Scotland bans fracking – a Tragedy?

The Scottish  government’s decision to extend the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing into a permanent ban is the only sane long term decision, but the Tragedy of the Commons means that in the here and now the reaction of Ineos, which was poised to exploit fracking sites, is right. In the short term banning fracking is economic self-harm.

The classic case of the ‘Tragedy’ was of unregulated exploitation by individuals of resources which should be used, and preserved for the benefit of the whole community, but the basic principle has much wider repercussions. In a competitive situation no one can allow themselves to be put at a disadvantage.

One of the basic principles of evolution is that any organism which finds itself even at a temporary disadvantage is heading for extinction. No matter how beneficial a new mutation in the long run, and no matter how slight the tweak necessary to take advantage of the new opportunities, it is doomed unless it rapidly finds an answer to the problem.

We live in a world where permanent economic growth is taken for granted.  Although technological wizardry may well keep this theoretical nonsense at bay for much longer than we pessimists think, as long as growth continues, demand for fuel will continue to rise, and the economic case for fracking will remain overwhelming.

I confess surprise at the Scottish decision. I had assumed they would have accepted that in the short term they need Ineos. They have just turned away a source of jobs and incomes which Scotland sorely needs.

This analysis may be wrong. If this heroic sacrifice leads to a world-wide boycott of fracking it will have the desired effect of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and so at least delaying the onset of climate change. The end of the world as we know it need not be at hand after all.

But if that does happen, it will seriously inhibit economic growth. I keep suggesting the Universal Basic (Citizen’s) Income as a way to deal with this, but as neither de-growth nor the Basic Income are yet widely accepted, whoever causes a fall in economic activity will be blamed, and will suffer for it.

But not only may all others not follow suit, Ineos has much at stake. It has to stay profitable. It will have to look for alternative locations. In theory, almost all governments, and even most oil companies supported the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which, if it worked, would reduce carbon emissions. But when we come to specifics, we are asking huge commercial enterprises not to do what they are in existence to do.

The same phenomenon also applies across the board, for example to vehicle production, but an even more gross example is the steel industry. Who is supposed to be the first to put themselves at a temporary disadvantage to save the planet from ecological destruction?

Not fracking is the only sane option. And unless we make better arrangements, the ecosphere will bring unsustainable activity to a nasty accidental end.  No one has yet fathomed a way of helping large, powerful multinational corporations not to do what they do, but the Basic Income can be the foundation stone for the new narrative which leading Green advocates such as Kate Raworth, George Mobiot and Naomi Klein are struggling to find to challenge the currently dominant neoliberal narrative. Even they seem to miss the full significance of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

I make no apology for repeating here chunks from a recent blog on Hurricane Harvey. It is important.

In 1973 the Green Party was simply a response to the 1972 MIT ‘Limits’ study. I envisaged what would at the outset be a ‘pretend’ political party. It would be a vehicle for a coherent set of policies which would allow whole populations to accept lower economic activity, what would in conventional terms feel like a recession.

Doorstepping ‘Jehovah’s Witness’ style revealed that even in 1973, one in 10 already took the MIT ‘Limits’ warning seriously enough to vote for such a party, on the understanding that all it could do was publicise that there were possible answers to a crisis which would happen sooner or later if humans did nothing to avert it. The Party would become a ‘real’ party as the resulting publicity changed mainstream mind sets.

I think that the success of UKIP allows me to claim wisdom after the event. The UK Green Party vote collapsed at the 2017 General Election. It could cause even greater surprise than the rise of Jeremy Corbyn by rediscovering its original purpose. That may have looked naive and unrealistic in 1973, but it is both necessary and realistic now (albeit possibly too late).

The Unconditional Basic (Citizens’) Income (UBI) will allow the necessary slackening of economic activity to be thinkable as a policy option by millions who would otherwise cling to economic growth as necessary. But that entails careful management of expectations among the better off. Instead of stressing how Socialist we are, we must reassure them that the unavoidable drastic redistribution will be no more than is necessary to ensure basic needs for all, and it will be less than if we wait for the full impact of climate change. (And by the way, the UBI is start-up entrepreneur friendly).

But why should those still making profits from ‘business as usual’ change anything? Devastation in the Gulf of Mexico is slightly more worrying than in Bangladesh, but is it enough to seriously change strategy? After all, according to conventional thinking, Hurricane Harvey’s destruction is a golden opportunity for economic growth!

If that logic is right, the sooner Trump attacks North Korea, the better.

Oddly enough, the worst offenders do realize what they are doing. They have even taken steps to pull back from the brink, in the shape of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Even now, it could work. But if the idiocy just pointed out is to be prevented, we do need the catalyst of a ‘pretend’ political party.

Are ‘irrelevant’ Green Parties capable of grasping this opportunity?

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