Talk to Lawnswood School

It would be a pity if COP26 failed to save the ecosphere. I have an idea which I think might help to make it a success.

Greta Thunberg has an official clinical diagnosis of autism, but she regards it as a gift, not a disability.

Greta claims she can see things normal minds miss. So do I. But I am not world famous..

The Limits to Growth Report in 1972 was an early warning that humans were exhausting  the Earth’s resources faster than they could be replaced. As soon as I read ‘Limits’, I foresaw an economic contraction. I suggested an unconditional basic income, a sum of money given weekly to everyone aged 18 or older to spend as they wished. I shall return to the reasons for the basic income later.

But like Greta (who was not born in 1972), I had made the mistake that everyone was aware of the danger of humans ignoring ecological limits, and terrified of the consequences. Everyone I spoke to thought I was over-reacting. Limits was a theoretical idea, which they thought they could ignore for several years.

It was not until quite recently that extreme weather events, wildfires, coral bleaching, permafrost melting and the continuing rise in CO2 confirmed what some of us feared 50 years ago.

I did find a few others who suffered from the same disability as Greta and me, and eventually we founded what became the Green Party. But it suffered from two weaknesses. The main one was that we were oddballs – 99% of the people we asked dismissed us as some sort of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My slogan “The end of the World need not be not at hand” only caught on with the other 1%..

The second problem that having failed in its original  purpose, the Green Party became very ‘left wing.’ It has done good work locally, but it was no longer about saving the Ecosphere for future generations

[Digression to explain the Ecosphere]

Eventually Jeremy Corbyn turned out to be a more popular socialist.

But if you look at election results up to and including the 1989 European Elections, Green votes were consistently higher in Conservative areas. I think this is because people who have money are more likely to think about long term threats than those worried about rent and needing food banks. So the Green Party alienated most of its potential support. (We lost that support when the rich discovered our tax intentions)

We have recovered to some extent at local level but at the Parliamentary level, Green issues still have little or no support. COP26 seems to have brought the reason the Green Party was founded centre stage, but the Green Party is still out in the cold.

There have been dirty tricks by vested interests, such as the email hacking at East Anglia University. But there are several other reasons why doing what is necessary for the Planet is not popular. We agree that car use must go down, but how do we expect the motor industry to react to the drop in profits?.

Suppose  somebody sets up  say a bicycle delivery service, against one already functioning using normal, conventional, petrol fuelled vans. It could work, if fuel costs were high enough, but the Green Party, which is the only Party which might put this to voters, dare not mention higher taxes.

The basic income is a part of the answer. If we are to live within ecological limits, taxes will have to go up, which is why it looks ‘left wing’. But another idea central to ecology which is definitely not left wing is population limitation.

Instead of left versus right. haves versus have nots, the new conflict will be those who recognize and respect ecological limits and those who do not. The basic income will make this thinkable for both haves and have-nots.

Most people hearing of the basic income for the first time say “Why give it to the rich? ”This is the problem of means testing. What actually happens now has the effect of a tax when it is withdrawn, on incomes low enough to receive the benefit.

The two most probable ways of paying for the basic income are Land tax, and personal income tax. If all you receive is your basic income, you keep it all, but for those with income from other sources there will be a break-even point above which they pay more in tax than they receive from the basic income. It will be redistributive, and this is why it appeals to left wingers.

On its own, the basic income is in danger of causing indiscriminate economic growth, but that will mean more CO2. It must be in tandem with carbon taxes, where old enemies realize they have to pull together to defeat this enemy.

In 1940 Britain was in grave danger of being overrun by Nazi Germany. But the threat was recognized. Bitter enemies in the House of Commons formed a coalition to defeat the common enemy. Tax rates on the rich went over 90% – without complaint. Why is none of this happening now?

This enemy is threatening the whole World. Just one horrifying example: in high humidity, you cannot sweat: your temperature rises until you die of heat stroke. That means whole populations having to migrate from wherever their people have always lived.

I want to finish with a philosophical argument.

Humans have proved extremely clever at solving problems with new inventions. Until now, entrepreneurial skill has almost always proved profitable, so the entire system has been based on novel technological advances, such as hydraulic fracturing.

The basic income is different. It is a form of Buddhism. It is not in conflict with clever ideas. but it will help it will make them unnecessary where they threaten to do damage the environment cannot tolerate.

Is it too late to get the basic income into the COP26 narrative?

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