Thursday, May 26, 2016

A song for Boris, Govey and the Brexit campaign

A Tory would a-wooing go
“Hey Ho!” said Boris
And whether his party would let him or no
Into his Battlebus Boris would go
Chuntering many a witty bon mot
With a roly poly
Tousle my blond hair
“Vote Me!” Says Boris de Rowley.

“I've changed my mind over many a thing
Hey Ho!” says Boris
“No matter whatever the future will bring
There's one little song that I always will sing
I'm utterly certain I want to be King
I'm a roly-poly
Tousle my blonde hair
Vote me!” Says Boris de Rowley.

He sets off in his cycling hat
“Vote Me!” says Boris
And out on the road he fell in with a rat
With a pink pair of lips that looked awfully fat
They both want the top job, but never mind that
“We both want Brexit, what if it wrecks it,
Hey Ho”, sing Boris and Govey

They came up to Miss Voter's flat
“Vote Me!” says Boris
And asked “Will you vote for me (stupid old bat)”
Said sotto voce, she's sharp as a cat
“He wants rumpy-pumpy, he's not getting that,
You're a roly-poly
Empty old windbag”
“O Cripes” says Boris and Govey.

So Boris and Govey were out on the street
“Hey Ho!” says Boris
“There once was a time I could play the buffoon
But now that it's serious, I'm way off the tune
I see that I'm losing the voters in June
No more roly-poly, 
Easy bonhomie,
We're stuffed”, say Boris and Govey.

Richard Lawson 26/5/2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Is the present wave of migration going to get us to wake up to planetary reality?

The Remain camp has won the economic argument over Brexit, but the migration argument is still happening.

As things stand at the moment, the Leavers can claim that leaving would reduce migration, because no-one in their right mind would want to come live in a Britain in a deep recession ruled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Nigel Farage perhaps running the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

There is a simple Right-Left argument about migration, based on the Right saying "We don't want these foreigners here in our country", and the Left saying "Yes we do, they're fellow humans in need of help".

On top of this emotional reaction there is an economic argument, with the Right saying "They take our benefits, housing, services and jobs" and the Left saying, "They boost to our economy, they keep the NHS going, if services are stretched it is because of under-provision, not immigrant demand".

There is a weakness to this latter argument, because the young, economically active migrants who are being welcomed will turn into economically inactive senior people, so we will need yet more migrants to look after them.

There is also a Green component to this argument, which goes like this:
"No matter how much we love, like and sympathise with those fleeing war, dictators, poverty and environmental degradation, Britain is a small set of islands, already over its carrying capacity, and at 251 people per sq Km, the third most densely populated country in the EU, after Malta (1306/per sq Km), Netherlands (397), Belgium (352), and just ahead of Germany at 230".

I could draw fire from within the Green Party for writing the above paragraph, and get labelled as a right-winger. I am not a right winger. I recognise that Homo Sapiens is a social animal, and I totally reject authoritarianism as a way of running a country. Setting out facts accurately cannot turn a person into a fascist or a Conservative; it is just being accurate.

The Left deals with the carrying capacity argument by saying "It isn't the size of the human population, it is the amount they consume that matters, and we in the West consume more than our fair share". Which is true, but only partly true, because it is the case that if everyone on the planet had the best possible, greenest, most sustainable consumption pattern, the human population would still have to stop growing, for the simple reason that it is impossible to grow forever in a finite space.

Hans Rosling has a good point to make, which is that we need to move to a position where everyone has enough. But even Hans Rosling must accept that it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space.

The Left meets any worries about the carrying capacity of the UK by pointing out that migrants would still be consuming in their home countries, they have just changed the location of their consumption. Which is again true, up to a point, but in moving from a warm country to the UK, individuals will probably increase their consumption patterns, if only because they need more domestic heating than they do in a warm country.

The basic ecological facts that we face are this:
First, It is impossible to turn back the tide of human movement that  is taking place at the moment, and is likely to continue until we address the causes of migration, so we have to accept migration as the new norm.
Second, we must a long term view, and  should start looking at, and solving, the causes of migration, war, dictatorial and oppressive regimes, poverty, and environmental degradation, including climate change.

Cynics may say that is impossible, we have been trying for decades and look at us. But we haven't really been trying. We have been pretending to try, fiddling and verbalising, but we're not really serious about it. Why? Because the dominant right wing meme is "Why should we care about wars and regimes in far away places? Let's put Britain first".

The Right has got to understand that we live in a system where everything is interconnected. If they want to stop immigration, they have got to address conditions across the world, and addressing conditions does not mean dropping bombs on people, it means diagnosing ant treating systemic problems. When  the Right understands that the definitive solution to migration is not to withdraw from the EU and seal our borders (which would need a massive Naval task force in the Channel, picking up boats and returning them to the EU), but to work to address the causes of war, we could actually end up living in a happier planet.

So, looking on the bright side, the present migration crisis could be a turning point in human history, where we begin to manage ourselves in a more intelligent way.

More on this blog:
Migration: lets get to the source
What causes war
World Population

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is there a Green case to be made for Brexit?

It feels a bit weird politically, to be on the same side as George Osborne over the EU Referendum. Weird also to be basing my conviction that Remain is best because the consensus of major economic institutions is that if we choose Brexit, we will be screwed economically, for a number of years to come.

The major economic institutions warning of this scenario being: IMF, World Bank, OECD
Bank of England, Monetary Policy Committee, Treasury, IFS, Confederation of British Industry,
Standard and Poors Credit Agency.

These are not persons with whom we instinctively agree. These institutions are all influenced to a greater or lesser extent by neo-liberalism, the pernicious ideology that believes that whatever the question, the Free Market is always the answer.

Brexiteers point out that some of these economists also advised us to join the Euro. It would be helpful if they could say which ones did and which did not? Can't have been very many. I recall a lot of people saying that it was daft to go for monetary union without fiscal union.

Over and above the problem with neo-liberal influences, the weakness of all these economic institutions is that they are working in an old framework. They all share the delusion that economic growth is necessary for economic health, despite the undeniable mathematical fact that it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space. They share the belief that it is better to allow the banks to create 95% of the world's money, although a tiny glimmer of light shows up from time to time. They share a common blindness to the fact that unemployment is a grossly inefficient market failure, given the amount of good work that needs to be done to help society and environment.

So the economic authorities are not infallible, but they most certainly are less fallible than Boris Johnson, Michael Govey, Nigel Farage, Nigel Lawson, Old Uncle Tom Galloway and all.

And we can recall that these institutions are run by professionals, some of whom take professional pride in what they do, and they are commenting on a specific point in their area of expertise - "What would happen if Britain pulled out of the EU?" - so that the answer is easier to work out than an indeterminate question like "When is the next major economic crash due?"

So the Brexiteers have lost the economic argument. We can perhaps concede them the migration argument. Brexit would probably lead to a lessening of migration, not least because no-one would want to come to a Britain stuck in an economic recession (no jobs) with BoJo and Govey at the helm.

And yet...would it be Greener to turn our back on the advice of growthist economic institutions? Would it be Greener to go it alone, seeking sustainability and democratic subsidiarity here on our little green island, trying to meet our needs and trade with the big world as best we could, with our balance of trade deficit trailing along behind us like a broken mast and rigging?

If the politicians calling for Brexit were all ecologically awake, it might be possible to take a  look at a Brexit vote. But the truth is that Jenny Jones is the only notable green that I know of who is pro-Brexit. Boris Johnson, Michael Govey, Nigel Farage, Nigel Lawson et al are all, and it pains me to say this, right wing nut jobs. Most of them are climate change deniers into the bargain. So given that in the event of a Brexit majority Cameron would resign, and the Tory Party would choose a new Prime Minister to rule us, so that the Government would make a sickening lurch to the right, if such a thing were possible.

All this is enough to put any sentient being off voting for Brexit.

Our only hope in this case would be that the people would suddenly wake up to the fact that they have been taken for a ride by a bunch of fruitcakes, so that they stop buying right-wing newspapers, and take to the streets in an Arab Spring style revolution. Hmm. Tempting. But it is very difficult to so a positive outcome to said revolution. We would probably lose because the Police and Army would side with the regime, and even if we won, revolutions tend to lead to chaos, which leads to the emergence of a Strong Leader. Which would not be good.

So, try as I might, I cannot see any tactical case to be made for a Green Go campaign.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Living in the highest grossing disaster movie of all time

Humans love stories where a hero overcomes a threat to mankind. The theme of overcoming a monster goes back at least as far as Beowulf (who strangled a monster that kept eating the king's best warriors) and appears in our modern mythology in the Bond series and many other popular films.

In fact, seven of the ten highest grossing films are about defeating a threat to all people: Avatar, Star Wars, Jurassic world, the Avengers (twice), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Iron Man 3. In all, we spent a cool $12 billion on these films.

The details vary, but the basic plot is that a threat to a large group of people, if not all the inhabitants of the planet, emerges, and a hero comes forward to deal with the threat, at risk to himself (the saviour is nearly always a man), and overcomes it, usually, if not always, by violent means. The threat may be from another planet (Independence Day, The Alien), but in the Bond series, the threat is often a super-rich sociopath. It is interesting that in Avatar, the threat is from a private corporation, a mining company, and in Star Wars, it is a trading federation that offers the threat to freedom.

So we enjoy watching universal existential threats happen to other people, and we like to see a hero come forward and defeat the monstrous threat. Overcoming the Monster is the first of the seven basic plots in Christopher Booker's classification, the other themes being Rags to Riches, the Quest, Journey and Return, Comedy, Tragedy (where a character flaw leads to death), and Rebirth (where a character flaw is understood and overcome).

Of course, there is nothing wrong with our drinking up these myths. We are humans, that is what humans do. It is pleasant to watch the suffering and danger of other people, and to experience the relief when the threat is overcome. But does this process actually help us to deal with the real drama that is unfolding in our lives? Or does it hinder us? Or is it just neutral?

In our real world, a threat as big as any of the threats portrayed in the movies is unfolding. It is developing more slowly than a film script, but in the long run, the disaster scenario is equal to the magnitude of the most disastrous disaster movie ever conceived.

Let's transform our current situation into an imaginary film script, because that's the kind of thing we understand. It opens with a flood scene. A lone scientist is monitoring flooding events, and is noticing that the frequency of flood events is increasing. She takes her data to a scientific conference, where her findings are laughed out of court. However, another scientist, who has been studying droughts, comes alongside with his own, similar data. A third, who has been studying heat-waves, joins their company. They try to communicate their findings, unsuccessfully, until astronauts in an orbiting space station detect anomalous infra red waves coming from the vicinity of the moon. The source of the warming energy beams is located on the surface of the moon. Further investigation reveals an alien base on the moon that is directing energy at Earth. World leaders gather and decide to destroy the source, but all human weapons, including nuclear, are disabled before they reach the target. The warming continues; crops fail, massive migration movements take place, wars break out. An expedition is organised consisting of a group of courageous diplomats and people of action. Contact is made with the aliens, who turn our to be impeccably well-mannered, highly intelligent and technically sophisticated. They also speak very good English.  They are apologetic about the the disruption to Earth weather, but they had calculated that we would have made the diplomatic overtures at a far earlier time. Turns out that they are marketing managers for an intergalactic solar energy and numismatic corporation, and they hope that we will wish to buy their product. It transpires that their energy prices are in fact distinctly lower than our carbon-based energy technologies, due to vagaries of intergalactic currency exchange mechanisms, so a deal is struck. The aliens reverse the energy imbalances that their beams have brought about, give us some effective general advice about sustainability, and zip off home.

It's a script, no better and no worse than some of the scripts in the top 10 highest grossing films. Would it help? No, because our problem is not caused by aliens, it is caused by ourselves. Violence does not work, and there is no hero that can deal with global warming, because it is caused by our appetite for wasteful consumption of carbon-based energy. There are corporations involved, of course, but although an increasing number of well-informed people are learning to dislike them, the vast majority of us still buy their products, for many reasons, chiefly habit and convenience. We face a slow awakening from sleep. It is true that we are moving forward, but progress is far too slow, not least because our information systems and political parties are dominated by the fossil corporations who feed lies and disinformation to distort public opinion.

So we are actually living in a real disaster movie, one of our own making, where we are the population at risk, we are the dupes, with a fifth column in our midst. We are also the potential heroes. It is clearly a species of Overcoming the Monster plot. It is not a Rags to Riches plot, rather the reverse. There is no Quest or Journey involved, because all the action is taking place at home. It is certainly not a Comedy. It could easily turn out to be a Tragedy. All we can do is hope that the Rebirth theme will kick in, and as a result of experience, probably an accumulation of adverse experience. We must hope that we can learn to deploy reason, science and logic instead of passively absorbing entertaining fantasies. We must learn to change our ways and live within the boundaries that our planetary environment lovingly sets for us.