Why I worry the Paris climate talks will stumble

There are hopeful signs not seen previously, but unless economic growth is tackled, the many excellent suggestions and intentions by unexpected players amount to cooling a bonfire by putting wood on it.

Regular readers will find the gist similar to last week, with one passage copied and pasted, because it is relevant to the Paris Climate change talks. I hope it will attract more hits than did apparently less interesting references to China and the Tragedy of the Commons.

Yes, there are forms of growth which would be sustainable for a period, but this notion is still confined to those who have the new, necessary mind set. The overwhelming consensus remains that any growth is good, and must be resumed as soon as possible. Anyone who reads the Financial Times is forcibly reminded of this, A worrying aspect for me is that those proposing eminently practical, sustainable solutions proceed as though their insight was already the norm.

I guess a possible reason for that is that their new approach is so obviously right. I have never believed that the capitalists who are in effect bent on destroying the planet’s life support systems were as stupid as they seem. They, or at any rate most of them have known all along that unsustainable forms of growth must end. Why haven’t they stopped? Why do you think I keep banging on about the Tragedy’? They are engaged in a desperate game of ‘chicken’. In a fiercely competitive environment doing the only sane thing doesn’t do anything useful, it just puts you at a disadvantage as long as any other competitor purports to believe that expansion is still feasible. Will Paris offer any help in overcoming the few true madmen amongst them?

As I said last week, there are books on intelligent ways to rein in unsustainable forms of growth: Enough is Enough, by Dan O’Neill and Bob Dietz, and Prosperity without Growth, by Tim Jackson. There was a  Green House event last week on the ‘circular economy’. I have attended a Green Economics Institute day conference briefing its Paris delegation. This FT article points out how far Japan has already travelled towards the circular economy (Note FT links don’t always work). And whoever thought the USA and China would co-operate on climate change?

But none of this helps Tata in their decision which steelworks to close, and which to keep open, or Ineos, on whether to abandon plans to frack in Scotland, even though they may well realize that the gas must stay in the ground. They have to be ready for an economic upturn, however brief. This FT article on Aluminium dumping is a reminder of the cultural mind set change which is still needed, and not just by the capitalists. Who will thank them for halting their attack on the ecosphere, if all that happens is that a source of prosperity goes elsewhere?

I am probably dismissed as a Citizens’ Basic Income maniac. Fair enough, I think about it as often as sex. That must be why no one bothers to tell me why it is not relevant to a whole series of global problems. Isis (Isil?) Migration, the poverty trap, including attacks not only on Tax Credits, but as of this weekend, even the Universal Credit! If something which puts Iain Duncan Smith and me on the same side is not a wake-up call, what is?

To those focussed on here and now practicalities the Basic Income can have no relevance to Syria, and it is understandably seen as unhelpful to point out that a Basic Income together with help to stabilize population years ago would have at least reduced the present horror. There are places where a Basic Income has been introduced, though purely with a view to reducing inequality. This is necessary, but unless sustainability is built in, the Basic income will turn out to be the biggest log of all cooling down the bonfire. Is Mali a possible pilot test case for a Green Basic Income? Mali is a desperately poor country with a birth rate of 6 children per woman. Large families can hardly be a sign of confidence. That most will not reach adulthood is more likely to be a factor. If such an experiment succeeds, it could spread  faster than capitalism did. It needs to.

In time, the effect will even reach Syria. Whatever prompts some to join Isil rather than to emigrate, neither is a soft option. The horrific extremes distract attention from the fact that the aim of a world wide Caliphate is at least partly motivated by the need for an alternative to the currently dominant world view. And environmental degradation is a factor fuelling increasing desperation. Think Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The case for a world-wide Basic Income is fundamental. Once upon a time the world was populated (sparsely) by tribes who were only where they were because there were sufficient resources for all. A prerequisite for a sustainable society is for every individual to have access to basic needs, on condition that they do nothing to damage the environment (including not increasing the population without good reason), and it will help if everyone has an incentive to contribute to the economy in some way. The Basic Income will achieve all this. When someone thinks of a better way, we can adopt that.

But Paris is not the best place to launch the Basic Income. It needs to have become a mainstream idea before being the subject of detailed implementation. I fear that without it Paris will at best achieve less than is needed, but if, some time soon, the Basic Income can at long last impinge on consciousness world-wide, all may not be lost.

2 responses to “Why I worry the Paris climate talks will stumble

    • Thanks Gordon. Duly filed. I have had a couple of goes trying to contact the Ellen Macarthur Foundation in the past without reply. Have these circular guys missed the point I am making, or is it me that doesn’t understand how the circular economy deals with growth? I haven’t got my hear round it yet, but my current thinking is depressed into thinking I am right by the FT article on Japan. It was obvious that Japan, resourceless but full of extremely clever minds (as a kid I was mightily impressed by the way they conquered Malaya in no time in 1942 using fold-up bikes), would have to adopt a circular economy. They have done, but their economy is still in the doldrums in conventional terms, but more depressingly, not a peep from them about no growth being a good idea.

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