Criminal Irresponsibility

Interviewed on the Today Programme today, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling sought to defend the government’s decision to push through parliamentary approval for Heathrow expansion without waiting for the Climate Change Committee to report later this week on the UK’s progress on meeting CO2 emission targets. His reasoning was that

  • By 2050 aircraft would be much more efficient, thus generating much less CO2.
  • CO2 emissions by aircraft were an international responsibility and don’t affect UK targets.

Both arguments demonstrate the government’s criminal irresponsibility in this area. Basic physics demonstrates that, after more than one hundred years of development of aviation, the scope for further efficiency savings is vanishingly small. Don’t take my word for it – refer to the late Professor David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air which he generously published as a free book which you can download here. The proof you need is in Part 111, section C

The argument that aviation’s CO2 emissions are none of the government’s business is simply risible.

Global warming and its consequences, including both the need and the potential for social revolution, is the subject of a discussion paper being researched and drafted by the Communist University in South London. Go to https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/ to follow progress or, even better, to register your willingness to participate.

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You Cannot Be Serious!

In December 2015 the government signed up to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), requiring net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – a cut of 90 percent in the then prevailing level. If there is a new runway at Heathrow, aviation is projected to account for 50% of our carbon emissions by 2050. Does this make sense?

Global climate change is a class issue[i]. A world that ignores COP21 will be very different to the present one. The choices for the working class will not simply be between continued exploitation and social revolution. The risk of total subjugation and extinction could not then be ignored.

Aviation’s contribution to CO2 emission is also a class issue. As we pointed out on 29 October 2016, frequent flyers are predominately drawn from the wealthiest 10% of the population. 15% of the British population who fly three or more times a year account for 70% of all flights. More than half the UK population takes no flights at all.

The response of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Transport to Heathrow expansion which reported today is to call for tougher rules on night flights and a plea to keep costs to flyers down. They are silent on CO2 emission.

Have you noticed how the BBC invariably concludes reports of bad news for the government with an anodyne government rebuttal? Perhaps they will employ this one by a Department for Transport spokeswoman in response to the Select Committee’s report:

“Expansion [at Heathrow] will only proceed if it meets strict environmental obligations and offers a world-class package of compensation and mitigations for local communities.”

A more appropriate response to the Select Committee would be that of John McEnroe to a poor line decision:

“You cannot be serious”.

Footnote

[i] If you are interested in participating in research by the Communist University in South London into this, go to https://communistuniversity.wordpress.com/

Looking to the future

The Labour Chair of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, has written to the top 25 pension funds to enquire about what they are doing to “safeguard people’s pensions from the financial risk of climate change”. Ms Creagh was reported in City AM on 5 March as saying that “a young person today may be 45 years away from retirement. Over that time scale climate change risks will inevitably grow”.

The lack of understanding implied by this statement is breath-taking. Setting aside the problem that personal pensions[i] , the kind subject to auto- enrolment that pension funds provide – represent poor value for money because of the level of management fees and other expenses and place all the risk on the employee, the issue here is a failure to understand the kind of risk that climate change brings.

Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) holds that there are two kinds of risk: systemic and unsystemic. As we all live on the one planet, the risk associated with climate change is systemic. It is born by everyone and is independent of any investment decision the individual may make. With systemic risk there are no hedges available, no clever portfolio strategies by which it can be reduced. Ms Creagh might just as well have written to the Met Office to ask about what steps they were taking to stop climate change.

The primary interest of pension funds is to flog their product. They need to attract and retain customers – and the government’s requirement for auto-enrolment ensures a steady stream of these. They market their product by stressing their skill at achieving a good investment return and, to a lesser extent, the level of their fees. MPT holds that the future return on investments is largely independent of investment skill and, perhaps somewhat optimistically, the return will follow the long run average – no more than around 5% per annum real rate of return[ii]. Funds that imply a higher return are either in the snake oil business or taking on more risk that the punter realises. Rock bottom management fees of 0.5% per annum still represent 10% of this anticipated future return. Many management fees and other hidden costs are significantly higher than 0.5% per annum.

The horizons of pension funds are also determined by MPT. At the heart of MPT is the concept of discounting the future. This too is done at the 5% per annum real rate of return. Thus a certain loss in 45 years of £1 is treated as equivalent a certain loss of only some 10 pence today. Even if the pension funds had any way of influencing global warming in 45 years time, this interest would only represent one tenth of their concern about a similar risk today.

We need a solution to global warming, but it isn’t going to come from pension funds – or, regrettably it seems, from Ms Creagh. The only way out of the crisis we face is through genuine democratic control – the kind that promotes the interests of all workers, living and unborn. It’s called Communism.

[i] The alternative is a defined benefit scheme provided by an employer, but they are fast disappearing and, in the case of university and college lecturers, under current attack.

[ii] The only exception is when insider information is exploited. This is only possible for crooks and the super-rich.

UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD – AND THEN CHANGING IT

The BBC is required under its new Charter to provide “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Its failure to do so renders BBC news coverage increasingly irrelevant. It’s now not only Question Time that leads so many of us immediately to reach for the off button. Much BBC news coverage is more likely to increase blood pressure than increase understanding and engagement.

The requirement to provide “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” has, however, prompted the BBC to propose in its Religion and Ethics Review published this week that its coverage of religious issues should be increased and “greater religious understanding” incorporated into its news reporting. Investigative reporting of the corrosive influence of religiously segregated schools in Northern Ireland and, increasingly, the UK mainland would assist this understanding, but that’s not quite what the authors of the Review had in mind.

One problem for the Review was that it couldn’t avoid recognising that an increasing number of people in the UK do not affiliate to any traditional religion. It was in response to this awkward fact that it concluded that the extended coverage it recommends would also have to “reflect beliefs which aren’t founded on religion”. What “beliefs unfounded on religion” the review had in mind was not explained, so one has to speculate. Belief in creationism, that blood transfusion is impermissible  and (I suspect) that the world is flat are all endorsed by followers of some traditional religion. The Review will have to look to belief in flying saucers for truly independent beliefs – or have I missed its endorsement somewhere?  The Review did, however, identify the  target audience for unaffiliated believers: those not engaged with traditional religion who are “spiritual and interested in the big issues affecting them”.

As communists we are most certainly interested in the “big issues”, and not only those that affect us personally. Furthermore, communist philosophy, i.e. Marxism, provides, in our view, the best understanding there has ever been of the world around us. So can we expect to benefit from this envisaged extended coverage by the BBC? Of course not! We will be excluded, ostensibly because we are not “spiritual”. This is correct in the sense that we don’t rely on spirits to understand the world. However, the real reason we will be excluded is because, as Marx wrote, we not only seek to understand the world, we seek to change it. That is the reason the BBC will exclude us; but while it remains the mouthpiece of the ruling class, we would not have it any other way.

The BBC can do what it wants, but if you want to learn about Marxism and how it can help us to understand and change the world, you can join the Communist University of South London (CUiSL) which runs classes at 7.30 pm on the third Thursday of each month at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR2 0BN. In the Spring Term we will be studying eco-socialism. For more details e-mail cuisl@communist-party.org.uk.

 

It’s impossible to say whether the extreme destructiveness of Hurricane Irma was due to global warming, but its intensity demonstrates the forces we can expect to be unleashed now average global temperature is above that 125,000 years ago during the last interglacial. During this interglacial, when homo sapiens was confined to Africa, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted. The current interglacial which we are now living through began only 11 thousand years ago. The Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps have yet to melt, but, accelerated by human CO2 emission, this is now happening. When the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps melted 125,000 years ago, sea levels rose some 4 to 6 meters above the current level. If they melt again, as is expected, sea levels will again rise by a similar amount.

No one knows for sure how quickly the ice sheets will melt or where the process will stop. A completely ice free world would result in a drowned world with sea levels some 70 metres above current levels. Unless a tipping point is reached first, this is currently thought unlikely in this century, but the direction of travel given our dependency on fossil fuels and the profits that can be derived from their extraction is clear enough.

Can humanity cope with increases in sea levels of 4 to 6 meters or more? Go to http://flood.firetree.net, feed in your own predictions and fears and judge for yourself the effect on shorelines and how you and yours will be directly affected. But the amount of currently dry land that will be below sea level is only part of the problem. As Hurricane Irma and recent floods in Texas, the Caribbean and India demonstrate, water moves and it is surges, precipitous rainfall and wind that cause the real damage rather than the slow encroachment of the sea. Living a few hundred feet above sea level will not secure your future or that of your children – unless, that is, you are part of the capitalist elite.

One reason for the lack of enthusiasm in tackling CO2 emissions – look for example at how the issue was ignored in reaching the decision on Heathrow expansion – is that capitalists, those who own the means of production and thus don’t have to sell their labour to live, are pretty confident that they will survive the coming global climatic catastrophe. They are strengthened in this view by robotisation, the accelerating substitution of labour by machines, giving them an implicit belief that they can become self-sufficient provided they are supported by a servant class. The 1% need, say, 2% to serve them, leaving the 97% superfluous to their needs.

Scared? You should be. Global warming is probably unstoppable even if the political will existed to try. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot be slowed or that our world will shortly (i.e. by the end of the century) become uninhabitable. The choice is between: letting the 3% survive and the rest of us perish; and starting out on the road to building a communist society which meets the needs of everyone. Given where we are starting from, that means building the Communist Party – now, in Croydon and everywhere.

RISE OF THE ROBOTS AND GLOBAL WARMING

In the Morning Star yesterday, (Tuesday, 28 March), Nigel Flanagan, Senior Organiser for the UNI Global Union, warned of the potential for intelligence robots to replace workers on a global scale. The appropriate response, he argued, should be to build a global union system to negotiate and bargain with the global companies that will own and operate these intelligent robots.

But is this a sufficient response? The UNI Global Union is merely a confederation of some 900 affiliated unions from 140 countries. These unions represent 20 million workers; but with a global workforce, according to ILO estimates, of 3 billion workers, the employers will not be trembling with fear. The UNI Global Union may represent a start in organising workers globally, but it has a long way to go and, even if it succeeds, much more is required than mere global Mondism.

The continual replacement of workers by machines lies at the heart of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. His conclusion that it would lead to the collapse of capitalism – unless that collapse was first triggered by some other constraint to the development of productive forces that capitalism was unable to surmount – is the conclusion to his masterwork, Capital. At the start of the 21st Century we now recognise global warming caused by CO2 emission to be such a constraint. With both robotization and global warming increasingly emergent, the issue now is is how these two death knells for capitalism will interact and what consequences they will have on what replaces capitalism.

For communists, the struggle is about hastening capitalism’s demise and ensuring that it is replaced by communism – by which we mean a classless society in which the abundance made possible by advanced technology, including intelligent robots, is shared by all. As Marx recognised, and a brilliant little book by Peter Frase, Four Futures – visions of the world after capitalism (Verso, 2016) discusses, other post-capitalist societies are possible; and they are all much less desirable. If workers are largely replaced by intelligent robots, who owns those robots is crucial. If they are owned by the former capitalists, the elite, a society based on rentism could emerge in which a tiny ruling elite live off the rents from licensed technology and the largely unemployed workers subsist on menial tasks and handouts. The other possible outcome with a hierarchical society suggested by Frase is even more scarey: if the elite don’t need 3 billion workers, it would be in their interests to exterminate them.

Frase has some interesting ideas about extreme global warming. He suggests that it’s now inevitable and the real issue now is how we survive it. This could be relatively easy for the global elite, but very difficult for the rest of us. Climate change deniers, he suggests, no longer sincerely doubt the evidence; they simply think that their class can survive it, and very comfortably, thank you. These and other contentious issues will be discussed at Croydon TUC on 11 May when a speaker from the Campaign against Climate Change has been invited. Note it in your diary and make sure you are there!

Things must change

Another Croydon Assembly was held on Saturday, 20 November at Ruskin House, Croydon. After brief introductions by Ted Knight and ex NUT President Philipa Harvey and an entertaining warm up by Attila the Stockbroker, the Assembly broke up into discussion groups addressing housing, health, education, welfare and the economy – all from the perspective of democracy and how we can make our voices heard. It was a successful day – most participants leaving energised, enthused and determined that things must change.

If the day had one shortcoming,  it was a familiar one: a failure to discuss how to address CO2 emission and global warming. Whether discussed or not, the problem, however, continues to grow. A report by the Stockholm Environment Institute has now concluded that effects of Arctic warming will cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level. With temperatures in the Arctic currently 20C above what would be expected at this time of year and sea ice at its lowest recorded level, this is no longer just a problem for polar bears. It’s going to affect us, our children nd future generations.

How can such a significant issue consistently escape the attention of well-meaning progressives everywhere? One explanation proffered by Alex Randall in Red Pepper is that the centre-left’s arguments on global warming have focussed on the wrong issues: the impact on terrorism, migration and, on the positive side, the opportunities presented for Keynsian job creation. By doing this they have convinced no one and left the way open for the climate deniers, including President Elect Trump, to prosper.

Another explanation, and one that surfaces from time to time in the Croydon Environment Forum, is that global warming is simply too big an issue for any local group to have any impact. Better to concentrate on street cleaning and similar mundane issues more clearly under the control of the local authority.

As communists, we sympathise with the first explanation and reject the second. Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the centre-left fails to recognise that a profit driven (capitalist) society is incapable of addressing the problem. Karl Marx, writing in the nineteenth century, predicted from historical evidence that capitalism would only be overturned and replaced by socialism when the growth in the economy it facilitated became impeded by some fundamental constraint it was incapable of surmounting. Although it took two world wars, capitalism has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming all the constraints it has faced until now. In the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly clear that CO2 emission is first constraint it is incapable of surmounting. The solution – the only solution – is for us to replace capitalism before it destroys us.

 

The Sleeping Poodle

It is the role of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to monitor overall progress against carbon budgets and the 2050 target. It is the nation’s watchdog to confirm that the UK meets its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act. ‘Watchdog’ is, however, a generous metaphor. A sleeping, toothless poodle would be more appropriate. The CCC was sidelined when Howard Davies, the bungling former head of the Financial Services Authority, produced his report recommending Heathrow expansion (see earlier comment). The CCC continued to doze while the government accepted Mr Davies’s recommendation, believing itself to be inhibited from examining “specific projects”, including even Heathrow expansion. It has, however, finally woken up to the fact that the Heathrow expansion is incompatible with the 2050 target. It has now belatedly called on the government to “publish a strategic policy framework for UK aviation emissions”. More of a whimper than a snarl!

The CCC refers to the need for the government to address “strategic options and innovation priorities to pursue deeper cuts in aviation emissions” but they must know that no such options or innovations exist other than restricting demand for flying. As David MacKay demonstrated in   Chapter 5 of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air , after 100 years of aviation development, the theoretical efficiency limits for hydro-carbon based aviation are being approached. There are, essentially, no more efficiency savings to be secured. If the CCC doesn’t understand this, it’s time they stood down.

Capitalists don’t, of course, like interfering in any market capable of generating huge profits. They are also not very keen on restricting the “freedom of choice” of the rich and powerful – the people responsible for the great majority of flights. On the whole, they come clean about such motives. They are less transparent when it comes to their willingness to tolerate a large proportion of the world’s population being exterminated by global warming so that the super-rich can survive and thrive. When this is appreciated, so is the understanding that halting global warming and replacing capitalism with communism are synonymous.

Heathrow – an irrational decision

The UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), which the governments of the world, including ours, signed up to in December, requires net zero emissions by the second half of this century for the target ceiling for global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade to be met. It means that by 2050 the UK government has to cut its carbon emissions by 90 percent.

Project yourself forward to 2050. If the new runway at Heathrow goes ahead, aviation will (on current projections) account for 50% of our carbon emissions by 2050. How will you or your children feel about living in a country where the availability of gas and oil to heat your home is a tenth of the current level, where electricity is available for only a few hours a day unless it is expensively provided by nuclear power plants for which there are no credible plans to store safely the radioactive waste for thousands of years? Will this situation be tolerable when 50% of the available hydrocarbons are being guzzled by an affluent 1% taking multiple leisure flights every year?

Clearly, even disregarding the adverse environmental effects on the inhabitants of West London, the plan to expand Heathrow is irrational. This should leave it vulnerable to judicial review. This route will be explored, and we wish those who pursue it well, but the CP has little confidence in our judges to decide such matters. However unconsciously, they reflect the interests of the class from which they are drawn and whose ideas they have imbibed. As has been demonstrated time and time again, the rights of capital and property always prevail over the rights of workers.

As we commented on 12 December when COP 21 was announced, a low carbon future is both essential and attainable, but whether it can be delivered without dismantling capitalism first is quite another matter

Keeping focussed on Global Warming

Averaged as a whole, the global temperature across land surfaces for June 2016 was 1.24°C (2.23°F) above the 20th century average—tying with 2015 as the highest June temperature in the 1880–2016 record See source. In June the CO2 level reached an all-time high of 404.48 ppm. That compares with 381.82 in July 2006 and peaks of only 300 ppm in the last 400,000 years. See source.

The government’s response was to scrap the Department of Climate Change. Climate change is now the “responsibility” of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and will have no one in Cabinet to make the case for action to oppose it. If problems went away by ignoring them, this would be a masterstroke. Unfortunately, they don’t and it isn’t.

There is also a danger that, in the heat of battle over getting Jeremy Corbyn re-elected as Labour Party Leader, the Left, and even the Communist Party, could also lose sight of this issue. This must not be allowed to happen. Global warming may, according to Marxist theory, act as a fetter on the growth of productive forces and thereby lead to the replacement of capitalism with a higher form of social organisation, i.e. socialism, but this is not the only possible outcome. Global destruction – a Sixth Great Extinction – is another. Indeed, according to Barnosky and others Nature 2011, it has already begun, but it will only become irreversible if we allow the capitalists to ignore it.

The 54th Communist Party Congress will be held on the weekend of 19-20 November. We are currently in a pre-Congress discussion phase when members and supporters debate anything and everything on the Members and Supporters site. It’s important that we take this opportunity to keep Global Warming at the forefront of concerns.