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The Future we choose

Jeremy Williams’ review of the Figueras book on climate change:

Christiana Figueres is the former head of the UNFCCC, the UN’s climate change programme. She took over months after the failure at Copenhagen in 2009, and over the next six years she built the consensus that would lead to the Paris Agreement. Alongside her is Tom Rivett-Carnac, her chief political strategist at the UNFCCC. It was their diplomacy that led to the broad coalition of support for the agreement, not just from governments but from industry and civil society. Whatever its shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is still an extraordinary accomplishment. The two authors here were right at the heart of it, and their book commands an unusual level of attention.

Post-pandemic economies

Market-driven economies currently run in order to profit businesses and shareholders by means of ever-increasing production and consumption – the so-called exchange value facilitated by money and finance. The market economy provides income in the form of wages for work performed and dividends for capital invested as well as taxes that the state uses to provide social services such as health care, education, defence and social care.

The current pandemic which has closed down much non-essential economic activity has brought into sharp focus the question: “What is our economy for?” Simon Mair of the University of Surrey HERE outlines four possible post-pandemic futures, two based on exchange values as we now have and two based on ‘use value‘. During the panedemic it is use value that determines whether or not certain types of economic activity are allowed to continue as social disancing has to be maintained in order to limit the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Mair’s four futures are:

  1. Descent into barbarism – pandemic leads to breakdown in health and other essential services
  2. Robust state capitalism – the pandemic is controlled and exchange value capitalism continues to be universally supported by states
  3. Radical state socialism – centralised state control of the means of production with and economic system for quality of life for all based on useful employment
  4. ‘Big society’ built on mutual aid – localised community-based support groups in which useful work enhances and simplifies the quality of life.

This additional article proposes a Universal Basic Income as a future main plank of economic organisation that would enhance social solidarity and security. It is not, of course, favoured by proponents of market economics and exchange value but could enable the worst aspects of deprivation in the midst of plenty to be overcome.

Recyling solar panels

This latest blog from Jeremy Williams makes a strong case against the criticisms that solar panel production invalidates claims that it is less worthy than continuing to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity. Older solar power installations are now coming to the end of their useful lives and Williams describes the first attempts to recycle the materials from wh ich the panels are constructed.

Two important readings

OUR FUTURE ON EARTH

February 2020 – a 53 page comprehensive report with a range of articles by scholars and researchers from many countries and disciplines. Published by Future Earth, is a risks analysis based on a survey of 222 global sustainability experts. The survey identifies five global risks —climate change, extreme weather, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, food crises, and water crises — as the most severe in terms of impact. Climate change, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, and water crises – were the most likely to occur. More than one-third (82) of those surveyed underlined the threat of cascading crises with one worsening another “in ways that might cascade to create global systemic collapse. The full report can be downloaded free.

UNO’s CONFLICTING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

Seventeen global Sustainable Development Goals were agreed by the UN in 2015, with the ambition to achieve them by 2030. Our focus is the apparent conflict between the three ‘environmental’ goals (SDGs 13, 14 and 15) and the 14 ‘socio-economic’ goals. Griggs et al. (2013) pointed out the need to give priority to the environmental goals: ‘so that today’s advances in development are not lost as our planet ceases to function for the benefit of a global population’. Efforts to achieve the 14 socio-economic goals in the coming decade could increase the human ecological footprint, and thereby intensify the pressure on planetary boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009) moving the world further away from the three environmental SDGs.

We study this conflict by creating a relatively simple desk-top model, Earth3, to analyse scenarios for world development towards 2050. This practical tool is a first attempt at treating all SDGs and the planetary constraints within one quantitative framework. 

“How everything can collapse”

This book review by Jeremy Williams is of a review of futurology writing about the possibility of imminent collapse of society as we know it. The book is translated from French and was published in 2015. The emergence of a possible coronavirus pandemic adds weight to the case for seriously considering the collapse our present modern civilsation, not an unprecendented phenomenon in human history.

What do we mean by collapse? It’s “not the end of the world” say the two self-described ‘collapsologists’ who have written the book. “Nor is it a simple crisis from which we can emerge unscathed.” Instead, we’re talking about a process of erosion of economic and political structures that leave people’s basic needs unmet – things like water, food, clothing and energy.”

And here is an interview with Noam Chomsky about his new book “Internationalism or Extinction”.

“Charming Psychopaths”: The New Corporations

In this interview Joel Bakan talks about his update of his famous 2004 book The Corporation and his new film that shows how the modern corporations are co-opting social and environmental causes to serve their own pursuit of shareholder profit at the expense of the public good and environmental sustainability.

The corporation is a legal construct, indeed a legal fiction. It is not something created by God or by Nature, but rather a legally created and enforced set of relations designed to raise capital for industrialism’s large projects. Its main function is to separate the owners of an enterprise from the enterprise itself.

The latter is alchemically transformed into a ‘person’ that can bear legal rights and obligations, and therefore operate in the economy. The owners – shareholders – thus disappear as legally relevant, with the corporate ‘person’ itself (and sometimes its managers and directors) holding legal rights, and being liable when things go wrong.

It follows that shareholders’ only risk is to lose money if their share value declines. They can’t be sued for anything the corporation does. Moreover, to further sweeten the pot for their investing, the law imposes obligations on managers and directors to act only in shareholders’ best – that is, financial – interests.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT INDEX OF COUNTRIES

No countries are doing well in preparing for a sustainable future at present as this website shows. It lists the countries in rank order of how well they are doing and includes a world map to show their locations.

Poland is 122nd and the UK 131st on the list of 163 countries included on the list. Top of the list are: Cuba; Costa Rica; Sri Lanka; Albania and Panama.

The Sustainable Development Index (SDI) measures the ecological efficiency of human development, recognizing that development must be achieved within planetary boundaries. It was created to update the Human Development Index (HDI) for the ecological realities of the Anthropocene.

The SDI starts with each nation’s human development score (life expectancy, education and income) and divides it by their ecological overshoot: the extent to which consumption-based CO2 emissions and material footprint exceed per-capita shares of planetary boundaries. Countries that achieve relatively high human development while remaining within or near planetary boundaries rise to the top.