrative alive in the public mind) it most certainly will not stop money pouring into the bank balances of private corporations.

And given the Chancellor’s Conference speech it will on the other hand most likely mean that the public sector will once again be squeezed. It is a guise for delivering what they have always intended – to destroy the public sector as publicly funded, managed and delivered infrastructure that serves the public good with no profit motive, through the toxic ideology that business is more efficient. The lie of a so-called small state is smashed by the realities that it increasingly exists to serve global corporate interests.

Whilst government ministers laud their actions and monetary largesse, anyone following media reporting or previous GIMMS blogs will know that the real beneficiaries of public money have been large corporations who have failed to deliver the promised efficiency and worse without public accountability. The prospect of Westminster Plc draws ever nearer.

And the promised levelling up? It will likely be just one more casualty of a wretched economic system, and just more of the typical political rhetoric which politicians are so good at – on both sides.

In the wake of the Chancellor’s speech, the Guardian in its unexpected and timely editorial this week noted ‘it makes no sense to compare personal experience with the economics of a nation’. Quoting the late Labour MP Roy Jenkins who observed correctly that a family budget was not the same as a national budget and said that Margaret Thatcher had traded in ‘lousy economics’, it noted how much of the political economy had been conceded to the right and that the present Labour shadow chancellor still in orthodox mode could not match his ‘unapologetic Keynesianism’.

Sunak’s speech seems indicative of what to expect in the future. Yet more penny-pinching when it comes to our public infrastructure. It suits a carefully crafted narrative to suggest that such spending would bankrupt the economy or burden future taxpayers. A narrative the public continues to buy for now, at least as a reflection of how it believes that government spends.

While our imaginations are still stuck in Mikawber mode, the real threats to the future are being cynically put on the back burner when those threats are the ones that we need to be addressing urgently. It seems that, in political terms, ultimately the quest to balance the books is being made to appear a far more important objective than addressing climate change and politically created and unnecessary inequality. Our planet is to be sacrificed on the pyre of balanced budgets and big business gets to create a greenwashed world in its image – that of profit and greed.

As we watch the fires in South America continue to burn as a result of deforestation to make way for cattle pasture and soy plantations, and the tropical wetlands continue to burn in the Pantanal, a combination of a man-made arson and drought caused by the climate crisis, we need urgently to shift the narrative to one of sustainability and human and planetary health.

This year of environmental disasters – fires, drought, floods and Covid-19 – is a reflection of our failure to act and should be the wakeup call we need. Our leaders, for all their fine words, are complicit in this destruction. Some wilfully and openly ignore the threats, others indulge in ‘environmentally friendly’, rhetoric whilst doing very little, and at the same time global corporations some of the biggest polluters sell us their greenwashing propaganda.

Along with climate change, poverty and inequality continue to rise. It was reported this week by the charity Save the Children that living standards for the UK’s poorest had plunged during the pandemic. It noted that over a third of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to rely on help from charities for food or children’s clothes over the past two months and two-thirds had incurred debt to get by. Half of those surveyed said that they were in rent arrears or behind on household bills. Earlier research carried out by Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in June revealed that 70% of people had cut back on food and other essentials when the pandemic began and the charity warned that the winter will be more difficult for many families as heating and other household costs rise and the prospect of further job losses increase the pressure on overstretched household budgets. With the threat of a cut in Universal Credit next April, the future is looking even more uncertain for some of the poorest people in our communities.

And we cannot ignore the global situation. Save the Children also noted last month in a jointly authored report with UNICEF that the number of children living in multidimensional poverty (access education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water) across the world had soared to around 1.2 billion due to Covid. To put it starkly, an additional 150 million since the pandemic began in early 2020. It also noted that around 45% of children were severely deprived of one of the critical needs mentioned above before the pandemic and that the picture is likely to worsen in the months to come.

While the arguments rage about the size of government, its colossal spending and future tax burdens, the cost of such arguments on human lives and the planet seem of secondary concern as the government continues to pursue its market-driven dogma which is neither free nor fair.

The promised V-shape recovery has not materialised and left prospects bleak for the Covid generation whose employment prospects are quickly vanishing into the mist and threatening their future health, security and livelihoods.

Instead of real jobs with good pay and conditions, Rishi Sunak is offering people ‘job coaches’ to beef up their CVs or training to improve their future job prospects. Never mind that without government intervention in the form of adequate spending and other targeted measures to improve the economic outlook, those jobs will never materialise. Relying on business to find solutions will lead us to a dead end.

Or as earlier this week the Conservative MP Robert Jenrick called for ‘grassroots volunteering and ‘togetherness’. Where was the government when it was telling us austerity was necessary to get the public finances straight as it dismantled our infrastructure and other vital public services? A government that also promoted individualism, greed and selfishness, has overseen huge wealth inequalities and divided our communities. The word ‘togetherness’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

Instead of real solutions, the government is offering the usual toxic rhetoric painted as positive proposals for a so-called new normal which aims to consolidate the toxicity, not address it.

At a time when jobs are being lost, GIMMS repeats its question. Why not rebuild our public sector offering good wages and secure employment? Why not introduce a Job Guarantee that provides a living wage, training and good employment conditions to bridge the gap when times get tough and provide a transitional staging post into private sector employment when the economy improves?

Rethinking the sort of society, we would like to live in will be of paramount importance in the coming months. The old model is not fit for purpose and we and the planet deserve something better.

 

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Warren Mosler – Online

October 17 @ 17:00 pm – 18:30 pm

GIMMS is delighted to present its second ‘in conversation’ event.

GIMMS’ Associate Member Phil Armstrong whose new book will be published in November (details below) will be talking to Warren Mosler. Warren, who is one of the founding proponents of MMT, has dedicated the last 25 years to bringing that knowledge to a wider audience across the world and authored ‘The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, published in 2010. He also sits on GIMMS advisory board.

Register via Eventbrite

Event recording

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell spoke to Bill Mitchell for GIMMS on 27th September 2020.

 

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The post What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:46am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

October 8, 2020 Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home, on the history of the white power movement • Billy Fleming and AL McCullough on The 2100 Project: An Atlas for the Green New Deal

The Budget: How About Wildlife?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 1:39pm in

The Federal Budget has generated a lot of comments. It is certainly based on an unprecedented fiscal expansion; but there are fiscal expansions and then there are fiscal expansions. Annabel Crabb put it this way: "It recognises the people it wants to help, and screw the rest." She's right.

After that, the few who won biggly and the many who were left out in the cold made their voices heard. In the cacophony resulting, even Morrison's gas-fueled technology roadmap, designed to make Australia forever dependent on fossil fuels, was forgotten. You see, whether by accident or by design, it was announced before the budget, almost as if to make it sure people would be too worried about their own livelihoods to care about climate change.

And yet, as terrible as all that is, there is yet another piece of bad news people have overlooked:

Federal Budget condemns our wildlife to extinction By Sue Arnold | 8 October 2020, 11:00am | 5 comments | 370 David Littleproud, Sussan Ley and Keith Pitt have once again done little to help save our environment (Screenshots via YouTube)

The 2020 Federal Budget has focused on economic interests and forsaken rebuilding our devastated environment, writes Sue Arnold.

THE COMPLETE FAILURE of the Morrison/Frydenberg Budget to address the catastrophic state of Australia’s environment is well demonstrated by the user guide in the budget paper for agriculture, water and environment portfolio (page 9).

Not one mention of biodiversity.

Three ministers share the agriculture, water and environment portfolio. David Littleproud, deputy leader of the National Party, is responsible for agriculture, drought and emergency management. Sussan Ley is Minister for the Environment and Keith Pitt, Queensland National Party MP, is responsible for resources, water and Northern Australia.

The Commonwealth portfolio responsibilities include the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) and numerous entities which are in conflict with any environmental focus. 

 The National Party has control of primary environmental resources at the national level and in the NSW Government.

Environment is the enemy of Right-wing governments

Environment is the enemy of Right-wing governments

The biggest cause of environmental destruction in our country is the Right-wing ideology shared by conservative politicians and media groups.

This Budget paper should fill every concerned Australian with alarm. Not only is the overview paper an exercise in spin, as evidenced in the list of outcomes, but funding for urgent environmental priorities is ignored.

In fact, the outcomes are focused on economic interests. At a time when scientists have estimated 3 billion animals were lost in the bushfires, logging is out of control in NSW and Victoria, the EPBC Act is about to be further weakened unless the amendments are blocked in the Senate, the Budget paper should be a clarion call for action.

Our besieged wildlife is in desperate need of habitat protection, stronger laws to protect their future survival and a national focus on recovery.

Last month, the Morrison Government rammed the EPBC Act amendment through the House of Representatives, further weakening the legislation described in the Budget paper as:

In 2020–21 we are at a pivotal point in our national environmental protection efforts. Planning is underway to deliver a reform program that revitalises the legislative and policy framework for environment protection. This will ensure ongoing ecologically sustainable development that is both streamlined for businesses and effectively protects the environment.

One has to ask, how do these guys sleep at night?

According to the paper:

Our environment has begun the long journey towards recovery from the Black Summer bushfires. The early positive signs are encouraging, but the recovery of native wildlife and their habitats will require significant effort and long-term planning. We have supported the commitment of funds for the recovery of our biodiversity and ecosystems. We are also working across government to provide support to affected farmers, fishers and foresters, along with rural, regional and urban communities. We are committed to the sustained effort that will be needed to support bushfire- affected areas.

The Coalition, koalas and coal

The Coalition, koalas and coal

Is Barilaro, Berejiklian or Morrison to blame for the annihilation of Australia’s favourite furry marsupial, the cuddly koala?

Exactly where has the environment begun ‘the long journey towards recovery’? And what ‘early positive signs are encouraging’?  

Funds for the recovery of biodiversity and ecosystems consist of promises and meagre allocations of dollars. 

Let’s not forget that Morrison is the same man who was quoted by The Guardian a year ago after his address to the U.N. responding to a speech by Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg:

“I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well.”

According to reports of Morrison’s speech, his focus was confined to ocean management, plastics, waste management and illegal fishing.

In October 2019, 240 conservation scientists signed an open letter warning Morrison that:

‘Australia is amid an extinction crisis. We are documenting the rapid decline in the overall numbers of species and the overall diversity of wildlife across the land, rivers and seas of our country.

Australia’s native species are disappearing at an alarming rate.’

Without doubt, the plight of koalas is a major concern for the public. Given the millions of dollars donated by Australians and overseas celebs, organisations and concerned citizens, the Budget fails to recognise the koalas’ plight.

The 'gas-led recovery' isn't economically or environmentally prudent

The 'gas-led recovery' isn't economically or environmentally prudent

If Scott Morrison ever went back to his old job of promoting tourism and needed to ramp up the travel industry, he would put his money on blimps.

Yet in November 2019, Minister Ley’s office advised the following commitments were made at the Brisbane koala round table:

We have committed $3 million for the protection of koala habitat in South East Queensland and Northern NSW from the Environment Restoration Fund.

Thursday’s meeting was an important chance to identify and prioritise actions resulting from the bushfires.

The workshop considered the ongoing impact of fires and identified priority actions:

  • assessing the needs of wildlife carers and animal hospitals on the immediate front line with state and federal governments reaching out to provide and coordinate further assistance,  identifying suitable release sites for rehabilitated koalas. Governments are already providing funding support;
  • a rapid mapping of the impact on known koala habitat and, importantly, to identify areas where healthy Koala populations remain;
  • identifying the importance of remaining koala habitat and populations as significant environmental assets and developing management strategies for their protection;
  • identifying corridor strategies to link habitat areas along Northern NSW and Southern Queensland;
  • management of koala habitat should address a range of threats including fragmentation, degradation of habitat and the impacts of fire;
  • management could include establishing fire breaks and undertaking controlled burns when safe to do so to reduce the risk of destructive fires. In addition working with rural fire services so they are aware of important koala habitat and can help protect it when they have capacity, recognising that protection of people and property is their priority; and
  • longer term funding can support regeneration of degraded habitat to increase the area available for koalas and improve connectivity between these areas.

IA has not been able to identify any actions taken to prioritise or much less acted upon as a result of the Brisbane koala round table. Earlier this year, $6.9 million was approved for 19 projects by the Federal Government. None of the grants was focused on koalas.

Outcome l in the Budget paper details the forecast performance results in 2019-2020. 

The outcome is defined as:

Conserve, protect and sustainably manage Australia’s biodiversity, ecosystems, environment and heritage through research, information management, supporting natural resource management, establishing and managing Commonwealth protected areas, and reducing and regulating the use of pollutants and hazardous substances, and coordination of climate change adaptation strategy and climate change science activities.

Government eager to reintroduce harmful environmental legislation

Government eager to reintroduce harmful environmental legislation

A bill putting environmental decisions in the hands of state governments known for their destructive behaviour is under consideration.

The objective:

‘...to improve the extent, condition and connectivity of Australia’s unique biodiversity and natural resources, including the Great Barrier Reef, through protection of habitats and mitigation of threats to threatened species and ecological communities.’

Under Performance information/criteria the following is stated:

Australia’s biodiversity including priority threatened species, ecological communities, cetaceans and migratory species, and significant heritage places are conserved and protected via targeted investments and collaborative partnerships.

Targets: Program objectives are delivered under the National Landcare Program and other key programs, including improving your local parks and environment program and the Australian heritage Grants Program. 

Outcome? Achieved. 

It’s extremely difficult to understand how the National Landcare Program has any influence on cetaceans.

In the same way that President Trump has downplayed COVID-19, even as he’s now infected, PM Morrison is following the U.S. President’s playbook.

Instead of 210,000 human lives lost, the Australian leader is condemning our wildlife to extinction. The Budget is a national disgrace.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

Related Articles

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License  
---------- This article appeared originally in Independent Australia.

Standing at a crossroads in time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 3:38am in
‘Democracy is not just a counting up of votes, it is a counting up of actions.’

Howard Zinn
Crossroads signpost with signs saying "possible" and "impossible"Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Do you remember when Andy Haldane, the Chief Economist at the Bank of England, insisted that Britain was enjoying a ‘V-shaped’ recovery way back in July? Since then much has happened but not a V-shaped recovery and the future is looking pretty bleak. Despite that, Haldane’s concern this week that ‘our pessimism is holding us back’ and that companies hiring and corporate investment were the ‘missing ingredient in the recovery’ leads one to wonder if the Chief Economist is living on a different planet.

The prospect of a rise in unemployment by the end of 2020, less generous government support than hitherto, people saving more than spending and a collapse in business investment would suggest that people are retrenching as a result of lack of confidence. Businesses will not invest while they are unsure whether that investment will repay itself in increased profits and people won’t spend whilst their lives are turned upside down and they have no idea whether they will have a job next week. It seems that Andy Haldane is stuck in some other world that does not exist for the majority of people.

A combination of government policy, cuts to public sector spending over the last 10 years which has left public infrastructure in tatters, combined with the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the final straw of Covid-19 has left the nation in a state of collective inertia wondering what will happen next. Tin hats are the order of the day, not party bunting and champagne. Glasses of confidence are in short supply!

We stand at a crossroads in time and Covid-19 has revealed in stark terms the putrid underbelly of an economic system which has predominated for decades. Rising poverty and inequality, huge social injustice, wealth distribution skewed in favour of those who already have more than sufficient and the ever-present elephant in the room, climate chaos, all the result of a toxic ideology and excessive consumption.

This week the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew published its fourth report in the ‘State of the World’ series. Professor Antonelli, the Director of Science wrote in its introduction:

Never before has the biosphere, the thin layer of life we call home, been under such intensive and urgent threat. Deforestation rates have soared as we have cleared land to feed ever-more people, global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten our crops and our health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are out-competing local floras. Biodiversity is being lost – locally, regionally and globally [……]

We share this planet with millions of other species, many of which existed long before us. Despite the fact that an exploitative view of nature has deep roots in our society, most people today would agree that we have no moral right to obliterate a species – even if it has no immediate benefit to us. Ultimately, the protection of biodiversity needs to embrace our ethical duty of care for this planet as well as our own needs.

Whilst 40% of all the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction according to a report published last month by the UN the world has failed to achieve in full any of the biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010 and indeed this is the second consecutive decade that governments have not done so. The Global Biodiversity Outlook Report offered a convincing and authoritative overview of the state of nature indicating that the natural world is suffering badly.

According to Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, it underlined that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave future generations’ and that ‘earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being security and prosperity’. It outlined the need to shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a range of human activities.

The bottom line is that our own well-being and survival are dependent on rethinking our relationship with nature and each other.

Amidst the disturbing backdrop of the threat to the planet caused by failure to address these serious biodiversity losses and the growing evidence of the consequences of climate change across the world from devastating droughts, fires, storms and flooding, the consequences of government political decisions and spending policies continue to play out daily in people’s lives.

Evidence of both ignorance and wilful conduct by our elected politicians is shocking. Whilst a household budget description of the public finances continues to dominate in political and establishment circles, the potential for addressing the consequences of spending cuts or indeed the serious challenges we face will always curtail any action.

The reverse of the toxic climate coin is the huge wealth inequality and poverty which has done so much damage to economies around the world.

In the UK, as many more people turn to the social security system for support as a result of the ending of the job retention scheme, many will find out first-hand how far from generous those benefits are and have been for those living on lower incomes. The ‘lazy scrounger’ narrative which has done so much harm will increasingly come into the spotlight as the middle-class professionals find themselves relying on state support. The real-life daily realities of many low-income families in precarious employment or subsisting on less than adequate social security payments will begin to emerge to a section of society which has hitherto thought itself immune.

The effects on the economy as incomes have plunged over the last few months, particularly for those in receipt of Universal Credit, will be further highlighted as the redundancies pile up and living standards begin to fall. It will bring into sharp focus the policies which over more than a decade have sought to divide people and create a two-tier society of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ on the basis of the lies trotted out regularly that such public and social infrastructure is dependent on a tax/contribution paying nation and that it is the private sector which creates the wealth to allow that to happen.

The argument that contributions paid in relate to a pot of money put aside by the state on our behalf must be knocked on the head and replaced with the real description of how the UK government actually spends. That what is paid out is a political choice determined by an agenda and is unrelated to how much revenue the government has collected. Household budget descriptions of how money works serve only to deliver that pernicious agenda and do not represent monetary reality.

It was depressing, therefore, to hear Labour’s Lucy Powell reinforcing the narrative of affordability when she was asked about Labour’s commitment to the pension triple lock earlier this week. She suggested that it would be dependent on knowing ‘what income you have got coming in and what outgoings you need to make’ and that ‘the single biggest determination of that is the level of employment, and level of growth in our economy’.

Once again, the suggestion is clear; that the government can’t afford to protect the incomes of retired people for whom the state pension is their only source. She, like so many others, makes a false connection between the health of the economy and tax revenue by suggesting that pensions, other benefits or indeed essential public and social infrastructure are dependent on a healthy economy and people paying their tax. It is disheartening that such economic ignorance lives on and the health of the economy is reduced to monetary affordability.

This was again brought sharply into focus this week by a report published by the Labour Women’s Budget Group which called for a universal care service. As has already been previously noted, Covid19 has highlighted the existing inequalities in society and the failure to invest in health and social care which has led to many preventable deaths both before and during the pandemic. In the midst of a climate emergency as the Women’s Budget Group points out, the pandemic has revealed huge cracks in our public and social infrastructure along with wealth disparities and social and racial injustice. The group underlined that business profit and greed has in recent times come before a caring more equal society. It called for reforms to create a caring economy ‘a blueprint for a world where work and care can be shared harmoniously, where the economy is measured in well-being and sustainability’.

These are laudable objectives, but yet again we hear the household budget tropes put forward to justify such action. That it would be a good time to consider a universal care service because interest rates are at historic lows and research has shown that taxpayers would be happy to pay extra. Once again, a constraint is immediately revealed by the suggestion that the limits to spending are monetary. Putting aside for a minute the fact that the constraints are not monetary but related to real resources, there is a better reason to consider such action:

Because a civilised society takes care of its young and elderly.

And far from being unaffordable in monetary terms, the government as the currency issuer can, assuming the real resources are available, make a political choice to invest in the lives of its citizens to improve their lives and ensure a vibrant, healthy sustainable economy.

And whilst tax plays an important role in achieving government policies, not only is tax not required to make such an investment, but also in these difficult days raising them would at this point depress the economy even further and may indeed turn taxpayers against such an expenditure.

Such a care service should not only be paid for from public funds, it should be managed and delivered as a public service and not be in private hands.

If we want a caring and environmentally sustainable economy instead of yet more exploitation no matter how eco-friendly it is presented as, fundamental to that change is a government which puts people’s interests over and above the interests of capital. We need politicians that recognise both the value of a well-educated and trained workforce to address those challenges and the role a Job Guarantee might play to ensure a just transition for those most likely to lose out.

This week, the government announced a package of measures that will allow people to study at college paid for by a national skills fund and a more flexible higher education loan scheme. Reminiscent of New Labour’s ‘Life-Long Learning’ programme, Boris Johnson announced a ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ promising that the government would help people to get the skills they need to navigate this quickly changing world. On the face of it, this is a good plan. However, training and skills in themselves good and positive as they are, are no substitute for actual jobs if, as Warren Mosler has pointed out, you’ve still only got ‘nine bones for 10 dogs’ people will still remain unemployed.

While the government continues to see job creation as a private sector exercise and absolves itself from the responsibility of governing in the interests of the nation as a whole, those jobs won’t be created by a private sector without confidence that their investment will pay a return. That confidence only derives from the actions of government through its policies and spending decisions.

For ideological reasons, the government never mentions job creation in the public sector which is where we sorely need investment. As has been pointed out many times in previous MMT Lens blogs, it could address unemployment through an expansion of the public sector (which has over 10 years been starved of funding and adequate staffing levels) to create a public and social infrastructure that meets the needs of the economy and is fit for purpose. That could be supplemented by a permanent Job Guarantee to manage the cyclical ups and downs of the economy by providing work, training and skills for those who will be most affected by this very different world that is heading our way. It is ironic that this government has cut funding to education and training over the last 10 years making it more difficult for people to gain the skills they and society needs.

Worse, over decades, starting with New Labour, it has also made education a cost to the individual instead of being funded by public money. As if somehow it is only the individual that benefits, when in fact society and the economy gain positively from a well-trained, educated workforce whether in public or private sector employment.

So where do we go from here? Are we asking ourselves the right questions? And are we prepared to make some difficult decisions?

We are at a pivotal moment in history and the future will depend not just on government action but the public willingness to engage in a serious adult conversation. Engaging requires the facts about what is possible and what is not and about the change that is needed to ensure a viable future for humankind. It requires understanding how we have been led down an alley without an exit by those politicians serving the interests of a tiny section of society. Those same politicians and institutions which daily use false narratives to suggest that there is no alternative to more pain in the future if we are to dig ourselves out of the financial hole all this spending is causing.

The only hole we have to dig ourselves out of is the hole that has been created by this false narrative that saving the planet is unaffordable, that the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 has made it even more unaffordable and making people’s quality of life better is far too expensive. Challenging such notions should be top priority. Whilst it remains to be seen whether such a government is on the horizon there is no excuse for inaction. For ourselves and for future generations.

 

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Warren Mosler – Online

October 17 @ 17:00 pm – 18:30 pm

GIMMS is delighted to present its second ‘in conversation’ event.

GIMMS’ Associate Member Phil Armstrong whose new book will be published in November (details below) will be talking to Warren Mosler. Warren, who is one of the founding proponents of MMT, has dedicated the last 25 years to bringing that knowledge to a wider audience across the world and authored ‘The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, published in 2010. He also sits on GIMMS advisory board.

Register via Eventbrite

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Colorado River: “Lifeline of the Southwest” Suffering Effects of Economic Growth and Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 5:37am in

By Haley Demircan

The Colorado River, also known as the “Lifeline of the Southwest,” spreads along 1,450 miles (2,330 kilometers), from northern Colorado to the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico. This legendary river provides water for 40 million people in cities such as Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego, as well as millions of acres of vital farmland. Seven states rely on the Colorado River as a primary source of water. But as economic growth and climate change ensue, there is major cause for concern regarding depletion and the impacts of climate change in the Colorado River basin.

Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River system covers a huge expanse of the American Southwest. Image: CC0, Credit: USGS)

Whether residents of the Southwest are using water from the river or groundwater, they are withdrawing the region’s most vital resource much faster than it can be replenished. In other words, the Southwest’s water-use challenges constitute a textbook case of a not-so-steady state economy.

The Effects of Climate Change

Over the past century, regional temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Celsius and water usage has increased, both of which are a function of a growing, environmentally-destructive GDP. Researchers Chris Milly and Krista A. Dunne at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) published a study in March 2020 using a hydrologic model and historical observations to demonstrate that the decrease in water flowing through the river is due largely to the evapotranspiration associated with climate change.

Global warming drastically affects the snowpack that feeds the river. As temperatures in the region rise, more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Snow cover declines, causing the land to become exposed and dry. Without this snow cover, less energy from the sun is able to be reflected back through the atmosphere into space. Instead, it becomes trapped and warms the surface of the earth. Furthermore, plants need more water when temperatures rise. Just in the last century, waterflow from the Colorado River dropped 20 percent, and half of that percentage is from climate change. This reduction of water has left the two largest reservoirs in the nation, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were completely full in 2000, almost half empty. From 2000 to 2004, both had lost enough water to supply California with five times its Colorado River water.

With further global warming, Milly and Dunne estimate that the river will be depleted another 14-26 percent by 2050. They stated that more than half of this depletion is attributable to higher temperatures. As this trend in increased temperatures continues, the risk of severe water shortages for the millions of people who rely on the water from the Colorado River will grow.

The higher end of the percentage of depletion would mean a loss of about 1.5 million acre-feet of water—or 326,000 gallons of water—which is enough water to cover an acre of land about one foot deep. With temperatures on the rise and rainfall and snowpack declining, it is impossible to keep up with the water demand. In an interview with CNN, Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, warned, “Without this river, American cities in the Southwest would dry up and blow away.”

River basin study

Water supply and demand for the Colorado Rover. Credit: March 2016 Report by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Drought Contingency Plan

With the 19-year-drought affecting the Colorado River basin, all seven basin states had to come up with a plan. In an effort to keep the levels of the two major reservoirs from becoming critically low, they created the drought contingency plan (DCP). All seven states signed the DCP for the Upper and the Lower Colorado River basins. The plan is actually a set of specialized plans unique to each state and designed to help stabilize the river system and reduce the risk of reservoirs falling to critically low levels.

The Arizona drought contingency plan goes into effect when levels in Lake Mead reach 1,090 MSL (mean sea level). Currently, Lake Mead is 1,085 MSL. Arizona is only allotted 37.3 percent of the Colorado River’s lower basin water, and the state will receive a drastic decrease in water resource as the DCP and cutbacks are managed, from 2.80 million acre-feet per year to just over a million acre-feet per year.

Ground Water Depletion, Farmland Abandonment, and Economic Impacts

In an effort to source water elsewhere, Arizona is now relying on ground water aquifers, which is not a viable solution for the future. These aquifers provide corporate farms the ability to grow as much food as possible in a short time frame. Using ground water in this way depletes the underground, fresh water much too quickly. Water depletion in Arizona has caused several issues in the past, such as land abandonment, earth cracking/collapse, and major dust storms.

Lake Mead

Recent photo of Lake Mead showing an alarming drop in water level. (Image: CC0, Credit: USGS)

In Pinal county, Arizona, farmers are experiencing a lack of water resources. With the new DCP, farmers have lost two-thirds of the irrigation water they had been receiving from the Colorado River. They are now relying on groundwater; however, drilling and pumping groundwater is costly, and many farmers cannot afford the large increase in the cost of water for their farmlands. Ashley Hullinger, a research analyst from the University of Arizona, conducted a water loss study specifically for Pinal Country, and she found that there could be enormous economic repercussions if ground water depletion continues at this rate.

With the loss of 300,000-acre feet of water, the study found that there would be:

  • $63.5 million to $66.7 million lost in gross farm-gate sales (this accounts for 7 percent)
  • $94 million to $104 million lost in total county sales (farm and non-farm sales)
  • $31.7 million to $35 million lost in county value added (this includes net farm income, profits in other industries, employee compensation and tax revenues)
  • 240 to 480 full-time and part-time jobs lost

Depleting water from underground aquifers at high rates provides a small solution to the large cut in the Colorado River water allocation; however, there are severe consequences to the land as well as the economy.

Where do we go from here?

With temperatures on the rise due to climate change, there is no doubt that water depletion will occur. The next steps in the DCP are critical in reducing the risk of further shortages. One long-term goal is for reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell to replenish and hopefully allow for the water flow to increase in the Colorado River. Scientist like Udall, believe that the only way to save the Colorado River is by addressing what he considers the root cause of the problem—climate change. We might add an even deeper root: the GDP growth that drives greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

“The science is crystal clear—we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately,” he says. “We now have the technologies, the policies and favorable economics to accomplish greenhouse gas reductions. What we lack is the will.”

We’re not so sure about the “policies and favorable economics” part. While the microeconomics of installing renewable energy facilities may be more favorable, we still have pro-growth policies that ensure not only more renewable energy technology, but dipping further into the wells and deposits of fossil fuels.

 

Haley Demircan is CASSE’s fall journalism intern.

The post Colorado River: “Lifeline of the Southwest” Suffering Effects of Economic Growth and Climate Change appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


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