Thursday, 16 August 2018
It is more than two years now since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), where of course we voted to leave. It has been a feature, during the referendum campaign itself and in the period since, that those who advocated Brexit haven’t come up with any sort of plan for life outside of the union. What kind of relationship with the EU do they want, if any at all?
Lofty talk of global trade deals and vague sloganising like ‘take back control’ have been the order of the day, but no specifics have been put forward by the loudest cheerleaders for Brexit in the Tory party. At long last, the penny seems to have dropped with these people, that it might be a good idea to have one. However, this plan looks to be purely cosmetic.
I suspect that this has been forced on the Brexiteers for two main reasons. Firstly, they don’t like the prime minister’s Chequers plan, as they see it as not really leaving the EU. Secondly, public opinion in Britain seems to be shifting to favour either a ‘soft’ Brexit or another referendum on the final agreement between the UK and EU, which could well result in a vote to remain in the EU.
Whatever the motivation, the Sun reports that the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs are to ‘ambush’ Theresa May with a plan for a ‘clean Brexit’ just days before the Tory conference in September. A source told the paper: "This is about delivering the clean Brexit that people voted for. No concessions."
The plan is for the UK to have a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU. But get this, only if the EU drops its objections to having a border on the island of Ireland. If the EU will not agree to this there will be no deal at tall, and the UK will trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, with the bloc.
Canada and the EU have signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is essentially a free trade agreement, removing most tariffs on trade in goods between the two trading partners and some more limited access for services. Border controls are still in place for people and goods, so if the UK were to adopt such an agreement, it would not solve the problems of delays with imports at UK and exports at EU ports or the situation with the border in Ireland.
I think the plan is hypothetical anyway, because I can’t see any way that the EU will back down on the Irish border issue. We could have a CETA type deal otherwise, but the ERG have ruled this out for some reason. So, we are basically back to a no deal Brexit, and falling back on WTO trade rules. Hardly much of a plan?
I don’t think any country in the world trades on WTO rules only, but of course in the longer run trade deals can be negotiated, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the government has explored joining or bi-lateral trade arrangements with other nations. All of which takes time and skilled trade deal negotiators though, neither of which we have much of.
Under WTO rules, each member must grant the same ‘most favoured nation’ market access, to all other WTO members. This means that exports to the EU would be subject to the same customs checks, tariffs and regulatory barriers that the UK and EU currently charge on trade with countries such as the US. The UK’s exports to the EU and other WTO members would also be subject to the importing countries’ most favoured nation tariffs. But tariffs all the same.
EU tariffs on WTO goods range from zero to 45%, with the average tariff being 4.8%, making British goods under such arrangements, less competitive in the EU marketplace. Of course, costs could be reduced by UK exporters, to cover the difference, but this will almost certainly mean cutting the wages of British workers. Alternately, businesses may relocate to the EU, where it is feasible and advantageous, taking British jobs with them.
The Alt-Brexit plan turns out to be really no plan at all, with even a Canada style deal out of the question if there is no agreement on keeping the Irish border open. It is just a long winded way of crashing out of the EU with no deal whatsoever, with all of the problems that will bring for the UK. And more time wasted on pointless negotiations.
Tuesday, 14 August 2018
The government is planning its next change to local government funding in England, with the intention of further reducing the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) and increasing the amount of local business rates that are retained locally to 75% (currently 50%). The RSG is the amount of money that central government gives to local authorities, based on a formula that sees different areas getting different amounts of money, depending on social indicators, things like population, deprivation and so forth.
The aim in the longer term for this government is to abolish the RSG altogether and have 100% of business rates retained where they are collected, but it is debatable whether this is ever likely to happen. The problem is that business rates, although fairly constant, in a recession would impact on local finances directly, as well as more generally. But in any case, the immediate problem now is how to compensate councils for what is called ‘negative RSG.’ This means council’s that will get less money after the changes.
Something I think will need to be put in place to even out regional differences, but perhaps called something else? Given the choppy Brexit waters we sail in, this could become a big problem, especially in places that might fare worse than others. In the interim of 75% locally retained business rates, the sharing out plan looks to favour Tory governed areas, over those run by other parties.
Analysis by the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) (subscription), shows that the preferred new system will see the lion’s share of compensation payments going to rural councils, which are predominantly Tory run.
Negative RSG compensation beneficiaries by political party
Political party Total due
Liberal Democrat £12.8m
No overall control £7m
The 10 councils which will receive most negative RSG compensation 2019-20
Surrey £17.3m Conservative
Buckinghamshire £10.9m Conservative
Dorset £10.1m Conservative
Richmond upon Thames £7.5m Liberal Democrat
Cambridgeshire £7.2m Conservative
Wokingham £7.1m Conservative
Oxfordshire £6.2m Conservative
North Yorkshire £3.7m Conservative
West Berkshire £3.5m Conservative
Cheshire East £2.6m Conservative
As you can see, 9 of the top 10 gaining councils under the preferred compensation scheme are Tory.
Concerns about the way negative RSG is being dealt with comes two years after the government’s transition grant controversially distributed £300m funding mostly among Conservative-led councils. Surrey was also the biggest winner under that scheme which sought to smooth the path for councils facing the steepest cuts to revenue support grant, and address concerns about delivering services in rural areas. It followed threats from Tory MPs to vote down the whole local government finance settlement.
Nottingham City Council will see RSG cut by £10m to £25m next year but does not qualify to receive any compensation funding. Deputy leader Graham Chapman (Lab) told LGC: “[The ministry’s proposal for dealing with negative RSG] is a scandalous abuse of public money under the guise of objectivity.”
In its technical consultation the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said it had “explored a number of possible options for addressing” negative RSG and found using some of the government’s share of business rates income to compensate affected councils “represents the most direct and simple solution to the problem.”
Cllr Chapman said it was “frankly outrageous that the government is once again choosing to bail out councils in better-off areas”, largely in the south, “when poorer councils in the North and Midlands, in areas with higher need, are losing out”.
This comes on top savage cuts to local government grants for the last eight years, which has led to Northamptonshire County Council becoming insolvent and preparing to cut all but statutory services. Other council’s are said to be struggling too, but the government will not change course from the austerity induced cuts to local services.
Sir Stephen Houghton (Lab), chair of the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, told LGC: “If government are now minded to put additional funding into local government that should be a cause for celebration but when this is done for the benefit of the wealthy few, rather than being allocated where funding is most needed, it brings the whole system into disrepute.”
The government says its plan is the fairest and easiest way to address the result of negative RSG compensation. The technical consultation on changes to local government finance can be found here.
Sunday, 12 August 2018
Written by Naomi Klein – an abridged version first published at The Intercept
The entire August 5 New York Times Magazine was composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received.
Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud.
And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unravelling of planetary systems. These range from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to huge algae blooms in China’s third largest-lake.
We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”
None of the excuses can mask the dereliction of duty. It has always been possible for major media outlets to decide that planetary destabilisation is a huge news story, very likely the most consequential of our time. They always had the capacity to harness the skills of their reporters and photographers to connect abstract science to lived extreme weather events.
And if they did so consistently, it would lessen the need for journalists to get ahead of politics because the more informed the public is about both the threat and the tangible solutions, the more they push their elected representatives to take bold action.
Which is why it was so exciting to see the NYT throw the full force of its editorial machine behind Rich’s opus — teasing it with a promotional video, kicking it off with a live event at the Times Centre, and accompanying educational materials.
That’s also why it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.
Getting it wrong
According to Rich, between 1979 and 1989, the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted, the partisan divide over the issue had yet to cleave, the fossil fuel companies hadn’t started their misinformation campaign in earnest, and there was a great deal of global political momentum toward a bold and binding international emissions-reduction agreement.
Writing of the key period at the end of the 1980s, Rich says: “The conditions for success could not have been more favourable.”
And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too short-sighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing Earth”, Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”
Yep, you and me. Not, according to Rich, the fossil fuel companies who sat in on every major policy meeting described in the piece.
Imagine tobacco executives being repeatedly invited by the US government to come up with policies to ban smoking. When those meetings failed to yield anything substantive, would we conclude that the reason is that humans just want to die? Might we perhaps determine instead that the political system is corrupt and busted?
This misreading has been pointed out by many climate scientists and historians since the online version of the piece dropped on August 1. Others have remarked on the maddening invocations of “human nature” and the use of the royal “we” to describe a screamingly homogenous group of US power players.
Throughout Rich’s accounting, we hear nothing from those political leaders in the Global South who were demanding binding action in this key period and after, somehow able to care about future generations despite being human.
The voices of women, meanwhile, are almost as rare in Rich’s text as sightings of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker — and when we ladies do appear, it is mainly as long-suffering wives of tragically heroic men.
My focus is the central premise of the piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favourable” to bold climate action. On the contrary, one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet.
The late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.
When I delved into this same climate change history some years ago, I concluded, as Rich does, that the key juncture when world momentum was building toward a tough, science-based global agreement was 1988. That was when James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before Congress that he had “99% confidence” in “a real warming trend” linked to human activity.
Later that same month, hundreds of scientists and policymakers held the historic World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto, where the first emission reduction targets were discussed. By the end of that year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the premier scientific body advising governments on the climate threat, held its first session.
But climate change wasn’t just a concern for politicians and wonks — it was watercooler stuff, so much so that when the editors of Time magazine announced their 1988 “Man of the Year,” they went for “Planet of the Year: Endangered Earth”. The cover featured an image of the globe held together with twine, the sun setting ominously in the background.
“No single individual, no event, no movement captured imaginations or dominated headlines more,” journalist Thomas Sancton explained, “than the clump of rock and soil and water and air that is our common home.”
When I surveyed the climate news from this period, it really did seem like a profound shift was within grasp. Then, tragically, it all slipped away. The US walked out of international negotiations and the rest of the world settled for non-binding agreements that relied on dodgy “market mechanisms” like carbon trading and offsets.
So it really is worth asking, as Rich does: What the hell happened? What interrupted the urgency and determination that was emanating from all these elite establishments simultaneously by the end of the ’80s?
Rich concludes, while offering no social or scientific evidence, that something called “human nature” kicked in and messed everything up.
“Human beings,” he writes, “whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations.”
When I looked at the same period, I came to a very different conclusion: that what at first seemed like our best shot at lifesaving climate action had in retrospect suffered from an epic case of historical bad timing.
Because what becomes clear when you look back at this juncture is that just as governments were talking about getting serious about reining in the fossil fuel sector, the global neoliberal revolution went supernova. That project of economic and social reengineering clashed with the imperatives of both climate science and corporate regulation at every turn.
The failure to make even a passing reference to this other global trend that was unfolding in the late ’80s represents an unfathomably large blind spot in Rich’s piece. After all, the primary benefit of returning to a period in the not-too-distant past as a journalist is that you are able to see trends and patterns that were not yet visible to people living through those tumultuous events in real time.
One thing that becomes very clear when you look back on the late ’80s is that, far from offering “conditions for success [that] could not have been more favorable,” 1988-89 was the worst possible moment for humanity to decide that it was going to get serious about putting planetary health ahead of profits.
Recall what else was going on. In 1988, Canada and the US signed their free trade agreement, a prototype for countless pro-corporate deals that would follow. The Berlin Wall was about to fall, an event that would be successfully seized upon by right-wing ideologues in the US as proof of “the end of history” and taken as license to export the Reagan-Thatcher recipe of privatisation, deregulation, and austerity to every corner of the globe.
It was this convergence of historical trends — the emergence of a global architecture that was supposed to tackle climate change and the emergence of a much more powerful global architecture to liberate capital from all constraints — that derailed the momentum Rich rightly identifies.
Because, as he notes repeatedly, meeting the challenge of climate change would have required imposing stiff regulations on polluters while investing in the public sphere to transform how we power our lives, live in cities, and move ourselves around.
All of this was, and is, possible. But it demands a head-on battle with the project of neoliberalism. Meanwhile, the “free trade” deals being signed in this period were busily making many sensible climate initiatives — like subsidising and offering preferential treatment to local green industry and refusing many polluting projects like fracking and oil pipelines — illegal under international trade law.
I wrote a 500-page book about this collision between capitalism and the planet. I’ll quote a short passage here:
“We have not done the things that are needed to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism.
“We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets;
“It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.
‘Indeed, governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 — the exact year that marked the dawning of what came to be called ‘globalisation’.”
Why does it matter that Rich makes no mention of this clash and instead, claims our fate has been sealed by “human nature”? It matters because if the force that interrupted the momentum toward action is “ourselves”, then the fatalistic headline on the cover of New York Times Magazine – “Losing Earth” — really is merited. If an inability to sacrifice in the short term for a shot at health and safety in the future is baked into our collective DNA, then we have no hope of turning things around in time to avert truly catastrophic warming.
If, on the other hand, we humans really were on the brink of saving ourselves in the ’80s, but were swamped by a tide of elite, free-market fanaticism — one opposed by millions of people around the world — then there is something quite concrete we can do about it.
We can confront that economic order and try to replace it with something that is rooted in both human and planetary security, one that does not place the quest for growth and profit at all costs at its centre.
The good news
And the good news — and, yes, there is some — is that today, unlike in 1989, a young and growing movement of green democratic socialists is advancing in the United States with precisely that vision. And that represents more than just an electoral alternative — it’s our one and only planetary lifeline.
Yet we have to be clear that the lifeline we need is not something that has been tried before, at least not at anything like the scale required. When the NYT tweeted out its teaser for Rich’s article about “humankind’s inability to address the climate change catastrophe,” the eco-justice wing of the Democratic Socialists of America quickly offered this correction: “*CAPITALISM* If they were serious about investigating what’s gone so wrong, this would be about ‘capitalism’s inability to address the climate change catastrophe.’ Beyond capitalism, *humankind* is fully capable of organizing societies to thrive within ecological limits.”
Their point is a good one, if incomplete. There is nothing essential about humans living under capitalism; we humans are capable of organising ourselves into all kinds of different social orders, including societies with much longer time horizons and far more respect for natural life-support systems.
Indeed, humans have lived that way for the vast majority of our history and many Indigenous cultures keep Earth-centred cosmologies alive to this day. Capitalism is a tiny blip in the collective story of our species.
But simply blaming capitalism isn’t enough. It is absolutely true that the drive for endless growth and profits stands squarely opposed to the imperative for a rapid transition from fossil fuels.
It is absolutely true that the global unleashing of the unbound form of capitalism known as neoliberalism in the ’80s and ’90s has been the single greatest contributor to a disastrous global emission spike in recent decades, as well as the single greatest obstacle to science-based climate action ever since governments began meeting to talk (and talk and talk) about lowering emissions. And it remains the biggest obstacle today, even in countries that market themselves as climate leaders, like Canada and France.
But we have to be honest that autocratic industrial socialism has also been a disaster for the environment, as evidenced most dramatically by the fact that carbon emissions briefly plummeted when the economies of the former Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s.
We can conclude that socialism isn’t necessarily ecological, but that a new form of democratic eco-socialism, with the humility to learn from Indigenous teachings about the duties to future generations and the interconnection of all of life, appears to be humanity’s best shot at collective survival.
We aren’t losing Earth — but the Earth is getting so hot so fast that it is on a trajectory to lose a great many of us. In the nick of time, a new political path to safety is presenting itself. This is no moment to bemoan our lost decades. It’s the moment to get the hell on that path.
Friday, 10 August 2018
In my lifetime, I can’t remember the Conservative party being so close to splitting, as it is now. When John Major was leader and prime minister in the 1990s, he had plenty of trouble from a fair sized section of his back bench MPs over his signing of the Masstrict Treaty, but I don’t remember there being any appetite for a formal split in the party. The Tories are normally good at sticking together, but things may well have changed.
The Guardian reports that Sajjad Karim, the party’s MEP for North-West England, said the Conservatives had to decide between being a “genuine one nation force” or “an English nationalist movement.” Former attorney general Dominic Grieve, has said he would leave the party if Boris Johnson were elected leader. Another ex-minister and MP Anna Soubry told the New Statesman that she “would consider joining a new "moderate, sensible, forward-thinking political party.” All of these people are from the liberal wing of the Tory party.
Meanwhile the prime minister, Theresa May has written a letter to all members of the party in a desperate attempt to sell her Brexit Chequer’s plan to the rank and file, which is very unpopular with them, to say the least. ‘Theresa May faces Tory civil war after step taken towards investigation into Boris Johnson's niqab comments’ is the headline in The Independent.
Grieve’s worst nightmare may well come true, with Boris Johnson’s approval ratings soaring and he is now clear favourite amongst members to succeed Theresa May as leader. Members get the final say on two candidates selected by MPs in the Tory party system for electing leaders.
Of course the fracture is caused by Brexit, where a fundamental difference of political philosophy, largely about international trade, is tearing the Tories apart. It can be seen in differences in the attitude of business leaders too, with most businesses not wanting to see barriers to trade with Europe, but with some like James Dyson taking a different view, and espousing more far flung world trade. He has relocated his manufacturing business from the UK to Malaysia.
I think it is probably true to say, that the current crisis in the Tory party is the worst since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and corn (grain), which led to food price rises and restricted growth in other sectors like manufacturing, with less disposable income left after food supplies were purchased.
Tory prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, repealed the laws by overcoming opposition in his own party by enlisting the support of the ‘Whigs’ (later Liberals) in Parliament. The Tories were dominated at the time by wealthy rural landowners who had an interest in keeping food prices high. This was the beginning of the Tory party’s devotion to ‘free trade.'
Here we have history repeating itself, certainly as farce in many ways, rather than tragedy, with the personal leadership ambitions of Boris Johnson thrown into the mix. The right of the Tory party, which includes the most hard line Brexiters, would like to see the complete removal of tariffs, by way of a free trade agreements with countries around the world, at the very least for a few years after we leave the European Union. They argue that this will bring prices down and therefore stimulate demand.
There is a logic to this, as some countries have lower standards of worker’s rights, and environmental concerns are disregarded. The logic extends, by definition to remove these protections we have now in the UK too, to remain competitive in the free for all market place.
The 'one nation force' to which Karim refers to is the notion first advocated by Benjamin Disreali, Tory prime minister (1868). He devised it to appeal to working-class men as a solution to worsening divisions in society through introducing factory and health acts, as well as greater protection for workers.
The Tory party took this approach in the post world war 2 welfare capitalism consensus, and was only abandoned by Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s. Successors as Tory prime ministers, John Major and David Cameron claimed to be one nation Conservatives, but their policies were the same as Thatcher's. Theresa May also claimed to be a one nation Tory on assuming leadership of the party, but has failed to live up to the claim.
The crunch will come in the autumn I think, when decisions have to be taken about our future relationship with Europe, which could ignite an explosion in the Tory party.
Tuesday, 7 August 2018
A post on the website Left Foot Forward claiming that Shahrar Ali, one of the current candidates for the leadership of the Green party, and a former deputy leader, is anti-Semitic has caused outrage among grass root members of the party. The post, which has been through several edits from what was originally posted on 3 August, is a fine example of bad journalism and pretty much a textbook case of fake news. The full video of the speech is now displayed.
Highly selective quotations from a speech by Ali were first posted, from a 2009 rally against Israeli military forces attacking the Gaza strip, Operation Cast Lead, where about 1,500 Palestinian civilians were killed, were used. Ali’s speech was aimed at supporters of the Israeli action in western countries, but was twisted by the Left Foot Forward website to imply it was aimed at Jewish people more generally. The story is confected.
Mainstream media in the guise of the London Evening Standard, which has been running anti-Semitic themed attacks on the Labour party, amongst other themes, on an almost daily basis for the past couple of years, has now run the story. The paper is edited by former Tory chancellor George Osborne.
The Left Foot Forward post reports a complaint to the Green party by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a group that was formed in 2014 to challenge anti-Semitism in the UK, which has frequently complained about Labour party members, including the leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The Green party has said that it is looking into the matter.
Quite why a website like Left Foot Forward is spreading a reheated story and video used by the Alt-Right Breitbart news network is something of a mystery to me. What is so Left about spreading right-wing smears and propaganda? Is this what the trade unions funding Left Foot Forward had in mind when setting up the site? You do have to wonder.
The piece was written by Left Foot Forward editor, Josiah Mortimer, a Labour party member who supports Corbyn’s leadership, and former Green party member, who became editor about twelve months ago. So, again I’m left wondering why should someone with that kind of politics write such a post? What is the motivation?
The story has topical value of course, with voting still open in the Green party elections for leader and other roles until the end of August. The only thing that I can think of is it is a desperate attempt to raise the viewing figures of his website with sensationalist, but inaccurate news stories. Are the numbers down or something?
I know Shahrar, and he is a passionate anti-racism campaigner who champions the cause of the oppressed, often the Palestinians, by questioning the role of the Israeli state in such oppression. He is not anti-Semitic, he is anti the terrible human rights record of the state of Israel and its military forces, quite rightly. The Israeli lobby is quick to call people anti-Semitic when Israel is criticised, as a tactic to silence those who oppose their actions, but I am shocked that a left-wing website would support this kind of bullying.
Genuine anti-Semitism should not be tolerated, and likening the actions of Israel to the Nazi’s is inaccurate, and given historical events, is grossly insensitive and should be avoided. But that is not case with this story anyway, where Ali did no such thing. Although, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was, by reading Mortimer’s post.
Plenty of Green party people have contributed to Left Foot Forward, Caroline Lucas, Jenny Jones, Natalie Bennett and indeed this writer. We should ask ourselves this question though, 'do I want to be associated with a media outlet that peddles fake news like this, and is aimed at smearing the Green party?' Reputation in politics is something that can be tarnished easily and is often judged on who you associate with. It can be difficult to restore.
Sunday, 5 August 2018
One NOAA oceanographer warns that even if humanity "stopped the greenhouse gases at their current concentrations today, the atmosphere would still continue to warm for the next couple decades to maybe a century."
As temperatures bust heat records across the globe and wildfires rage from California to the Arctic, a new report produced annually by more than 500 scientists worldwide found that last year, the carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere reached the highest levels "in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years."
While the most significant jump was the global average for carbon dioxide (CO2)—which, at 405.0 parts per million (ppm), saw a 2.2 ppm increase from the previous year—concentrations of other dominant planet-warming greenhouse gases, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), also hit "record highs," according to State of the Climate in 2017 (pdf) released on Wednesday.
Considering those rates, Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, warned that even if humanity "stopped the greenhouse gases at their current concentrations today, the atmosphere would still continue to warm for next couple of decades to maybe a century."
The 332-page report—which was overseen by NOAA and published as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—also notes that 2017 is among the three hottest years ever, taking the top spot for warmest non-El Niño year since scientists began measuring in the 1800s. However, NOAA data released last weekend shows that 2018 is on track to set a new record.
The report details how "much-warmer-than-average conditions" across much of the world's lands and oceans has meant three years of "unprecedented" coral bleaching, Arctic air temperatures that are "warming at a pace that was twice the rate of the rest of the world," rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets, and devastating tropical storms—such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria—that reflect "the very active state of the Atlantic basin."
In its regional analyses, the report notes that "the United States was impacted by 16 weather and climate events that each caused over $1 billion (U.S. dollars) in damages. Since records began in 1980, 2017 is tied with 2011 for the greatest number of billion-dollar disasters. Included in this total are the western U.S. wildfire season and Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma. Tornado activity in the United States in 2017 was above average for the first time since 2011, with 1,400 confirmed tornadoes."
It also features a map that highlights notable climate anomalies and events across the globe during 2017. The graphic points out that both Argentina and Uruguay experienced their warmest years on record while Russia experienced its second wettest, and five of six observatories in Alaska documented record high permafrost temperatures.
Permafrost is a layer of soil, rock, or sediment that remains frozen and contains massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. Climate scientists are growing increasingly concerned that "as the global thermostat rises, permafrost, rather than storing carbon, could become a significant source of planet-heating emissions."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Friday, 3 August 2018
The Financial Times reported (paywall) on Thursday that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, privately discussed the UK joining the European Economic Area (EEA) with liberal Tory MPs and Peers, as a backstop plan for Brexit. Gove, who supported the prime minister, Theresa May’s, Chequers plan for Brexit suggested that the UK could be ‘parked’ in the EEA, to avoid a no deal exit from the European Union (EU), at least for a temporary period.
The idea is remarkably similar to the one floated by Paul Goodman on the Tory grassroots website Conservative Home a couple of weeks ago. Gove raised the possibility at a private dinner with about 20 Tory Parliamentarians on June 25, as he ran through various options in the event of Mrs May being unable to agree a deal in Brussels before March next year. He is not alone in thinking that the Chequers plan will be rejected by the EU, as the noises coming out of the European Commission have not been positive. Nor from the Tory grassroots, where it is seen as a sell-out.
As one Tory activist puts it below the line:
‘This is about the worst Tory Cabinet I can remember. They don’t know what they are doing; they don’t know where they are going and they don’t have a clue about what their destination is - on Brexit or pretty much anything else. They are simply incompetent and incapable.
There is not one area of policy where you can say the Government is doing a good job - Brexit, transport, the economy, health, welfare, immigration, defence etc - and at Chequers they were all driven like sheep to produce a worthless agreement that is a national embarrassment. No one has a good word to say about it - not even May.’
It is hard to see many of these people supporting EEA membership, even temporarily though.
Gove was a prominent supporter of the Leave campaign during the referendum in 2016, but is said to have become increasingly concerned that the UK will not actually leave the EU at all, with all of the complications of leaving now exposed the public. There does seem to have been a shift in public opinion with the idea of a second referendum, with an option to remain in the EU, on the voting paper gaining ground. More Tory MPs from the more liberal wing of the party also seem to be coming around to the idea of a second ballot.
I can’t see that we will crash out of the EU without a post Brexit deal, but the default position of remaining in the EU is the most likely scenario if we don’t. There is no support in Parliament for a no deal Brexit, with an extension of the transition period to more than the just under two years already agreed with the EU also likely, but perhaps joining the EEA is the most sensible thing to do in the circumstances? The option of temporary EEA membership might appeal to the majority of Tory MPs, as a way out of the current crisis.
Britain would be out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, and would have some latitude on trade deals that the Chequers plan does not deliver. Free movement of people would have to continue, but an ‘emergency brake’ could be put on immigration from the EU, on a temporary basis (which EU rules allow now anyway), which conceivably could extend to whole period of EEA membership.
As Goodman points out: ‘All in all, if Conservative MPs believe that no deal with the EU, or a deal that is defeated in the Commons, would be followed either by a Doomsday Brexit or by no Brexit at all, they can only conclude that the risks of gambling on this Plan B are less than the risks of sticking with Plan A and with the Prime Minister.’
But what of the Labour party, would Labour MPs also support EEA membership? The Labour leadership has already ruled out joining the EEA, saying that it is not suitable for the UK, and whipped their MPs to vote against an amendment to the government’s White Paper which would have committed us joining the EEA. Some MPs rebelled, but the majority voted against.
But this amendment was not for a temporary period, and Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit spokesperson, has said in the past that the UK should remain in the EU in a transitional phase of about four years, but that we should remain ‘as long as is necessary.’ Gove’s plan doesn’t look too dissimilar to what Starmer has said.
Whether Labour would ease the political problems the Tories are in at the moment, is a moot point. Labour sees defeating the government over its Brexit plans as the quickest way to gain power. Politics works this way, I’m afraid, so I would be surprised if Labour backed this idea.
If the EEA idea does make it through Parliament, it would mean the end for Theresa May, but perhaps Michael Gove is positioning himself to replace her as prime minister? This is also how politics works, unfortunately.