Green Party, Universal Income, nuclear power and growth!

Terrible news this week is trumped by the best news in 41 years. A motion in favour of nuclear power at the September Green Party conference, but the Citizens’ Basic Income is at long last to feature in the 2015 election campaign.
I am told that the pro-nuclear motion has been brought by new members, physics students, immediately on joining the party. As I keep saying, the Green Party was formed in response to ‘Limits to Growth’, which warned that humankind was over-exploiting the planet. New members can be forgiven for ignoring that, or even being unaware of it. I have just looked at the Party’s website and tried to think like an enquirer. We don’t like climate change. That’s it. No mention of the fundamental need to end the dependency on growth. Some forms of growth are OK. It is the drug like dependency that is the problem. If the proposers of the pro-nuclear motion are young, being students, and such a bull at a gate approach suggests they are young, they are unlikely to have joined because of the ‘Limits’ aspect, or to feel the visceral objection to nuclear power than many of my generation do: they might overlook the 1961 Cuban missile crisis, the various re-namings of Windscale (Sellafield) after each er, mishap, Three Mile Island (1979) or Chernobyl (1986), but Fukushima?? My natural naivete hopes for dialogue rather than the polarised confrontation which looks more likely.
Fortunately, although the foregoing will deeply upset many long standing GP members, I shall plead with them not to give up because of the good news. Natalie Bennett has announced that the ‘Universal Income’ is to be featured prominently next year. The new name is probably tactically astute. The Universal Credit, as originally envisaged, could have been described as an emaciated Citizens Basic Income with unnecessary cattle prods (sanctions). It was me, one of the party’s oldest, but certainly the longest serving member, who made sure the Citizens Basic Income became Green Party policy from the outset (1973). So to make sure there are not too many half baked objections, two points:
Cost. All the Citizens’, sorry Universal Income does is abolish means testing. The donkey work has been done for us by the most unlikely source imaginable: In September 2009 Iain Duncan Smith’s Think Tank Centre for Social Justice produced a report ‘Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works’. The first part could be used word for word, graph for detailed graph, as the case for the Universal Income. Instead, the rest of the report, which introduced the Universal Credit, avoids that natural conclusion. Just read ‘Dynamic Benefits’ for yourself. Find and click ‘Publications’.
Secondly, just so we don’t get accused of hiding anything, my 1973 vision had among its aims making a recession acceptable to whole populations – no growth whenever necessary to prevent planetary over-exploitation, and a rapprochement of the now outdated ‘left’ and ‘right wing’ ideologies. But the Party has attracted mainly socialists who are still unwilling to make friends with anyone from the enemy tribe, so that many who would have responded, and split the ‘capitalist’ vote, have remained outside. Meanwhile ‘Target to Win’ has taken the Green Party some distance from its 1973 roots. Success at a local level inevitably meant playing down aspects of sustainability that would be difficult to explain to many people in the sound bites we get. ‘Target to Win’ has achieved success within its own terms of reference, with a significant Green presence at all levels of representation, but until we get back to the original, fundamental questioning of growth as an automatic essential permanent necessity there can be no rational discussion on the sustainability of nuclear power, genetically modified crops, hydraulic fracturing, solar panelled roads or any other technological innovation. They are all absolutely necessary. My original suggested slogan, rejected by more sensible party members, was ‘A Recession can be Fun!’
The real value of what I must now remember to call the UI, not the Cits BI, is that it allows ordinary individuals, everywhere to consider what will be condemned as a recession with equanimity. But for now, that the Green Party has forgotten why it was created does not matter. The immediate need is to get rid of Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey, Lord Fraud, ATOS, workfare and sanctions, using their own ammunition from ‘Dynamic Benefits’. A particularly unpleasant example of mainstream anti-scrounger thinking is exposed this week by Johnny Void: TUC guidance on workfare. My slogan now would be ‘Persuasion is better than Force’. Only the Green Party has this vision.
Good on you Natalie!

8 responses to “Green Party, Universal Income, nuclear power and growth!

  1. I can confirm that the proponents of the nuclear power amendment are both young. I am a Young Green who joined the party precisely because of “Limits to Growth” and Rupert Read made that his central campaigning point at my university, Cambridge, during this year’s European Election campaign, and got a lot of support for it, but I realise that the picture is very different elsewhere. However, I don’t see why recognising the limits to growth should necessarily mean we should eliminate nuclear power. I don’t see that visceral objection is a valid reason to automatically exclude it. As you say, discussion rather than confrontation is essential. The argument for nuclear power is essentially that previous disasters have involved much older reactors than those currently being built, that replacing nuclear as well as fossil fuels during a climate crisis will be exceedingly difficult and we should only question nuclear when we have replaced fossil fuels, that the rare earth metals required for renewables are limited, that developing thorium (or, in the more distant future) fusion technology may eliminate many of the safety and resource limitation problems and that we should also work to develop technology to re-use nuclear waste in reactors. The argument against is that uranium fission reactors are inherently unsafe because changes to temperature and pressure can cause a melt-down, that we have no solution for the waste, that these issues could come to a head if our economic system begins to fall apart during a climate crisis and as limits to growth hit (this includes the threat of terrorism), that it is managed in relative secrecy about a scientific élite and that it lends itself to corporate control. Why can’t we have this debate?

    • Thank you for taking the trouble to comment. Your comment gives me cause for mixed feelings. My immediate concern is that if you are as it were coming straight into a conference from the street, you may find the experience off putting, even traumatic. Please bear with us. The Green Party, and I suspect, elements in other parties, behave just as I found divorcing couples to behave when I worked with them as a Probation Officer: when strong feelings are involved, the nicest people can be less than fair. My starting point is that I am a member of the anti-nuclear old guard. A view taken by some who share my opinion is that your amendments should be ruled out of order. I am not sure of their grounds, but it is felt that the reason they were not ruled out of order was that some members of the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) are using you to further their own ends. I shall come back to that in a moment. My view is that to present motions (technically amendments to the existing policy) immediately on joining, with no possibility of networking or discussion, risks bringing out the worst in people.
      I am considerably relieved that you have been recruited by Rupert and ‘Limits’. I am in email contact with others, and have been quite surprised – and impressed – with the doubts expressed on a total anti-nuclear position where I would not have expected them. So if the GP was what it was intended to be in 1973 – a party predicated on the proposition that a dependency on growth must be brought to an end, I would have been undecided, listening to the arguments. But the party is not what it was. Membership has grown to 18,000, but the majority of new recruits have joined primarily though disillusion with Labour or Lib Dems. They want that kind of party, and are not interested in, or in many cases actually unaware of the ‘Limits’ genesis. They can be forgiven if their main source of info was the GP website.
      But within that large section of the party. there is a small group who appear determined to cut any remaining links to the Party’s ‘no growth’ roots, and transform it into a purely socialist party. SOC members may not accept that they are members of this group within a group (or that such a hard core exists), but they are certainly members of that wider group for whom growth is not necessarily a problem.
      Until what feels to me like a pirate boarding party is repelled, debate on the merits of ANY technological innovation is dangerous – they are all absolutely necessary to keep growth growing. Your amendments would risk being used for developments which you and I would deplore. So my hope is that you will at this stage withdraw the amendments, and immerse yourself for a bit in the messy ins and outs of a political party. Having said why you joined, I would be sorry to lose you due to your likely experiences of your first conference.

      • Erm, I am not a proposer of this motion, nor do I have a particular view either way, nor have I just joined in the last couple of months, though I have been in email contact with the proposers. I just wanted to ask why you think we can’t have this debate. On the matter of my motivation and limits, other Greens I have known well for some time who inspired me to join were David Corry and Jonathan Tyler.

  2. And no, I don’t think the proposers understand limits. One of the proposers wrote to me: “I massively disagree with fundamentally attempting to reduce our total
    energy usage. I definitely think we should be more efficient, and I
    think reductions in usage of maybe 30% could be possible, but I think
    we’ll absorb those efficiencies by further technological developments
    that further reduce our greenhouse gasses (like electric cars). In
    addition, with additional energy consumption we can begin actively
    neutralising carbon in the air – CCS, advanced recycling etc., and all
    these technologies take massive amounts of energy. In my opinion if we
    really care about the planet we should be utilising efficient energy
    generators (like nuclear, specifically LFTR) and using it to cut our
    waste elsewhere. For example, even if we cut our use of fossil fuels,
    we’ll still need oil for plastic. With large amounts of energy we
    could create the hydrocarbons ourselves (on a side note, a lab
    somewhere managed to get a bacteria to produce petrol/gasoline, should
    be able to find it if you google it). Another example of this would be
    recycling old electronics, at the moment its ‘cheaper’ to dump it in
    some third world country than recycle it – but we should be using our
    energy resources to melt it down and turn it back into raw materials
    again. That energy has to come from somewhere.

    By the way I have no problem with limits on _population_ growth, we

    need to stop our population growing – but in the UK we really don’t
    have that problem. We get most of our population growth from
    immigration. The main issue is the developing world – India, Nigeria,
    Pakistan etc. I just don’t agree we should be limiting our energy use.
    In fact, we need to be readying better sources of energy and making
    them available to the third world – otherwise they’re going to jump on
    the fossil fuel bandwagon to meet their demands.

    On the topic of nuclear waste, the LFTR actively burns fuel from other
    reactors, and I believe some other reactors (like the one at
    Sellafield) are also capable of doing it. These are fission
    technologies, and therefore we need a good body of fission research to
    further develop this. I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t be cutting
    our waste rather than generating more, which is why I’m so keen to see
    the LFTR rolled out (once its ready), and we are going to need new
    technologies to help do that.

    On Fukushima, we need to remember that it was an ancient reactor
    design (almost as old as Chernobyl?) and not part of the same
    technology group we are advocating. It will be decades before we can
    conclusively prove if there were links to additional cancers (normally
    Thyroid cancer), but the total radiological release is nowhere near as
    much as Chernobyl – and we’re still debating whether we can
    conclusively prove a link to increased cancer outside of the immediate
    area of Chernobyl – some sources say 100k, some say 1k – these numbers
    are still so low that they are barely noticeable against the usual
    statistics. The Linear No-Threadhold model of radiological exposure
    has been conclusively disproven by many studies, meaning you’d have to
    be exposed to a lot of radiation, for a long time (or an exceptionally
    large dose in a short period of time), neither of which are likely to
    be an issue for people not actually inside the powerplant at Fukushima
    (although I’d also suggest not eating the fish from that area of the
    sea for a few years either, which might help the populations to
    increase anyway…). Even if we do manage to conclude that this is
    indeed causing additional cancers, there are so many other
    technologies we should also apply the same scrutiny too – the fossil
    fuel industry, all forms of transport (how many die on our roads, even
    those not actually in the vehicles involved), obesity, second hand
    smoking, etc etc. It wouldn’t surprise me if more people die falling
    off their roof putting up solar panels than those that die as a result
    of nuclear power release (disaster or normal operation).”

  3. I agree with you about the feeling of piracy. May I ask why a rule hasn’t been proposed which would prevent anyone from proposing a conference motion until they’d been a member for 6 months?
    I don’t see how this should prevent us from having a discussion on nuclear from a limits to growth perspective.

    • Apols for misunderstanding your role. I guess a 6 month rule may well emerge as a result of this. There are some who feel that nuclear should be as off limits as paedophilia, but there are others of us who WOULD think of debate as obvious IF we could be sure the ‘Limits’ context could be taken for granted. But in any case, your email correspondents’ tactics do not suggest that dialogue is their main aim. You must make allowances for me (and others) who are still raw from the ambush by the Pirates at the Feb 2013 conference where they successfully downgraded ‘Limits’ in the Philosophical Basis. They are recent members, but I don’t think a 6 month rule would have caught them.
      I leave it to your judgment whether you draw the nuclear proposers’ attention to this post, and our dialogue. I do think thy need to be warned about what conference may be like for them. Will you be at conference?

  4. Hi, I’m the main proposer of this motion (not the one who sent the email that Oscar mentioned).

    In our document, we mention both Chernobyl and Fukushima and make points about why they are not relievant in this age or in Britain. Chernobyl happened like 30 years ago where the design of reactor was wildly different to modern reactors and the plant was run by people that didn’t know how to properly run it. The Fukushima disaster happened because of the tsunami (which I can assure you, is impossible in Britain). Because the walls at Fukushima weren’t high enough the tsunami attacked the plant; there was another plant actually closer the the tsunami that was fine because the walls were built higher The type of reactor was also very old.

    Also, growing our (carbon neutral) energy output can only be a good thing as newer technologies like electric cars and carbon capture (which we can all agree are good things) will probably require us to have a greater output of electricity.

  5. Hi, I’m one one of the amendment organisers, Oscar sent the link on to me, so I thought I’d comment.

    Before I address the major topics I just thought I’d clarify, I’ve actually been a member of the party for about 2 1/2 years, although until now I’ve been a passive member. I’m also actually nearly 30, so I’m not quite as young and new to this as it has been made out.

    My original aim for this amendment was to soften the anti-nuclear power position, because it was putting a lot of people off joining and voting for the party. I’d heard the same things over and over again so it seemed it was a common thread among people who should be part of the party, but are not. The more I dug into it, the more I found the party’s position on it made less sense, especially given the hurdles you have to jump with renewables which just don’t exist with nuclear. By the end of it we’d amassed a fairly lengthy document that we believe challenges the ‘100% renewables’ aim of the energy policy, and at this point attempting to soften the position seemed like a weak move when we could make the energy policy more robust as a result.

    I understand the hesitation over the safety of nuclear power, I also share the fear over earlier reactor designs that are still in operation. But, the designs we have now are almost unrecognisable compared to what we had before. However, I do not believe the risks associated with nuclear power are severe enough to prevent us from solving our energy problem. With the flaws in a 100% renewable energy economy we’ve outlined in our amendment I believe not using everything we’ve got to solve climate change is irresponsible.

    I want to touch on the concept of limits, as again I think I’ve been misrepresented (I don’t think the brief emails between myself and Oscar really captured my position). I am in favour of limits to growth – particularly population and economic growth – neither of which can be sustained. I am NOT in favour of limits to energy consumption, and I believe these are completely separate things that are in no way related. I believe we should be doing everything we can to limit population growth, specifically in developing countries. The UK does not have a population growth problem, and as a country we rank low on the carbon output list, so we should be looking to affect policy outside our borders, not just inside it. Of course we should lead by example, but I don’t think we need to resort to drastic action yet.

    Carbon output and energy growth do not have to be linked, they are currently only linked due to our over-use of fossil fuels. There are two ways to solve this problem – renewables and nuclear. Both solutions have their unique problems, the difference is that to make renewables viable, you have to cap energy growth – with nuclear you don’t. This is especially true when you start looking at technologies such as Thorium that are extremely abundant and safe to utilise.

    There are two differences between a low energy economy and a high energy economy:
    * Quality of life – we need to spend less energy doing the things we hate – see how much of a difference a single invention (the washing machine) made.
    * Efficiency of recycling – the more energy we have the more we can devote to recycling. We can produce less waste. At the moment it is cheaper to make a new product than recycling an old one.

    The last energy boom – that came from fossil fuels – ended slavery. Imagine what the next energy boom could provide.

    My personal vision of the future: A small LFTR in every city, mass produced at low cost. I’d move away from Uranium solid-fuel based fission as soon as it becomes viable to do so.

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