Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

One Million Climate Jobs

I am an anti-fracking campaigner.

Now fracking is a nightmare that we will be well rid of, but the problem with nightmares is that they are very limited in their power to get people to change. Much more powerful are dreams. This report of part of my dream for a better world.

It's subject is political economy, which the Victorian Radical John Ruskin defined as "the production, preservation and distribution, at the fittest time and place, of useful and pleasurable things". If an economy does not do that it's not working, and our economy is not working. The poor are going to the wall, the Middle Class is disappearing, richest 1% have more wealth than they can possibly need and the richest 0.1% make the 1% look like paupers. What's more if we continue to overshoot the carrying capacity of Planet Earth it will get worse. The current situation is environmentally and socially unsustainable.

This pamphlet starts with the assumption that living within our ecological limits should be the first consideration of an economy not the last, but also that along with environmental prudence must come social justice. Because although we are all on the same sinking ship, some people are nearer the hole than others.

As I've said, I am opposed to shale gas. But let me say something that may surprise you. There are two things about fracking I really like.

Firstly, it makes people think about where their energy comes from. We all know about the wars we fight and the people we torture to get our oil, we know about the dangers of Arctic oil and the devastation that is tar sands, we know about Fukushima and the Gulf of Mexico. But these are things that happen far away. Even if you are an aware person they can seem unreal. But when a fracking rig arrives in your backyard, the choice about how we make our energy becomes very real indeed.

Secondly fracking, or rather the opposition to fracking, has brought a wide range of people together; anarchists, socialists, Trade Unionists, environmentalists, anarchist socialist Trade Unionist environmentalists - but that could be just me. And when we get together we find we have more in common than not.

When Old Skool left wingers talk about nationalising the power supply, and when Greens call for community energy we are talking about the same thing. Whether your community is Barton Moss or Hamburg or England, it’s the same thing. Now if people own their own power it’s up to them how they generate it, but I don’t see many communities clubbing together to buy a fracking rig, or a tar sands operation or an open cast coal mine.

Thinking about how we generate our energy is just one of the areas this report looks at. It also looks at how were we live and work, how we travel and how we farm and dispose of our waste. It's about embracing new technologies, but also old values. It's about solar panels and tidal power, but also about bikes, trains and warm houses.

Lets look at the figures; 400,000 Climate Jobs in Energy, 180,000 in building, 310,000 in transport and with more in training, education, farming and recycling it makes One Million Climate jobs. Those are the numbers. The details are in the report, but you probably already know them. We know what needs to be done, we just need to it. What this report shows is why we will want to do it.
Nysted Offshore Wind Farm (Danish Energy Authority)
And those One Million Climate jobs will create at least another 500,000 jobs supplying the nuts and bolts and gaffer tape and everything else needed by those one million climate workers. Then there will also be at least another 250,000 non-climate jobs as the workers in the new jobs spend their money on beer and football and fish and chips, or Chianti and tennis and sun-dried tomatoes, depending on which social class I choose to stereotype. But either way they will have money to spend as these will be real jobs. Not social engineering via zero hours contracts, not financial engineering via the City of London, but real engineering, just like how we used to do it.

How do we pay for all this? Well, we have already paid for the alternative. Each of us has paid £6000 towards bailing out the banks, which is probably more than most of us will give to Greenpeace, or the Green Party or paid in union subs. When the money was needed, governments found it. They need to find it again because finance serves industry, not the other way round, and because the Earth is too big to fail too.

We can stop the richest tax payers paying a tax rate that is half what it was when Winston Churchill was last Prime Minister. We can stop the richest people paying no tax at all. We can have a Robin Hood tax on the silly money that flies around the ether and we can have a mansion tax on the silly celebrities who think £2 million will only buy you a garage in London.

How do you get people to change to a low carbon way of living? There are four levers that will push people in the right direction and I expect we'll use a combination of them all.

Firstly there's Peak Oil. Not much sign of that right now I'll admit, but just wait. It will return. Oil will not be this cheap forever.

Secondly governments can subsidise the good. Make Public Transport so cheap only Jeremy Clarkson would drive.

Thirdly we can tax the bad. Every high-carbon industry in the world has modelled the effect of a minimum carbon price on its business. They are expecting it. We just need to do it.

Finally, because we believe in fairness above all else, we can use carbon rationing. The Fleming Policy Centre, a handful of people existing on almost no money, have developed a system of Tradable Energy Quotas and even managed to get Parliament to produce a report on it. Rather more amazingly the New Economic Foundation managed to get the head of the World Trade Organisation to admit that if the EU introduced a system of carbon rationing it would be perfectly entitled to put up tariff barriers to make it work. It won't be easy, but it's possible.

So here it is, a report that shows how the solution to our ecological crisis is also the solution to our social crisis. But on its own this pamphlet is just so many words and numbers. On its own it does nothing. Only if all of us use it as a tool to campaign for change we need will it have the power to make a difference. We need to campaign for the National Climate Agency and if we can't get that we must campaign for local action. We must show people how for every ten fracking jobs we prevent we potentially create a 100 climate jobs.

And we must do this together.

The Climate Change deniers, funded by those who benefit most from our current system of austerity for the poor and socialism for the rich, tell people that Climate Change is a conspiracy between the Greens and the socialists to take their wealth and turn our economic system upside down.

Let's make their worst nightmares come true.

One Million Climate Jobs report

Saturday, 24 January 2015

How Greece Can Get Its Marbles Back

A reproduction of the Parthenon East Pediment

Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible!

“Can I have both?”
“Can I have both?”
“Can I have both?”
“Can I have both?”

So the Hellenic Republic has a new government , Alexis Tsipras has managed to keep his coalition of Communists, Anarchists, Greens and other assorted lefties together long enough to become Prime Minister, a task that must herding cats seem easy.

I celebrated with a glass or two of finest malt whisky - because Greece decided to hold the election on Burns Night.

Paul Mason interviews Alexis Tsipras (Channel 4)
Tsipras says what he wants now is debt relief and the return of the Elgin Marbles. Given that the
Germans make most of the rules and the French own most of the debt, this doesn't seem terribly likely. But what about his second wish?

At first glance this seems about as likely as Tsipras becoming Der Spiegel's Man of the Year. However I believe a change of tactics might just succeed, what's more if you look carefully at what the new PM says, I think he realises this.

A Set of Lies Agreed Upon

Lord Elgin
First a bit of history, or rather two versions of it.

In Scenario One evil British aristo Lord Elgin, Her Majesty's ambassador to the Turks sends his nefarious agents to Greece. Seeing an opportunity, a bit of money changes. Regretting that they can't get the whole Parthenon in their ship, they instead start chiselling away at some of the prettier bits. The loot returns to England where the dastardly Lord spends the rest of his life trying to flog it to the highest bidder.

In Scenario Two kindly Lord Elgin, friend to the Greek people and lover of Greek culture, sends a mission to Athens to study the treasures of the ancients. However once there his team are shocked by the indifference of the half of Athens who are Greek Orthodox and for whom the Marbles were just so many embarrassing pagan relics and the Acropolis just a free quarry. The Turkish authorities seem no more interested and due to the dilapidated state of the monument the man on the spot makes a decision to save what he can.

Lord Byron
Returning to Britain the Marbles spark a renewed interest in Ancient Greece. Lord Byron objects to their removal, but then he also called them "misshapen monuments". He is drowned out by other Romantics such as Goethe and Keats who enthuse about these marvels from the Levant. Elgin's love of ancient Greece eventually empties his noble coffers, but rather than see the treasures be split up he sells them to the British Museum.

The public adores them and the ensuing spirit of Philhellenism comes in very useful twenty years later when the Greeks finally revolt against Turkish rule. The British Museum keeps the Marbles safe through two sieges of the Acropolis whilst England sends to the aid of the Greeks a vast sum of money, a selection of our best Sea Captains and eventually a battle fleet which obliterates the Turks and wins the war.

Amal Clooney
The Hellenic Republic, for obvious reasons, as always preferred the first version of the story. What patriot wouldn't like a story involving corrupt Turkish officials, foreign yobs hacking away at one of the wonders of the Ancient World and a villain straight out of a Mel Gibson movie?

Battle was renewed last year when Amal Clooney took time off from making women jealous over her choice of husband and gave the Greek government the benefit of her legal advice. She's not the first beautiful woman to try to get the Marbles back. Melina Mercouri and Nana Mouskouri both tried and failed, as did Demis Roussos - although he didn't look half as good in a dress.

Those Who Cannot Change Their Minds Cannot Change Anything

The word rhetoric today is now used to mean empty words, but when Aristotle was writing about ῥητορικός (ri̱torikós) it meant "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion".

Athens 1821
It seems to me the Hellenic republic needs to be a bit cleverer about the ῥητορικός it is using on the British museum. Three tiny flaws in the current strategy seem immediately obvious.

Firstly, tough though it is for Greeks to admit, the Turks really were in charge in 1805 and the
Marbles really were theirs to sell. Once the Emperor of Byzantium had refused to buy a certain dodgy Hungarian's canons and the Ottoman Empire had used them to knock down the walls of Constantinople the Turks were in charge. End of.

The Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum
Secondly it's quite hard to prove a legal transaction was unlawful when you haven't got the original paperwork. Maybe they did mess up the paperwork, but the Turks were legitimate sellers and Elgin was a legitimate buyer, and after two hundred years I think the museum can be forgiven for not having the original receipt.

But mostly a venerable institution like the British Museum, one of, if not the, greatest museum in the world, doesn't like being written into the story as the baddie.

That's a very important point when you want to change someone's mind. You can offer them a carrot - a pretty juicy carrot in this case, just think what Greece could swap for the Marbles - you can threaten them with a stick - although in this case it's a very short and blunt stick. But if agreeing with you means admitting to being great big hypocrites they are quite likely to reject the carrot and face the stick.

Even the sort of psychopaths who think the way to get people to change their minds is to pour buckets of water over their head realise that.

“These stones don’t feel at ease with less sky”

I expect most Greek readers will have written me off as another Αγγλίκα μαλάκα by now given up, but just in case there are any left let me say this; I think the Marbles should return to your country.
The Parthenon

Why? Two reasons stand out for me.

Firstly they are an integral part of the Parthenon, and for aesthetic reasons alone I like my ancient treasures whole. Indeed Poseidon is actually split in two, half in London and half in Athens.

By the way, I'm equally annoyed that the lid of the Frank's Casket is in France whilst the rest of it is in Britain and that the Sutton Hoo treasure is split between London and Suffolk. It's as if Nelson had been removed from his column and taken abroad, which incidentally was what Hitler planned to do if he's invaded us instead of Greece in 1941. 
Nike in the Acropolis Museum

Secondly, whilst it's perfectly possible to a Brit to go through life without ever seeing the Elgin Marbles, or even the British Museum, to be Greek and not see the Parthenon would be rather difficult. Half the population of the country can pretty much sees the Acropolis every day of the week. The Marbles are simply far more important to the Greeks than they are to us.

And the finally there's the Acropolis Museum. This world class building, within sight of the Parthenon but not part of it, is where the remaining Parthenon Marbles now reside. How did they get there? The Greek authorities chiselled them off the Acropolis and carried them there for safe keeping, doing exactly what Lord Elgin's agents did two hundred years ago.

And the thing is these reasons stand regardless of how the Marbles got to London or who legally owns them.

Property is Theft

So who does actually own them?

According to the new Prime Minister "everyone" and I can't really argue with that. My namesake Martin Luther King once said "property is intended to serve life" and so he would probably agree.

My plan is to get the Marbles back to Greece, and if when they arrive they have a little plaque underneath them saying "on loan from the British Museum" who cares?

The Plan

So how should the Hellenic Republic go about persuading the trustees of the British Museum to change their minds about the Marbles? :

Replica of the Parthenon, Nashville, USA
Step one: acknowledge that everything that's been said and done so far was wrong. Tsipras's government has more-or-less been elected on this motto, so this shouldn't be too hard.

Step two: forget about ownership. Most of the current government of Greece claim to be inspired by a man who said his political theory could be summed up by the slogan "abolish all private property" so that should be easy enough.

Step three: forgive Elgin. Perhaps putting a statue of him up next to Byron would be going a bit far, but at least acknowledge that this was a man who loved Greece and, whatever his motives were, accept that his actions kept the Marbles safe from sieges, smog and Nazi occupation. Some people may take a bit of convincing, but Greece is about to really annoy most of Germany and a significant part of France, so she could do with some new friends, even dead ones.

Vigil for the return of the Parthenon Marbles January 2015
So there you have it. Greece, go and get them back. I for one will support you. So, according to the polling company Yougov, will most of my fellow Brits.

The Hellenic Republic in recent years has seen poverty that would have disgraced Lord Elgin's England. The best and brightest of her young people have been, like the Marbles, ripped from the land of their birth and scattered across Europe.

Returning the Marbles won't help with the debt relief, won't ward off a Grexit and won't make Greece any more popular with the Troika, but it will help mend the wounded pride of a great European nation and it will be the right thing to do.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Gaming the Markets

Here's a question for you. Why is the oil price crashing? Is it:

a) The USA using the oil weapon on Putin for invading the Ukraine?

b) Saudi Arabia trying to take out the US unconventional oil industry?

c) The first sign of another, massive, stock market crash?

d) All of the above.

There are lots of reasons to think we might be heading for a crash. The big banks, bailed out but unreformed, are still printing imaginary money, the city traders, we can be sure, are still massaging the figures to boost their bonuses, and the the Chinese economy is so overheated it's a surprise you can't see it from space.

All we are waiting for is the trigger, which could be the US sub-prime auto bubble, Greece telling the EU it won't swallow its austerity, bad news from the pension funds or who knows?

But the trigger is not the same as the cause. The reason for the crash will be the underlying problems of our global economy, a system that is very good at channelling wealth upwards, and which has doubled the number of billionaires since 2008, but doesn't appear to be able to do much else.

Gaming the Markets

Add caption
However the last place to notice that it's all gone tits up will, rather bizarrely, be the futures market. Here the men, and a handful of women, who are paid eye watering sums of money to predict the market will no doubt continue to invest our money on the never-never even as their world comes crashing down around them.

Why this is is explained very neatly by Nate Silver in his book The Signal and the Noise. Silver uses a very simple example of Game Theory.

Basically as a City Trader you can either buy or sell, and the stock price will either go up or go down. Guess right and your company makes a packet, guess wrong and it doesn't. Guess very wrong and the entire economy collapses.

It's important to get this right, right? So it's equally important to make sure your staff are rewarded for doing the right thing, and punished for doing the wrong. Is that how it works in real life? You don't need me to tell you the answer, do you.

Here are the four possible outcome:

Dealer buys, stocks rise

This is what it's all about. You make money for your bank and they give you a whopping bonus, which you spend on a yard of cocaine and new Porsche.

Lets call this a +100% win, although even today that's pretty stingy.

Dealer sells, stocks rise

Oh dear. You blew it. Collect your P45 and get a real job.

Lets call this a -100% loss.

Dealer buys, stocks fall

This is what happened in 2008. A big disaster. But what about the (not so) poor broker? Well, clearly no bonus, but then as everyone was doing the same thing you'd be unlucky to get the blame personally. Around one in ten traders lost their jobs when their companies went bust, but hardly anyone was actually fired for getting the predictions wrong.

That makes this a -10% loss.

Dealer sells, stocks fall

There were indeed a handful of Cassandras who did this. But what happened to them? Well, they didn't get a bonus as there was no money to pay them. A few went on to fame and lifetime of lecturing fellow Bankers. Academic positions were certainly on offer, but these don't pay as well as the City.

How do you score this? It's very difficult. At most you could call this a +10% win but I think that's being generous. I mean, if you value the respect of your peers more than filthy lucre why go into share dealing in the first place?

The scores on the doors

So where does that leave our City Trader, watching the price of Brent Crude tumbling and wondering what to do?

Well if he sells its  -100% against +10% whereas if he buys it's +100% against -10%. A bit of a no brainer really.

So the moral of the story is if you trust the smart men in suits to look after your money, get ready to lose your shirt. Again.

Friday, 2 January 2015

A Picture Tells A Thousand Words

A picture tells a thousand words as they say, but sometimes what they say can be ambiguous.

This image, taken last March at the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest, and chosen by the Huffington Post as one of their images of the year from the Press Association, shows the utter terror in Vanda's eyes as she is arrested for the second time. This second picture, taken a few minutes earlier, shows why. My Press Release for the day gives some context:

Former Happy Monday’s star Bez joined Protectors at Barton Moss today and was witness to some of the most brutal policing yet seen on Barton Moss Lane.

GMP used considerable force in moving Protectors down Barton Moss Lane. Thirteen Protectors were arrested, including 37 year old mother-of-five Vanda Gillett, whose pain can clearly be seen in these images available here from Getty Images.
FFGM does not know why Vanda was arrested as she was not obstructing vehicles at the time. Vanda has previously been assaulted by GMP, as reported in the Manchester Evening News.

There signs today that the increasingly violent tactics were causing disquiet amongst the ranks of GMP. One Police Liaison Officer told a Protectors “we asked the police on site if it was going to be peaceful and they replied, no, we’re going to do our thing”.

Bez’s comments about the day’s events were reported by the Salford Star Newspaper.
Martin Porter said “The press must stop hiding behind a false sense of ‘balance’ and report this. These are not ‘clashes’ or ‘scuffles’, this is violence being used against peaceful protesters with no legal justification.

Why Greater Manchester Police decided every day to deploy enough riot police to quell a major uprising to a protest by a few dozen peaceful eco-warriors is still a bit of a mystery.

Maybe it was just a police benefit gig, maybe it really was just the Tactical Assistance Unit "doing their thing", but most likely it was an attempt to frighten people away from the blockade and kill off the anti-fracking movement before it got off the ground.

Perhaps I wish the image they'd taken from Barton Moss had showed the stoicism of the Protectors for surviving a harsh winter under in a makeshift camp, or the local people who rallied round to support them, or the dangers of fracking or the thousands of people who marched to demand the Labour Party ban this dangerous new fossil fuel.

But perhaps this image tells the story best after all. For we live in a world in which the state allows 'corporate persons' to pollute with impunity but sends the full force of the law against real persons who try to stop them.

Greater Manchester Police traumatised Vanda, but they haven't stopped her campaigning. We need more people like her if the human race is to survive this century.