The economics of extinction: a reason for rebellion


Professor Jem Bendell and Rabbi Jeffrey Newman

What would a sane society do, knowing that one of its luxury food supplies was being exhausted? Consume less perhaps? Or grow more? Japan, knowing that the Bluefin tuna is going extinct, does neither. Bluefish tuna make the most profit for fishermen the nearer they are to extinction, as their rarity endows all the more status on their consumers.

Some might think that is a quirky Japanese behaviour or an anomaly of economics, but actually the free-market system in which individuals compete for profit is resplendent with such stupidities. How else could the investment in fracking or tar sands be explained? Or the way Brazil is consuming the lungs of the Earth to pay back its debts. Or the way industry externalises the cost of processing much of its waste, poisoning the Earth and its future consumers?

The logic that leads to these flaws has long been understood, and there have been waves of visceral protest as the ideology of markets became more entrenched. It is two decades since we were shutting down city centres hosting WTO and World Bank conferences; and almost a decade since Occupy camps squatted in the sacred places of decadent high finance. This time our issue is more than economic justice – it is the way governments are standing by as the global house we live in is burning down. We now see clearer than ever how a stupid financial system is driving an environmental breakdown and mass extinction which will undermine our very civilisation.

But for all the dissent about this situation, there’s little agreement or clarity on where within the financial system the real problem resides – or what could be done about it. Explanations from the marching crowds often invoke privatisation, corruption, greed, the power of banks, or the shrinking state. Deeper analyses point to something that many are unaware of, even economists. It is how private banks, not the government or central banks, create our money supply when they issue loans. It is this practice of issuing money as debt that over time creates a scarcity of money which encourages perpetual economic growth whether a society needs it or not. That means more junk, monotonous work, energy burned, natural environments ripped up, more waste, more money locked up in tax havens, and more unpayable debts. Lifting the veil on the monetary system reveals the interconnection between our social and environmental suffering. Through complex chains of profit-taking, the extortionate financial rewards taken by banks leads to people relying upon food banks while we trash the foundational bank that is a healthy planet.

Therefore, after decades of work on reforming corporations to be more sustainable, we both came to understand that we can’t change the way business does business unless we change the way money makes money. Given our perilous situation with the unfolding environmental breakdown, this change is more urgent than ever. As it oscillates along the knife-edge of debt maximisation and debt default, the current system is simply not fit for a future of climate-induced disruption.

But understanding the driving role of the financial system doesn’t give us a course of action and it certainly doesn’t help us to curtail it. For starters, we exist within the confines of this system. Many of us have little capacity to take radical action because we are working off our debts, or earning wages suppressed by employers servicing their own. That is hardly surprising in an economy with more debt than money.

So what might we do? We can move our money to building societies. But that won’t reform the big banks. We can work together to build alternatives at the local level, such as credit unions and mutual credit currencies. Yet in the UK this has proven difficult, as they are less available and less-funded than their competitors. So we might buy into crypto-currencies, yet many of them are run by speculators who make bankers look saintly!

So the only possible way to put the financial system into a reverse thrust is through government who, after all, unleashed the financial beast over thirty years ago.

It would seem though, that the present UK government imagines a different mandate for itself. In his 2018 party conference speech Chancellor Hammond claimed already to have ‘rebuilt the financial system’ since 2008.He said nothing about energy security, food security, climate change, the global migration crisis or indeed any future concerns except a future Labour government. One can’t imagine the sixth Mass Extinction keeping him awake at night. Rather than existential threats he focused instead on linguistic ones, repeating the term ‘21st century capitalism’ as if the next 80 years of economics were already written.

Hammond is out of touch with a public increasingly alarmed by climate predictions. After 30 years of warnings but no meaningful action, the current (very conservative) estimate is that dramatic changes are needed within the next twelve years, just for a chance of avoiding ‘run away’ climate change. Less optimistic readings of the data indicate that rapid and uncontrollable climate change has already begun. That will mean failed harvests and with it, exploding price rises and, understandably, social unrest. A new paradigm of Deep Adaptation  to environmental breakdown is needed to reduce harm and risk in a very uncertain future. As friends and neighbours we might stockpile food, nurture our gardens and install solar power, but government is needed to build the sea defences, mobilise emergency food production and distribution, rebuild transport systems and integrate large numbers of people fleeing droughts, floods and related conflict.

Governments around the world need to develop climate-smart monetary and investment policies. Such bold policies must involve a scaling down of our non-reserve banking system and an increase in government’s issuance of electronic money instead of bonds. All central banks must be instructed to stop buying bonds from companies with large carbon footprints and instead only buy bonds of firms providing low-carbon solutions for a climate-disrupted future. Governments should also ensure there are networks of local banks with a requirement to lend to enterprises that are focused on cutting emissions or drawing down carbon, as well as developing resilience to disruptive weather. Making that the RBS mandate in the UK is a ‘no brainer’. Government should also look at enabling local governments to issue their own interoperable currencies, as a way of helping local communities become more self reliant in preparation for future disturbances. Treasury officials could begin their education on these ideas by talking to the folks at Positive Money. Meanwhile our diplomats could get cracking on negotiating a global carbon tax, embedded into trade law at the WTO, with government commitments to invest revenues for carbon cuts, drawdown, adaptation and reducing impacts on the poor.

Given how bad things are with the environment we don’t know if such dramatic changes will be too little too late. But it is worth a try. And we are convinced that without an attempt to transform the monetary system then we aren’t really trying.

Let’s for a moment imagine what such changes could support. We can imagine what thriving ecosystems look like, so we let’s imagine a thriving economy. Waste would be minimised, and toxic waste eliminated. Most of what we needed would be produced nearby. There would be no unemployment and no shortage of money to pay for valuable work. Housing would be affordable as it was in the 1970s. Children would see more of their parents. Enterprises and population centres would be governed and managed less as pawns of London, Brussels, Berne, or Frankfurt and more by the people who have a stake in them and their continuance.

There must come a time when when it becomes necessary to flout the law to bring down an immoral or incompetent government. Philosophers call it the ‘right of rebellion’. Naturally they differ on the details, but generally a rebellion these days must use non-violent methods, and it must be against a government which is grossly incompetent, malignant, or treacherous. In upholding a financial system determined to burn all the fossil fuels while not protecting the people from the catastrophic consequences, governments are surely being grossly incompetent, malignant and treacherous.

On April 15th international rebellion week will create all manner of creative, exciting and loving peaceful civil disobedience to show the UK government and its financial masters that we can no longer support interlocking economic and political systems that threaten to curtail the life of our children. It is time to tell the truth, act in accordance with it, and set up Citizens Assemblies with mandates that include both financial reform and Deep Adaptation.

If international rebellion doesn’t startle our politicians into making the climate crisis their central agenda, then we must stretch the rebellion into our everyday lives. How many coordinated withdrawals and loan defaults might bring down a targeted bank? How many local councils issuing inter-operable currencies could create an alternative to the Bank of England? How many people joining networks with their own currencies, like Fair Coop, Credit Commons and Holochain, could make these viable alternatives? If government does not heed peaceful calls to change our economic system so that climate sanity is an economic norm, we may well find out.

We realise that initially our suggestions may be dismissed by some office holders in our current system. Religious texts remind us that privileged people “who detest the one who tells the truth” (Prophet Amos 5:10) are neither new or unusual. But the joy of generations coming together in a new spirit of fearless love, reminds us of the divine invitation to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Prophet Amos 5:24). We therefore invite more leaders in our current system to join this sacred flow of a peaceful rebellion for life on Earth.

Professor Jem Bendell is founder of the Deep Adaptation Forum and teaches leadership at the University of Cumbria.

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman is Emeritus Rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue and leads Shema (Jewish Action on Climate Change).

Further reading on monetary issues:

Currencies of Transition: Transforming money to unleash sustainability. Bendell, Greco (2013)

Re-imagining Money to Broaden the Future of Development Finance Bendell, Ruddick, Slater (2015) UNRISD

The future of sharing: it’s all about freedom, Open Democracy

Thwarting an Uber future for complementary currencies. Bendell & Slater 2017

Scotland Needs System Change, Not Climate Change, by Ian Paterson

We are a proud people, in Scotland. To what extend varies from person to person, but it’s a common Scottish characteristic and one that, at times, is a hindrance when addressing political issues.

There are sections of Scottish society who will not accept any criticism of the Scottish Government and this prevents a healthy level of scrutiny over much of its policy.

We have developed a narrative that plays into our desire to be seen as a modern and progressive nation, but we need comprehensive political system change badly in Scotland, of the type described by XR Founding member, Stuart Basden recently.

After staging our mock Citizens Assembly and occupying the Scottish Parliament, the BBC sought comment from a Scottish Government source and true to form the response came back that:

“The UN has praised the Scottish Government for our progress in dealing with Climate Change”.

Let’s just take an unbiased look at that record.

The fairest measurement is CO2 per capita – this way small countries can be compared to large ones, in a robust and fair way.

Scots output net 4.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person, per year, according to the cited data sheet (one page) from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (2016).

So, is Scotland in the top-ten least polluting countries per capita?

No.

Is it in the top 100?

No.

Scotland lies at 147th out of 217 bespoke countries or territories.

The UK as a whole is 170th

If Scotland is in the worst third of countries for CO2 pollution, why does it get so much praise?

It is true that Scotland’s pollution levels used to be higher and it has reduced somewhat over the past two decades.

In doing so however, the Scottish Government have adopted an approach of providing much of our energy needs from green sources, whilst still supporting tax-subsidised North Sea oil drilling and sale of oil to foreign countries, so the pollution is attributed elsewhere, when the oil is burned.

We live in a relatively unpopulated country, meaning we have large swathes of natural land that contribute to CO2 mitigation and reduce our figures in a net carbon model.

In Scotland’s plan for Independence, prepared for the 2014 referendum, known as the ‘White Paper’, written by the Scottish Government, the document mentions oil 80 times. It was made clear that oil was central to any plan for Independence.

The plan was narrowly rejected 45% to 55% because it wasn’t comprehensively convincing, not because it was based on the destruction of our environment.

Whilst the SNP are the party of government in Scotland currently, it has to be said that if either of the two potential alternatives were in power – the Scottish Conservatives or Scottish Labour – that any deviation from a pro-oil stance would be highly unlikely.

The tone might differ, with the SNP claiming oil is vital to Scottish autonomy, the Tories voicing their support for oil business and Labour stating their support for oil-sector workers and jobs – but support would remain.

It is currently the policy of the Scottish Government to abolish Air Passenger Duty. This policy will make it cheaper for airlines to fly in and out of Scotland, and will reduce demand for greener forms of transport, along with reducing motivation for airlines to use less-polluting aircraft.

This is a clear statement of intent, to put the Scottish economy before environmental concerns.

It begs the question, does the Scottish Government value money above all else?

After reviewing how many lobbyist meetings have taken place in recent years, I would challenge every MSP to address their clear and obvious corruption.

Value does not come from how we are viewed on the world stage or by others but how we evaluate ourselves. For that reason, we cannot accept false praise, generated because we are gaming the system. We must not defend our government blindly, when it is not working in the interests of its people, but for commerce.

This is why a Citizens Assembly in Scotland is an imperative, to discuss climate inaction (and indeed to fairly tackle lingering questions of Independence and devolution too).

Holyrood must become the people’s parliament, which it emphatically is not, right now.

We must challenge our rose-tinted view, for our own health as much as for the sake of others. We are already beginning to see huge devastation in Global South countries, which are less polluting but more vulnerable than we are.

That’s on us.

To deny it is to condemn huge swathes of the global population to perish, at our expense.

For more information on the latest published statistics (38 pages), from 2016, please see here.

XR Glasgow Report

By Ian Paterson

Extinction Rebellion Glasgow formed in November 2018, and took our first actions the following month, including disrupting Christmas shopping by swarming in Style Mile shopfronts, and forcing BBC Scotland to close their front doors due to our Reclaim the BBC demonstration.

 XR Glasgow aren’t where we want to be yet, but things are starting to come together and we are on track to deliver a strong contribution during the International Rebellion of 15th–19th April 2019. Affinity groups are forming, with XR Glasgow students organising a Youth Strike on Feb 15th, and XR Glasgow is staging a mass action on March 2nd. So far in 2019, a wide variety of activities have already taken place…

Ae Fond Rebellion.

You may have seen XR Scotland’s Rabbie Burns inspired action, in the news recently too, as XR members occupied the Scottish Parliament and conducted the UK’s first ever Citizens Assembly on Burns Day, the 25th of January, with crucial contributions from XR Glasgow members.

I don’t actually know any Burns poems to quote to you and find the language archaic but I’m quite a fan of social commentator and poet, Gil Scott-Heron. He famously said “the revolution will not be televised” but I’m beginning to wonder if he was right about that, as News outlets seemed quite keen to broadcast our recent action at the Scottish Parliament.

Fun Fact: Gil Scott-Heron’s dad played football for Celtic FC in Scotland and was the first person of colour to do so.

You may take our lives, but you’ll never take our treedom!

When faced with the destruction of trees and natural habitat, to make way for building developments on Otago Lane close to her home, XR Glasgow member Cheyenne was quick to react and form alliances with a local ‘Save Our Lane’ group.

“The main criticism involves the destruction of a vital green area that is home to native wildlife such as otters, kingfishers and bats. The area is part of Glasgow’s Green Corridor and hence should be considered a protected nature conservation area. The initial application stated that trees of a certain maturity and height will not be cut down. However, this was not adhered to”, Cheyenne told me.

Glasgow is known affectionately as ‘Dear Green Place’ and wider Scotland fondly referred to as ‘Caledonia’ – the name given to this area by the Romans, due to the vast expanse of woodlands in our region. Sadly we’ve seen our forestry systematically destroyed to a tiny fraction of the size it once was.

As the old song by Dougie MacLean goes: ‘Caledonia, you’re everything I’ve ever had’, yet still we destroy her namesake. Come to think of it, ‘Dear Concrete Jungle’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it either.

Rebel & Rejuvenate.

Of course, a hard day of action requires time to reflect and rejuvenate and with XR Glasgow’s new ‘Book/Craft’ gatherings, people are able to come together, talk, listen and conduct vitally important talking and making therapy with one another.

“We need to form bonds and care for each other as well as planning actions and creating resources”, group creator, Anna, reflects. “It might also be a focus for people who don’t feel any of the Working Groups are calling to them just now, or are trying to work out how they want to get involved”, she goes on to say, so this event provides a welcoming and inclusive outlet for further discussion.

Youth Strike 4 Climate.

It’s true also, that some of the younger members, along with their families, have found our way of working hard to fit in with the demands of daily life. XR Member Sapna has developed an inspiring initiative to combat this however, with ‘Wee Rebellion’, an event attended by 250 parents and young people.

“It’s really difficult for parents, teenagers and children to get to meetings in the evenings but because of the way most people’s work schedules function, it’s the obvious time to have meetings to talk about issues and plan actions. Wee Rebellion will attempt to be a space for parents, children and young people to talk to each other about how they can engage with XR and to generally raise awareness about climate change with the hope of finding shared vision for change. At our first event, among other activities, there will be a discussion space for adults asking what are the barriers to participation for caregivers and what strategies can we collectively come up with to overcome them”, Sapna tells me.

Less nuisance, more news sense.

Although there are challenges to overcome, fortunately it’s now fairly easy for me to keep abreast of environment news, thanks to the new ‘Glasgow St’ online briefing paper. The brainchild of XR member Thomas, ‘Glasgow St’ has clear principles, which set it apart.

Being over-reliant on traditional media for your climate news may not be the wisest decision. With climate lobbyists and business interests attempting to influence the agenda, we must analyse and scrutinise it ourselves. G-Street’s wiki approach allows for a collective learning experience, which I’m sure will prove valuable to the whole XR movement. Users of Medium – take a look and contribute.

To keep in touch with XR Glasgow, like us on Facebook, follow @ScotlandXr on Twitter, and @xrscotland on Instagram. Sign up for our mailing list by emailing xrglasgow@gmail.com. From February we will meet weekly on Tuesdays at 7pm at the Kinning Park Complex.

 

 

 

Why I sleep on a hard floor

By Matthew T-hanu

I can’t sleep, so I got up to write this. The possibilities of XR are on my mind. What will Brexit, or an absence of Brexit, throw up? Will the UK government be weakened to the point of collapse? Will an emergency general election be called, and if so, will that be the moment for XR to ramp up the civil disobedience to achieve the aim of a Citizen’s Assembly for the UK, decided by sortition?

Personally I am inspired by the historical example in this country of the monarchy gradually losing power as Parliament gained power, (aided by the beheading of a king, but we don’t need to go that far. Have mercy on Theresa May, please. It can’t be easy for her). Could the same happen again, with Parliament fading to play a role similar to that which the queen plays now? Could a Citizen’s Assembly usurp the majority of the current Parliament’s executive roles, and could the unfolding ecological catastrophe make that process swift -could it happen in 5-10 years?

I am inspired by the possibility of a fairly rapid, peaceful revolution. It may be unlikely. About as unlikely as someone like Trump becoming the president of America.

***

Whatever lies ahead, we can sure there will be some hardship to endure in this country in the coming decades. With increasingly erratic weather and potentially even temperature rises enough to stop wheat germination, food shortages are not unlikely to occur.

It’s time we toughened up, physically and mentally. We can do this by conditioning ourselves gradually, in a regenerative way. It is possible to be kind to ones-self whilst also experimenting with self-imposed hardship, or on a spiritual level it could be called renunciation. This is partly why I make a regular habit of fasting. It’s also why I sleep on a hard floor, with just one layer of duvet between me and the carpet. It has got to the point where the hard ground feels like a comfort, an anchor against the potentially overwhelming light-headed fear of an impending Dark Age. Sleeping on the floor also helps assuage my Global Northerner’s guilt and helps remind me of the enslaved people’s and species on which my privileged life depends.

More than anything it is a practice which helps me feel strong for whatever is coming. After a while it doesn’t feel hard at all. I hope you will try this out for one night -to make friends with what is most solid and real. In any case, where was your mattress made, and by whom? What materials went into it? How much of the Earth’s resources would we save if we all discarded the need to sleep on a mattress?