Thursday, October 31, 2013

Communities rise up against toxic gold mining

Thousands of people are rising up in their communities in Greece and Romania against toxic plans by gold mining companies who are working in cahoots with their governments to destroy their environment.

At Halkidiki in northern Greece, the Eldorado Gold company is mining the ancient forest of Skouries, using thousands of tons of toxic chemicals. Tests show wells in some villages are now undrinkable, with dangerous levels of arsenic.

Beekeepers trying to get to their hives are facing armed security guards. Four local people have been jailed for a protest at the mine itself and dozens of others face prosecution. In fact the area has been turned into an armed camp.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the Greek government illegally invested state funds in the scheme, but nobody is rushing to do anything about it. European governments and their bankers are only interested in the Greek state repaying bail-out loans.

The Athens government has slandered opponents of the mining as “terrorists” and compared them to the fascist Golden Dawn party. But there is nothing fascist about their citizens' statement:

"Resistance Becomes a Duty: We, who issue this call, are residents of Halkidiki and citizens of Greece in solidarity with Halkidiki. For three years now we have taken to the streets to protest against what is happening in Skouries. We are not merely demonstrating for our rights but for life itself, for our own and our children’s future.
 “We stand in solidarity to everyone who fights for life, equality, freedom, and dignity. The criminalization and repression of the struggles of social movements who support basic freedoms is the only reaction left to a panicky system of power. It is our duty to raise our voice and protect those who resist the arbitrariness of power. We believe that united we have the power."

A similar battle is being waged in the Apuseni mountains in Transylvania, Romania, where the  Save Rosia Montana campaign has held a mining company at bay for nine years.  

Rosa Montana has huge gold and silver deposits, which have always been mined, but the new plan is brutal. It will create Europe's biggest open-cast mine, on 1,364 acres of mountain land, extracting 300 tons of gold and 1500 tons of silver in just 17 years, using a total of 240,000 tons of cyanide. The legacy will be:

• a 300 hectare tailings pond holding heavy metal and cyanide waste
• water supplies of 6,000 people polluted
• 4 mountains blasted to destruction
• 2,064 private properties relocated
• 975 houses torn down, 41 of them historic national heritage sites
• 7 churches demolished, blown up, or covered by the cyanide pond
• 11 cemeteries relocated.

Every Romanian cultural and academic institution has denounced the proposals and the courts have rejected 20 applications by mining interests. Thousands of people across the country have marched against the plan.

Now the government is trying to pass a special "law in the national interest", overruling the courts. The campaign has an alternative economic vision for the area based on traditional farming, eco-tourism, heritage and community-owned gold mining.  Like the community in Halkidiki, they have issued their own citizens' statement:

"We, the inhabitants of the Apuseni our right to decide our own fate independently. Based on this legitimate demand, we proclaim the following: The land, the forests, the pastures, the water and the air of the Apuseni Mountains belong to those who live here, as inherited from our ancestors. We have the right and the obligation to give these, in a good state, to our own offspring, so that they can also enjoy them. The inhabitants of the Apuseni are the only ones entitled to decide the best way to valorise the wealth that good God and nature endowed us with, for the benefit of our community and of Romania!"

European states interpret the “national interest” as free rein for corporations, but people increasingly have their own vision for a future that transcends profit-driven short-term growth. But to make that our actual future, we are going to have to deal with the corporate state, organising and fighting for a real democracy for communities and countries.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Russell Brand's fire crosses the Atlantic

As Russell Brand’s simultaneously visceral, emotional and intellectual case for revolutionary change goes viral, respected Pulitzer prize-winning US journalist Chris Hedges, arriving at the same conclusion, goes even further than the comedian.

Exactly one year ago, Hedges, who wrote for the New York Times for 15 years until 2005, described the US presidential election as “a battle between the corporate state and us”. His conclusions and actions then echoed the eruption of Occupy:

“If we do not immediately engage in this battle we are finished, as climate scientists have made clear. I will defy corporate power in small and large ways. I will invest my energy now solely in acts of resistance, in civil disobedience and in defiance.”

And in registering a protest vote for the Green Party, he said he was stepping outside the system. Twelve months later, Hedges’ ideas have moved on apace. Amongst other things, he’s been studying the work of Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and anarchists, including Alexander Berkman.

Hedges now sees things much more clearly. While Brand was laying into Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, Hedges noted: “Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realise that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realise that these elites must be overthrown.”

And this week, in Our Invisible Revolution, Hedges looks deeper at the revolutionary process itself. He believes that the ideas used to justify the “private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters” are losing their power over people. He adds:

“The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognise that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden.”

Hedges believes that once enough people “get it” – that free market capitalism does not serve their interests – then the process of change quickens and, as Berkman wrote, “evolution becomes revolution”.

There is a nervous air among America’s ruling elites, Hedges believes, because more and more people have rejected the ideas of the status quo. “This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement — are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.”

Like most people, however, Hedges comes to the realisation of the need for revolution unwillingly, reluctantly. He would prefer “the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy”, a system that allows its citizens to non-violently dismiss those in authority, “a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power”.

But, as after acknowledging that we don’t live under such a system, Hedges admits that “revolt is the only option left”.

To avoid spontaneous movements like Occupy being ruthlessly crushed by the state, Hedges is clear that we need a direction, a strategy and alternative ideas for how society could look in the future.

“An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself.”

So the key to a successful revolt, for Hedges, is a clear vision of a new society and a strategy for how it can be achieved. To which we should add, democratic forms of networked political organisations that can help us focus on the main prize.

Russell Brand and Chris Hedges are playing a tremendous role in bringing the case for system change out into the open. They have helped kick-start a social revolutionary process which millions will join.

Gerry Gold

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cameron and Obama: puppets of the state within the state

There are two “democracies” where the secret state within the state is pulling the strings of politicians so hard that their movements resemble those of puppets. The hidden apparatus is so powerful that to challenge it is to court accusations tantamount to treason.

We refer, of course, to the United States and Britain, where yesterday the prime minister issued a veiled threat against the Guardian for continuing to publish articles based on material supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden.  

In Washington, meanwhile, Barack Obama’s spokesman convinced no one with his denial of the president’s prior knowledge of the National Security Agency’s bugging of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile for more than a decade. Somewhere, someone surely has a “smoking gun” email which says the opposite?

The reality is that neither the NSA nor GCHQ are dependent on political approval for their insidious activities. Quite the opposite, both are fiefdoms of the inner state, that part which is hidden below the waterline and which, like icebergs, can seriously damage your health.

That’s why prime minister Cameron is determined to keep a lid on GCHQ’s activities. Yesterday he warned MPS of the dangers of a "lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view" about the dangers of leaks,  and warned that if the Guardian didn’t “demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act." Naturally, that other poodle, one Ed Miliband, rushed to praise the work of “our intelligence services”, adding: “It is vital, it keeps us safe and, by its very nature, it goes unrecognised.”

But this deception won’t wash. The stories that the Guardian have extracted from Snowden’s files show the methods and scope of the NSA/GCHQ’s activities. It was long believed that these agencies were intercepting emails and phone, breaking into the back door of internet providers when necessary. Snowden provided chapter and verse rather than revealing names of any secret agents or stuff like that.

The truth is that a comprehensive surveillance state has been established behind our backs through agencies that act with impunity. At the weekend, the Guardian revealed how GCHQ feared a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges.

Memos in the Snowden files, for example, showed how GCHQ and the other spy agencies have thwarted plans supported by the three main parties to make intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials. The report also revealed how GCHQ helped the Home Office to find “sympathetic” people to help with “press handling”.

Surprise, surprise they included Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile. Last week, right on cue, he criticised the Guardian’s coverage of Snowden’s material.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Washington Post is sceptical of the claim that Obama did not know about the bugging of foreign leaders. Opinion writer Eugene Robinson says: “Either somebody’s lying or Obama needs to acknowledge that the NSA, in its quest for omniscience beyond anything Orwell could have imagined, is simply out of control.”

Either way, the revelations by Chelsea Manning, when he was as an army private known as Bradley Manning, and then Snowden, have angered millions in Europe and America and thrown governments into disarray. In a perceptive article for the US journal Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore dismiss the so-called threat to national security and instead talk of the "collapse of hyprocisy" in the US. They add:   
This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, US officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the US-led order is fundamentally illegitimate. 
Exactly! Calls for better “oversight” of GCQH and the NSA miss the point. The sponsoring states, as the authors point out, have a “dangerous dependence on doublespeak”. When that cover is blown, as it has been, the case for creating an alternative, democratic political system, where surveillance of the kind we have know, is banned can only grow.
Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, October 28, 2013

Backlash against Brand shows he got it right

Be worried. Be very worried. The “revolution” word got top billing on the BBC’s Newsnight. And, God forbid, the word “profit” was called “filthy” by a comedian, actor, radio host and author who has over seven million followers on Twitter. No wonder the media – right across the spectrum  – is working overtime to give Russell Brand a thumping. In his article for the New Statesman, Brand flings down a barbed and well-crafted and often hilarious gauntlet– as he did in his confrontation with Jeremy Paxman last week. He challenges the notion that our present Tweedledee and Tweedledum parliamentary system is the only form that democracy can possibly take. He makes a strong claim that there is a revolutionary alternative. From the Spectator’s James Bloodworth to the Daily Mail’s Janet Street-Porter Brand to the Independent’s Joan Smith, Brand is being tarred and feathered.  Accusations range from that of “being a narcissist”, “spurning a right that people died for” (Spectator) to indulging "adolescent waffle about 'revolution'". 
It has also enraged Tom Watson, Labour’s former deputy chair, who for example, wrote in the Daily Mirror: “That vote which Mr Brand thinks is worthless is all the little guys have got left. In 2015, millions of us can send the bankers and hedge fund bosses that fund the greedy Tories packing.”
 How? By voting for Ed – let’s have responsible capitalism – Miliband? Surely, you are not serious Mr Watson.
Defenders of the status quo all around are outraged that Brand dared to say what millions think: the parliamentary system is neither representative nor truly democratic. His attack on the political system and call for a revolutionary change touched a raw nerve because he points to the fact that the democratic emperor really has only a few tatters for clothes. “I have never voted,” Brandt writes. “Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.” Yes, his and Jonathan Ross’s prank calls to actor Andrew Sachs back in 2008 were unpleasant. But that was some five years ago and Brand has come a long way since, politically speaking. In 2009 he co-signed a letter from the Hoping Foundation to the Independent calling for an end to the Israeli attack on Gaza and attended the anti-G20 protests in London. Brandt remains a vocal supporter of the Occupy movement. In June this year he took part in a video backing US whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Last month he was ejected from the GQ awards for hilariously but seriously accusing sponsors Hugo Boss of being “Nazi tailors”, thus biting the very hand that fed him. Brand’s chief crime is that he is calls for a revolutionary alternative. Not only that, but a socialist and inclusive one which is not dour and dogmatic but which links Britain’s legacy from Pagan times, to the English revolution, the Tolpuddle martyrs and the immediacy of the ecological crisis. Jibes that Brand’s call to arms are just “banalities about revolution”, that  “wild emotions are all very well” and “where’s your programme?” are just that – cheap and nasty jibes by defenders of the status quo. They emanate to use Brand’s eloquent words, from “people who have never struggled, who are a dusty oak-brown echo of a system dreamed up by Whigs and old Dutch racists”.
 The Observer’s Nick Cohen makes the most insidious and hurtful accusation by comparing Brand to Mussolini, claiming that chiefly the far right would benefit from a revolution. But he lets also the cat out of the bag. “Now, as in the 1920s and 1930s,” he notes, “many inhabitants of most European countries agree with Brand's slogans that all politicians are crooks and democracy is a sham. Today's crisis has left Europe in a pre-revolutionary situation.” The furore that Brand’s remarks have caused shows the established commentariat in their true colours, dismissing the idea of a revolutionary change while clinging on to their own privileges and positions. They are the ones living in the past while Brand looks to the future. We’re with him all the way. Corinna LotzA World to Win secretary  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Grangemouth workers hung out to dry by Unite and SNP

The fate of jobs at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant now lies solely in the hands of a ruthless corporation that buys firms and then drives them back into profit at the expense of their workers’ wages and benefits.

The 1,800 Grangemouth workers have found that neither the Unite union leaders, who they pay for, nor Labour or SNP representatives they voted for, would stand with them, if they decided to mobilise a real fight against Ineos. In an amazing display of solidarity and determination, the majority of the Unite members had  voted to strike and reject the company’s blackmail.

But within hours of their vote on Wednesday, the message from all sides was that there was no alternative to accepting destruction of living standards and the pensions of any future workers. A media outcry held the workers responsible for the fate of the 10,000 related jobs in the local area.

So yesterday, their union leaders simply caved in. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey left earlier negotiations up to local officials but hurried up from London to capitulate in person. Within hours he had unreservedly accepted the company’s terms, “warts and all”. Shocking but true.

McCluskey has breathed fire and brimstone since the ConDems coalition took power, threatening strikes, civil disobedience, even a general strike against austerity, the public sector wage freeze and pension curbs. When it came to the crunch, he had no fight. Hot air and nothing more.

Later today it will be discovered whether this treachery is enough to keep the plant open or if in reality the company never had any intention of staying their hand. The closure of the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth would reduce global capacity and drive up prices to the benefit of Ineos plants elsewhere.

And that's the big lesson. When it comes down to it, the corporations make decisions on the basis of their own business plans, on the grounds of costs, shareholder value and profits. And so who holds the power?

The Scottish SNP government lined up with the Westminster government to demand that the Grangemouth workers accept the inevitable. First minister Alex Salmond was in talks begging Ineos not to close the plant. Finance minister John Swinney, the great champion of an oil-based independent economy, stood shoulder to shoulder with ConDem Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael.

SNP claims that a capitalist Scotland would be in some way better for Scottish workers have been exploded. Ineos, like all Scotland's key industries from oil to whisky, is not "Scottish". They are run by freebooting global capitalist transnationals with no care for local conditions, except where they impact on profits.

The adjacent oil refinery, whose waste product is processed at the threatened plant, is owned by Petroineos, a refining and trading joint venture between Ineos and the Chinese government-owned PetroChina. Its other refinery is at Lavera, near Marseilles.

As the recession continues and fracking throws more cheap US coal and gas on to the world market, who knows what will happen to the offshore oil refining business. There is no such thing as security for workers, whatever the status of their country's governance.

The Unite members were ready to fight and their union could have organised an occupation to prevent the dismemberment of the plant, but they did not and will not. Independence will not change that.

Those who limit their vision for the future to achieving a "Yes" vote in the 2014 referendum have missed the point. Independence and self-determination should not be reduced to whether a Scottish elite should be in charge of a capitalist Scotland.

It has to be about acquiring a revolutionary independence, forging a new solidarity across the UK and Ireland, based on the struggle for a democratic state, for the socialisation of Scotland’s resources, for a new commons. That would provide a platform for a sustainable energy strategy that protects both jobs and the environment.

Penny Cole

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Exclusive: Sell the Acropolis, says Merkel in bugged phone call

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has complained to President Barack Obama about the bugging of her mobile phone by America’s infamous National Security Agency. In fact, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has access to just about everyone’s emails and phone conversations.

We’ve been passed a transcript of a three-way conversation between Merkel, Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, who was in Washington at the time. The call took place in May 2012 when the Greek government was close to collapse over its plans for further drastic cuts in public spending before a new bail-out was agreed.

Merkel: What are we going to about Greece? German taxpayers are fed up with their attitude. We can’t keep bailing them out if they are not going to make sacrifices. If they won’t sack civil servants and cut their pensions, we should throw them out of the euro.

Draghi: Madame chancellor, with all due respect, we can’t just eject them from the euro because it could easily lead to the domino effect.

Merkel: What is a domino?

Draghi: It a piece of black plastic or ivory used in a game, it is oblong shaped and has white dots on one side. You stand them on their end, next to each other. If you push one over, the others will fall too. This is called a domino effect. Many wars start this way.

Lagarde: Madame chancellor, I think what Signor Draghi is saying is that if Greece leaves the euro, others may consider that the single currency is only for rich countries. Others like Spain and Portugal may also run into difficulties and the euro could collapse.

Merkel: Ah, so. We keep Greece in the euro but insist they cut their spending before they get more bail-out funds. Is that correct?

Draghi: The difficulty is that it’s hard to see what how they can reduce their spending much more. I am told that the government has run out of money to pay for imported medicines and that hospitals cannot pay their electricity bills. We may have to lend them more money so that they can repay the banks the interest on the loans they gave them in the first place.

Merkel: We have to do something. Tourists from Germany are being abused when they go on holiday in Greece. The Greeks seem to blame us for their problems yet we have gone out of our way to help them. Perhaps they could sell the Acropolis or the Palace of Knossos? That would raise some money, surely?

Lagarde: Yes. I know some hedge funds here in Washington that would buy these monuments and lease them back to the Greeks. There must be many more temples and palaces that could be sold in this way. We should ask their government to draw up a list. We have to stand shoulder to shoulder over Greece. Other countries must know that if they get into debt that the most important thing is saving the banks and the financial system. These are our priorities.

Draghi: Many European banks are still in some difficulties over the excessive debt on their balance sheets. Protecting them has to be top of our agenda.

Merkel: Agreed. So we will tell the Greek government to, how do you say, swallow the medicine because in the long run it will cure them! By the way, who do you think will win the European Champions League final in Moscow [between Bayern Munich and Chelsea]?

Draghi: It won’t be a Greek team!

Lagarde: Nor a French one!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

EU-US trade deal will intensify race to the bottom

Corporations like Monsanto, Nestle, Toyota and the big pharmaceuticals are amongst the world’s most powerful economic actors hard at work promoting an increasingly complex web of bilateral deals aimed at opening up trade and driving down wages and conditions.

Their ultimate aim is a transatlantic deal between the European Union and the United States. For the time being, they will be satisfied that after four years of negotiations, the EU and Canada have signed a multibillion-dollar trade pact that will integrate two of the world's largest economies.

The deal removes some of the barriers impeding the expansion of the global corporations, and makes the Canadian marketplace the only one of the rich G8 countries with open borders to both the North Atlantic Free Trade Area and the European Union. The EU has recently completed smaller agreements with South Korea and Singapore.

The big prize for the corporations is a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the EU. A second round of talks  scheduled for early October was one of the casualties of the US government shutdown. It is far from clear whether they will restart during the US Congress self-imposed three-month extension of its power struggle over government spending.

Signing a deal is considered as second best to the World Trade Organisation’s failed Doha round of negotiations. Though informal Doha talks continued last week in Bali, differences over agricultural imports effectively brought the process to a halt in 2008 after seven years of unresolved conflicts between developed nations led by the European Union, the United States and Japan, and the major developing countries - India, Brazil, China, South Korea, and South Africa.

On Monday, the three member states of the Russian-led Customs Union involving Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed with India to start preparations for their own free trade agreement, even whilst negotiations between India and the EU, started in 2007, remain stalled since a meeting earlier this year. 

Whatever the obstacles presented by national interests, the internal and external pressures on corporations to expand their operations in search of cheaper labour and bigger markets are irresistible. A new study from the Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) reveals the corporate forces at work pushing for the proposed EU-US deal and warns of the likely damaging consequences for basic rights, workers and the environment.

Despite the ritual claimed objectives of jobs and growth, the experience of the 1994 North American Free Trade Alliance – the world’s largest trading bloc linking Canada, Mexico and the United States  – is precisely the opposite. US president Clinton promised 20 million US jobs. The result? A net loss of almost a million and a downward pressure on wages as jobs followed investment across the border to Mexico.

Harmonisation of EU-US regulations will be designed to ensure a race to the bottom. America’s refusal to ratify key International Labour Organisation standards and conventions would almost certainly be replicated in Europe, adding to the intensity of conditions resulting from the recession. In the name of “restructuring”, an EU-US deal would increase pressure for the adoption of US anti-union “right to work” laws.

In order to boost transatlantic trade, TTIP would remove environmental protection – including the European “precautionary principle” approach - through the proposed “mutual recognition” between EU and US environmental standards.

TTIP would ensure the progressive concentration of even greater economic powers in the hands of large agribusinesses at the expense of consumers and farmers, says S2B. Recently agreed restrictions on fracking could be overturned. National encouragement favouring local production would be outlawed. Resistance to GM foods would be defeated. S2B warns of the proposed deal:

“What emerges then is an understanding of TTIP as the political project of a transatlantic corporate and political elite which, on the unfounded promise of increased trade and job creation, will attempt to reverse social and environmental regulatory protections, redirect legal rights from citizens to corporations, and consolidate US and European global leadership in a changing world order.”

They’re not wrong.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Don't wait for supermarkets to end food waste scandal

“All the world's nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe,” says Feeding the 5,000, a campaign group which is pioneering food recycling.

Tesco – the UK’s largest supermarket – admits that 28,500 tonnes of food waste were generated in its stores and distribution centres in just six months. And this is only part of the 15 million tonnes of food which is thrown away in the UK each year.

Is this a new and startling reality?  

Well, yes and no. Years ago, I remember a speaker from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) explaining to pupils at my school that it was totally possible to feed all the hungry mouths on the planet with existing resources.

So the bigger question is why is that instead of such an elemental problem being solved, in the age of super technology, humanity is still struggling with it?

Campaigners are trying to get supermarkets to revise their attitudes to their products – such as sending food past its “best-by” dates to charities and food banks.

That seems sensible, but relying on corporations for whom food is a commodity to be sold for a profit can’t solve the problem, which goes deeper than how food is marketed and sold.

At a basic level, we are alienated from the very substances that keep us alive. Instead of seeing the lettuce leaves, apples, meat, fish and bread as precious products developed from nature by our fellow human beings, most see them as little more than useful commodities.

We have long lost the connection with the land and soil on which they grow and the people who tend the crops. We prefer not to think about how “free range” eggs are collected by cheap labour or how animals are kept and slaughtered.

We don’t think about the end destination of plastic, polystyrene and packaging used to attract children to dangerous sweets and to make us buy more and more.

Felix Preston, in a briefing paper produced for the Chatham House think tank, calls for “a fundamentally new model of industrial organisation”. He proposes a “circular economy” or “CE”.

Instead of seeing “waste” as something simply to be discarded, a circular economy would “transform the function of resources in the economy”. These proposals chime in with the aim of a zero waste approach now advocated by some municipal authorities and governments as well as ecological campaigners.

Of course, the hope is that corporate capitalism will adopt the circular economy approach because it is good for business. CE would “offer huge business opportunities”, according to its supporters.  

But what is needed is something different. The for-profit market-growth model must always prioritise its shareholder returns. Yes, some capitalists are much more far seeing than others. Yes, they may even believe the greenwash they churn out through their clever publicists.

But as the recent scandal with egg production in the UK shows, the bottom line for most companies is that they want to maximise their profits.

Preston’s proposals, he says, “requires systemic changes that go beyond the individual firm. They must be embedded in partnerships and networks of companies”, and would require a collaborative, information-sharing approach.

This is definitely not possible within the capitalist framework of production and exchange, driven by market share and maximising dividends.

Resolving the problem of waste is indeed possible. It makes the transition from a for-profit capitalist economy to a co-operative, collaborative, shared-ownership system more urgent than ever.

One of the greatest scourges of humanity -  hunger and malnutrition – could be overcome if humanity could open up an alternative path where eating, like heating, comes before profit.

Corinna Lotz

Monday, October 21, 2013

ConDemned to a nuclear nightmare

When Japan and Germany decided to halt nuclear power dependency in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, some hoped it was a turning point. But the deal with French and Chinese corporations announced today marks an abrupt end to the dream that nuclear power might be phased out.

Instead, vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is to be handed to French and Chinese state-owned corporations to build a new power station in Somerset and be guaranteed a minimum price for the power it will generate in ten year's time.  

Hinkley Point will become the first new nuclear plant in Europe since Fukushima. That plant continues to leak massively to this day and was the second worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl in 1986. Then, radioactive fallout equivalent to 20 Hiroshima bombs damaged the health of countless people in northern Europe and continues to blight their lives.

The price agreed for power generation at Hinkley is at double the current market rate. This means that the companies are guaranteed longer-term revenues of around £80bn, according to some calculations. A scandal, or what?

The government has agreed to provide some £10bn guarantees to build the power station, thus subsidising nuclear energy at a higher rate than renewables – which are becoming more and more economic.

EDF, which is almost entirely owned by the French state, took over British Energy in 2008-9 and now operates 15 nuclear reactors in the UK. Nuclear expansion received a huge boost after the Blair governments enthusiastically endorsed it.

New Labour’s enthusiasm was matched a few years later by that of former anti-nuclear campaigner George Monbiot, who experienced a strange conversion in 2011 after Fukushima, when he declared himself pro-nuclear and made a vicious attack on the highly respected, Dr Helen Caldicott.

Despite the fact that the nuclear industry is so dangerously accident-prone, the companies chosen by Osborne and his ConDem clique are most obviously the least transparent and least responsible organisations to run such a dangerous industry.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that EDF and CGN will be any less negligent or open to scrutiny than the companies which built and supplied the nuclear reactors behind the Fukushima disaster.

Quite the opposite. Earlier this year, EDF pursued anti-fracking campaigners No Dash For Gas for £5m. EDF dropped its lawsuit eventually but only after the protesters agreed to a permanent injunction against entering EDF sites.

Less well-known is no doubt the fact that the head and deputy head of EDF’s nuclear security operation were jailed for three years each by a French Court in 2011.  They had spied on Greenpeace and hacked into the organisation’s computer systems.

Any misdoings by the Chinese state-owned CGN will virtually untraceable or accountable. Greenpeace campaigner in Hong Kong, Prentice Koo, warns that "Their [Chinese nuclear operators] track record is really bad and that they never give reasons for nuclear accidents.”
He told the BBC’s China reporter that "The nuclear industry in China enjoys such a privileged position that they have to pay only very limited sums in compensation if there is any major incident."
Thus, EDF and its Chinese partners will profit handsomely but are most unlikely to be responsible for any accidents or clean-up. So, cheap power generation, safety, transparency, accountability? You have to be joking.
Going nuclear at vast expense is a desperate act by a country without a sustainable energy strategy. It won’t even help to keep the lights on as it's a decade away. Consumers will pay through the nose and no doubt be asked to foot the eventual bill for storing radioactive waste.
Energy minister Michael Fallon is hailing the process as a “nuclear renaissance”. Actually, it’s more like an expensive nuclear nightmare the ConDems are holding out before us. 
Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, October 18, 2013

Heat or eat, live or die: the market will decide

Behind the rip-off increases in gas and electricity prices announced by British Gas is an industry dominated by six secretive corporations who take their cue from the international energy market to drive up profits. 

It should come as no surprise that the big six operate as an oligopoly, raising prices in unison whenever they can, but especially before the winter sets in. They decide whether people will heat or eat and, in the case of some, live or die from the cold.

While the market wholesale price for gas, for example, has risen and fallen since 2004 (see graph), the big six have ensured that the price paid by consumers has continued on its upward trend.  

Attempt to find out how the six operate and you come up against a brick wall of “commercial confidentiality”. Trying to get to the bottom of it all baffled Which?, the Consumers’ Association magazine. In its October edition it reported:

“And most of the trading they [the six] do externally just isn’t transparent – there are no details of how much electricity is sold or what prices were paid. It’s nearly impossible to find out how much your company paid for the energy it sells, and therefore impossible to work out if you’re paying a fair price as an end user.”

That’s not the end of it. Each of the major suppliers also has a power generating arm. They sell electricity to themselves. “However, this is carried out behind closed doors and the price the supply arm of the company pays to the generation arm isn’t made public.” The generation arms of these companies made average profits of about 20% in 2012.

Which? concludes that the companies are so cynical they don’t even care about losing customers as a result of price rises. In 2006, British Gas’ parent company Centrica raised prices by an astronomical 28.6%. Over 850,000 customers quit. But revenue from gas sales still rose by 15%.

You can just see British Gas executives laughing all over their faces following prime minister Cameron’s appeal yesterday for people to switch suppliers. They are not bothered in the slightest. As for them blaming the government’s “green tax” for the rise, it only accounts for 5% of your bill.

Although renewable energy now accounts for 11% of the total (even this output, by the way, is sold on the market!), Britain is still reliant on fossil fuels despite their proven connection to climate change and extreme weather patterns.

Gas and electricity prices have been rising steadily since 2004 – the year Britain first became a net importer of energy as North Sea gas and oil supplies began to fall way. Since then, first New Labour and now the ConDems have been thrashing around trying to devise an energy policy reliant on the private sector

The fact is that both the ConDems and One Nation Labour are in thrall to the corporations and the market. So we’re now faced with a market that protects profits at the expense of consumer plus the refusal of the state to create an ecologically-sustainable energy supply that breaks the dependence on fossil fuels.

Switching suppliers is, as we have seen, a bit pointless as the prices of the main suppliers are more or less in line with each other. Smaller suppliers are simply squeezed out. Labour’s idea of an 18-month price freeze sometime in 2015 is combined with a plan to “reform the market”. This is a sticking plaster approach rather than a solution.

The energy market itself is an obscenity. Fuel is a basic necessity, a social right. So no one should expect profit-driven generators and suppliers to deliver on this. Breaking dependence on the market would mean a massive switch to renewable energy generation. That will also require the return to public ownership of the energy industry.

Who is prepared to implement this solution is another question. The answer certainly lies beyond the political careerists at Westminster and a system that puts profits before people.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fracking capitalism is the way to go

The campaign against fracking the UK is building on all fronts, including the legal one. Greenpeace is encouraging actions for trespass against the companies like Cuadrilla. But will they be enough to bring a halt to shale gas exploration?

Unlike in France, where the constitutional court this week upheld a government ban on fracking introduced in 2011, the UK state is heavily committed to the dash for gas.

Planning laws and new technical guidance introduced in the summer are heavily weighted in favour of applications to frack.

For example, the guidelines state: “Mineral extraction is essential to local and national economies. As stated in paragraph 144 of the National Planning Policy Framework, minerals planning authorities should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy, when determining planning applications.” [emphasis added] The guideline say:

  • Planning applications for exploration of shale gas should not take account of “hypothetical future activities” – actual extraction.
  • Planning authorities should not consider demand for, or alternatives to, oil and gas when determining applications.
  • Councils should understand that government policy is clear that energy supplies should come from a variety of sources.
  • Planning authorities should give great weight to the “benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy
Jon Gateley, principal planner at property firm Savills, told Planning magazine that the guidance was akin to a presumption in favour of shale gas. "Rather than just introducing controls over how decisions would be made, the guidance implies that government wants to see them go through," he said.

As the hot summer rolled on into September, the government stepped in again with plans to change the current notification requirements on underground gas and oil applications to make it easier for the corporations, naturally.

At present, companies have to serve a notice on any other person who owns or is a tenant of land to which the application relates. They also have to publish a notice in at least one local newspaper and display a notice in every parish affected ahead of submission.

But under the draft proposals,  the requirement to serve notice on individual owners and tenants of land would be dropped where solely underground operations would be involved.

Enter Greenpeace. They are assembling home owners to mount a legal challenge to prevent fracking companies drilling underneath the homes of people who don’t want it. The campaign group says that such drilling would amount to trespass and be illegal.

“This is about people asserting their legal and democratic right,” said Anna Jones, senior campaigner with Greenpeace. They’ve launched a website where homeowners can find out, using their postcode, whether they are living near a potential fracking operation.

While under English law, mineral rights beneath the surface belong to the state, Greenpeace argues that companies will still need permission from landowners. Lancashire dairy farmer Andrew Pemberton has joined the legal action. “My biggest worry is pollutants,” he said. Water supplied that feed his animals come from aquifers beneath the Lancashire Fylde.

But as Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, pointed out yesterday, the state is heavily committed to fracking. She was actually speaking outside court, where she pleaded not guilty to alleged offences following her arrest outside the Cuadrilla site in Balcombe in the summer.

She said: "The government is not only refusing to listen to the evidence, it is choosing to become a flag-waver-in-chief for the fracking industry, offering them generous tax breaks as well as allowing them senior roles within the government itself.”

Among those she was referring to is Lord Browne, a former BP boss, who is now holding a cross-departmental role in government, reporting to the minister for the Cabinet Office, at the same as he holds significant shares in Cuadrilla. Coincidentally, the minister concerned, Francis Maude includes Balcombe in his constituency.

You have to conclude that it will take more than local legal challenges to halt fracking. And it will also take more than a change of government, as rebranded One Nation Labour is totally silent on the issue, leading campaigners to suspect Ed Miliband’s party has fallen for discredited “cheap energy” claims. We will have to put fracking capitalism on the agenda.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Clock is ticking on US debt time bomb

Is America too big to fail? Or will a dysfunctional Congress, by continuing to block a deal on raising the astronomical federal debt ceiling, precipitate a default by the world’s largest economy?

There’s an air of panic. “No clear plan to avoid default as deal collapses”, screams the headline in the Washington Post this morning, with just 48 hours to go before the deadline.

With many government services shut down for nearly three weeks already, it’s small beer compared to what happens if the debt time bomb explodes. In any case, it is already too late to stop the economy unwinding.

There have been several attempts at predicting the sequence of events likely to unfold if Congress cannot come up with a deal, but nobody really knows what might happen. Payments to US war veterans would be amongst the first casualties and they are already on the streets, mounting protests.

For five years, the real conditions in the global economy have been building to a moment that demands something expressive of much greater destructive impact than the “collapse of the house of cards” metaphor widely used for the 2007/8 financial meltdown.

The problem is this: the US needs more debt – an estimated $1.1 trillion to keep paying the interest on the accumulated $16.7 trillion. As with all addictions there has to be a dealer, someone to supply the next fix. Just printing money doesn’t do it.

An increase in debt, and the associated repayments, demands an increase in the value which has to be produced by someone doing productive work, somewhere in the world. And with the US economy not generating enough growth to pay off the debt, exploitation of workers in other countries must also be ramped up.

If you follow the trail of connections to the source of the new value needed to back the debt repayments you find yourself chasing from the factories in China to the murderous conditions in Bangladesh and on to the latest source of cheap labour -Vietnam

Which brings us back to the origins of the crisis. During the 1960s and early 1970s the United States was engaged in a losing war in Vietnam. The impossibly high cost of the war contributed to runaway double digit inflation and mounting federal debt. This in turn forced the US to sever the relationship between the dollar and gold which had been the keystone of post second world war economic arrangements The end of the gold standard opened up the period of credit-fuelled expansion, which itself crashed in 2007-8 when the world system came to a griding halt and many banks went belly up.

Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam war finds the US government still making payments to the veterans who fought there. Based on a causal link to the Monsanto-produced defoliant Agent Orange used in Vietnam, federal officials approved diabetes a decade ago as an ailment that qualifies for cash compensation and it’s a large bill. 

Without the ability to borrow more money, the US government cannot pay out to veterans or anyone else. On October 23, a $12bn social security payment is due, and November 1, a range of bills will use up the government’s remaining cash. As some wit put it, by the end of Thursday the US will be like a shopper who has hit his overdraft limit: he cannot borrow more but still has a little cash in his wallet.

The credit rating agencies are moving to further downgrade America’s AAA grade while Citi and other banks have divested themselves of US debt due for payment over the next few weeks. But for China, Japan, the oil exporters – the main holders of US debt – there’s no such luxury. Selling would drive down the dollar further and leave them well out of pocket.

The House of Representatives is hostage to the far right Tea Party faction and seems determined to go to the brink. President Obama could ignore Congress and raise the debt ceiling himself, but that would provoke a major constitutional crisis.

Whichever way you look at, American capitalism is being blown apart by its addiction to debt. And the rest of the global economy is not too far behind. 

Gerry Gold
Economics editor 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Osborne extols virtues of China while students work for nothing

While chancellor George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson are busy selling off UK infrastructure to Chinese capitalists, they want us to abandon what they claim are outdated attitudes about the country. The trouble is, the new reality about China is almost as bad.

Speaking on the BBC on Monday morning, the chancellor said: "I think there is a bit of a British attitude which treats China as a sweatshop on the Pearl River. One of the things I'm trying to do this week in China is to change British attitudes to China...this is a country that is right at the forefront of medicine and high-tech and computing and high-tech engineering and all of that."

It’s also a country that is right at the top when it comes to appalling labour conditions and intense exploitation of the country’s workers. Beneficiaries, naturally, include the major transnational corporations like Foxconn and Apple.

Foxconn, the world's biggest contract electronics maker, has just admitted that unpaid student interns worked shifts at a factory in China. Last year, the corporation owned up to hiring underage interns at the same unit.

Reports suggest that upwards of upwards of 1,000 China-based Xi’an Institute of Technology students may have been forced to work on an assembly line unpaid, assembling Sony’s PlayStation 4. They were warned they wouldn’t get credits for their course unless they played ball.

The Taiwanese-based corporation makes parts for major retailers, most notably for Apple’s iPhone. Workers are often housed in dormitories and are subjected to intense pressure at work. After a spate of suicides at its Shenzhen factory, Foxconn put up nets to catch falling workers. Sick, or what?

And just today, the US-based China Labor Watch (CLW) accused US-headquartered toy corporation Mattel over a series of violations at supplier factories in China, including failure to pay overtime. The campaign group put the value of what it called “wage theft” at the six factories at between $8 million and $11 million annually.

“One of the most alarming findings was the various methods – many illegal – that Mattel’s factories use to reduce their workers’ due wages and benefits,” it said. “Mattel’s factories achieve cost reductions through the degradation of labour conditions ... Workers at the bottom of the system are forced to bear the brunt of this burden.”

In July, CLW published an investigative report detailing the labour violations of three factories of Pegatron Group, a major supplier to Apple.  Average weekly working hours in the three factories probed by CLW were approximately 66 hours, 67 hours, and 69 hours, respectively. Workers were forced to sign forms indicating that their overtime hours were less than the actual levels.

CLW executive director Li Qiang said, “Our investigations have shown that labour conditions at Pegatron factories are even worse than those at Foxconn factories. Apple has not lived up to its own standards. This will lead to Apple’s suppliers abusing labour in order to strengthen their position for receiving orders.”

Chinese workers have been fighting back against super-exploitation. Chinese private-sector wages rose 14% in 2012, following similar increases the year before. While this still leaves workers way behind average earnings in Japan, Europe and North America, the increases were still enough for the Wall Street Journal  to warn its readers that this could “hurt business profitability and export competitiveness”.

So it’s on to the next venue for super-exploitation. Countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam are seen as alternatives as global clothes retailers look beyond China. Marks and Spencer, for example, has more tripled its staff in Vietnam over the past three years.

So chancellor Osborne, the sweatshops are simply moving countries. No doubt you will be visiting them in due course, extolling their virtues while turning a blind eye to what’s really going on in the factories. ConDem business as usual.
Paul Feldman
Communications editor


Monday, October 14, 2013

The surveillance state tightens its grip on us all

New laws that will mean ID checks for all, state supervision of the media, gagging of campaigns in the run-up to an election and a threat against publishers of devastating accounts of secret surveillance. Russia? China? Nope, dear old Britain.

The ConDems’ new anti-immigrants Bill will mean checks on status before people can access housing or health. This will hit everyone, as the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (Ilpa) has pointed out.

"What this means in practice is a system of identity checks for all, since it is necessary for British citizens or people with permanent residence to prove that they are lawfully present in the UK if and when checked," says their response to the Home Office consultation.

Moving swiftly past the decision by the mainstream parties to introduce a legal oversight of the media through the unelected, secretive, feudal institution known as the Privy Council, let’s deal with state surveillance which we’re not supposed to know about.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden has just been given the Sam Adams Award by former CIA officers, who gave it to him in Russia, for “exhibiting integrity in intelligence”. The Guardian’s decision to publish Snowden’s revelations has run into a wall of hostility and intimidation.

Britain’s secret services – backed by Labour, Tory and LibDem politicians – have all but accused the Guardian of treason for printing chapter and verse of how the state can access every digital transmission you make – at will and without you knowing.

MI5 chief Andrew Parker’s accusation that Snowden was “handing the advantage to terrorists” ratcheted up the offensive on behalf of the secret state. He was predictably backed by No 10 and the ultra-reactionary Daily Mail, which accused the Guardian of “lethal irresponsibility”.   

But it’s not simply the Tories versus the Guardian. Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw has leapt into the fray. He claims that the Guardian was arrogant and naïve and guilty of “adolescent excitement” in its handling of Snowden’s material.

At least Straw’s consistent. It was New Labour that laid the legal ground for mass surveillance with its passing of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIP) 2000.

But things have moved on dramatically since 2000 as novelist John Lanchester has concluded. Acknowledging his initial scepticism, he spent a week reading the Snowden files in New York (those in London were destroyed on MI5’s orders).   

Tempora is the clandestine security electronic surveillance program established by GCHQ in 2011.  It was exposed by Snowden, along with Prism, which is the US’s own mass data mining programme. The two programmes have a cable and network tapping capability called Upstream which allows spooks to extract information in “real time”.

Lanchester notes that the “basic intention of the UK-spy base GCHQ engineers is “to get everything”. GCHQ’s eavesdropping abilities “are on a scale unmatched anywhere in the free world, and they privately boast about the ‘more permissive legal environment’ in the UK”.

He rightly says that we are already “the most spied on, monitored and surveilled democratic society there has ever been”. And, in case you think that Snowden simply told us what we already knew – think again.

“We are right on the verge of being an entirely new kind of human society, one involving an unprecedented penetration by the state into areas which have always been regarded as private. Do we agree to that? If we don't, this is the last chance to stop it happening. Our rulers will say what all rulers everywhere have always said: that their intentions are good, and we can trust them. They want that to be a sufficient guarantee.”

The chilling fact is that the law governing surveillance is “so broadly drafted and interpreted, it’s almost impossible to break”, Lanchester admits.   

We don’t live in a democracy, or at least one that is anything more than a sham. A corporate-driven surveillance state, with the major parties cosying up to each other on education and other policies, is no use to anyone except the powerful and the corrupt. We definitely need a new people-centred, democratic constitution, an Agreement of the People for the 21st century.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, October 11, 2013

Stop council 'regeneration' vandalism

In the country where people work the longest hours in Europe and have the least leisure time, where real wages are what they were two decades ago, councils are fixated on building new shopping and leisure facilities. All in the name of “regeneration”.

We reported here the planned vandalism of Glasgow's George Square, halted by public protests, against secret plans to remove statues and ban demonstrations to  create a space prioritising shopping and events.

Now in Newport, South Wales, the local authority has taken a wrecking ball to a much-loved mural celebrating the Newport Uprising, a dramatic moment in the struggle for democratic rights in the 19th century.

It was in the way of a shopping development, so it had to go. The mural was demolished without even councillors being told it was happening, the day before a planned protest.

Newport Council is consulting on a cultural strategy full of "overall aims, vision, mission, priority themes, desired outcomes and objectives" – the well-known weasel words of bureaucrats everywhere.

A survey showed that people said the top six best things about Newport were heritage, arts and culture, wildlife and open spaces, sport and leisure, attractions, events and things to do, social networks and community, and children’s activities.

Not SHOPPING – you notice. And number one was HERITAGE.

And what is Newport's heritage? Like Glasgow's, it is a heritage of working class struggle, heavy industry and a passion for sport.

Of these Newport Council chooses sport as its number one focus - sporting venues, sporting events and, to be fair, sport for young people. Glasgow has the same priorities - sporting venues are being constructed for the Commonwealth Games 2014. One will later become a massive stadium for visiting pop stars, with expensive ticket prices.

Council's interpret their responsibilities as maximising income for big retailers and entertainment corporates – the same trickle-down economics that have failed so badly for so long.

The claim is that more shops mean more jobs. But as new shopping areas open, with big retailers huddling together like nervous teenagers, others becoming increasingly run down.

Before you know it the glamorous ‘80s shopping mall is full of pound shops, and the local shopping streets are destroyed. You know your local high street is finished when betting and charity shops outnumber the fresh food shops.

And just exactly how successful is this constant lust for the shoppers' pound? The graph below shows that retail in Britain bumps along, never reaching the high point just before the debt bubble burst in 2008. And the real growth in retail sales has in any case been in on-line shopping.

Are the much heralded jobs arriving? Glasgow has the highest number of jobless households in the UK. Unemployment in Newport is 1.3% above the UK average.

So back to the Newport mural and the struggle for the right to vote, which in one dramatic moment in 1839 broke out into an armed uprising of ironworkers, miners and farm workers.

What we need is a new popular struggle, this time not for the right to vote, but for the right to decide, the right to control our destinies. At present we vote, but we decide nothing. Power has migrated into the hands of the corporations and our "representatives" serve them, not us.

Those who opposed demolition of the mural could mark the 175th anniversary of the uprising next year by launching a Newport People's Assembly. There people can start to formulate their own plan for the future of their city and start putting it into practice in their communities. United with people's assemblies right across the UK, they can become part of a new power in the land – a popular democracy to do our Chartist heritage proud.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moving goalposts no solution to climate change

A group of eminent climate scientists has come to the not-so-scientific conclusion that adopting the 2°C target for global warming has “failed to drive social change”. Their proposals to move the goalposts are unlikely to meet with any more success.

A group working with the prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia say that the prospects for holding average global warming to below 2°C are “rapidly decreasing”. There’s no arguing with that conclusion, which was reinforced by the recent inter-governmental climate change panel assessment.

That  showed that the world’s “carbon budget” - the amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted without exceeding two degrees warming - could be used up entirely by 2040.  

Carbon emissions have continued to increase, intensified by a turn to shale gas and oil extraction in the United States and the expansion of coal-fired power in China and elsewhere. Cost-cutting by corporations looking for a competitive edge in the recession has put carbon reduction investment projects into cold storage for the duration.

The Tyndall group argue in a peer-reviewed paper published in Climate Policy that too much of the debate has been taken up with when/or if global warming will cross the 2°C threshold that scientists agree will have irreversible and catastrophic results.

And their response? “Society should accept that adopting science-informed targets such as 2°C has failed to drive social change and governors should instead concentrate on delivering what is politically achievable in the short to medium term.” (emphasis added)

They urge policy makers to “explore the risks and opportunities associated with alternative goals and targets”. What are these exactly? The Tyndall group has more modest ideas: mitigate for 2°C but adapt for 4°C; adopt more specific goals; be politically “more pragmatic”; “recommit” to substantial reductions in emissions.

While Professor Andrew Jordan of the Tyndall Centre says “this need not be a pretext for abandoning the existing target”, there’s a grave danger that’s how government policy makers will view the proposals.

In reality this is how most governments already act - minimum targets, half-hearted attempts at renewable power, "green capitalism", failed energy saving schemes and pathetic amounts of aid to countries like Bangladesh already facing climate change impacts. None of it has reduced emissions overall or prepared us for what is coming up the line.

In the end, no amount of finessing targets, alternative proposals, mitigation ideas etc. will cut the mustard. The present international system of states cannot reach an agreement on global warming for other reasons. These are primarily to do with the nature of the economies they represent.

Climate talks have foundered because the corporations set the agenda. Their mantra is growth based on year-on-year expansion. Without that, capitalism seizes up and goes into recession. Then cost reduction takes over, ensuring that even dirtier methods are used or maintained.

Even as the Tyndall scientists do their best to extract humanity from this impasse, another study in the journal Nature confirms the urgency of the situation. It says that between 2047 and 2069, the mean annual climate of an average location will pass the most extreme conditions experienced during the past 150 years.

Tropical areas will be among the first to see the climate exceed historical limits, threatening significant rainforest ecosystems. The study team from the University of Hawaii estimate that up to 5 billion people could be affected under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.

The study “provides a new metric of when climate change will lead to an environment that we’ve never seen before,” said author Camilo Mora, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

How many more warnings like this do we need. The 2°C target was adopted as an aim of international climate policy back in the 1990s. Previous warnings that humanity will overshoot this target have failed to stimulate climate policy, as the Tyndall group point out.

We have to conclude that those in charge are beyond stimulation as they move robotic-like towards a precipice, accepting their marching orders without too many questions. It’s a question, then, of us or them. The case for replacing the political and economic system with  non-profit, democratic alternatives has never been stronger.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor