Tuesday, January 03, 2023

If you oppose climate change, join the 50/60 campaign

It is hard, even for us activists, to face up to the enormity of what our fossil fuels are doing to Earth's climate. There are thousands of things that we need to do, starting with kicking this worthless, incompetent and corrupt bunch of "Conservative" free market fundamentalists out of office, but here is one thing that we can all do, right now (that is, those of us who still drive cars):

knock 10mph off our top speed.

As a nation we face a challenging task to reduce our impact on the planet’s energy system. The targets of 50% reduction of greenhouse gases on 1990 levels by 2025, and net zero by 2050 are not going to be easy to achieve, and we activists have a responsibility to take a campaigning lead.

The campaign needs to be high profile and simple, of low cost and beneficial in its side effects. 

It needs to involve as many people as possible, to signify that we all have to play our part in avoiding this serious global problem.

It helps if participating in the campaign reduces our fuel bills at this time of economic hardship.

It also helps if it takes a bit of pressure off the NHS.

A national speed limit of 50mph, stretched to 60mph on motorways, meets these criteria.

Road transport produces about 15% of total CO2 emissions. A car travelling at 60mph max can save 10% of its fuel.

Here are nine other benefits:

  1. it would lead to lower fuel bills for motorists
  2. it would lead to fewer, and less severe, motor vehicle accidents
  3. this would lead to reduced demand for new vehicles, and so save CO2 emissions from motor manufacture
  4. it would lead to fewer, and less severe injuries and deaths on the road
  5. this would lead to a reduced burden on our struggling NHS
  6. driving at lower speeds is a more relaxing and pleasant experience
  7. it would lead to rail travel being more competitive
  8. we will be able to stress that this would only be a first step in many others to get to grips with the challenge of man-made climate change.
  9. above all, it would deliver a message to everyone that man-made climate change is a real and serious problem for everyone on the planet, both now and even more in coming years

Lower national speed limits have been used in the past at the time of energy crises, and climate change is nothing if not a massive, long-term energy crisis.

It can be enforced by speed cameras, and increased fuel consumption at speed can be added to the curriculum of Speed Awareness courses.

Naturally, there will be objections from the fossil fuel lobby, some motorists and the libertarians, but these groups will object to any and all measures to meet our climate commitments, and so their protestations can be viewed as routine, and safely set aside. Indeed, their protests can be used as a vehicle to expose the role of libertarians and neo-liberals in delaying all climate action.

The beauty of this measure is that it is a money saving, CO2 saving, beneficial, nationwide, energy saving measure that is high profile, a sign of the many other beneficial changes that we are about to bring about.

Not only that, but Green activists do not have to wait for Government to act. We can produce a 60/55 sticker in a green circle to put on our cars as we drive (and yes, I know that we ought not to drive at all, but few of us are perfect).

I hope that everyone that reads this will give sympathetic consideration to this idea

Monday, January 02, 2023

Democracy, Dictatorship and Journalism

The style of governments is ranged on a spectrum between optimal democracy and the very worst dictatorships. 

Democracy is government chosen by the people that works for the welfare of the people.

Dictatorship is government by a tiny group of people clustered around one Leader who arranges things to benefit himself (it usually is a man) and his group. 

Democracy is what we want, dictatorship is not wanted.

For democracy to work the voters need to be as well informed as possible so that they can make rational choices. They need information that is accurate, truthful and unbiased as possible. 

So the media is integral to the proper functioning of democracy, and if the media is unreliable and biased to right or to left, democracy is undermined, becomes weak, and will drift in the direction of dictatorship.

So how are we doing here in the UK? Not good. Our media is strongly biased towards the right. 

As far as the printed news goes, people are reading 3 right leaning news articles for every single left leaning news article. That's right, 3:1. Times, Telegraph, Mail, Express, Sun, Star, all right wing, all putting Conservative political leaflets through the door every day. 

As for broadcast media, the BBC political and news channels are so far to the right that often Sky, ITV and Channel4 are more unbiased. BBC people will respond that they get criticism from both left and right, so they must be steering the correct course. That is such a thin argument it just shows that they do not care. 

If the BBC were interested in steering an unbiased course, they would commission arms-length Interruption Rate studies of their news programmes, and these would show objectively that BBC anchors routinely interrupt Tories far less than they interrupt non-Tories.

The dire state of British journalism mirrors the dire state of British democracy. In FPTP we have an electoral system that is not fit for purpose. We have an absurd House of Lords, an unelected Head of State, a Home Office that is well on the way to outright fascism and a chumocracy that is haemorrhaging billions of public money into the pockets of western oligarchs.

This will all change one day. Unfortunately it will not happen because enough people read enough well reasoned articles about democracy in the press, or anywhere else. 

It will happen when the Tories have well and truly run UK plc into the ground and people are so desperate that they ignore the Tory Press and bring about real change.

What change would that be? We need full, radical reform of our electoral, political and economic systems, but the media reforms we need are relatively simple. We need laws to change ownership so that the maximum number of new outlets that any one oligarch owns is one. Or possibly zero.

The other media reform is that corrections should be given the same level of prominence that was given to the original error.

Not much to ask is it? Considering the result is a fair press that is fit for purpose and underpins a safe and secure democracy.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

After Putin's war, the UN should introduce an Index of Democracy and Human Rights

At the start of 2023 the world is not in good shape. War in Ukraine is at the forefront of our minds, though there are many other problems: unaddressed climate change, the energy crisis, biodiversity loss, inequality, dictatorships and generalised political anger, to name a few.

The war on Ukraine shows the terrible damage that one man can do if he gets himself into a position of dictatorship. Putin chose to invade a year ago. Wars always have multiple causes, and separatism (which is an issue in the Ukraine situation) is a common factor in many current wars. Putin's apologists cite other causal factors, sometimes reaching far  back into history, but quoting in recent years the mismanagement by the West of the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the lack of an economic rescue plan, with the expansion of NATO, and with the absence of work on further reducing nuclear weapons and militarism generally. 

If Putin had genuine grievances about a threat from NATO, he could have asked for action by the UN under Articles 33-38 of its Charter. He chose not to, and in the end, the war is Putin's choice. Putin initiated the invasion because he is a dictator, and his officials and Cabinet dared not question his plans and his decisions. Putin is responsible.

Politicians must act to make the world a safer place, to make sure that there is no repeat of the Ukraine tragedy. 

There are many things that need to be done, but the UN needs to prioritise two things: 

First, to address separatism actively by sponsoring long-term negotiations wherever separatism is an issue.

Second, the UN must measure and track the position of all political leaders to see where they are on the spectrum that lies between optimal democracy on the one hand and unacceptable dictatorship on the other. We must identify leaders and countries that are tending to drift towards dictatorship and help them to reverse that trend.

It is possible to measure the performance of any state with regard to democracy by counting their actions in many areas, such as freedom of the media, the count of political prisoners, the use of torture and in the area of human rights.

The excellent Our World in Data site ranks the countries of the world in terms of the quality of their democracy here. Go to the first image, click TABLE, draw the slider from left to right, and click on  the central estimate. 

We find that the UK is 14th from the top, USA is 28 from top,  and Russia is 40th from the bottom in terms of electoral democracy. In terms of liberal democracy, a slightly different metric, UK is 18th from the top, USA is 28th from the top, and Russia is 28th from the bottom.

The UN should adopt this approach of measurement and ranking. The only real objection that I have encountered in discussing this proposal is that it would entail a bit of work in setting up and maintaining the official Index of Democracy. This expense would be repaid many times over by the beneficial effects of the Index, not least in reducing warfare.

Once in place the effects of the Index would be 

1. To raise consciousness of regular people, as non-scholars would be able to tell at a glance the relative position of any and every country. This would undermine the political ploy of politicians as they tell people to believe that one country is "democratic" and another is "the new Hitler".

2. There will be an immediate improvement in some cases. The publication of the Index of Democracy would inevitably lead to objections from some countries that their position is too low, and that their performance is not that bad. To this, the UN can respond by appointing rapporters to go to the country and re-evaluate the situation. Before they arrive, we can be pretty certain that a few political prisoners will be released in order to improve the score.

3. The Index will produce a continuous upwards pressure on Human Rights performance of politicians everywhere. In time, there will be fewer dictators and more democracies in the world, which in turn will mean less warfare and more human welfare.

Finally, let us remind ourselves and our MPs that the purpose of government is to improve the security, prosperity and happiness of the people not just in our country, but throughout the world. The Index of Democracy is one of the ways that this can be brought about.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Current climate change denial memes

 #ClimateScam has been trending on Twitter for a few days.

A scam is a fraudulent business scheme.
The #ClimateScam is the conspiracy theory promoted for 40 years by fossil fuel business corporations, spreading doubt about climate science in order to protect their profits at the expense of the stability of humanity’s wellbeing.

Meanwhile, if you are seeing climate change denial memes, here is a little list of current climate change denial memes:

1 It’s cold outside my house therefore the whole world is cold
1a Extreme weather events are recorded in old newspaper articles therefore climate is not changing

2 Climate always changes therefore climate sensitivity is very high. (See 8)

3 Greenies have computers and some go to conferences, therefore they are all hypocrites

4 Climatologists get paid, therefore climatology is a money making scam

5 Climate change is a conspiracy involving [insert people here] in order to tax us into oblivion

6 No point in our decarbonising, because China won’t*

7 As an old man, I do not like Greta Thunberg therefore all climate science is wrong

8 The changes we are making to Earth's greenhouse effect do not matter because Climate Sensitivity is very low (see 2 above).
9 "It's the Sun!" (No it isn't, see the image at the top of this post)

*Climate: the China gambit

6 No point in our decarbonising, because China won’t.
No 6 in my #climatedenialmemes
Of the first six memes, 6 is the one where it begins to get interesting.

Deniers have a genuine struggle with China, because deniers are mainly individualists, which means that they do not understand that humans are social animals, and therefore that we have the ability to act collaboratively. They cannot see that if the world decarbonises, China will want (so some extent) to join in the decarbonisation - not least because it will find a market for its decarbonising products.

China is aware of the risks that climate change poses for China, and is already taking steps to decarbonise its economy, even while it builds coal fired power stations. China leads the world in solar power, wind power, and electric vehicle deployment, but also in coal consumption 

Part of the cause of China’s increase in coal consumption is that China has taken on the manufacturing of a great part of the world. So the UK has off shored its manufacturing, which lowers UK CO2 emissions, but increased Chinese emissions.

China may end up decarbonising faster than the West, because its history of a command economy may give it an advantage in changing away from carbon.