Are Transition Towns going to save us? – a precis of a forthcoming article

Summary: More and more people are talking about how ‘Transition Towns’ (www.transitionculture.org) might change the world and save us from oil depletion and climate catastrophe. But there is I am afraid one critically important respect in which this bold hope could not possibly come true. It is this:
The Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us, because, within the existing economic system, some communities reducing their use of fossil fuels is received by everyone else as a price signal that it is OK to use even more fossil fuels. I.e. For every litre of petrol that (say) Totnes does not use, everyone else in Britain is very slightly incentivised to use more petrol, by the price not going up as much as it otherwise would.
Transition Towns alone can only function as demonstration projects. They show what is possible. But in order for them to be part of a movement of movements that actually reduces overall use of fossil fuels, legislation is needed. Legislation that enforces lower overall use of fossil fuels (e.g. through carbon rationing), and/or that forces everyone to try to become a transition town.
That is why I believe that both local action and political commitment are required. Unless we force political change, then Rob Hopkins’s ‘Transition Towns’ vision of how why might make a transition to a saner future will remain a fantasy or a myth, rather than the reality we absolutely desperately need it to become.
p.s. Feb. 12th: Please see my full-length article on this, here: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2008/02/transition-towns-are-great-but-they.html

MEPs salaries are too high

One thing I plan to do if elected MEP for Eastern Region — is give a substantial portion of my salary ‘back’, to the Green Party (the local, Regional and national party).
THAT will really make a difference, to future generations etc.
I don’t need all that money — I would like to help the Green Party’s causes with much of my potential-salary, instead.

Not all good news from Bali

Further to my post below, about the Bali ‘roadmap’ toward serious action on dangerous climate change: Looking more closely at the small print, some serious problems emerge. The adaptation-to-dangerous-climate-change fund is generally good, and the call for “deep cuts” in emissions is genuinely groundbreaking — though the numbers to be put back in, to turn the call for “deep cuts” into concrete and sufficient targets. But the measures to deal with deforestation, an urgent and pressing problem, turn out to be deeply inadequate.
Here is what leading Environmental Consultant Deepak Rughani has to say about these:
“Ten years after the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, the Bali roadmap ensures that…carbon trading schemes will be expanded which will further harm the climate, accelerate rainforest destruction, and undermine the human rights and land rights of indigenous peoples and other communities in the global South. …[S]ome of the agreements reached will push us further towards runaway global warming by speeding up the destruction of tropical forests, on which all of us depend for a stable climate and thus for our survival. Under the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ funding for industrial tree plantations will be massively expanded. Tree plantations are routinely established at the expense of natural forests and other biodiverse ecosystems, and at the expense of indigenous peoples and other communities who, in many cases, have been evicted from their land. They are also linked to the use of toxic agro-chemicals and to groundwater depletion. This summer, much of the plantation area in South Africa and Swaziland went up in smoke, proving how disastrous it is to class monocultures as ‘carbon sinks’. Forest campaigners and indigenous peoples representatives have warned that under the Bali plans for reducing deforestation, control and rights over forest land will be taken from indigenous and other communities that have actively protected forests and handed over to governments and carbon traders, whilst logging and plantation companies are expecting compensation for any part of the forest they do not destroy. This will speed up the destruction of the world’s remaining old growth forests and thus make climate collapse ever more likely. It is time for a radical re-thinking of the UNFCCC process and for real solutions – which reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than simply making profits for carbon traders and other companies.

Suprise breakthrough at planet-saving Bali talks

I feel delight this morning at the news from Bali of agreement at the climate talks (here). Delegates have the for the first time ever agreed a ‘roadmap’ to a new treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol, a roadmap committing the U.S. and other developed countries to making “deep cuts” in their carbon emissions.

This morning, there is real hope, for the first time in years, that humankind may pull back from the precipice of climate catastrophe. I am hugely relieved that the U.S. delegation at Bali has seen sense, and that at last all the world’s nations are committed to the amount of greenhouse gases going into our atmosphere being deeply cut.

This agreement needs to be greatly strengthened and fleshed out over the next 12-24 months, with real numbers attached to it. Our children desperately need us to get a climate agreement together that actually does force deep and fast cuts in emissions. What has happened last night is only a start. But it is, thank goodness, a pretty good start.

Sustrans Connect 2 scheme wins!

My earlier post on this was obviously worthwhile…

Hundreds of thousands of people, including many from East Anglia and from Norwich in particular — including me –, have voted £50m of lottery cash to walking and cycling schemes across the country … including £1m to help build a path from Norwich railway station to Whitlingham Country Park. I was really pleased today when I heard the news that the Sustrans Connect 2 scheme, which I have been pushing hard across East Anglia and especially in Norwich, was the victor in the vote.

The public have certainly chosen well: this scheme is a brilliant way to get people fitter healthier and happier, and to cut carbon emissions. I am just delighted that everyone’s efforts to get this scheme voted through have been successful! This news makes it all the more vital that the rest of the money needed is now as firmly secured — in order to build this path and bridge to Whitlingham. I look forward to the day when everyone can walk or cycle this route! I am also delighted that, as part of this successful Sustrans Connect 2 bid, money will go to similarly excellent projects in Cambridge, Huntingdonshire and Broxbourne, among other places in our Region

Britain’s CO2 emissions in reality ARE a significan portion of the world’s total

http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,2225780,00.html
My earlier posts (especially http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2007/10/who-will-lead-on-combatting-dangerous.html ) on the true scale of the UK’s carbon emissions see some vindication here, in the lead letter. We are polluting the atmosphere heavily with CO2 — it is just that we have cleverly exported that pollution to China and India, so that it is harder to see that we are doing it.
Further down, see also my friend and fellow Green Councillor Andrew Boswell’s excellent letter on the big ‘biofools’ scam.

The email system of the future is here…

Why do people love email so much? My theory is: that it enables them not to have to talk to people. It enables easy avoidance of the ‘inconvenience’ of actual human contact…
Of course, this means that email is often used highly-inappropriately, where talking to someone directly woudl be much quicker / more efficient…
“There’s this amazing new form of email! It allows you to message the person you want to message _immediately_, and for them to message you back in real time too!! What’s more, you can even hear their voice while you do it!”
Yes … The email of the future is here… It’s called: the telephone…

Greens: beyond left and right?

Is the Green Party beyond the old ideologies of ‘left’ and ‘right’?

The answer I think is complicated. A yes and no story:

The most obvious example of an excellent Green idea in the traditional Right
is the idea of conserving things. That is what I typically say to
self-admitted Conservatives on the doorstep: If you believe in conserving
things, then you should vote Green, because unfortunately the Conservative
Party has given up on conserving things, and now believes mostly in tearing
them up and converting them into trinkets etc. . Whereas the Green Party actually cares about conserving our countryside, our wildlife, our traditional ways of life, in the face of corporate profiteering. [For an intriguing account of some other respects in which the Right can foster genuinely Green thinking, see the always-intriguing John Gray’s book, ‘Beyond the New Right’.]

But, speaking of corporate profiteering: To think that the Green Party is ‘beyond’ all left ideas, and that we can accommodate to capitalism in the way that (for instance) Jonathon Porritt nowadays suggests seems to me very over-optimistic about capitalism. For a powerful argument to undercut such optimism, I strongly recommend all Greens to read the new edition of Joel Kovel’s fascinating book, ‘The enemy of nature: The end of capitalism
or the end of the world’.

[For the long-term philosophical-political consequences of this kind of point, see e.g. my
http://rupertread.fastmail.co.uk/Future%20generations.doc ]

The Green Party draws ideas from both left and right. But there is one important sense in which it is closer to left ideas than to right ideas: because it is about equality. It takes the socialist ideal of equality between individuals, and extends this into the future. People not yet alive deserve to be treated fairly too – and they only will, if we act so as to create a truly – permanently — sustainable society.

The best account of this new Green ‘ideology’, part Right, definitely part Left, and part simply new and beyond, is Andrew Dobson’s ‘Green Political Thought’. He calls the new ideology ‘Ecologism’. That seems to me the right name. Because what we are about is above all emphasising that we live in an ecosystem, that we are part of. The world is not simply a basket of ‘resources’ for us to plunder: and our goal is not, as that of environmentalists typically is, simply to reduce the scale of the plunder.

What is ‘the liberal tradition’?

Martin Kettle (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2224278,00.html ) thinks the next decade might belong to the LibDems. He admits his evidence is fairly thin: It consists mainly of the fact that Labour has allegedly abandoned the ‘liberal tradition’ in British politics, thus opening up room for the LibDems.
But, as several commenters here have pointed out, he does not define ‘the liberal tradition’. It seems to me that the liberal tradition consists of three components. One, political and juridical liberty, has indeed been massively eroded by Labour. A second, economic liberalism, has been massively embraced by New Labour. A third, the maintenance of other liberties of the person, has been eroded in some instances – e.g. via the ban on smoking in enclosed public places –, but it is only a dogmatic liberalism that would insist that economic liberalism and general liberties of the person must be maintained, no matter what the public good that they undercut. If the ban on smoking in enclosed public places is anti-liberal, then so much the worse for ‘the liberal tradition’.
If the LibDem Party has anything at all that makes it ideologically distinctive, it is ‘the liberal tradition’. Most notably, the LibDem Party has (like Labour) embraced economic neo-liberalism, over the last decade, while (unlike Labour) generally defending political liberty too. It is indeed closer to ‘dogmatic liberalism’ – to sticking fairly closely to all three components of the liberal tradition – than either of the other two main Parties. (Though it would of course be inaccurate to say that the LibDems ARE dogmatic liberals – for instance, they supported the smoking ban.)
But an era in which the overriding political issue is the human race’s bursting through the ecological limits of the planet that sustains us is hardly an era well-suited to a liberal approach to anything — except the maintenance of political liberty in the face of state or corporate repression. The conclusion is unavoidable: The LibDems’ staunch liberalism will stand directly in the way of their alleged commitment to taking green issues seriously. Liberalism, in the form of unbridled consumer choice, has already become a key cause of the climate crisis.
The other piece of evidence cited by Kettle – in favour of his proposition that the next decade might belong to the LibDems — is that the LibDem Leadership contest is coming to an end, and that their new Leader may energise them. But, as reported in the _Guardian_ a week ago, there will be a leadership contest for the first time ever in Britain’s 4th political Party, the Green Party, next year, now that the Party’s membership have decided by a huge margin to adopt a formal Leadership structure for the first time, so as to be able to compete on a more even keel with the ‘main three’ British political Parties. The Green Party stands strongly for political liberty, but strongly against economic neo-liberalism. It is well-suited to be the growing Party in a decade which will see the growing climate crisis rightly trump many reactionary calls for individual liberty.
In short: Kettle would have been on safer ground, if he had predicted that the next decade just might belong to the Green Party. Because, in one totemic nutshell, as already intimated in my post below: There is no right to buy or use incandescent lightbulbs. They should simply be banned.
[p.s. For the story of how I came to leave the LibDems, see the relevant link in ‘Other Links’, below.]