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The Impossibility of Growth Demands a New Economic System

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

George Monbiot, well known for his books “The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order” and “Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain” has published an important article in Common Dreams: “The Impossibility of Growth Demands a New Economic System. Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other”. Some excerpts in the following, link to full article below.

“Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre”…….. and “that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year.” How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? ……..It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems…….. ”
“It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas”

“The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun”
.

“The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence.”

A particularly interesting example from the article: the government of Ecuador has decided to go ahead with oil drilling in its high diversity Yasuni national park. It had offered to leave the oil in the ground if it could raise 3.6 billion Dollars from foreign donors, about half the value of the oil. It could just get 13 million. Ecuador is very poor, Australia is rich. For how much would Australia leave its coal, oil and gas in the ground, or protect its Tasmanian forests from logging?

Full article here:

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/28-0

United States will introduce an emission trading (cap-and-trade) scheme for controlling human induced climate change

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

In two previous posts http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2012/11/19/global-warming-obama-wants-to-take-action/ http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2013/05/19/the-results-of-misinformation-about-climate-change-in-the-u-s/I drew attention of President Obama’s intention to do something about climate change, but that nothing yet had happened. It now seems that significant action will be taken in the USA by introducing an emission trading scheme as also supported by the Greens and Labor for Australia. See here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/29/obama-unveil-historic-climate-plan-carbon-pollution

Excerpt:
“The rules……… will put America on course to meet its international climate goal, and put US diplomats in a better position to leverage climate commitments from big polluters such as China and India, Obama said in a speech to West Point graduates this week.

“I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet,” he said. “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We can not exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.””

Is here hope that this might lead to change in attitude of the present Australian government? The outlook seems dim if one considers that Abbott had earlier referred to human induced climate change as “crap”, that among the first actions of the new Australian government were declarations that renewable energy targets would be reduced, that one of he first actions of the government after the election was removing the Climate Council, that investment in climate science at the CSIRO will be substantially reduced, and that even economically profitable renewable energy projects are targets for discontinuation. But miracles have happened before.

Thomas Piketty and David Harvey, a new look at what is wrong with our economic system

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Two distinguished economists, Thomas Piketty and David Harvey, in two recent books, have critically examined the basic assumptions according to which economies are run today. Both arrive at the conclusion that an ever increasing inequality in income distribution is inherent in the capitalist system and needs to be urgently addressed.

For two reviews see here:

http://chronicle.com/article/Capital-Man/146059/

http://chronicle.com/article/Mapping-a-New-Economy/146433/

Excerpts:

Piketty: “The Economist declared that Piketty’s book may “revolutionize the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries” and the “British magazine Prospect added Piketty to its annual list of the most influential world thinkers.”
Piketty’s claims that “inequality is intrinsic to capitalism, and, if not forcefully combatted, is likely to increase—to levels that threaten our democracy and fail to sustain economic growth. “For much of modern history, he contends, the rate of return on capital has hovered between 4 and 5 percent, while the growth rate has been decisively lower, between 1 and 2 percent,” which means that “in a slow-growing economy, accumulated wealth grows faster than income from labor……. the rich….. will get richer, while those who depend mostly on income from their jobs, will be lucky to keep up with inflation.”
“……… Piketty’s remedy for inequality: a progressive global wealth tax on fortunes over 1-million euros.”

Harvey: Harvey’s argument is based on “the conflict between use values and exchange values, particularly in housing, and the way that people have been deprived of homes because real estate has become a speculative investment. “For this reason, many categories of use values that were hitherto supplied free of charge by the state have been privatized and commodified—housing, education, health care and public utilities have all gone in this direction in many parts of the world,” he writes. “The political choice is between a commodified system that serves …….. and a system that focuses on the production and democratic provision of use values for all without any mediations of the market.
“At some point……the system can’t continue. “The longer it goes on,” Harvey says …….. “the less I think that there is a possibility that it will be a peaceful transition.”

In Australia, the present government does not only not try to reduce inequality but does the opposite, the austerity measures (co-payment for visiting the doctor, deregulation of university fees, etc.) of the new budget increase the burden on the poor, whereas the rich are hardly affected. These measures will not put Australia’s economy back on a secure and sustainable footing, as claimed by the government, all they will do is make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

“It is no longer acceptable that coal and oil companies spend millions of dollars to defeat efforts to protect the planet.”

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

The new climate report (National Climate Assessment: http://www.globalchange.gov/) of the US government is out.

See here for brief summary and comments:
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/05/06-2

Th future looks grim, if we don’t take urgent action.

Don’t let our children pay for our sins

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

The Treasurer Joe Hockey, in a talk to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce on 2.5.2014, stated that we have to get the budget back into surplus or at least reduce the debt. If we do not do it now, our children will have to pay, which nobody wants. “Australians born after 1965 will have to work until they are 70 before they are eligible for the age pension under changes announced by Joe Hockey, while the Treasurer has also warned there is “no such thing” as a free visit to a doctor or free welfare”. Expenditures for public service will also be cut (SMH 2.5.14). Very commendable not to burden our children, of course, but what about the environmental mess due to climate change, deforestation etc. we will leave behind if we don’t take urgent action on reducing human impact on the environment now? Lack of action will lead to a far greater burden for future generations than (according to leading economists) wildly overestimated debts.

Concerning climate change politics and deforestion, the position of the government is clear.

Not long after becoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott expressed his intention to reduce renewable energy targets. Among other things, he declared that he wants to see another investigation on the health effects of wind-turbines (although one had just been completed and had found no such effects). And, according to SMH 3.-4.5.14, “Joe Hockey has attacked wind farms as “utterly offensive and “a blight on the landscape” in the latest sign that the Abbott government intends to cut back on renewable energy targets”.

Deforestation: in a talk in Tasmania before the state elections there, Tony Abbott declared that we really have too many national parks and that loggers are the best conservationists. Even the Indonesian government and the local authorities in Aceh are not so dumb as to claim that the large scale logging going on at this moment in Northern Sumatra, wiping out the few remaining habitats for Sumatran rhinoceros, orang utans and other endangered species, is done by loggers acting as good conservationists. http://www.smh.com.au/world/acehs-leuser-ecosystem-pays-a-high-price-for-the-peace-dividend-20140501-zr1qh.html

Climate change. Effects on small island states, and the view of the Australian Attorney-General

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

An article recently published in the Trinidad Express, a newspaper of a small Caribbean island state, deals with the latest climate assessment by the IPCC emphasizing the impact of climate change on food security, particulary in small island states:

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/Climate-change-vs-food-security-255590621.html

Excerpts:
“Climate change ……… has a direct bearing on food security……. the IPCC warned that all aspects of food security including availability of food, stability of food supply and utilisation of food, are potentially affected by climate change.”……. “our climate is warming at a pace unparalleled in the history of the planet and that we no longer have the luxury of pretending that climate change is not happening.”

“Small island developing states are particularly at risk because of their small size, their geographic location. Because of their low-lying nature, sea level rise will inundate coastal areas,”.

At the same time, George Brandis, the Australian Attorney General, has the following to say, in line with views expressed by several others in the Abbott government:

“George Brandis has compared himself to Voltaire and derided proponents of climate change action as “believers” who do not listen to opposing views and have reduced debate to a mediaeval and ignorant level.”

Full article here:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/climate-change-proponents-using-mediaeval-tactics-george-brandis-20140418-zqwfc.html

Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Nationals and Minister for Agriculture in the Abbott government, has complained that the ABC does not give time (or sufficient time) to climate change “sceptics” (20 March 2014).

The end of capitalism? How to combat climate change.

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

We are rapidly approaching collapse of the present economic system, which cannot cope with the challenges of human induced climate change. An interesting article in Spiegel International deals with this problem: Harald Welzer, “Climate Summit Trap: Capitalism’s March toward Global Collapse”:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/warsaw-climate-conference-shows-capitalism-root-of-climate-failure-a-937453.html

Some extracts:

Capitalism Triumphant

………. The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we………. get through…….this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, ……..

Two approaches to escape from this trap have recently been developed:

1. ” ‘Economy for the Common Good’

Imagine, for example, what might happen if a large number of businesses make the improvement of the common good — instead of an increase in their profits — the goal of their commercial efforts.

There are ….. already more than 1,400 companies,…….. in German-speaking countries that have made a commitment to the concept of the “economy for the common good,” …….

In the medium term, the “economy for the common good” movement aims to make such accounting legally binding. The principle is that the more common-good “points” a business achieves, the more legal benefits it should enjoy.”

2. “The Argument for Divestment

Another, even more effective, instrument for creating this sort of change is the “Fossil Free” divestment campaign launched last year by American environmental activist Bill McKibben……… based on the simple idea that entire industries’ commercial foundation can be destroyed if funds are withdrawn from them.

Such initiatives are now active at nearly 400 American schools, colleges and universities. Four colleges and 10 cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, have made the decision to divest. The campaign has also spread to Europe, where University College London just joined the movement.”

Partners in Crime, Canada and Australia now Brethren in Arms on Climate Change Policy

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

The right-wing Canadian government (keen to sell Canada’s huge reserves of tar-sands oil, which is highly toxic and leads to high greenhouse gas emissions) has lauded Australia for abolishing its carbon tax. This may have serious consequences for global warming.

See here:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/13/canada-climate-australia-carbon-tax

Recent developments in Australia, according to the Sydney Morning Herald (14.11.13): “Labor struggles to seal carbon deal……repeal legislation revealed funding of Australia’s $3 billion renewable energy agency would be slashed by $435 million……The independent agency was established to support renewable energy projects and research.”

So, do not only ignore research on climate change and ways to combat it, but gag it! All the way with big business supported by the right-wing (Murdoch and others) media!

Climate change politics after the Australian elections

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

We now have a new government (for those from overseas:”Liberals” plus “Nationals”, i.e., right-wing) under Prime-Minister Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic and apparently friend of Cardinal George Pell, both climate change “sceptics” (see my post “On the road to fascism? Climate change and media concentration“). Abbott is on record as having earlier referred to climate change science as “crap”, although he now says that he believes in climate change and human contribution to it. Among the first actions of this new government was the dissolution of the Climate Council headed by Professor Flannery, a scientific body that had advised the previous government and the Australian public on climate change. Further actions were funding cuts to public services leading to the reduction by hundreds of staff of the CSIRO, the major Australian research organisation which – among many other projects of vital importance to the country – has done much work on climate change.

Miranda Devine in the Murdoch tabloid Sunday Telegraph November 10, 2013 illuminates the attitude of he new government on climate change politics very well. She writes in an article headed “Change is in the wind on climate”: “What a delicious decision of the Abbott government not to send a minister to the latest UN climate-change conference… Environment Minister Greg Hunt can’t go to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks in Poland. He’ll be too busy…repealing the carbon tax! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the other end of the RSVP.”……. “Howard’s” (an earlier liberal Prime Minister of Australia) “takeaway is that politicians should not allow themselves to be browbeaten by the alleged views of experts….laws affecting the daily lives, including sensitive social issues, should never be made other than by politicians.” (Devine’s comments are not meant to be sarcastic, they reflect what she has expressed in numerous earlier articles in the Murdoch press).

Some articles by various commentators in other newspapers on recent events illuminating the government’s approach to climate change and related environmental issues in the following.

Southeastern Australia recently experienced particularly wide-spread and seasonally early bushfires that caused considerable damage. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change negotiations, was in Australia at about that time. She drew a link between the strength of the bushfires and climate change. The Sydney Morning Herald (25.10.13), a Fairfax newspaper, reported about the reactions of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this statement as follows: “Hunt taps Wikipedia for bushfire backing…Greg Hunt says” (in an interview with the BBC World Service)” Wikipedia, the online answer to everything, provides evidence that the unseasonal bushfires plaguing NSW are not linked to climate change…..Mr Hunt has been at the centre of a storm about climate change since Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the head of the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, Christina Figueres, of talking “through her hat” on the issue.” “The fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they are a function of life in Australia, Mr.Abbott said.”…”The rebuke prompted Ms.Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, to release another statement in which she pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already found a causal link between climate change and bushfires and its next report in 2014 would build on that.” … In the Sydney Morning Herald October 26-27: “Professor Will Steffen, who co-authored the soon-to-be-released bushfire report by the Climate Council, was responding to Mr. Abbott’s assertion in a newspaper interview with the leading climate sceptic Andrew Bolt that drawing a link between the savage bushfires now plaguing NSW and climate change was “complete hogwash”…”The Climate Council report, a summary of which was revealed by Fairfax Media on Friday, found a clear link between rising temperatures and a longer, more dangerous bushfire season in south-eastern Australia”….”The Climate Council, which was reformed as an independent body after Mr.Hunt abolished it on his second day in the job, will release the report in full next month”….

Interesting that Peter Hatcher, the international editor of the SMH, concluded in the same issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, that Tony Abbott really meant the same thing as Christina Figueres. (???? difficult to believe).

In the election campaign, Abbott made abolishment of the carbon tax, which was introduced by the previous Labour government, a key issue. He wants to replace it with a “direct action” policy, paying polluters to pollute less. The Sydney Morning Herald contacted 35 economists and found that 33 of them supported carbon pricing, rejecting the Direct Action policy. However, Abbott rejects any form of carbon pricing and will not make any binding commitments above a 5% reduction by direct action by 2020 “in he absence of very serious like-binding commitments in other countries….” (SMH 13.11.13).

The results of misinformation about climate change in the U.S.

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Inspite of recent announcements by the American president, nothing important has yet happened with regard to climate change. Large sections of the American public remain unconvinced that human activities are responsible. Why? Lack of scientific evidence certainly is not the reason. See here:

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2013/05/201351865032465413.html

A quote from this article:

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

- Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center