At the end of this month, we start a new decade. The twenty twenties. The century is out of it’s teens, drunk and staggering around looking for purpose. Trying to decide what to do with the rest of its existence.
Where have we come from to get us here?
Basically my whole life we have had a neo-liberal government of one flavor or another. Since Thatcher my governments have been cutting back spending, selling off state-owned infrastructure into private hands, and using the money to fund tax cuts, especially for the rich.
Meanwhile, maintenance spending on everything the state still owns is cut back to let it rot apart to the point it needs emergency privatization.
Our public services have become starved of investment, our state’s actual assets depleted and shrunken. We have more millionaires than ever before, but also more homeless on the streets than ever in my life, and more children in poverty or fed by charitable food banks.
Meanwhile every year of my life we have burned more and more oil. Each year our carbon pollution grows, and the carbon blanket around the planet hugs the earth a little warmer with each tonne. Even if we stopped carbon output entirely tomorrow, the earth is not in equilibrium. It takes a while to warm up when you put a blanket on something, and nearly two degrees of warming is already assured. Likely more, since we won’t in fact stop tomorrow. Nor probably even during the whole decade.
Yet, we must stop burning the oil during this decade because more than two degrees of warming melts the frozen peat in the permafrost, releases methane sunk under cold seas, melts the ice-caps to reflect less heat into space and creates other feedback effects. The carbon blanket starts to grow on its own without us even doing anything more to feed it.
If we spend a trillion pounds on it over the next ten years we can green the economy and build a society people can still live in hundreds of years from now. If we don’t, then the increasing cost of the by-then-inevitable climate collapse will grow every year unstoppably.
Private capital isn’t going to do it. Even if the capital was willing it can’t do it alone. The investment projects to green the economy have a positive fiscal multiplier, they stimulate activity, enable opportunities for capital investment, grow the wealth of the country in general. They eventually increase tax-take by growing the economy and pay for the initial investment. But corporations rightly can’t tax, so these projects are not always immediately directly profitable to private enterprise.
Can it be done at all?
We will decide that over the next decade, so it’s fitting we have an election just now.
Do we continue along the path that has bought us here? Moving all wealth into private hands and allowing those private hands to pollute our air, destroy the earth’s species, heat our world, and impoverish increasingly large parts of society for their shareholder’s benefit?
Or do we start to build a new green infrastructure for our nation, held in common by the people and run for the benefit of all the people?
It sounds like a plea to vote Green, and really it is, but in our broken national election system the voting game is unfortunately about more than just voting for who you think will be best for the country, so unless you live in Brighton or the Isle Of Wight, voting Green is unlikely to lead to a green MP. If you live in a safe-seat you may as well do it anyway, but what if you live somewhere that your vote actually matters?
Labour have come late to the green-new-deal party, and for some reason insist on calling it “Green Industrial Revolution” instead, like putting their own sticker on it. But it has the basics of the plan: We need to employ the people of this country in jobs to replace the oil-based infrastructure of the nation before it’s too late. We need to do it even though capital can’t get the return to make it worthwhile. We need people doing those jobs, right away.
The Conservatives donor’s wealth is in great degree in the form of still-buried oil and gas owned by oil and fraking companies. Their wealth depends upon nobody noticing that the oil and gas can’t be dug up and burned. They very much intend to continue transferring wealth to private hands and maintaining the value of their private investments. It’s nice that they’re finally back off somewhat on their perilous previous ten years of cuts and BoJo is offering to undo some of it. But it’s not enough.
The Liberal Democrats used to get it but have lost much of their left wing since the coalition, and absorbed so much of the Tory party since the referendum that they now think they shouldn’t spend any money more than they take in taxes, and could never finance the kind of Green New Deal the country needs without breaking their lack-of-spending commitments.
I am not optimistic that our next government will be one that really understands the immediacy of the peril, or that it will be willing and able to escape the bounds of neoliberal capitalism to find a way to fund the investment needed to avert ever-deepening environmental and social crisis.
It stands more chance of understanding that if it has more Green MPs. More Labour MPs. If some of the right-wing conservatives are replaced with Liberal Democrat MPs. If there are fewer Conservative MPs in general.
How you vote in your constituency to best help arrange that is a strategic decision you’ll need to base on past election results and who you think is most likely to win or come second where you live.
What’s that? I didn’t mention Brexit? Ugh.
Personally I don’t give a damn if we’re in the EU or not. Being in the EU or being outside the EU is not a goal for me, excepting to what degree it helps towards the things which are goals: Increasing human flourishing, human knowledge and health. Reducing poverty and improving equality. Doing those things across the whole world.
I suspect those things are more easily done from within the EU than without, but mixing up that question with all the others facing us in the next decade isn’t a good way to decide governance for the next decade.
The question of whether to accept whatever type of Brexit is finally negotiated seems like a separate issue that divides the whole nation and most political parties, and should be determined in a separate poll.
Luckily, all but one of the political parties seem to accept this now.