Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Government is responsible for facilitating the explosion in knife crime



Yippee! Got a letter in the Guardian today, suggesting that parents of children affected by knife crime should sue Ministers for failing to discharge their responsibilities. 
This is an extension of the concern that we need to create a healthy social environment for children to grow up in, with help in parenting, schooling (including management of excluded students), and full employment of 16-24 year olds, on this blog here.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Will a Johnson premiership bring about a General Tea Break?

Boris Johnson is a bumbling fool, a serial liar, an uncontrollable maker of gaffes, a failure pf a Foreign Secretary, and is now in pole position to be selected, by an electorate that amounts to about 0.2% of the whole electorate - to be our next Prime Minister.

Johnson is the Eton version of Trump. He is manifestly unsuitable to be Prime Minister. especially one charged with the delicate task of taking us out of the EU.

This is clearly a ludicrous and unacceptable situation, yet the BBC is reporting on it as if it represents some kind of normality.

If Johnson does end up being selected, there will probably be demonstrations, but demonstrations are not enough.

A General Strike would be correct response to the selection of Johnson as Prime Minister.
A countrywide strike that would continue until Johnson was deselected, and Parliament agrees to a radical overhaul of our constitutional arrangements, starting with the nonsense arrangements that put Johnson in place, but also ending our absurd First Past the Post electoral system and setting up a proper written constitution.

A General Strike would be effective, but the people are not yet ready for it. 
They may be ready after a few months of PM Johnson,  but by that time the damage will be have been done.
Therefore, if the great British public is too sedated by reading the Mail to go for a General Strike in order to remove Johnson,  let us at least make a start with a General Tea Break.

Here's how it would work:

Every Friday morning (in order to back the School Strike for Climate) at, say, 11 am, anti-Johnson activists (along of course with Climate Change activists, anti-austerity activists and anyone else who is dissatisfied with the present state of political affairs) meet up at work at the water cooler or someplace, and talk about the situation for 5 minutes. That's all. Talk about Johnson for 5 mins. 

If anyone comes along, they say  "Hello, we are just discussing the Johnson. What do you think we should do about him?"
After 5 mins they get back to work. 

As numbers on the General Tea Break increase, the 5 minutes slowly extends to 15 minutes and more.
If management comes and says "Why aren't you at your stations?" the response is 

"We are talking about Johnson. He is going to wreck this country, do you not agree? We were just going back to our stations, but since you are here, we would like to know what you think? Do you think it will end up with a General Strike?"

Management will get the idea, as soon as they realise it is happening in other companies. They will realise we are tooling up for a General Strike. Business will have a word with the Treasury, which will then have to calculate on the economic costs of a General Strike. The Treasury could ask Johnson to leave No 10 Downing Street, leaving the key under the mat.

It is the Thin End of the Wedge. The thing is, it is so small (5 minutes, growing) that waverers will be encouraged to join. As more and more participate, it could go viral. The beauty of it is, if people are not sure and come up to question the General Tea Breakers, they become part of the action.

I cannot promise that this will stop Johnson in his stride, but it is worth a go. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

North Somerset Climate Emergency Job Creation proposal

North Somerset Council has declared a Climate Emergency and set up an Officer's Group to look at the matter. This is a proposal that I have just sent to the Group:



Work Stimulus Scheme in North Somerset as a response to the Climate Emergency declaration

North Somerset Council has declared a Climate Emergency. The central aim of the declaration is to bring the per capita CO2 emission of North Somerset down from 6.5 tonnes per capita per annum to 2 tonnes per capita per annum as soon as possible.
A very large number of changes are necessary to achieve this challenging target, but one of the simplest and most effective changes is to reduce the amount of carbon needed for domestic and commercial space heating, which contributes about 7.5% of carbon emissions globally.
There are four added benefits to energy conservation in buildings:
1.      Domestic heating bills will fall, helping those on low incomes
2.      Less money spent on heating bills will enable people to spend more in the local economy, stimulating economic activity in our community
3.      Ill-health and deaths due to cold living conditions will fall
4.      Jobs will be created in the energy conservation sector

Here is a brief outline of how the Work Stimulus Scheme (WSS, aka Green Wage Subsidy) would work.
1.      The Council would write to the Department of Work and Pensions seeking permission to roll our a WSS for the community of North Somerset as a pilot study
2.      An officer would be detailed to manage and roll out the scheme
3.      Local businesses involved in energy conservation would be invited to apply for inclusion on the WSS
4.      Applicants (whether private enterprises, public services, non-profit, cooperatives or charities, but not corporations above a specified size), would be assessed for their qualifications and competence in carrying out energy conservation
5.      Successful candidates would be given a certificate of approval
6.      Approved enterprises would go to the Job Centre and expand their workforce by engaging new staff
7.      These new employees would be allowed to retain their benefits (whether JSA, UC ESA or other) while engaging in their new work
8.      The new employer would bring up the wage of the new employee to the going rate for the job
9.      WSS will not be allowed to displace traditional employees, that is, the employer would not be allowed to discharge previous employees and replace them with WSS employees. WSS will serve only to expand the existing workforce.
10.  There will be no compulsion in WSS. It is not workfare. Claimants will be able to refuse to participate without incurring any sanction. They will be able to leave work and claim without sanction.
11.  WSS should not be time-limited
12.  WSS will be applied to energy conservation work initially, but may be extended in future to any other economical activity associated with the Climate Emergency, for instance, tree planting and renewable energy work.

The above will raise many questions in the minds of officers and members, and the author is keen to listen to and answer any questions that may arise. The major challenge will be to get the DWP to agree (point 1 above), but given the magnitude of the challenge of meeting the Climate Emergency, and if the case is well-presented, there is no reason not to make the request. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

There are several precedents for the aspect of WSS that makes benefits independent of work, for instance, child benefits and pensions.

Universal Basic Income has a long history of being considered as an answer to the complexity of the benefit system, and is being trialled in several places at the present time. WSS could be a precursor of UBI in that it shares the important feature of making benefit independent of work status.
The inventor of WSS is Dr Richard Lawson, a long term resident of North Somerset who served in Congresbury as a GP for 30 years, and as a Councillor for the then district of Woodspring for 6 years.

Conclusion
Wage Stimulus Scheme offers the possibility of helping the Council to meet the Climate Emergency, to create jobs, lower heating bills, stimulate the local economy, and put NSC forward as an example of an innovative Council.




Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How do we turn the Climate Emergency into useful Government action?

Schoolkids are striking for the climate. Extinction Rebellion stopped the flow of traffic in London for a week. Greens made huge gains in the recent Euro Elections. We have had success in getting many councils and cities to declare a Climate Emergency.

So what next? What action do we actually have to take in response to the Climate Emergency?

We can always do more as individuals to green our lifestyle, but if we stop there, we are letting Government off the hook. They hold the keys, they set the framework in which the economy operates, and Government needs to act.

Unfortunately Government thinking is dominated by neo-liberals who are instinctively averse to intervening in the market, but let's be positive, and assume that the pendulm has finished its rightward swing, and the time of the neo-liberals is nearly over.

So what should Government do?

First, let us look at where greenhouse gases are coming from.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas#/media/File:Greenhouse_Gas_by_Sector.png

Although the figure above is highly simplified, it gives a good idea of which sectors need to be tackled to bring greenhouse gases (GHGs) down. It deserves study. The three pie charts below expand the components of each of the slices in the main chart.

So these are the actions Government has to take in each sector:

Electrical power is the largest producer of GHGs. So:
  1. Stop wasting electricity. 1% is wasted in overheating the National Grid when it is in oversupply. This can be solved simply by switching on storage heaters and putting electric Vehicles on charge when the grid is in oversupply. This is easy to do, because frequency goes up when in oversupply, so a simple frequency detector can operate the charge switch
  2. Install more Renewable Energy (RE). The Tory Government has been hostile to RE in many ways. They need to end this hostility and stimulate RE.
  3. Stop subsidising fossil fuels. The Government gives about £3.6 Billion to fossil fuels per year. 
  4. Stop allowing fossil fuels to donate to political parties. The Tory Party received about £400,000 from fossil fuels before a recent election.
  5. Impose a Carbon Tax, and use some of the proceeds to boost the income of the poorest,  who suffer disproportionately from carbon taxes. It is true that there are better measures than carbon taxes such as Tradeable Energy Quotas, but the carbon tax can operate until people are familiar with the concept.
  6. Roll out the Green New Deal to save energy (see below).
  7. Other things that I have left out. I'm not a specialist, I am just setting out a few blindingly obvious basics from the top of my head in a way that people can understand.
Industry. Second largest:
  1. Energy conservation throughout industry.
  2. Stop wasting materials. Get a copy of Bills of Health and look up refrigerators in the chapter on waste - basically a refrigerator company was ordering door seals that were 10" too long. When they ordered the right length they saved thousands of pounds a year.
  3. Stop making and marketing trash (which is a waste of energy and materials) and start making durable and repairable goods.
Transport
  1. Re-nationalise the train and bus services
  2. Facilitate coach travel, which is very fuel efficient
  3. Make public transport cheaper than the petrol costs of private motor cars
  4. Survey usage, and send minibuses instead of buses at the end of the day when there are only a few people using the buses
  5. Facilitate cycling and walking. We get a healthier population as a result
  6. Slow down the speed of ocean going vessels. A typical ship doing 20 knots will consume 60 tonnes of fuel a day.   At 17.5 knots its consumption will drop to 50 tonnes a day.
  7. Kite or sail assistance can make ships more energy efficient.
  8. Air travel costs must reflect the true environmental costs - not just on the effects of the fossil fuels, but also the effects on the NHS of illnesses caused by air travel.
  9. Let homes be built nearer to places of work
Land use and biomass burning
  1. Stop burning biomass as waste, and instead use it as a source of fuel. 
  2. Land use needs to change so that wildlife habitats can be replaced and restored. This is labour intensive work, and Green Wage Subsidy (see below) will help
Agriculture
  1. Stop subsidising cattle farming, and instead subsidise growers to make vegetables cheaper
  2. Educate people about the health benefits of eating less meat
  3. Separate toxic industrial waste from domestic sewage, so that organic farmers can use sterilised human waste in place of the animal waste that they use to fertilise the soil
Fossil fuel extraction, refining and distribution
  1. Stop fracking immediately because it is, expensive, industrialises the countryside, pollutes water and air and causes health problems
  2. Invest in biogas (Fracking gas may only last 10-20 years, but biogas will last as long as we eat food)
  3. Since it is impossible to stop our fossil fuel addiction tomorrow, we must manage it better 
  4. Stop subsidies to fossil fuels (see above)
  5. Stop flaring from oil wells and refineries. This is a ridiculously macho practice which wastes about 2% of the energy of a drill. Instead of being flared, the gas can be compressed and used
  6. Disinvest in fossil fuels 
  7. Prepare plans to re-employ people in the fossil fuel industry in other industries
  8. Green New Deal (see below)
Waste Disposal

  1. Waste recycling as opposed to disposal in landfill is intrinsically less energy demanding, since it is easier to re-melt aluminium (for example) utensil than to extract it from its ore
  2. Proper disposal of organic waste in digesters produces biogas
  3. Wood waste can produce wood gas. Both these gases can be fed into the  existing  gas grid
  4. Other organic materials, e.g. reeds can be turned into biogas

Residential use
  1. This is where the Green New Deal comes in. This scheme will create thousands of new jobs in energy conservation businesses that will reduce energy wastage and reduce fuel bills for all, especially those in fuel poverty. GND also has sensible plans on how to finance this service.
  2. GND only lasts as long as there are  buildings and plant that need insulation. It can be complemented by the Green Wage Subsidy. GWS is a simple scheme that makes benefits like JSA, Universal credit and ESA able to be carried in to energy conservation and other green work. It is a step towards the introduction of Basic Income in a gradual, cost effective and non-threatening way. It goes further than GND, as it can be applied to all other forms of work that benefit society or environment, namely:
    1 energy conservation
    2 renewable energy technologies
    3 energy efficient goods manufacture
    4 pollution control technology
    5 waste minimisation
    6 repair 
    7 recycling
    8 water management
    9 sustainable agriculture
    10 forestry and timber use
    11 countryside management
    12 housing - new building and refurbishment
    13 improvements to visual environment
    14 public transport
    15 education and training
    16 counselling, caring and healing
    17 community work
    18 leisure and tourism
    19 innovation, research and development in these fields
Forestry and Trees
Trees are a significant store of carbon, and one mature tree takes 20Kg of CO2 out of the air per annum. A 40 year old tree will have absorbed one tonne of Carbon, which means it will have extracted 3.67 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
UK forest cover is about 13% of the total land area, which is low in comparison to Europe. We could reasonably bring it up to about 30%, and this would store a significant amount of carbon. In planting more trees, we would be both creating more work and creating a more pleasant environment and helping more wildlife to exist.

Conclusion
These are just some of the many economic changes that are needed to address the Climate Emergency and the Extinction Crisis. Note that many of the measures are labour-intensive, so that there will be no place for forced unemployment in the coming green changes that will help us to make the transition from the present dysfunctional economy to a sustainable economy.

[note: this post was updated on 13/6/19]


Denial, and Man-Made Climate Change Denial

Denial is a defense mechanism that removes painful and unacceptable thoughts, truths, realities, facts, feelings or emotions, with aversion to dealing with same.

I regularly dealt with denial in my GP surgery. It happens with alcoholics who refuse to accept that they are alcoholics. With skeletal young women who refuse to accept that they have an eating disorder. With some cases of amnesia. 

We all do denial to some extent, for instance, in forgetting dentists’ appointments.

There is general agreement among all who know individuals in denial that they have a problem, with the exception of friends and acquaintances who have the same condition

Every argument, fact or emotional pleading is countered by the individual in denial with a counter-argument “No, but what about x y and z?”

The condition can be resolved, but it needs enormous investment of supportive care, knowledge, wisdom and patience on the part of the community, mediated mainly by psychiatric services.

The critical factor in resolution of denial lies with the subject experiencing the unpleasant reality that is being denied. The alcoholic may need to experience loss of job and family before they join AA. The smoker may need to experience his heart attack before he gives up.

So denial in individual psychology is generally accepted among scientifically trained psychiatrists as a recognisable mental condition.

Climate change deniers form a large and unduly influential group within society. Their influence suggests that their beliefs are resonating with a lot of people, so in this sense there is a social form of denial going on, just as there is with other social manifestations of denial such as holocaust denial and evolution denial.

The key question for us is, how do we relate to climate change denial?

First, stay calm. Their style is almost universally provocative, and ad hominem. They are angry people, who feel that their core philosophy of personal freedom to do exactly as they bloody well choose is under threat. In the past, they have been secure in the knowledge that people like George W Bush was there to speak for them. Now they do not have that security. That is why they are angry. The anger belongs to them, not to you. Do not take it on board; stay above their anger. Imagine that you are a therapist dealing with an anorectic.

Second, be patient. Talking with someone in denial is like discussing Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment with someone who is still having trouble remembering which way round his b’s and d’s go. 

It is frustrating and time consuming, but if done briefly and clearly, it may convince a bystander, if not the denier himself, that you are right.

Third, get genned up. Learn the basic science, which is simple, even though the subject itself is exceedingly complex.

1. Greenhouse gases are rising because of human activity.
2. They will cause serious harm to people and planet if they are not reduced.
3. The community of serious climate scientists are convinced that there is a problem.
The hacked emails scandal has not affected the conviction of atmospheric scientists that the evidence for man made global warming is robust.
3. There are an influential group of sceptics, some scientists, many engineers &c who dissent. That is normal in science.
4. Refer them to web pages where their doubts can be answered.
5. Deploy the Cost Benefit Argument or Precautionary Principle:

Cost Benefit Argument

This can be seen as a case of the Precautionary Principle.

In the end, this is not an academic debate, because we and our children are part of the experiment. The consensus among scientists (yes, with a few exceptions, as is always the case in science) is that we should decarbonise our economy as a matter of urgency.

Academics can debate ad infinitum, but politicians now have to make a choice. Every choice involves a degree of uncertainty.

Say we decarbonise our economy, and it turns out (unlikely as that may be) that IPCC view is wrong? Well, we will have created hundreds of thousands of jobs in insulation and renewable energy manufacturing and taken thousands out of fuel poverty. We will also have reduced the shock of Peak Oil and Peak Gas, and reduced the acidification of the oceans. And addressed our energy security problems. And increased prosperity in hot countries. Not bad, not bad at all.

Say on the other hand, we go the way of the denialists/skeptics, and it turns out, as per all reasonable expectations, that they are wrong?
We will have problems with energy security, Peak Oil, Peak Gas, acidified oceans, acid rain, fuel poverty, unemployment, poverty, civil unrest and finally, massive, catastrophic climate disruption from droughts, floods, crop failures, disease, and war. With massive migration caused by environmental collapse. Not good.

Any sensible decision maker will put our money into decarbonising the global economy.

The effects of a WTO Brexit Crash out Disaster, collected.

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is the embodiment of Brexit extremism. They stand for a No Deal Crashout exit from the EU, an exit that leaves us just trading on World Trade Organisation rules.

The Brexiters prefer to call it a WTO Brexit, so I will play along with that here, although it is technically a misnomer, since the EU itself is in the WTO.

The one thing that Parliament has agreed on is that a #WTOBrexit is a no-no. However, so far, the entry qualification for Tory leadership candidates - bar three -  has been to back at least the possibility of a WTOBrexit, on the flimsy pretext that you need to be ready to walk away from any negotiations. This is despite the fact that the dastardly EU negotiators have actually been reading about the decision of Parliament in our glorious free Press, so they know that in negotiation terms, CrashOut is a just a posture.

It is still the case that Farage will be hectoring us via the airwaves with his WTO Brexit, and also that the default position is that we have only 4 months, two of which will be wasted in Tory leadership elections, so we may simply run out of time and be unceremoniously kicked out of the EU on October 31st.

Therefore it is important for all those who care about the welfare of our nation to put out, intensively and repetitively, what the implications are of a #WTOBrexit. This debate will be intense, because the Brexit Party depends on preventing this knowledge from getting out.

The mainstay of their argument will be that "nothing is certain". This is quite true, and is particularly true of their statements, because Brexiteers case is based on a total quasi-religious conviction that the Invisible Hand of the Market alone will guide us to sunny uplands.

Brexit lies in the future, and all of the future is uncertain. Come to think of it, the past is pretty uncertain too, and also the present, but of the three, the future is the most uncertain. Decisions about what we are to do are dependent on making a rational projection and assessment about what we can expect about the future.

There now follows a list of the main impacts of a hard Brexit. Much of the list is taken from a Channel 4 piece, which is excellent, and lasts 14 minutes.


ECONOMIC IMPACTS

Disentangling two economies that have been merging over 35 years is very difficult and will take years to complete. People who shout "Just do it" from the audience of TV panel shows simply do not understand what they are talking about.

Brexiters say that it will be easy to trade on WTO rules; but the detail suggests it may take 7 years to create the necessary agreements and that the recessionary effects will last for decades.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said in January 2019 that a Brexit would cause temporary economic disruption and a reduction in the size of the economy. He means a recession when he said that, because no economist will ever use the R-word until it has happened.

The French finance Minister at the same conference said that Brexit would be a "catastrophe" for Britain.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, says a hard Brexit will discourage investors, that GDP may fall by 10%, and unemployment may rise to 7.5%. It would cost us £66 Billion per annum.

Tarriffs will be applied to British exports, e.g. 10% on our exported cars, and 35% on our dairy products.


REGULATIONS 

It is very well known that environmental, human rights and workers rights will be greatly diminished by a Brexit.
Tax avoidance regulations are coming in EU regulations, which may explain the keenness of the rich to withdraw from the EU.
Pet Passports will become fiercely bureaucratic
Transactions such as Data Transfers will take about 15 months to regulate

Imports and Exports
Food:We import 30-40% of our food. WTOBrexit means less diversity and maybe less abundance of food.
35% of UK lamb meat goes to the EU.
The National Union of Farmers admit that the UK will lose export market share.


Medicines We may face shortages of essential medicines, including veterinary medicines, 90% of which come from the EU.
Vaccines primarily come from EU, so there may be Vaccine Shortages.
The NHS will suffer because many staff come from the EU.
Science now depends greatly on international collaboration. Brexit will make this far more difficult.
Security collaboration with EU crime, intelligence and security agencies may fail.
The Insurance Industry faces problems connected with uncertainty.

Transport
Ports may see long queues for lorries, and products like fresh vegetables and vaccines may be lost.
There is a possibility that some air flights will be grounded.

Manufacturing
Here is a list of major companies that are threatened by Brexit:
Jaguar Land Rover say they will lose about £1.2 million of profits, and may have to move abroad.
Airbus wings may go abroad. (Or they may not).
Nissan and Ford may have to go.

Other companies that may leave:
Sony
Panasonic
JP Morganthe NoDeal, WTOBrexit could well mean that conflict returns to Northern Ireland.

And above all,

Conclusion
This is just a quick look at the effects of a #WTOBrexit. It is very clear indeed that economically at least we are going to have to pay for Brexit quite seriously. It is also the case that our influence and standing in the world will diminish.

#WTOBrexit is to be avoided at all costs.