Cancel the Apocalypse – Andrew Simms, 21st May

For all my environmental background I’d not heard of this guy before I picked his talk from the Brighton Festival programme.  The theme appealed to me – more preaching to the converted I fear.

It was a mild and pleasant evening outside, and Andrew started by saying, ‘If you knew how little time we have left you wouldn’t be wasting it in here.’  The previous week atmospheric CO2 levels exceeded 400ppm for the first time in human history, how many daily papers put this on the front page?  Only the Independent thought it worthy.  Andrew thinks there are about 46 months to make the necessary structural changes to avoid a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise.

Four years to close more that half our power station and replace the energy with renewables, or retrofit 4 million homes a year to the highest energy conservation standards to permanently reduce demand.  And then there is transport fuel, and the Chinese industry on which we depend.  Unless we had all-party agreement and the majority of the population supporting it, such changes cannot happen in a democracy.

So the rest of the talk was an exercise in ‘visioning’.  We heard the fantasy world of Andrew Simms.  He told us his wish-list – then he found places where such things really happen!

Banking for local needs: where failing banks are allowed to fail, savers are protected and corrupt bankers go to gaol. Mutual banks which must lend to local businesses.  (Iceland froze money movement, allowed banks to fail and prosecuted bankers.  Germany and Switzerland have mutual banks with constitutions requiring them to support local businesses.)

A constitution created by the people:  (Since its banking troubles Iceland has set up a panel of 950 citizens that has been meeting and taking ideas back to their communities.  Their proposed constitution is soon to go before parliament.)

Fairer wealth distribution: where the president lives like the rest of us, drives an old car, shuns official homes and gives most of his income to charity (the president of Uruguay does it).  Where tax rates are higher for the rich in order to have universal free heath care and education. (Denmark manages to report a contented society with very high taxes, but good health care and education valued by all, and a relatively small disparity of post-tax incomes)

A better measure of a good society than Gross Domestic Product, one where quality of life is assessed.  (Uruguay plans to make the change, Bolivia is planning to create legal structures to protect eco-systems, several island communities around the world are building quality of life instruments to guide better development.)

Move from capitalist to co-operative production and distribution: make social need more important than personal greed.  (Spain has built a huge co-operative movement of production and distribution, called the Mondragon Model.  14bn euros turnover a year and 2600+ retail outlets.)

Move away from food as an international traded commodity towards a healthier, locally produced model, less reliant on meat and processed products. (Cuba had to change when cheap Russian oil stopped flowing to them, and community food growing sprang up unbidden by government, taking over vacant land, leading to self-reliance, healthier people and better food, of known provenance.)

Finally, a four day working week if you want it:  In the 1990s the Netherlands responded to recession by offering a 4 day week, initially to public-sector workers.  It reduced unemployment and shared the available work.  It has spread to most of the private sector now, and is growing in popularity – people are valuing their time more than the extra cash.

Well, its was a good talk, but farmers’ markets are still a middle class luxury and you won’t save the planet driving your empty new world wine bottles to the bottle bank.

 

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