Holyrood 350 — H35O

4 Action Points For Holyrood To Avert Climate Chaos

What hopes for Scotland in 2011?

January 8th, 2011 · No Comments

What to hope for? That 2011 is a break­through year for ecol­o­gy and social jus­tice: that we dare to reclaim pol­i­tics from cor­po­ra­tions, and for com­mu­ni­ty; that we replace the boom and bust cycle of the prof­i­teers, and reclaim the econ­o­my for the peo­ple. Sim­ple.

All the main par­ties are caught up in the log­ic of cor­po­ra­tions; all are caught in the mind-set of there being no alter­na­tive. There is.

Star­ing us in the face, we have two clear alter­na­tives:

(i)             Con­tin­u­ing a process in which cor­po­ra­tions are legal­ly oblig­ed to max­imise prof­its for share­hold­ers through exter­nal­is­ing the social and eco­log­i­cal costs – a process which dev­as­tates com­mu­ni­ties and ecolo­gies across the world; or

(ii)            Decid­ing we’ve had enough, that its time for cor­po­ra­tions to inter­nalise those costs rather than avoid their respon­si­bil­i­ties, includ­ing – in many cas­es – the respon­si­bil­i­ty to pay their tax­es.

Loom­ing over every blog post, Christ­mas roast, morn­ing toast, over every child being walked to school, debates on inde­pen­dence, who does the dish­es, whether this rela­tion­ship is work­ing or not – loom­ing over every­thing – whether we acknowl­edge it or not — is the gath­er­ing Tsuna­mi of eco­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion: soil, for­est, water, oceans, and espe­cial­ly cli­mate.

Accord­ing to the sci­ence, we have lit­tle time left to slow and stop the increase in CO2 in the atmos­phere lead­ing to run­away feed­back loops that will mean cli­mate chaos is upon us what­ev­er we do. Accord­ing to those who are sup­posed to be savvy, we are not sup­posed to men­tion this because it will upset peo­ple and put them off.

Clive Hamilton’s recent review of the cli­mate sci­ence does more than men­tion it: he finds that cli­mate sci­ence has con­sis­tent­ly proved its ear­li­er pre­dic­tions far more opti­mistic than they should have been. He writes that:

“The con­clu­sion that, even if we act prompt­ly and res­olute­ly, the world is on a path to reach 650 ppm is almost too fright­en­ing to accept. That lev­els of green­house gas­es in the atmos­phere will be asso­ci­at­ed with warm­ing of about 4°C by the end of this cen­tu­ry, well above the tem­per­a­ture asso­ci­at­ed with tip­ping points that would trig­ger fur­ther warm­ing. So it seems that even with the most opti­mistic set of assump­tions – the end­ing of defor­esta­tion, a halv­ing of emis­sions asso­ci­at­ed with food pro­duc­tion, glob­al emis­sions peak­ing in 2020 and then falling by 3 per cent a year for a few decades – we have no chance of pre­vent­ing emis­sions ris­ing well above a num­ber of crit­i­cal tip­ping points that will spark uncon­trol­lable cli­mate change. The Earth’s cli­mate would enter a chaot­ic era last­ing thou­sands of years before nat­ur­al process­es even­tu­al­ly estab­lish some form of equi­lib­ri­um. Whether human beings would still be a force on the plan­et, or even sur­vive, is a moot point.” (Clive Hamil­ton 2010: 21–22. Requiem for a species: why we resist the truth about cli­mate change. Lon­don: Earth­scan)

At the same time, loom­ing over the UK is the threat of cuts that will hit the poor hard­est, while large cor­po­ra­tions are allowed to avoid pay­ing the tax­es the rest of us would be in court for not pay­ing. Over at the Big Green Scot­land Blog, it is politi­cians like Nick Clegg who have been vot­ed ‘Dick of the Year’; the bankers have van­ished from the scene. The politi­cians play their part as light­ning rods for pub­lic dis­con­tent, allow­ing the cor­po­rates to con­tin­ue large­ly unseen.

Hamilton’s con­clu­sion that ‘we have no chance of pre­vent­ing emis­sions ris­ing above a num­ber of crit­i­cal tip­ping points’ is only true if we con­tin­ue to oper­ate from with­in the dom­i­nant cor­po­rate log­ic. If we decide to act from out­side that log­ic, and decide to care about what is hap­pen­ing to oth­er species and oth­er peo­ple right now, we can still stop just short of those irre­versible tip­ping points, and in the process we’ll be mak­ing a bet­ter world.

How do we kick start a process that ensures greater wealth for the poor, reins in cor­po­ra­tions, and means that Scot­land is not sim­ply set­ting world-beat­ing tar­gets for CO2 reduc­tions, but is actu­al­ly act­ing on those tar­gets and rapid­ly reduc­ing emis­sions now?

Well, why have a Par­lia­ment if we don’t use it to make pos­si­ble what would be impos­si­ble with­out it? Peo­ple talk a lot about the pow­ers and process­es of the Par­lia­ment – but the key issue is what is it for, how can it make a real and rad­i­cal dif­fer­ence not only to Scot­land but to the world?

If the UK/ EU/ UN decides to make the struc­tur­al changes need­ed to stop the process­es dri­ving cli­mate change, then bril­liant, but as some­one said at a meet­ing Mike Small organ­ised: the clos­er you get to the cen­tres of pow­er the hard­er it is to make cre­ative rad­i­cal changes because those with the pow­er are mak­ing sure they don’t lose it. The Scot­tish Par­lia­ment lev­el is close enough for us to have a hope of hav­ing an impact, and is glob­al­ly vis­i­ble enough to inspire oth­ers to act like­wise.

So what should we be demand­ing Par­lia­ment does?

In the run up to the elec­tion, a whole range of peo­ple (under the Holy­rood 350 umbrel­la), peo­ple who are active­ly work­ing to reduce our com­mu­ni­ties car­bon emis­sions and in many cas­es work­ing to rebuild our local economies and to pre­pare for a world in which oil will be scarce, will be head­ing to Par­lia­ment on March 17th to thank the Gov­ern­ment and MSPs for not only set­ting ambi­tious emis­sions reduc­tion tar­gets, but for estab­lish­ing the Cli­mate Chal­lenge Fund to sup­port com­mu­ni­ties to estab­lish their own ways of tak­ing action. We’ll be ask­ing all par­ties to com­mit to con­tin­u­ing and expand­ing that sup­port for com­mu­ni­ties the length and breadth of Scot­land, espe­cial­ly in mar­gin­alised and deprived areas.

We are also ask­ing the Gov­ern­ment and MSPs of all par­ties to make changes so that the struc­tures of the econ­o­my stop get­ting in our way. Using a log­ic they are famil­iar with — the log­ic of the free mar­ke­teers who want the state to role back so the sup­posed free Mar­ket can flour­ish — we are ask­ing for Gov­ern­ment to get out of the way where that helps com­mu­ni­ties to flour­ish, and to step for­ward bold­ly when need­ed, in order to stop the econ­o­my get­ting in the way of com­mu­ni­ty action.

One of the key ways the struc­ture of the econ­o­my gets in the way of com­mu­ni­ty action and action on cli­mate change, is that it does not inter­nalise the expo­nen­tial cost to the cli­mate of using finite ‘cheap’ fos­sil fuels. The cheap­ness of these fuels means com­pa­nies have to use them to stay in the game, and means that game can involve fly­ing pro­duce from across the world and sab­o­tag­ing local pro­duc­tion.

There is a sim­ple pol­i­cy which can rev­o­lu­tionise this whole sit­u­a­tion, and which we could be ask­ing all par­ties to com­mit to intro­duc­ing after the May elec­tion. You may already know it – it’s called Cap and Share.
The pre-emi­nent cli­mate sci­en­tist, Jim Hansen, recent­ly wrote that we will inevitably con­tin­ue to use what­ev­er fuel is cheap­est and that if we are going to halt cli­mate change before it becomes unstop­pable, then we need to make fos­sil fuels expen­sive. He writes that Caps by them­selves are mean­ing­less (sim­ply say­ing we will cap emis­sions means noth­ing) and that mak­ing fos­sil fuels expen­sive in a way which redis­trib­utes the rise in prices direct­ly to the pub­lic is the key. In oth­er words the key is to intro­duce a ‘Cap and Share’ type sys­tem.

Jim Hansen writes:

“A steadi­ly ris­ing car­bon fee must be col­lect­ed from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies. All funds should go to the pub­lic on a per capi­ta basis to allow lifestyle adjust­ments and spur clean ener­gy inno­va­tions. As the fee ris­es, fos­sil fuels will become increas­ing­ly unprof­itable and will be phased out, replaced by car­bon-free ener­gy and increased ener­gy effi­cien­cy. This is the eco­nom­i­cal­ly-effi­cient path to a clean ener­gy future – the cure to fos­sil fuel addic­tion.”

This is the game chang­er. This is what is need­ed.

The impact would not just involve a shift to renew­ables but a shift to local as opposed to glob­al pro­duc­tion, and a shift of wealth from the most exces­sive to the poor­er. It would imme­di­ate­ly kick-start a rapid reduc­tion in emis­sions, sup­port the build­ing of resilient com­mu­ni­ties, and trans­fer wealth to the poor­est.

Peo­ples’ first expe­ri­ence of this pol­i­cy would be as a cheque land­ing on their door­mat or arriv­ing in their bank account every month. The mon­ey would be need­ed to cope with the inevitable rise in the cost of those goods and ser­vices with high fos­sil fuel con­tent, since the fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies will pass on the fee they are hav­ing to pay for the right to bring fos­sil fuels into the econ­o­my. If you are a high fos­sil fuel user (the wealth­i­est 20%) the share you receive to cope with the increase in prices will be pret­ty mean­ing­less, if you are in the oth­er 80% of the pop­u­la­tion you will be finan­cial­ly bet­ter off, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you are in the poor­est 20%. That is the pol­i­cy at its sim­plest – there could be a range of ways of reshap­ing it: from not dis­trib­ut­ing any por­tion of the mon­ey to the wealth­i­est 20% (for whom it will make lit­tle dif­fer­ence) and redis­trib­ut­ing it instead to those in poor­er com­mu­ni­ties, pos­si­bly as is being done in Brazil and Mex­i­co.

It is sim­ple game-chang­er, but the con­se­quences are enor­mous in terms of the poten­tial for demon­strat­ing to the world how we can begin to rein in cor­po­ra­tions and secure the future. Why seek any­thing less?

This post first appeared on the Bel­la Cale­do­nia web­site on 7th Jan­u­ary 2011 at:


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