Breakdown or break free: the climate choice we face

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

It is August, which usually means a month of damp, cold driechness, just to welcome all the tourists to the Edinburgh Festivals.

Instead, we’ve seen record summer temperatures, and several weeks of not only high temperatures but also very little rain.

Northern Ireland saw its first hose pipe ban in 23 years imposed last month. Wildfires have been raging across several parts of the UK. The Met Office issued its first ever thunderstorm warning at the beginning of July.

Further afield, 100% of New South Wales is affected by drought. Fires are rampaging across California and Greece. And, back in Scotland, perhaps most (un)surprisingly of all, there have been train delays and cancellations because the tracks were ‘too hot’.

Many Greens, environmentalists, climate scientists and others have been talking about the increasing likelihood of such events for decades. Up until now, we have always been dismissed as scaremongers, conspiracy theorists, idiots, or worse.

Finally, though, it seems as though the mainstream media is taking the break down of our climate system seriously.

At last the BBC has published an article taking climate change seriously. That is, not couching it in terms of uncertainty and doubt, or extreme ideologies and marginal interest. Not only that, they didn’t try and temper it with ‘balance’ from climate change deniers.

It seems extraordinary that it has taken more than four decades of clear scientific consensus for the UK’s public broadcaster to take seriously the issue that is the game changer for our society. And even the Economist has led on climate change this week.

But talking about climate change as a real thing is not good enough. Not now. It is not about a changing climate. Likewise, it made no sense, during the Beast from the East, to be talking about global warming.

Thawing out (nevermind being warm!) seemed a distant dream as we were plunged into the frozen cold of ‘spring’ this year.

We must ask why it has taken so long for climate breakdown to be headline news. The mainstream media, and the neoliberal economy that it props up, has, for nearly 40 years, been used as an instrument of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Twenty years ago, we were told that China was the problem: what was the point in ‘the West’ doing anything about Climate Change when China was building a new coal power station every two minutes?

More recently, rather than causing more climate destroying emissions, China was blamed for being at the centre of a conspiracy: using climate change to destroy the American steel industry, or way of life, or whatever.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt have been the weapons of choice of the media-enabled neoliberal system that has controlled our lives since 1979. We can see this only too clearly if we look at the comprehensive failure of ‘the system’ to deal with rising inequality.

The contention that the market is the ideal mechanism for allocating resources has limited utility when the market allocates resources to destroying the planet on which we depend.

So, we need action. Urgent action. And urgent action not at an individual level, but action at state and supra-state levels.

We need to decarbonise our energy systems, not just our electricity supplies. We need radically different thinking to how our transport system works. We need to support our communities to be more resilient.

We need to wrest power from the corporations and elites that have benefitted from the market systems they have controlled and manipulated.

And that means changing the economy so that there is space for resilience: where there is social and collective control of and responsibility for the systems and processes that sustain us. We should be repurposing IT platforms (like Uber, airbnb, etc.) to provide social value rather than just making silicon valley millionaires even richer.

Imagine an effective lift sharing system in remote rural areas where public transport struggles to survive. We should be using the wealth created by our labour for the benefit of all. Imagine a society where caring and creating roles were valued over and above profit maximising for individuals.

We should be harnessing the immense compassion of our humanity to ensure a just future for people regardless of their background. Imagine a future where we trade in peace around the world, not in the weapons of war.

We need system change much more than behaviour change. Asking individuals to act against all the incentive structures of our society and economy has failed.

Where the corporate answer to the climate crisis is to increase ‘green consumption’ our answer must be to rebuild our society and our communities so that we can put humanity and the future of our world ahead of short term profit.

Only when we break free of the economic system of control, fear, uncertainty and doubt will we be able to rebuild our communities and our society for the future.

 

By Maggie Chapman

 

 You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or listen to a range of left views on our podcast

Union of Equals?

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Maggie Chapman

Union of Equals?

The last couple of days have been quite extraordinary. We have seen changes made to Scotland’s devolution settlement without Scottish MPs being heard, nevermind the Scottish Parliament giving its consent. We witnessed a Conservative MP suggest that suicide was the choice open to Scottish MPs who thought this was perhaps not the way democracy should work. And we’ve seen an SNP MP barred from the Chamber for trying to use the Parliament’s own standing orders to get a debate on the division of powers between Holyrood and Westminster, leading to the whole SNP group walking out of PMQs.

Was the walk out a stunt? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.

Political stunts most certainly have their place in campaigning, in politics, in the theatre that is the oppositional nature of Westminster. It is quite clear to me that there is no other way the SNP MPs could have protested the series of events that would show up the UK Government for what it is: self-important, shambolic and completely uninterested in the wishes of either the Scottish parliament or the Scottish people.

Westminster is a farce. It has been for some time, but yesterday’s events show just how broken it, and therefore how broken British democracy, is. True debate, where everyone respects each other, listens to each other, learns from each other, is just not possible. There does not seem to be any real respect for individual or groups of MPs. And there is certainly little respect for the citizens that parliament is supposed to represent.

Without respect for democracy, the UK is well and truly broken. Theresa May talked of a Union of Equals. Well, she and her government wouldn’t recognise equality if they bumped into it in the streets. Probably because they have no idea what actually goes on in the streets of the UK. They certainly do not understand, or seem to care about, the streets of Scotland that I call home.
You can read more of Maggie’s writing here.

Free education: The Foundation of a Better Society

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Free Education: The Foundation of a Better Society

 

I am passionate about education. I believe that it has the power to transform individuals, communities and society for the better. As such, I think education should be free. And that means free education throughout life, not just primary and secondary schooling. As Rector of the University of Aberdeen and a member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, I am proud to have learnt from and stood with so many students who are also committed to free education for all.
The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) has just published a report showing that fewer than two in five students in the UK think they are getting value for money. At the same time, levels of student wellbeing continue to fall. One interesting aspect of these results is the difference in satisfaction between the four nations of the UK: 60% of students in Scotland, where Scottish students do not pay tuition fees, felt they were getting good value, compared with 48% in Wales, 36% in Northern Ireland, and 35% in England.
It is tempting to conclude that the absence of fees in Scotland – something for which I have campaigned and continue to support – is the main reason for the marked geographical variation. It does, I am sure, play a part. But I think the report, and indeed the whole approach to assessing student satisfaction on the basis of value for money, require deeper exploration and challenge.
Education must not just be seen as the means of churning out economically viable and valuable cogs (students) for the labour market. There are innumerable studies that highlight the non-economic benefits of education. This is especially true of the education of women and girls. Education makes us more fulfilled and compassionate people, builds more equal and resilient communities and creates healthier and happier societies.
We must, I believe, resist the marketisation and commodification of education. We know that market forces do not – cannot – value what really matters. We know that tuition fees and inadequate financial support to live leads to debt. And we also know that the student debt repayment system is just a nonsense, being very complex and inefficient. But more than this, we know that debt is a way of disciplining workers: of forcing people to pursue market-valued careers that do not sustain human life, rather than the creative and caring careers that provide solace for the soul or care for our communities. People are driven out of and away from careers that are socially helpful, like nursing, teaching, caring, creating, just to repay debt. And they are forced to be compliant workers: profit maximisers in the neoliberal economic machine, not complaining, not causing a fuss.
And we know that debt is not only bad for the economy, it is bad for all of our mental health. Financial pressures are a major source of anxiety, depression and other ill-health for students and young people. The Hepi research finding that student wellbeing is decreasing should cause alarm bells to ring for all of us. Why support a system that we know makes us ill?
The Westminster government has created an environment in which public spending reduces year-on-year; where cuts have become a normalised part of service provision. And I profoundly reject this ideology.
I want a society that values education as a universal good; a society that gives people the chance to learn about music, the arts, philosophy (subjects facing cuts at every level of education) as well as science and technology; a society that seeks to support the creation of well-rounded, creative and caring people, not just atomised labour market fodder.
And so we should build an economic system with this at its heart: one where universal goods are provided by a healthy public sector that is supported by redistributive taxation and where the wealth of society is used to create health, happiness and better lives for everyone.