The Global Perpective

General Election 2017: The Global Perspective

If we accept, as I have been arguing, that our goal, the goal of politics, is to meet the needs of everyone whilst living within the means of the planet, what are our main challenges? What are the main barriers to our achievement of this goal?

As Kate Raworth has pointed out (in her Doughnut Economics), when the ancients first started to formalise politics and economics it was at the level of the city state. These cities were largely self-sufficient, and apart from the occasional plague, drought or war with a neighbouring city they did not need to consider events further afield. They no doubt understood their relationship with their immediate environment, but because the impact of a relatively small global human population was so slight they were not affected in any great measure by the actions of other communities. But as the world population has grown exponentially, as local economies have developed into national economies and national corporations evolved into multi-national corporations, and, most significantly, as trade, politics, communication and awareness has become truly global, so too have our problems.

The main issues that threaten the flourishing of human life today are truly global. The most obvious of these is climate change. Our carbon emissions do not respect national boundaries, sea level rise as a result of the melting icecaps can only be global in its effect, and the predicted mean rise in global temperatures will affect everyone. There will be, there can be, no escape. And there are other issues as well. The migration of people fleeing war and persecution not only affects us all, but is the responsibility of us all – many countries, including the UK, have historic political responsibility for creating the conditions of these conflicts, and were not slow to exploit foreign populations and resources to develop their own economies and political status. And this migration will only rise as a result parts of the world become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels and temperatures.

Responding to these and many other global issues requires global co-operation, and, dare I say, global legislation. The EU has many faults, but it is at least capable of legislating on human rights, environmental protection laws, working regulations and animal welfare standards across individual national boundaries. There has to be a system of norms, rights and laws that are agreed at the international level. Despite all the talk of getting our sovereignty back, individual nations cannot be the sole judge of what is right and legal within its boundaries. Because what we do within our boundaries potentially affects everyone in the world our actions need to conform to some degree of international agreement. And migration, from whatever cause, is the responsibility of everyone, and demands an internationally agreed response. Anything less is an abdication of our responsibility as a human being.

But we don’t only need global co-operation and legislation, we need the global enforcement of this agreed legislation. This is not, as far as I am aware, Green Party policy, but I would advocate for the UN to be developed into an international police corps, one capable of intervening in any situation where human rights and regulations designed to ensure that the environment remains capable of supporting human life were being abused. It should not be neither the responsibility nor the right of any nation to intervene in an international ‘situation’ – it should be the responsibility of us all acting co-operatively.

Answers to questions asked by DWT

Answers to questions asked by Dorset Wildlife Trust

Before answering the specific questions asked of my me the Trust, I need to point out that by far the most urgent need is for our environmental policy to take centre stage along side our economic policy, and be understood as two sides of the same coin. We also need to move the goal of our economic policy away from that of economic growth towards that of meeting the needs of everyone whilst living within the means set by the planet.

  1. What will you do to ensure our wildlife is protected and restored after Brexit?

The Green Party will fight to get all EU regulations that safeguards our wildlife, ensures our animal welfare, and protects our environment, incorporated into UK law. The challenge, of course, will be ensuring that once incorporated into UK law they are rigorously enforced.

  1. What will you do to ensure that wildlife thrives in our seas once more?

We need to return the acidification of our oceans (as a result of carbon dioxide emissions) to pre-industrial levels. We need prevent their pollution from synthetic organic pollution by changing our farming policy and practice away from its current ‘industrial’ approach. And we need to rapidly prevent further soft plastics from entering our oceans.

  1. What will you do to ensure we have new farming policies that support nature’s recovery?

Molly Scot-Cato, the Green MEP for the South West has already commissioned two reports that examine farming policy and practice post Brexit. As a society we need to seriously reconsider our approach to the food we eat – we need to move towards eating less but better quality food grown and produced at local farms using organic methods and adopting the highest standards of animal welfare.

  1. What will you do to make sure we move to a low carbon economy?

The Green Party will prioritise measures to tackle climate change. It will campaign for a massive investment in renewable technologies and energy efficient homes, and it will campaign for a new Environmental Protection Act.

 

The Hard Politics

General Election 2017: The Hard Politics

I argued in my previous post that our goal, humanity’s goal, should be to meet the needs of everyone whilst living within the means set by the planet. What does this mean in terms of hard, pragmatic politics? First and foremost, it means that we need to give a radical rethink to what we consider economics to be all about: we need to forget our obsession of measuring economic success in terms of growth; and we need to raise our environmental policies to the same level of importance as our economic ones. In fact, we need to see economic policy and environmental policy as two sides of the same coin!

The goal of our economic policy, therefore, should be to meet the needs of everyone. And its success will be the measure to which that has been achieved. What are our needs? The most obvious ones are: clean air, fresh uncontaminated water, healthy food, adequate housing, an opportunity to work and contribute to the economy, the access to education, the access to health care, the ability to take part in the community, the opportunity to freely express our thoughts and take a role in democratic politics. And none of these should in any measure be restricted according to our ability to pay, social class, sexuality, gender or ethnic origin. What I have listed is by no means a comprehensive list, I’m sure that you’ve already spotted some glaring omission – but you get the idea. Meeting these needs, and distributing our resources accordingly, should be the aim of our economic policy. Growth, as measured by GDP, may or may not accompany this activity, but whether it does or not is irrelevant.

But all of this has to be achieved whilst living within the means of the planet. If we don’t, if, in the process of meeting our needs, we pump so much carbon into the atmosphere that we render our climate hostile to human life, acidify our oceans to such an extent that marine life become untenable, pollute our environment to such an extent that our ecosystem collapses, render our soil unproductive by intensive farming and the overuse of chemical fertilisers, and destroy our forests to such an extent that natural carbon cycle is broken, what’s the point of meeting our needs? We will not have an environment capable of supporting human life! In fact, the ability to meet our needs will collapse. We really need to understand, and incorporate into our policies and practices, that we are not separate from the ecosystem in which human life is embedded. There is no way round this fact. The limits have been set by the evolutionary process. We cannot change them. We need to develop a symbiotic relationship with the planet, not a parasitic one.

Dare I suggest that only the Green Party takes both sides of this coin seriously. Labour Party policy has a great deal to say on meeting the needs of everyone, and should be commended for it. However, they only appear to pay lip service to the environmental side of the coin. I listened to both Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech at last years Autumn conference, and his Westminster speech to launch their general election campaign. In both speeches he only referred to the environment once, that’s how important it is for him. And in the first of these it was to point out that if we had an exchange of nuclear weapons the environment would be damaged. I can’t fault his argument, but please – there really are other more urgent issues we need to tackle!

On the other side, the LibDems have proposed, over the years, an impressive range of environmental policies. And to be fair, they would support many of the policies designed to meet the needs of everyone. But, and this is a huge ‘but’, they are economically liberal as well as socially liberal. Tim Farron, in his leader’s speech at the LibDem Autumn conference, made a big point of claiming that the LibDems are the party of the free market. The free market, the belief that the market, free from restriction, can be the solution to our problems, is seriously misguided. The free market, certainly once outside the limits of the local economy, is the cause of our environmental problems, not the cure. It is the endless pursuit of wealth and profit, wealth that does not trickle down to everyone yet blinds those who chase it, that is destroying our ecosystem.

All the other main parties, the Conservative, Labour and LibDems, all talk about the need for economic growth. All are seriously deluded. And this is more serious than just having a political or economic disagreement with another party. The future sustainability and flourishing of human life on our only planet is at stake. What’s the use a large bank balance when sea levels rise and temperatures in many parts of the world are too high to sustain life other than to try and hold on to a privileged life style for as long as possible whilst people all around you are dying?

The Common Good

General Election 2017: The Common Good

I haven’t written anything for this blog for a few week as my time has been dominated by the recent County Council elections. Now they are over I can relax. Well, that was the plan! I am also the selected Green Party parliamentary candidate for West Dorset, and a general election has been called – so the relaxation has been put on hold for five weeks. For this campaign I’ve decided to write a short series of blogs that outline my personal manifesto. Whilst I very much doubt that this will vary a great deal from the Green Party manifesto (when it is published) I must stress that the views expressed are my own – no one else’s. So criticise me not the Green Party.

Two and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle made the following observation. Everything we do, we do for a purpose – to achieve some end, some good. I walk the dogs for the good of their and my health. I drink cider to support the local economy – seriously, I think it my duty! But each of these ends or goods are, in turn, pursued for some higher good. I seek good health because it gives me a better quality of life, and I support the local economy because it makes for a more thriving community. And ultimately all these further ends become means to achieve one ultimate end or good – what Aristotle termed the greatest good. This he called eudaimonia, often translated as happiness, thought better translated as flourishing.

Aristotle’s view is often criticised these days for being too individualistic – for encouraging the individual to focus on their own happiness. What he probably did not fully appreciate was that our individual happiness or flourishing is interdependent on the flourishing of others in our community, and the flourishing of individual communities is interdependent on the flourishing of other communities and the whole of society. So the final, total and complete end or good of everything we do could be understood as the flourishing of humanity itself. And as this flourishing has to be, to a very large degree, a shared flourishing, it is in effect the greatest, greatest good! This, for me, describes the common good.

However, this flourishing gets even more complex. The flourishing of humanity is totally dependent upon the environment in which it is embedded, from which it draws its food, water, energy, raw materials and air to breath, and into which it dumps its waste (for example it’s carbon and nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere and its soft plastics into the oceans). What this means of course is that whatever we regard as constitutive of human happiness or flourishing has to be achieved with the limits set by our environment. There is absolutely no way round this. These limits are set. Exceed them and bad things start to happen (sorry, did that sound a bit Trumpish?). Species other than humans don’t need to concern themselves with this – as soon as they start to exceed the limits of their environment they start to die off. If they continue they become extinct. Why do we consider ourselves so very much different?

Bearing in mind the interdependence of human life, a rough and ready description of human flourishing would be that the needs of everyone (and by everyone I mean everyone in the world, the whole of humanity) are met – that everyone has sufficient food, clean air, fresh water, warm, dry and safe shelter, and are healthy, have access to education, are free from persecution, and free to participate in social and political life. And all this needs to be achieved within the natural limits imposed by our environment. Achieving this the biggest challenge we face. This is the common good that we need to be seeking. Our goal, therefore, can be summed up as: To meet the needs of everyone within the means set by our planet. In the next thrilling episode of this blog I will examine the political aspects of this goal in a little more detail.