Thursday 29 October 2015

Local Energy Networks – Efficient, Clean, Democratic and Radical

The Guardian reports that the government are to scrap tax relief for green community energy schemes, when George Osborne the Chancellor announces his spending review at the end of November. This comes on top of a cut of 87% in the Feed In Tariffs (FIT), which is the amount of money paid to generators of renewable energy, to make it financially worthwhile investing in the technology and setting up the schemes.

All pretence it seems, of cleaning up our energy production, has been jettisoned by this government now. The ‘green crap’ as the Prime Minister is reportedly to have termed it, has served its purpose in detoxifying the Tory brand, to some extent anyway, and the public relations exercise is now redundant, and climate change etc can be ignored once more. Or, use the climate change argument to support large scale centralised nuclear power production, which obtains huge amounts of subsidies from government, much more than renewables have ever done.

The idea of local renewable energy networks has been championed by Greenpeace in particular. This is from their 2006 report ‘Decentralising Power – An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century:

In our existing system, electricity is produced in a small number
of large power stations, and then distributed to where it is
needed. Because the power stations are generally far from
centres of demand, much of the heat which is produced when
fossil fuels are burnt is not used, but vented up chimneys or
discharged to rivers. This heat loss alone represents a wastage of
over sixty percent of the total energy released by burning the
fossil fuels. Further losses occur as the electricity travels along
the wires of the transmission and distribution systems.
In total, the energy wasted at the power station and on the wires
is equal to the entire water and space heating demands of all
buildings in the UK – industrial, commercial, public and domestic.

This is one of the main problems with large scale conventional electricity generation, it is very inefficient, as well as being mostly ‘dirty’, i.e. the generation is mainly from fossil fuels. By moving to a localised network of renewable generation, Greenpeace estimate that the UK could reduce its carbon emissions by at least half of all emissions from the power sector, or 15% of our total emissions.
Moving to localised energy networks would probably be cheaper in the long run too, as the current centralised system is very expensive, and local networks would deliver electricity supply which is far less vulnerable to massive system failure due to sabotage or extreme weather.

But the real beauty of this idea is in democratising our energy supply, and the radical opportunities that this would bring. The report says this:

Decentralising energy would also democratise energy,
providing real opportunities for local political leadership on
climate change, and curbing the influence of the centralised
industry’s powerful vested interests. By enabling local action
and empowering individuals and communities as producers,
decentralisation has the potential to bring about a massive
cultural change in our attitude to and use of energy.

And not only that, it has the potential to push the energy corporations completely out of our lives. Imagine, small scale cooperatively owned clean electricity, our electricity shared amongst members. It would be a staging post on the long road to ecosocialism. Actually existing, for people to see working to the benefit of the environment and for us users.

Maybe the government realises this, and their move to discourage this type of good example by reducing subsidies, is a sign?  

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Victorian Era Diseases and Poverty Return to England

The Independent reports NHS statistics that show that cases of malnutrition have increased by 50% (from 4,883 cases to 7,366) since 2010, when the Conservative government (in coalition with the Lib Dems then) came to power in the UK. Other diseases from the Victorian era, including scurvy, scarlet fever, cholera and whooping cough have also increased since 2010.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that in the worst affected areas, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, 2.4 people out of every 100,000 were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of malnutrition.

The Trussell Trust, which runs a national network of Food Banks estimates that tens of thousands of people are going hungry, even with their and others efforts to distribute free food parcels.

The two major reasons people give for going to food banks are benefits problems (delays, sanctions and changes) and low incomes. There's evidence to suggest that the former has been exacerbated by the government's 'crackdown' on benefits claimants and their changes to social security. The latter reason, which explodes the myth of people being able to 'work their way out of poverty', reflects the fact that wages have stagnated in real terms for a decade now.

Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust said: “We often see parents who are going without food so that they can feed their children, and these parents often struggle to afford enough nutritious food for their children, too.”

Older people are a another group with increasing levels of malnutrition. Dianne Jeffrey, of the charity Age UK said:

“Estimates suggest there are at least one million older people who are malnourished or at risk of malnourishment and cuts to social care provision mean many older people are being left to cope on their own.”

Meanwhile, parts of London have higher rates of tuberculosis than Rwanda or Iraq, according to a report by the London Assembly. One in three boroughs in the capital suffer from high rates of TB, with more than 40 cases per 100,000 people and some wards in Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow and Newham have rates of more than 150 per 100,000. The borough with the highest rate was Newham in east London, with 107 cases per 100,000 people. TB is often linked to homelessness, and there are an estimated over 7,000 homeless people in London.

Figures from the World Health Organisation in 2013 showed that the rate in Rwanda was 69, while in Iraq it was 45 per 100,000 people.

This news comes amid the government’s defeat in the House of Lords over the introduction of savage reductions in working tax credits, where the Institute for Financial Studies finds 8.4 million working age households who are currently eligible for benefits or tax credits and who do contain someone in paid work, the average loss from the cuts to benefits and tax credits is £750 per year. Of this 3 million people will be affected by an even worse £1300 per year.

The facts make a mockery of the frankly absurd claim by the Conservative government that they are ‘now the party for working people’, if anyone was ever fooled by this rhetoric in the first place. Taken with the government’s aim to return to a nineteenth century industrial relations policy, through the Trade Union Bill, it is clear where their sympathies lie, and it is not with low paid workers.

How shameful, that a country as rich as this one, should be regressing towards Dickensian levels of health and poverty in the twenty first century.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Foreshadowing Paris, Failure in Bonn Chastised as 'Calamity' for Climate

Bonn climate negotiations ended with many fundamental disagreements between developed and developing nations. (Photo: EPA)

"The only way we're going to see progress is with a strong grassroots movement that can take on the power of the fossil fuel industry," said Jamie Henn of

Written by Nadia Prupis and first published at Common Dreams

The final round of preliminary climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany came to a close Friday without much consensus on some of the most pressing issues, including cementing wealthy nations' financial commitments to guarantee assistance for developing nations grappling with the impacts of global warming.

The talks in Bonn represented the last chance for United Nations (UN) member states to settle on a draft climate treaty ahead of the upcoming COP21 talks in Paris, where leaders will finalize a global agreement on curbing global warming.

Without substantial progress, climate advocacy groups said Friday, frontline communities around the globe face imminent threats.

"The deplorable inaction at the climate negotiations is a calamity for people across the world," said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International's climate justice and energy coordinator. "We are facing a planetary emergency with floods, storms, droughts and rising seas causing devastation. The risk of irreversible climate change draws ever closer, and hundreds of thousands of people have already paid with their lives."

As the talks concluded, delegates expressed ongoing concerns that wealthy nations were still attempting to foist their aid obligations onto independent financiers like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the Group of 77 (G77) plus China coalition of developing nations said was an underhanded attempt to evade financial responsibilities at any cost—even if it meant derailing the entire treaty process.

Mattias Söderberg, chair of the ACT Alliance climate change advisory group, told Deutsche Welle the pace of the talks was frustrating and disappointing.

"From our perspective, where we work with those who are affected by climate change, the progress is far from enough," Söderberg said. "Parties need to leave their comfort zones, to look for common understanding. Now they stay in their corners, sticking to old positions."

Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, added, "We need a fair agreement, a fair process and fair shares of climate action. What we have on the negotiation table now is increased effort by more than 140 developing countries but it won’t avoid catastrophic climate change unless rich countries have a dramatic change of heart.  We need rich countries to urgently commit to do their fair share."

The draft agreement that came out of Bonn was still riddled with "technical disagreements" and was unlikely to provide much guidance to minsters during the Paris talks, Söderberg said.

"An example is on loss and damage [where adaptation to climate change is no longer possible]. Some rich countries want to cut it out, while developing countries, led by LDCs [least developed countries] and small islands, want to include ambitious text. There is no middle ground," he said.

Harjeet Singh, climate policy manager for ActionAid, said the week's events showed "there is still a mountain to climb before a deal emerges on the horizon at the Paris summit in December."

"It seems that the [European Union] forgot its claim of standing together with the world's poor and vulnerable," Singh added. "For months it has remained undecided on how the Paris deal will help poor communities already being battered by climate change. The EU hangs at the threshold dithering on whether and how it should go out and help the people in the storm."

G77 delegates have asserted that the rift was not simply a disagreement between ministers—it was a matter of life and death. "It is not a photo opportunity; it is not an instagram or selfie moment. It is a reality we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis," said G77 chair and South African climate envoy Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko.

"Whether Paris succeeds or not will depend on what we have as part of the core agreement on finance," she said during a press conference Thursday.

Jamie Henn, strategy and communications director for climate advocacy group, reported from Bonn on Friday that the week had been "frustrating" for climate ministers and that many disagreements remained over the "level of ambition" by world leaders to move away from fossil fuels and financial support for developing countries.

He also said there were "huge preparations under way" for direct actions outside of the COP21 summit, including marches and other demonstrations around the world.

"No matter where you are, you can play a huge role in this movement by continuing to keep pressure up for strong action in Paris and beyond.... The only way we're going to see progress is with a strong grassroots movement that can take on the power of the fossil fuel industry," he said.

Scherbarth added, "People will have the last word in Paris. But the demonstrations in Paris will not be the end. The struggle will continue, as it must, because the job will not be done in Paris."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Saturday 24 October 2015

Opinion Polls Narrow on EU Brexit

A new opinion poll for polling company YouGov shows a small lead of 2% for those British people wishing to leave the European Union. This is (apart from a spike in September, during the escalating refugee crisis in Europe), the first time YouGov polling has had a majority for leaving the EU.

This is the result:

Remain 38%

Leave   40%

Undecided 16%

Won’t vote 6%

We are all wary of political voting opinion polls after the shock result of this year’s general election, but general elections have quite complex sets of reasons leading to how people vote. With referendums, it is much more straightforward, yes/no. In last year’s Scottish Independence referendum, YouGov’s polling was pretty accurate, only slightly understating the No vote (to remain).

On the other hand, another poll by Ipsos MORI for the Evening Standard has remain at 52% and leave at 39%, with 9% undecided. Although Bobby Duffy, head of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, commenting on the poll, said it was striking how many people said they might change their minds.

He said:  “That’s clearly an opportunity for both sides, but also a risk, perhaps particularly for the PM, who has set an expectation of reclaiming some power from the EU.”

And this still represents a considerable narrowing, from a 34 point lead to the stay camp registered by the company in June this year, to 13 points now.

I conducted two opinion polls on Facebook recently, one on the Green Left page and one on the Support the Green Party page. After 24 hours of voting the result was this:

Green Left

Remain 59%

Leave 12.4%

Undecided 28.6%

Sample 105 votes

Support the Green Party

Remain 64.8%

Leave 12.6%

Undecided 22.6%

Sample 182 votes

So a healthy lead for the remainers from Green types, but there is still a sizable undecided group, even amongst these Green/Left people, which suggests that the result is still in doubt.

The campaign, which could be exhaustingly long with possibly another two years to the referendum itself, I expect will be the usual dismal fare served up at referendums, and it is already conforming to type. The out camp will stir up anti-immigration sentiment, whilst the in camp will terrify us with tales of poverty and lost jobs if we leave. I am unconcerned about immigration and I don’t believe the claims of being impoverished if we leave. I’m interested in which option increases our chances of achieving some progress towards becoming the sort of society we want to see. How best to break the neo-liberal bind we are in?

I expect, in the end, that the vote will be to remain, because people are reluctant to upset the status quo, like happened in last year’s Scottish independence referendum. Better the devil you know, kind of thing. But as these polls indicate, it is not a foregone conclusion, and with Cameron’s reforms to our membership still to be revealed and the TTIP trade deal yet to be finalised, I would not rule out the result going the other way.

Thursday 22 October 2015

For Nuclear's Cost, U.K. Could Have Six Times the Wind Capacity

Written by Reed Landberg @ RVLANDBERG and first published at Bloomberg Business

Britain could have six times the power-generation capacity for the same money by investing in wind turbines instead of the 24.5 billion-pound ($37.9 billion) Hinkley Point nuclear reactor.

That’s the conclusion of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London-based researcher that estimates the cost of power from renewables in the U.K. are rivaling fossil fuels even without subsidy. Wind easily beats the more expensive nuclear plant that Electricite de France SA is building with the support of investment from China.

The findings highlights the trade-offs Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in his decision to support EDF’s bid to build the first new reactors in the U.K. in more than two decades. In backing nuclear and maneuvering to draw Chinese funds in a deal due on Wednesday, Cameron prioritized reliability of supply and the impact on rural landscapes over cost.

The chart below shows BNEF’s estimates for what power would cost from new plants built using a variety of technologies. It shows a wide range for each, reflecting huge differences in fuel and construction costs in every nation.

In some places, notably the U.K., wind is cheaper than nuclear. The new EDF plant at Hinkley Point will sell electricity for 92.50 pounds per megawatt-hour. That compares with lowest contract price of 79.23 pounds for supplies from onshore wind-power plants that the government awarded in February after a competitive auction.

Hinkley Point will supply 3.2 gigawatts of electricity to the grid. Spending the equivalent money on wind would give 21 gigawatts of capacity, said David Hostert, a wind energy analyst at BNEF in London.

Unfair Comparison

But from there, the comparison breaks down. Nuclear plants run for months without a hiccup and over the course of their lives can supply power about 90 percent of the time. Wind only works when it’s breezy. The best new plants have a “capacity factor” of 35 percent. The entire fleet is around 25 percent, Hostert said.

Also, wind turbines take up more space, and Hostert said the U.K. isn’t allowing the biggest machines that work most efficiently. Cameron has vowed to stop support for new onshore wind farms, which some voters say are blight on the landscape.

The next chart shows the cost of power from new coal plants will rise in the next decades while renewables decline.

Myriad factors determine which technologies are most profitable. In addition to the wholesale power cost, developers must weigh grid connection charges, government subsidy mechanisms, restrictions on when each plant can sell electricity to the grid and whether there’s demand from customers.

There’s also tightening environmental rules that restrict fossil fuel use and put a price on carbon-dioxide emissions. In the U.K. there’s incentives for generators that deliver baseload power. Nuclear qualifies. Wind doesn’t.

All those variables change over the life span of the power plant, which can stretch for decades.

“Onshore wind today is already the cheapest form of energy generation in the U.K.,” Hostert said. “We see nuclear plants at $190 per megawatt-hour” compared with $85 for wind. “The wind industry could be able to compete without subsidies, but not if the playing field isn’t level.”

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Ecosocialism and the Role of the State

After posting Ecosocialism or Barbarism – 11 Theses by Bruno Kern on this blog, I had an interesting discussion with a couple of London Green Left people which covered quite a few ideas on how we get to ecosocialism and some aspects of what ecosocialism would look like in a future, post capitalist world. Here I will float some thoughts about the role of the state in an ecosocialist society. 

There are several different strains of ecosocialism but most envisage a much reduced role for the state, certainly the egalitarianistic variety to which I belong does. Although the only governments that have been influenced by ecosocialist thinking, actually existing ecosocialism if you like, mainly in South America, show no sign of wanting to even wither away the state. The state in these instances has been used to fight off the global corporations who cause so much eco-destruction whilst exploiting the people, and are so rich and powerful that it needs the state to lead the resistance to them.

Of course we are not in a post capitalist situation now, so these states are understandably doing what needs to be done to try and carve out some space for ecosocialism to develop, but the whole concept of the state is also deeply embedded in our view of life, so it is not so easy to imagine the world without the nation state. In my view though, the state is ultimately a barrier to ecosocialism.

One of the main reasons why ecosocialists want to dismantle the state, ‘as soon as possible’ in Joel Kovel’s words is in many ways a reaction to first epoch socialism, in the twentieth century, and by this we mean the USSR and China and their satellites. In these nations, the state became a brutal tyrant, which suppressed democracy and committed atrocious crimes against their peoples and ecology. We appreciate that the external threat from surrounding capitalist states fuelled this behaviour, but ultimately twentieth century socialism sowed the seeds of its own downfall, by adopting such an anti-democratic and remote form of statist government.

Ecosocialism promotes democratic decisions being taken at the lowest possible levels, so advocate things like citizen’s councils or assemblies, or other forms of participatory direct democracy, not dissimilar to the kind of organisation practised at the Occupy encampments in many parts of the world a few years ago.  All ownership would be collective and the land and sea would be commons.

The problem with the state, of any political type, is that it holds too much power and tends to evolve along elitist lines, becoming more remote and self-serving whatever the original good intentions were. To break this tendency, democracy needs to be spread locally, regionally and in some cases nationally and internationally. Things like railways, for example, would need national oversight, and (reduced) trade internationally, but many if not all matters can be devolved to local levels. We need not go into the mechanics much here but one thought is that elections to councils should be held annually and people should not serve continually on these bodies, but it is easy to devise rules around this.

When we start to think of the huge changes that are necessary, urgent even, and how far we are now away from any of this, I think it is common sense to realise that we will have to live with the state for a while yet. We can prefigure our politics to some extent, but we will also have to work with the state system for now.

You could call it damage limitation, but I prefer to see this as part of a transformative process. Supporting renewable energy over fossil fuel and nuclear, energy conservation, organic farming, climate change action and working in the social movements for example, anything that reduces the disastrous impact on our ecology and pushes the corporate forces out of our lives. And yes, engaging in the democratic processes, such that they are, to win support for our policies and to get our ideas more widely listened to. To move the popular discourse a little in our direction.

But our ecosocialist analysis compels us to also aim to replace the capitalist state, by peaceable means of course, and in the first instance it will probably have to be replaced by an ecosocialist state to make a start on the work of massive change.  This should only be a temporary stage though, to put in place the transition to the people’s councils that will eventually replace the state government entirely.

Many things will need to be worked through, and for a time a central plan and direction, I think, will be necessary. The need to overhaul the productive system in favour of use value is probably the most the critical, because everything else flows from there in terms of what and how we produce. By shifting to this form of production, we can design a system which is ecocentric in nature.  In my view it would be more difficult to do this in a fractured way, at least at first, so the state would be needed to start the process.

Finally, this is what Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy say, and say it much better than me, in the first ecosocialist manifesto:

Ecosocialism retains the emancipatory goals of first-epoch socialism, and rejects both the attenuated, reformist aims of social democracy and the productivist structures of the bureaucratic variations of socialism. It insists, rather, upon redefining both the path and the goal of socialist production in an ecological framework. It does so specifically in respect to the ‘limits on growth’ essential for the sustainability of society. These are embraced, not however, in the sense of imposing scarcity, hardship and repression. The goal, rather, is a transformation of needs, and a profound shift toward the qualitative dimension and away from the quantitative. From the standpoint of commodity production, this translates into a valorization of use-values over exchange-values, a project of far-reaching significance grounded in immediate economic activity.

Far reaching indeed, but central if we are to create a sustainable political economy.

Sunday 18 October 2015

TTIP is a ‘revolution against international law’, says UN Expert

Written by Nick Dearden and first published at Global Justice Now

“Globalization cannot be allowed to become the grand global casino where investors rig the system to guarantee that they always win.” UN human rights expert Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (pictured above) doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the new generation of trade deals like TTIP.

He believes the corporate court system at the centre of the deal, which allows foreign companies to sue governments in secret “is tantamount to a revolution against law, it is retrogression in terms of legality and predictability, a no-man’s land of arbitrary arbitrations.”

De Zayas was speaking to the UN Human Rights Council and his transcript is well worth reading in full. He believes the privileges which big business is gaining through trade agreements like TTIP “constitute an attack on the very essence of sovereignty and self-determination, which are founding principles of the United Nations.”

The ‘corporate courts’ system is “a Trojan horse” threatening “a privatized system of dispute settlement, outside and contrary to … the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

And there’s more.

“Experience shows that many of the 608 arbitration awards that have become known,  have overridden national law and hindered States in the sovereign determination of fiscal and budgetary policy, labour, health and environmental regulation, and have had adverse human rights impacts, also on third parties, including a “chilling effect” with regard to the exercise of democratic governance.”

Officially known as Investor State Dispute Settlement or ISDS, corporate courts bring us closer to a private international system of law which threatens the whole basis of human rights and democracy. De Zayas says:

“An international order of sovereign and equal States … must not be undermined by private attempts to replace it with an international order ruled by investors, speculators and transnational enterprises lacking democratic legitimacy.. international investment agreements are usurping State functions as if the only rights were the rights to trade and to invest.”

What can we do about all of this? We’re constantly told by the British government that hundreds of such courts already exist and we’re trying to defy history. De Zayas disagrees:

“termination of international investment agreements may be a complex task, but much less problematic than, for example, dealing with armed conflict. The world economy has had to adjust time and again to advance the cause of human dignity.

“So it was with the prohibition of the lucrative slave trade, the abolition of slavery and decolonization, which were replaced by other economic models. … eventually investor–State dispute settlement will be recognized as an experiment gone wrong, an attempt to hijack constitutionality, resulting in the retrogression of human rights.”

To start off, de Zayas lays down straightforward guidelines for the British and other governments contemplating deals like TTIP. First, “ISDS should be abolished” as it has no place in a democratic world. He believes states must defy corporate court decisions that violate human rights and even suggests appealing to the World Court to prove “the invalidity of ISDS awards that are arbitrary and manifestly ill-founded.”

Second, government need to “conduct human rights, health and environmental impact assessments” and give maximum transparency to the negotiations which “must not be secret or ‘fast-tracked’”. Deals must not involve “unreasonable ‘survival clause’”, something which surely covers the 20 years it would take a government to withdraw from TTIP.

Finally de Zayas urges states to work together against this corporate coup, because a “democratic and equitable international order can only be achieved by States in international solidarity”.

Friday 16 October 2015

Eco-Socialism or Barbarism -- 11 Theses

Written by Bruno Kern

1. The history of capitalism has always been also the history of its crises. This has been so because of its self-contradictory nature, which by itself generates crises and undermines its own conditions of successful functioning. Till now, capitalism has always proved flexible enough to ensure that these crises did not lead to its end, although the price that humans and nature had to pay for its survival has been high. Today however, all over the world, capitalism is facing for the first time an insurmountable barrier, which has been set from "outside", is of geological and physical nature and is, therefore, final. This barrier consists in the limits to growth set by (1) depletion of the non-renewable resources and (2) the declining ecological carrying capacity of the earth, both of which are limited in any case. This is, so to speak, a "pincer-grip crisis," from which there is no escape.

2. The ultimate cause of the current financial, debt and economic crisis is precisely this: In many countries, growth has come to an end. In others, the growth rate is declining. The financial system as a whole rests on the expectation of steady growth. As soon as it becomes apparent that this growth expectation cannot be met, the financial system inevitably begins to falter. The conventional crisis theories (also those of Marxist, Keynesian or Schumpeterian provenance) are no longer sufficient to explain the crisis. Their recipes too are no longer effective. Those who, for example, want to cope with the current debt crisis by means of Keynesian stimulus policies – as an alternative to the prevailing austerity measures – overlook the objective limits to growth, overlook that there is little unexploited growth potential left that could be exploited.

3. In particular with the catchword "green new deal", some people are spreading the illusion that capitalist growth could be continued as before with other technical means. It is being suggested that, through the use of renewable energies and efficiency increasing technologies, "decoupling" of economic growth and resource and energy consumption could be achieved to a sufficiently high degree. This is one of the most dangerous illusions of "eco-capitalism". In all technologies, potential for efficiency increase is limited and subject to the law of diminishing marginal returns. Likewise, the potential of renewable energies is not inexhaustible. The energy density that has until now been available to us with the now dwindling fossil energy sources1, cannot even be approximately achieved with the renewable energy sources. That is, although we indeed have to use some "green technologies", at the final count, significantly less net energy will be available to us than today.

4. Not only global capitalism – which, as we know, is dependent on continuous capital accumulation on an ever higher scale and on a globally functioning strongly differentiated division of labor – but also industrial society as a whole has reached a crisis point! Viewed from the perspective of human history, industrial society is a singularity that cannot be generalized – an exceptional situation of short duration enjoyable only for a minority of humanity. It has only been possible on the basis of massive exploitation of fossil fuels – first coal, then oil and gas. Future sustainable societies will have to manage with a very modest resource base. Mass motorized individual travel, the commonness of long-haul flights, etc. will then no longer be possible. With renewable energies much fewer blast furnaces can be fired, much less cement and aluminum can be produced etc. etc.

5. A major difference between a Marxist understanding of socialism and that of "Initiative Eco-Socialism" is: While Marx and Engels saw the world-historic role of capitalism in the highest possible development of productive forces, on the basis of which alone building a socialist (or communist) society is possible, the "Initiative Eco-Socialism" says: exactly the opposite is the case. A socialist (solidarity-based, egalitarian) society is independent of any particular level of development of productive forces. Indeed, a high level thereof can even be a hindrance to the purpose.

6. In future, the economy will not only not grow any more, but it will inevitably shrink! Politically, we are facing the choice between letting the shrinking process chaotically descend upon us or to control and shape it consciously. In our sense, that would mean to control and shape it in a just way and in the spirit of solidarity. The economy will have to shrink until it has reached a state of stable equilibrium ("steady state").

7. Such a shrinking process cannot however be managed within the framework of capitalist relations. In standard economic terms, as we know, it would be tantamount to a deep depression. That is, there would be large-scale destruction of capital, whole industries would decline, and falling profit rates would prevent private investment. A shrinking economy is in contradiction to the immanent growth imperative of capitalism. That is, the process of gradual dismantling of the industrial structure could only be organized beyond capitalism – and probably defying its expected resistance.

8. Under the condition of scarce and dwindling resources, market mechanisms no longer work effectively. A market economy works effectively – if at all – only on condition that all market participants can react flexibly and adequately to market signals. But dwindling resource availability would entail that, in this area, we would have to do with sellers’ markets. Then there would be serious misallocation of resources. Scarce resources would not then flow to areas of the economy we as society consider to be essential and desirable, but to those where sufficient purchasing power exists. Under scarcity conditions, the market would not be able to ensure a minimum level of social justice. This means that we would need, instead of market mechanisms, conscious planning, quantitative controls, price controls, a quota system etc.

9. In the first phase of transformation of the economy – the shrinking phase – the state must necessarily be a strong player. This is of course not an ideal solution. Ideally, planning should be as decentralized as possible, with maximum participation of the stakeholders, and it should aim at a high degree of self-sufficiency of local communities. That is why bottom-up approaches in the sense of a solidarity-based economy would be of central importance for the transition period.

10. An eco-socialist economy would be characterized by a strong emphasis on the local and the regional, and it would strongly restrict long-distance trade.2 It would be characterized by a much higher use of labor-intensive technologies (today's high labor productivity is essentially the result of undesirably high resource consumption in capital-intensive technologies)3, a much lower level of division of labor,4 and a high degree of self-sufficiency.

11. In the light of this perspective on the future, what is important now is (a) to develop concrete exit strategies. That is, to see with which political steps a future eco-socialist government could begin the process of dismantling the industrial structure in a spirit of solidarity. (b) In this connection, we have to examine whether some popular "leftist" policy proposals (such as a guaranteed basic income paid out to all without condition) are compatible with an eco-socialist perspective. 

Bruno Kern
Initiative Eco-Socialism
(translated by Saral Sarkar) and first published on his blog here

Our website:; our e-mail:;
Contact: Initiative Eco-Socialism, c / o Bruno Kern, Mombacher Straße 75 A, 55122, Mainz.

The following publications can be downloaded from our website or can be purchased from the contact address:

Saral Sarkar, Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices. London: Zed Books. 1999.

Saral Sarkar, The Crises of Capitalism – A Different Study of Political Economy. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2012.

Saral Sarkar and Bruno Kern, Eco-Socialism or Barbarism – An Up-to-date Critique of Capitalism. Cologne and Mainz: 2008. (brochure)

Bruno Kern, It Is Not Too Much To Tell The People The Truth” (Ingeborg Bachmann)Energy Transition Between Infantile Fantasies and Disillusionment. Mainz: 2012. (Paper)

Saral Sarkar, Understanding the Present-day World Economic Crisis – An Eco-Socialist Approach. Cologne: 2012. (brochure)

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Labour Reverts to Blairite Foreign Policy Stance

After the fairly brief hiatus during Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party, where Prime Minister Cameron’s first attempt to bomb Syria was thwarted by the former Labour leader, his party has resumed the ill fated policy of military ‘liberal intervention’ in foreign lands, particularly the middle east.

‘Deciding to intervene militarily in another country is one of the most serious decisions parliament can make, but equally nobody should be in any doubt that inaction is also a decision that will have consequences in Syria’.

Of course this was prefaced by ‘humanitarian’ arguments about ‘safe havens’ etc and the need to pursue United Nations (UN) agreement for air raids on Syria, but at the end of the day, it appears, Britain will bomb the country with or without authorisation of from the UN. It sounds all rather familiar to the justifications claimed by Tony Blair for military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and David Cameron’s spin for the bombing of Libya.

All of which turned out well didn’t it? Hundreds of thousands of people dead and maimed, and a deteriorating situation for those left alive.

I should say that I don’t blame the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for this return to the failed aggressive foreign policy of recent years. Clearly, Corbyn’s instincts are to not get involved in this kind military misadventure, but as we have seen in other policy areas, Trident and the approach the nation’s public finances are the other two examples displayed recently, Corbyn is not in charge of Labour party policy.

The situation in Syria, is of course, an example of geopolitics and the proxy war, between the US and its western allies with its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim states against Russia and its Shia Muslim regional allies, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. The region is strategically important, and it has an abundance of oil.

This is never really mentioned in the western media reports except in terms of Russian ambitions for the region and instead is sold as a war on Sunni Islamic State (IS) who control large parts of Syria (and Iraq). There is no doubt that IS is a blood thirsty death cult and they pose a danger in the region and beyond, but if Cameron had had his way in 2013 and got approval for bombing Assad’s forces, IS would probably control the whole of Syria by now. Look at what happened in Libya, for example, when western bombing overthrew Gaddafi. Jihadi extremists now control parts of Libya, when before they controlled none of the country.

We refuse to learn lessons from the recent past that demonstrate that every time we intervene militarily in the region, we make matters even worse. Before we invaded Iraq there was no IS in Iraq, now they control about a third of the country, removing Assad in Syria would be making the same mistake again.

Assad is just as brutal a dictator as Saddam was, or Gaddafi for that matter, but is the situation for your average person living in these countries now better or worse since their removal from power? For Europe too, we have to now cope with hundreds of thousands of refugees from these countries, who sensibly want to flee to safety. How can any of this be deemed a success? And yet the intention is to pursue the same failed strategy in Syria.

Russia wants to prop up the Assad regime which at least looks to be a more sensible approach to ridding Syria of IS. It is complete hypocrisy for the western powers to argue a moral line against this, when we have propped up numerous dictators around the world when it suits our neo-imperialist agenda, including our old friend Saddam in the 1980s when he was gassing Iranians and Kurds, with gas we sold to him.

So when Benn says that ‘inaction has consequences’ he is correct, but history teaches us that military action has far worse ones.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

'Capitalism is Mother Earth's Cancer': World People's Summit Issues 12 Demands

"Caring for Mother Earth is a moral issue," UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon (left) told the World People's Conference on Saturday. "We must change how we use Mother Earth's resources, and live in a manner that is sustainable." Here, he is pictured with Bolivian President Evo Morales. (Photo: Reuters)

Decrying capitalism as a "threat to life," an estimated 7,000 environmentalists, farmers, and Indigenous activists from 40 countries convened in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya for this weekend's World People's Conference on Climate Change, aiming to elevate the demands of social movements and developing countries in the lead-up to upcoming United Nations-led climate talks.

"Capitalism is Mother Earth's cancer," Bolivian President Evo Morales told the crowd, which also heard over the course of the three-day conference from United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon as well as other Latin American leaders.

The people's summit, which concluded Monday afternoon, produced a 12-point declaration (Spanish) that will be presented during the COP21 climate negotiations taking place November 30-December 11 in Paris, France, during which 200 countries will attempt to cement an agreement to curb global warming. The COP21 agenda has been criticized for its sidestepping of issues like the role of capitalism in climate change and for the robust involvement of multinational corporations in the talks.

According to a translation, the Declaración de Tiquipaya calls for, among other things:
  • the creation of an international tribunal with "a binding legal capacity to prevent, prosecute and punish states that pollute and cause climate change by action or omission";
  • compensation from wealthy countries to developing nations for "climate, social, and ecological debt accumulated over time";
  • reclamation of the global commons; and
  • wholesale rejection of global capitalist and colonialist systems.
"We demand that the Paris Agreement does address the structural causes of capitalism," the declaration reads. "It does not have to be an agreement that reinforces the capitalist model, through more market mechanisms, allowing volunteer commitments, encouraging the private sector and strengthening patriarchy and neo-colonialism."

In advance of the Bolivia summit, the World People's Conference website elaborated further:
The world is being buffeted by multiple global crisis that manifests itself in a climate, financial, food, energy, institutional, cultural, ethical and spiritual crisis. These are the manifestations of unbridled consumerism and a model of society where the human being claims to be superior to Mother Earth... It is a system characterized by the domination of the economy by gigantic transnational corporations whose targets are the accumulation of power and benefits, and for which the market values are more important than the lives of human beings and Mother Earth.
Though the establishment of an independent climate tribunal emerged as a central goal of the Bolivian summit, Reuters noted on Monday that the idea "is a non-starter with almost every other country going to the Paris talks."

Even the European Union, which as recently as December argued for a strong, legally binding deal, "is increasingly talking about a' pledge and review' system," Reuters wrote, "under which national commitments would be re-assessed every five years against a goal of halving world emissions by 2050."

As for Bolivia, teleSUR reports: "The South American nation has taken it upon itself to advocate for climate change issues on behalf of other developing nations," with environmental activist Moira Zuazo telling the publication that "70 percent of the Bolivian people say that development is less important than Mother Earth and we are listening to them."

Saturday 10 October 2015

Green Battle Lines Drawn Over EU Referendum

With news that Green Party peer Jenny Jones has joined the new cross party campaign, to convince the public to vote to leave the European Union at the forthcoming UK referendum on the matter, a division has opened up in the party. The campaign group is named, rather straightforwardly, Vote Leave.

This shouldn’t come as a great surprise to Jenny Jones watchers. As recently as this July she wrote a piece in The Ecologist magazine entitled ‘Something Rotten in the State of Europe’, in which she says:

Just as Syriza's negotiating position has been fatally undermined by its refusal (in my view deeply mistaken) to countenance leaving the Euro, so we - Green and progressive voters - will lack any leverage so long as we tolerate a bad EU, for fear of something even worse.

And make no mistake: a pro-TTIP European Union, eager to impose the imperatives of capital against people, determined to evacuate democracy in Greece and other member states of its meaning, is not an EU we should wish to be part of.

The formal position of the Green Party is to vote to remain in the EU and to try and reform it into a better, people’s Europe, but this seems to be a remote possibility at best. There are quite a few Eurosceptic voices in the Green Party, but Jenny Jones is the most prominent so far to come out for leaving the EU.

Jones comes from the ‘eco-liberal’ wing of the Green Party and this philosophy has a streak of anarchism running through it, which I think is where this anti EU sentiment emanates from. Anti-corporate, anti-big state feelings, as against a small state, eco-friendly localism agenda drives this desire to abandon the supra-national state.

In the other corner are the eco-social democrats, whose most prominent member is the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who has many cheerleaders in the party who will no doubt follow suit. An ex Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Lucas wants the UK to remain in the EU, and as aforementioned to change the organisation into a better one (unspecified how exactly), at pretty much whatever the cost. The cost could be high too, as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, negotiates the good bits of the EU away. In this piece for The Guardian newspaper she argues:

The EU is far from perfect, but turning our backs on it is a risky strategy. Profoundly re-imagining what a reformed EU might look like shouldn’t just be left to David Cameron. We should be building a progressive case for Britain’s membership of a radically reformed union that works better for all of us.

The EU has enormous potential to spread peace, freedom and security in and around Europe, as well as further afield. It’s with this vision in mind that I’ll be campaigning to stay in Europe.

Unfortunately, it appears to be just that, ‘a vision’, at this stage. If Cameron ditches the employment and environmental protections afforded by the EU, we may have to take a couple of steps back, before we can move forward to meet Lucas’ idealised EU.

So where does this leave an eco-socialist member of the Green Party like me? Well, there are differences of opinion in Green Left also. Personally, and in line with a recent TUC general council statement on the issue, I’m awaiting the outcome of Cameron’s negotiations before deciding which way to vote. We don’t know at this stage even what we will be voting on.

The issue seems to come down to how you view our chances of getting a better deal by staying in or leaving, and I’m still considering this too. Would it be easier to just take on the right in the UK, or take on the whole of the undemocratic EU? If we build alliances across the EU with our fellow travellers, perhaps this is more desirable, but how likely and achievable is this? For me it will probably come down to a lesser of evils, because in or out of the EU the next few years look bleak for eco-socialism either way.  

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Labour Signals an end to Dented Shield Approach in Local Government

The old GLC building, County Hall, London. The GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher 

The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced at the Conservative party conference this week, a further move towards devolution for English local authorities. Osborne is to allow English councils to keep all of the local business rates that they collect, amounting to £26bn per year by 2020.

Under the existing arrangements, business rates are collected and sent to central government and then redistributed to local authorities depending on an ability to raise such taxes. Westminster, for example, raises huge amounts in business rates, compared to somewhere like Sunderland. Osborne did say that some new, as yet unspecified scheme will continue to smooth out such differences.

Councils will also be allowed to reduce business rates in their area if they choose, and in some cases to increase them by a small amount, for new infrastructure projects, with the agreement of local businesses.

Labour’s new shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, John Trickett, speaking at a fringe event at the Labour party conference last week, and reported in the Local Government Chronicle (subscription), said, it was “right” leaders of Labour-run councils were negotiating devolution deals with the government. But he also warned they would be expected to oppose Conservative cuts and help “develop anti-austerity movements across all of the communities” they represent.

He went on to say, “This is an ideological decision the Tories have made to reduce the size of the state and to force councillors to do it.

“It’s a complex thing but it seems to me that it’s not too difficult to find solutions to, especially as it’s no longer the national party against the local party – there’s a single view on it.”

Is this the ditching of Labour’s ‘dented shield’ approach to Tory cuts to local services, instigated by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s when some Labour councils tried to resist central government cuts to local budgets? It does sound like it. Of course, new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn cut his political teeth in London local government at this time, and London councils were at the forefront of challenging Margaret Thatcher’s assault on local authorities then.

The problem with taking this stance now is that councils, including Labour run ones, are by and large in favour of more financial devolution. Greater Manchester has been at the vanguard of English devolution and Sheffield and the West Midlands look to be next in line, all run by Labour.

Even under Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party tensions surfaced with the Labour leadership in Manchester. Centrally, Labour wanted to reject the offer to Manchester, but locally they ignored Miliband and pressed on with the arrangement.

Will local government want to return to the adversarial ways of the 1980s? I very much doubt many Labour councils will do, but only time will tell on this. Local authorities have borne the brunt of public spending cuts over the last five years, with most having their central government grants reduced by around 40%, and it seems likely they will be reduced by a further similar amount during this Parliament. On the whole councils have coped remarkably well with the cuts so far, although there is nothing easy left to cut.

This government has changed the way that local authorities are funded, along side the general reduction in funding, and devolution packages are all part of the same changed approach. The Relative Needs Formula, which uses all kinds of demographic indicators to determine how much each council gets in central grant, has been frozen at the 2013 level and there are no plans to up rate it in future.

The government’s emphasis is on growing local economies which in turn make councils more financially reliant on raising revenue this way, and the whole devolution experiment is an extension of this approach. Councils have adapted, and don’t look like changing tack now.

But this is all at odds with what the Labour leadership wants, as they challenge the government’s austerity policies. This is an interesting situation to watch, not only does it look like Corbyn will be battling with Labour MPs, but also Labour local government too. Something will have to give.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Myth that the “living wage” will offset Tax Credit Cuts

Written by Rob Ponsford

“...any cuts to tax credits will be balanced by the living wage...”- Numerous Conservative Members

That argument has been trotted out ever since the chancellor’s budget and me like many will simply call this for what it is, utter nonsense. The most glaring error is calling the proposed living wage a living wage, it isn't by any real or measurable way. It is however a step in a right direction.

Unfortunately this Government thinks it has come up with a real living wage and so can dismantle the Tax Credit system all together and further cut welfare. Cutting Tax Credit isn't something to scream about however, if one was to look at what is really needed to earn to have a life that isn't just living hand to mouth week to week, say for someone like myself who has a child and a partner.

Then the typical average income to actually live is about £17,000 pa. I currently earn £15,000 in the job I do, which is helping people gain online digital skills as well as working with the unemployed having had been unemployed several times myself. So I also receive Working Tax Credit, come April of next year I will lose roughly £1,050.

I work very hard for my job as do the vast majority of all working people who get Tax Credits. The reason the system was introduced was to make work (work that may not have in the past been financially viable) pay so that more people could benefit from being in work to not. Have there been abuses yes? There have been countless companies who make multi hundred million pound profits every year that could in fact afford to pay its staff a real living wage that would take them out of tax credits (however profit is the name of the game and keeping staff costs as low is possible is normally the agenda).

The answer to the tax credit question is simple and that is employers must meet the cost in wages properly so there is no need for them. The reality is for small to medium business or in my employers case a charity, they would never be able to get off the ground with such a high wage to pay. (Not a case of not wanting to pay simply unable to meet such a wage, add to that the other charges small business has to meet this would kill off many small to medium business.)

The living wage foundation set such a wage, a wage that will allow people to make more money and reduce the tax credit bill, the simple fact is currently this. If we do not want Tax Credits and for people not to rely more on food banks and to be able to enjoy life then the living wage will have to be set at about £9.00 per hour in Apri,l and to rise accordingly as the cost of living does so.

If however we say we cannot put such pressure on small to medium business that do need relief in other forms, then we have to accept the living wage as set by the living wage foundation and a reduced Tax Credit bill as a result. I currently earn above the National Living wage as set by the Living wage foundation and even I still rely on a small amount of Tax Credits.

But the bottom line is this, if we are to dismantle the Tax Credit system then business will need to meet this cut with a real living wage even beyond what the living wage foundation states, the reality of that choice isn't easy with how many job losses it could create with the pressure on small business. So the step in the right direction is to make the living wage foundation wage the living wage and the reduction in tax credits that will create.

This current government’s living wage is not in any real way a living wage and it should not be seen as an excuse to cut the tax credit system and leave so many hard working people living hand to mouth.

Rob Ponsford is a member of Plymouth Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Monday 5 October 2015

The need for rent controls

If tenants had the model of rent control advocated by the majority of the London Assembly in the two years since the Mayor was re-elected, they could have saved a total of £2,796 in rental payments.

Darren Johnson, Assembly Member for Housing, has led calls to replace Assured Shorthold Tenancies with a five year tenancy agreement, during which time annual rent increases would be capped to provide a fair compromise between landlords and tenants.

Andrea Carey-Fuller, Lewisham Green Party housing spokesperson, writes more about the issue:

The statistics provide evidential proof of the urgent need for the rent controls being put forward by the majority of London Assembly members:

According to Rentals website Rentonomy 90% of central London is now even out of the reach of graduates who are prepared to rent just a room. So, for an average graduate earning £22,400 per year, an unaffordable room costs over £129 a week or £560 per month.

According to the GLA's own figures, 59% of the private rented sector is comprised of young adults aged between 16 and 34 (twice as high as the proportion of this age group in London's overall population (29%)).

The net effect of the lack of affordable housing is a direct increase in the waiting lists of people on the housing register. Again according to the GLA's own figures there are "over 350,000 households on housing waiting lists in London."

The Homelet Rental Index (April 2014 edition) states that "Greater London saw monthly and annual increases of 2.4% (March - April 2014) and 9.4% (April 2013-April 2014) respectively to £1,348 per month - the highest amount on record." This report goes on to state "it is currently 96.2% more expensive to rent a home in the capital than the rest of the UK... and tenants in Greater London are currently paying rents almost double that the rest of the UK."

Added to this is the fact that for too long the Capital has been and continues to be mis-used by the Mayor of London to allure foreign investors into the housing market. These investors have bought into new developments, often off-plan, forcing most Londoners (excepting the rich ones) out of the House Buying Market, which has driven up demand for rental housing, which has lead to the insanely high costs of private renting in London (putting most people including graduates effectively out of the private rented market). Additionally, a handful of powerful developers are reaping rich rewards from housing developments profits at the expense of affordable rents. The Convoy's Wharf development for example will only provide 15% (or just over 500 affordable properties) within a development of 3,500 properties. The remaining 85% will provide untold riches for the Developers who will gain also from the commercial leases as part of this development. A fair and just amount would be at least 33% - 40% of affordable housing which would still leave ample profit for the developers.

It is all about greed.

It doesn't have to be this way. There is nothing wrong with developers and landlords making a fair amount of profit; no-one is talking about taking away incentives for the private rental market. The introduction of fair and proportionate measures such as the security of five year tenancy agreements, with capped rent increases which protect the rights of the tenants whilst providing a reasonable rate of return for the landlord, would be a fair and proportionate way of satisfying the needs of all parties.

This is the 21st Century, and as an advanced, humane decent society, I think all of us would agree that everyone has a right to a roof over their heads. If graduates are struggling to afford to even rent a room in a house how are people and families living on low-incomes, or relying on benefits able to afford even the most basic housing? The answer is they aren't which is why we have over 350,000 people 'falling back on local authority housing' because there is no viable option to do otherwise until the rental market costs are established at sensible levels and rental controls are put in place to ensure that the private rental market is not able to continue to spiral out of control.

You can find Darren Johnson's Living Rent calculator here:

Andrea Carey Fuller is a Green Left supporter