The fake grassroots campaign run by grouse shooters is just one instance of the way democracy is being bypassed
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th August 2016
This is how, in a democracy, you win when you’re outnumbered: you purchase the results. It’s how politics now works: the very rich throw money at the parties, lobby groups and think tanks that project their demands. If they are clever, they keep their names out of it.
Here’s an example: a campaign fronted by the former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham, called You Forgot the Birds. It appears to have two purposes: to bring down the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and to get the natural history presenter Chris Packham sacked from the BBC.
This is what it claims to be: “a network of people who are passionate about bird habitat. Some of us are conservationists or self-confessed birders, some are farmers and landowners, some work full-time in the countryside while others are volunteers from the cities.” And this is what was revealed by a footnote at the bottom of one of its press releases, that has since vanished from the web: “The You Forgot The Birds Campaign is funded by the British grouse industry.” Ah, the grouse industry. Who would have guessed?
To shoot grouse you have to be exceedingly rich: it can cost around £7000 per person per day. The owners of grouse moors, who are also exceedingly rich, justify these fees by ensuring that there are vast numbers of birds to shoot. This requires, across great tracts of our uplands, the elimination of almost everything else.
Grouse are wild birds, but cosseted at the expense of other lifeforms. Predators and competitors must be eliminated, either legally or, in the case of protected species such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers, illegally. Many grouse moors are black holes for birds of prey. They disappear and their satellite tags stop working in the same places, again and again. Alien abduction? Russian black ops? No: shooting, trapping and poisoning by the gamekeepers employed to maximise grouse numbers, most of whom, on these remote moors, get away with it.
Producing as many grouse as possible also means burning and draining the land, to create a monoculture of the young heather the birds eat. Sure, this releases the carbon in the soil, pollutes rivers and helps to flood the towns downstream. But to hell with the plebs.
To rub our noses in it properly, we pay them for the privilege: grouse moors are subsidised by us. At the height of his austerity programme, as essential public services were cut to the bone, David Cameron’s government raised the subsidy for grouse moors by 84%, to £56 per hectare. Some owners now harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of our money every year.
Cameron also tried to close the police wildife crime unit, which would have pleased his friends no end. It was saved only by a public outcry. Conservationists have called for a law of vicarious liability, making the owners of grouse moors responsible for the wildlife crime they commission, rather than leaving only the gamekeepers to take the rap. But this proposal was struck down by Cameron’s environment minister, Richard Benyon. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that he owns a grouse moor.
But through the efforts of wildlife campaigners (like Chris Packham and the RSPB) and people whose homes have been flooded downstream, the grouse industry is now being called to account. Last week, the petition posted by the conservationist Mark Avery, calling for an end to driven grouse shooting, passed the 100,000-signature threshold: the issue is now likely to be debated in parliament.
The result is You Forgot the Birds, championed by the Daily Mail, which describes it as “a grassroots campaign by farmers and conservationists”. It is of course coincidental that Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor, owns a grouse moor.
We know who’s in front of this “grassroots campaign”: Sir Ian Botham, who runs a shoot in North Yorkshire. But who’s behind it? Only one funder has so far been identified: the billionaire hedge fund owner Crispin Odey. We also know that the campaign is run by a lobbying company called Abzed. It boasts that “a besieged grouse moor community turned to Abzed. Our approach was to turn the spotlight onto the RSPB”. Very grassroots, I’m sure.
The claims the campaign makes keep falling apart. Last year the Telegraph had to issue a humiliating correction and apology to the RSPB after it repeated statements in a You Forgot the Birds press release that seem to have been conjured out of thin air. Last week, in the Mail and on the Today programme, Ian Botham recited figures for the rare birds found on grouse moors during a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO says it has conducted no such survey.
The purpose of the countryside, for people like Botham, Odey and Dacre, is an exclusive playground for the rich. Authentic country people are those who own or rent significant tracts of land, many of whom live in cities, and those who work for them, as long as they wear tweed instead of Gore-Tex. As for the RSPB and its members, they’re bipedal vermin. Never mind that many of them live and work in the countryside; they are interlopers with no right to a voice in rural life.
The media collaborates. News reporters describe shooting and hunting lobbyists as “countryside groups”, anointing them as the authentic rural voice and casting those who oppose them – who often seem to possess a far greater love for and knowledge of the countryside – as interfering townies. Documentary makers seek a stereotyped rusticity which, though politically charged, is presented as the neutral and immutable spirit of rural life. The co-presenter of the series Clarissa and the Countryman was Sir Johnny Scott, a baronet who owns 5,000 acres in the Scottish borders: that’s what the BBC means by countryman. Where is he now? Ah yes, fronting up You Forgot the Birds with Sir Ian Botham.
When opposition is seen as illegitimate, it’s legitimate to cheat and bludgeon. That’s how the lords of the land have long maintained their pre-eminence. Today you can no longer call out the yeomanry, sit in judgement then have dissenters hanged. But there are other means of bypassing democracy. You buy yourself a crowd, or at least an outfit that looks like a crowd. You demand, from your position of comfortable anonymity, the silencing of people who contest your claims, like Chris Packham. You use a corrupt and partisan media to hound them.
This is how politics works these days: astroturf groups (fake grassroots movements) and undisclosed interests are everywhere. The same forces are at play in the tobacco industry, fossil fuels, junk food, banking, guns, private health provision, in fact throughout public life. They recruit celebrities to front their campaigns. They confuse and obfuscate, make up stories and grant their anonymous backers plausible deniability.
They are a threat to democracy. Call them out, expose them to the light, and don’t believe a word they say.
Some of you that follow my twitter account will have already seen this, but there was a particularly amusing episode of Q&A on Australian TV that pitted Prof. Brian Cox against a newly-elected politician who is known for his somewhat fringe climate ‘contrarian’ views. The resulting exchanges were fun:
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) August 15, 2016
The insinuation that NASA data was corrupting the data, lead to the following series of tweets:
Some thoughts on climate deniers (no other word suffices in this case), who accuse my team of fraud. 1/nhttps://t.co/CcCJnlPd3b
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
The analysis has only ever used publicly available data, analysis code has been public since ~2007 & has been independently verified 3/n
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
Link here: https://t.co/5rGGCxVXBp 5/n
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
So I'm flummoxed. Where do these ppl feel data manipulation is happening? It's not in inputs or the code or presentation. So where??? 9/n
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
Refusal to see this, cries of 'show me the data' when all data is accessible at a click, can only be described as denial (sorry) 11/n
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
Oops. Just added to the conspiracy theories by linking to an internal server(!) Here is the public version: https://t.co/nALWMlNDcP 13/12
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
By coincidence, yesterday was also the scheduled update for the GISTEMP July temperature release, and because July is usually the warmest month of the year on an absolute basis, a record in July usually means a record of absolute temperature too. A record February (as we had earlier this year) is generally with respect only to previous Februaries, summer temperatures are still warmer even if the anomaly is smaller. And so it proved…
Normally we just plot the monthly anomalies (with respect to each month), but here I used the estimates of the seasonal cycle in temperature from MERRA2 to enhance the analysis so that months can be compared in an absolute sense.
This string of record-breaking months is coming to a close now that El Niño has faded, but it is sufficient to give a very high likelihood that 2016 will be a record warm year in the surface records.
Why I took the plunge at last and converted (almost) to veganism
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 10th August 2016
The world can cope with 7 or even 10 billion people. But only if we stop eating meat. Livestock farming is the most potent means by which we amplify our presence on the planet. It’s the amount of land an animal-based diet needs that makes it so destructive.
An analysis by the farmer and scholar Simon Fairlie suggests that Britain could easily feed itself within its own borders. But while a diet containing a moderate amount of meat, dairy and eggs would require the use of 11 million hectares of land (4m of which would be arable), a vegan diet would demand a total of just 3m. Not only do humans need no pasture, but we use grains and pulses more efficiently when we eat them ourselves.
This would enable 15m hectares of the land now used for farming to be set aside for nature. Alternatively, on a vegan planet, Britain could feed 200 million people. It’s not hard to see, extending this thought experiment to the rest of the world, how gently we could tread if we stopped keeping animals. Rainforests, savannahs, wetlands, magnificent wildlife can live alongside us, but not alongside our current diet.
Because we have failed to understand this in terms of space, we believe we can solve the problem by switching from indoor production to free range meat and eggs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Free range farming is kinder to livestock but crueller to the rest of the living world.
When people criticise farming, they preface it with the word intensive. But extensive farming, almost by definition, does greater harm: more land is needed to rear the same amount of food. Keeping cattle or sheep on ranches, whether in the Amazon, the US, Australia or the hills of Britain, is even more of a planet-busting indulgence than beef feedlots and hog cities, cruel and hideous as these are.
Over several years, as I became more aware of these inconvenient truths, I gradually dropped farmed meat from my diet. But still I ate milk and eggs. I knew the dire environmental impacts of the crops (such as maize and soya) on which dairy cows and chickens are fed. I knew about the waste, the climate change, the air pollution. But greed got the better of me. Cheese, yoghurt, butter, eggs – I loved them all.
Then something happened that broke down the wall of denial. Last September I arranged to spend a day beside the River Culm in Devon, renowned for its wildlife and beauty. But the stretch I intended to explore had been reduced to a stinking ditch, almost lifeless except for sewage fungus. I traced the pollution back to a dairy farm. A local man told me the disaster had been developing for months. But his efforts to persuade the Environment Agency (the government regulator) to take action had been fruitless.
I published the photos I had taken in the Guardian, and they caused a stir. Still, however, the Environment Agency refused to take action. Its excuses were so preposterous that I realised this was more than simple incompetence. After publishing another article about this farce, I was contacted, separately, by two staff members at the agency. They told me they had been instructed to disregard all incidents of this kind. The cause, they believed, was political pressure from the government.
That did it. Why, I reasoned, should I support an industry the government refuses to regulate? Since then, I have cut almost all animal products from my diet. I’m not religious about it. If I’m at a friend’s house I might revert to vegetarianism. If I’m away from home, I will take a drop of milk in my tea. About once a fortnight I have an egg for my breakfast, perhaps once a month a fish I catch or a herring or some anchovies (if you eat fish, take them from the bottom of the foodchain). Perhaps three or four times a year, on special occasions, I will eat farmed meat: partly out of greed, partly because I don’t want to be even more of a spectre at the feast than I am already. This slight adaptation, I feel, reduces the chances that I will lapse.
I still eat roadkill when I can find it, and animals killed as agricultural pests whose bodies might otherwise be dumped. At the moment, while pigeons, deer, rabbits and squirrels are so abundant in this country and are being killed for purposes other than meat production, eating the carcasses seems to be without ecological consequence. Perhaps you could call me a pestitarian.
Even so, such meals are rare. My rough calculation suggests that 97% of my diet now consists of plants. I eat plenty of pulses, seeds and nuts and heaps of vegetables. That almost allows me to join the 500,000 people in Britain who are full vegans – but not quite. Of course, these choices also have impacts, but they are generally far lower than those of meat, dairy and eggs. If you want to eat less soya, eat soya: eating animal products tends to mean consuming far more of this crop, albeit indirectly. Replacing meat with soya reduces the clearance of natural vegetation, per kilogramme of protein, by 96%.
After almost a year on this diet, I have dropped from 12 stone to 11. I feel better than I’ve done for years, and my craving for fat has all but disappeared. Cheese is no more appealing to me now than a lump of lard. My asthma has almost gone. There are a number of possible explanations, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with cutting out milk. I have to think harder about what I cook, but that is no bad thing.
Meat eating is strongly associated with conventional images of masculinity, and some people appear to feel threatened by those who give up animal products. An Italian politician this week proposed jailing parents who impose a vegan diet on their children, in case it leaves them malnourished. Curiously, he failed to recommend the same sanction for feeding them on chips and sausages.
By chance, at a festival this summer, I again met the man from Devon who had tried to persuade the Environment Agency to take action on the River Culm. He told me that nothing has changed. When there’s a choice between protecting the living world and appeasing powerful lobby groups, most governments will take the second option. But we can withdraw our consent from this corruption. If you exercise that choice, I doubt you will regret it.
The climate crisis is here, now, but a compromised, corrupted media doesn’t want to know.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 3rd August 2016
What is salient is not important. What is important is not salient. The media turns us away from the issues that will determine the course of our lives, and towards topics of brain-melting irrelevance.
Television channel controllers, perhaps the least accountable arbiters in public life, see themselves as edgy and provocative, but they have purged from the schedules almost all challenges to established power. Newspapers style themselves defenders of free speech, but within their own pages most of them stamp out dissenting voices and dissonant topics. If you are scarcely aware of what confronts us, don’t blame yourself.
This, on current trends, will be the hottest year ever measured. The previous record was set in 2015; the one before in 2014. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years have occurred in the 21st Century. Each of the past 14 months has beaten the global monthly temperature record. But you can still hear people repeating the old claim, first proposed by fossil fuel lobbyists, that global warming stopped in 1998.
Arctic sea ice covered a smaller area last winter than in any winter since records began. In Siberia, an anthrax outbreak is raging through the human and reindeer populations, because infected corpses locked in permafrost since the last epidemic in 1941 have thawed. India has been hammered by cycles of drought and flood, as extreme heating parches the soil and torches glaciers in the Himalayas. Southern and eastern Africa have been pitched into humanitarian emergencies by drought. Wildfires storm across America; coral reefs around the world are bleaching and dying.
Throughout the media, these tragedies are reported as impacts of El Nino: a natural weather oscillation caused by blocks of warm water forming in the Pacific. But the figures show that it accounts for only one fifth of the global temperature rise. The El Nino phase has now passed, but still the records fall.
Eight months ago in Paris, 177 nations promised to try to ensure that the world’s average temperature did not rise by more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial level. Already it has climbed by 1.3C – faster and further than almost anyone predicted. In one respect, the scientists were wrong. They told us to expect a climate crisis in the second half of this century. But it’s already here.
If you blinked you would have missed the reports, but perhaps the most striking aspect of the Democratic platform (the party’s manifesto) approved in Philadelphia last week was its position on climate change. Hillary Clinton’s campaign now promises a national and global mobilisation “on a scale not seen since World War II.” She will seek to renegotiate trade deals to protect the living world, to stop oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic and to ensure America is “running entirely on clean energy by mid-century.”
There are some crashing contradictions in the platform. To judge by one bizarre paragraph, the Democrats believe they can solve climate change by expanding roads and airports. It boasts about record sales in the car industry and promises to cut “red tape”, which is the term used by corporate lobbyists for the public protections they hate. But where it is good it is very good, reflecting the influence of Bernie Sanders and the nominees he proposed to the drafting committee.
Trump, on the other hand – well, what did you expect? Climate change is a “con-job” and a “hoax”, that was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. His platform reads like a love letter to the coal industry. Coal, it says, “is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.” He will defend the industry by rejecting the Paris agreement, stopping funds for the UN’s climate change work, ditching Obama’s clean power plan and forbidding the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide.
What’s most alarming about the platform is that Trump didn’t write it: the deranged and contradictory bluster of the Republican party leadership is a collective effort. But at least it clears something up. Though boasting of his great wealth and power, he poses as the friend of the common citizen and the enemy of corporate capital. On every significant issue in the platform, corporate capital wins. To read it is to discover where the land lies and where the lies land.
Incidentally, Trump’s executives don’t share his belief that climate change is a hoax. His golf resort in Ireland is seeking permission to build a wall – not to keep out Mexicans, but to defend his business from rising sea levels, erosion and storm surges caused, the application says, by global warming. If you can buy your way out of trouble, who cares about the other seven billion?
It’s not that the media failed to mention what the two platforms said about humanity’s existential crisis. But the coverage was, for the most part, relegated to footnotes, while the evanescent trivia of the conventions led the bulletins and filled the front pages. There are many levels of bias in the media, but the most important is the bias against relevance.
In Britain, the media largely failed to hold David Cameron to account for his extravagant green promises and shocking record. Theresa May has made some terrible appointments, but the new climate change minister, Nick Hurd, is an interesting choice, as he seems to understand the subject. The basic problem, however, is that the political costs of failure are so low.
To pretend that newspapers and television channels are neutral arbiters of such matters is to ignore their place at the corrupt heart of the establishment. At the US conventions, to give one small example, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and Politico were paid by the American Petroleum Institute to host discussions, which provided a platform for climate science deniers. The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the purse is mightier than the pen.
Why should we trust multinational corporations to tell us the truth about multinational corporations? And if they cannot properly inform us about the power in which they are embedded, how can they properly inform us about anything?
If humanity fails to prevent climate breakdown, the industry that bears the greatest responsibility is not transport, farming, gas, oil or even coal. All them can behave as they do, shunting us towards systemic collapse, only with a social licence to operate. The problem begins with the industry that, wittingly or otherwise, grants them this licence: the one for which I work.
Sorry for the low rate of posts this summer. Lots of offline life going on. ;-)
Meantime, this paper by Hourdin et al on climate model tuning is very interesting and harks back to the FAQ we did on climate models a few years ago (Part I, Part II). Maybe it’s worth doing an update?
Some of you might also have seen some of the discussion of record temperatures in the first half of 2016. The model-observation comparison including the estimates for 2016 are below:
It seems like the hiatus hiatus will continue…
To this government, “taking back control” means handing Britain to a different set of foreign powers
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 27th July 2016
What does it mean to love your country? What does it mean to defend its sovereignty? For some of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, it means reducing the United Kingdom to a franchise of corporate capital, governed from head offices overseas. They will take us out of Europe to deliver us into the arms of other powers.
No one embodies this contradiction as much of the man now charged with determining the scope of our sovereignty: the new international trade secretary, Liam Fox. He explained his enthusiasm for leaving Europe thus: “We’ll be able to make our own laws unhindered by anyone else, and our democratic parliament will not be overruled by a European Court.” But of all the people Theresa May could have appointed to this post, he seems to me the most likely to ensure that our parliament and laws are overruled by foreign bodies.
Dr Fox looks to me like a corporate sleeper cell implanted in government. In 2011, he resigned his post as defence secretary in disgrace, after his extracurricular interests were exposed. He had set up an organisation called Atlantic Bridge, financed in large part by a hedge fund owner. Atlantic Bridge formed a partnership with a corporate lobbying group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by tobacco, pharmaceutical and oil companies. Before it was struck off by the Charity Commission, it began assembling a transatlantic conclave of people who wished to see public services privatised and corporations released from regulation.
He allowed a lobbyist to attend his official meetings, without government clearance. He made misleading statements about these meetings, which were later disproved. It seems extraordinary to me that a man with such a past could have been brought back into government, let alone given such a crucial and sensitive role. Most newspapers have brushed his inconvenient history under the political carpet. He is, after all, their man.
At every turn he promotes the millionaire’s agenda, while urging that the social contract which makes this country more or less habitable be ripped apart. He wants “a systematic dismantling of universal benefits … turning them into tax cuts”. He has argued for a three to five-year holiday from capital gains tax. He wants to “freeze public spending for at least three years and probably more” and to deregulate the labour market, making workers easier to fire. He suggests that access to housing benefit should be limited for people under 25.
This is the man who has been put in charge of making new trade agreements. What he wants to do with them is pretty clear. “We need to see a reinvigoration of our transatlantic relationship,” he argues. “We have a low regulation and low taxation environment which is only likely to improve outside the EU.” Improve, in this context, means becoming yet more hostile to human welfare, social mobility and the defence of the living world.
One of the legitimate complaints against the EU is its determination to drag us into treaties that claim to be about trade but are really about releasing multinational corporations from democratic control. Three of the agreements it is trying to impose – TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and the Trade in Services Agreement – make a mockery of parliamentary sovereignty.
They threaten to reduce to the lowest common denominator the laws protecting us from predatory finance, the exploitation of workers, food adulteration, climate change and environmental destruction. They threaten to force the privatisation of public services. They would allow corporations to sue governments for compensation in offshore tribunals that – unlike the European Court Dr Fox professes to hate – are unaccountable, opaque and wildly imbalanced. The EU has no mandate to strike such agreements: a consultation on the offshore tribunals TTIP proposes attracted 150,000 responses, 97% of which were negative.
Leaving Europe should enable us to leave behind biased, destructive treaties of this kind; we will, after all, have to renegotiate most of our trade agreements. But by putting the Fox in charge of the chicken coop, Theresa May seems determined to replace them with something even worse.
The corporate army is already at the gates. The Republican senator Tom Cotton proposes that Britain should join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Using the kind of international tribunals that TTIP threatens to impose, NAFTA has undermined labour rights and environmental protection. It has blocked attempts to produce more progressive laws and greatly restricted legislative sovereignty. Whether we formally join NAFTA, or connect to that trading area through TTIP or another such agreement, the results will gravely threaten our sovereignty – unless negotiations are run on an entirely different basis.
In response to the Philip Green scandal, Theresa May says she wants to “tackle corporate irresponsibility” and “reform capitalism so that it works for everyone not just the privileged few.” We have no idea what she means, but here’s where it should begin. Before her government starts negotiating any new trade treaties, it should open a public consultation about their purpose and scope. The UK’s trading relationships should be debated in parliament and the people of this nation should be allowed to determine how much control over national life our representatives should retain, and how much should be ceded to international agreements and international bodies.
Does this mean a referendum? If we can be trusted to decide whether or not to share our sovereignty with Europe, should we not also be trusted to decide whether or not to share it with transnational capital?
But the Conservative vision of sovereignty is highly selective. People like Dr Fox appear to hate much of what others love about this country: the NHS, our public broadcasters, our social safety net, the protection of the countryside, the notion that power resides in the people, rather than in corporations and their shadowy lobbyists. There are traitors in our midst, who would rip down our most treasured institutions on behalf of the transnational elite and its offshore holdings. This, it seems, is what they mean by taking back control.
Want to cast someone into the outer darkness? Then give them the environment department, that should be the most important portfolio of all.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th July 2016
The more urgent the environmental crisis becomes, the less we hear about it. It exposes the economic policies of all major parties – whether neoliberal or Keynesian – as incompatible with the times in which we live. To remark on what we are doing to the living planet is to fall into cognitive dissonance. It is easier to ignore it.
This is the spirit in which our new Prime Minister has engaged with our greatest predicament. Climate change clashes with the economic model, so let’s scrub it from the departmental register. Wildlife is collapsing and, at current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just 100 harvests left. So let’s appoint an extreme neoliberal, fiercely opposed to constraints on industry, as secretary of state for the environment. When the model is wrong, adjust the real world to make it fit.
I do not see the European Union as a lost Avalon. It brought us much that is good, such as directives which enable us to hold our governments to account for their environmental failures. But the good things it has done for the living world are counteracted – perhaps much more than counteracted – by a few astonishing idiocies. They arise from remote, unresponsive authority, that is accessible to corporate lobby groups but not to mere mortals. In some respects the Brexit campaigners were right, though generally for the wrong reasons.
One of these policies is the rule that only bare land is eligible for most farm subsidies. This perverse incentive for destruction has obliterated wildlife and natural beauty across hundreds of thousands of hectares. It threatens millions more. The failure of both politicians and environmental groups to campaign against this perversity – or even to mention it – is both mystifying and shameful.
Another policy is the European insistence that much of our transport fuel be replaced by biodiesel. I’ve been inveighing against the manufacture of biodiesel from crops since 2004, and have often been mocked for it. Now we know not only that it causes much greater greenhouse gas emissions than the fuel it replaces, but that it’s also a major cause of perhaps the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century (so far): the mass obliteration of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, driven in large part by palm oil production.
Leaked figures released in June suggest that biodiesel now accounts for 45% of the palm oil used in Europe. With one thoughtless policy – which was designed, under a lobbying onslaught, to avert the need for tougher rules on car manufacturers – the European Commission has annulled all the environmental good it has ever done.
So, amid the multiple dangers of Brexit, here are opportunities for a government that cares about the natural world. The obvious first step is a fundamental reform of farm subsidies. At the moment, paid by the hectare, they transfer vast sums from the pockets of ordinary taxpayers into those of dukes, sheikhs and bankers, while wiping the land clean of wildlife. For this service, we pay £3bn in Britain: roughly the same as the NHS deficit.
I can think of two legitimate purposes for subsidies. The first is a rural hardship fund. But there is no obvious reason why farmers should be the main recipients. In England, they account for 1.4% of the rural population: yes, the rural population. While many suffer from low incomes, they tend to have greater capital, skills and opportunities than most other people with small earnings. There is no more reason to favour their profession with public charity than there is to provide a fund for distressed solicitors or plumbers. Money should be disbursed according to need, not occupation.
The other purpose is an environmental protection fund, that pays for wildlife and habitats to be restored, floods to be prevented and children and adults to be brought back into contact with nature. I would have no objection to farmers living off such subsidies. We would be paying for public services, rather than public harm.
Both the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, and the farming minister, George Eustice, were members of the Fresh Start group, that seeks reform of the EU’s common agricultural policy. It has some good ideas and some frightening ones, including a policy that would lead to the most productive areas of the country being, in effect, designated free from wildlife, while environmental subsidies are concentrated in other places. Both Leadsom and Eustice have endorsed this approach in public statements. Are the people of the lowlands (where almost all of us live) to be surrounded by nothing but agricultural desert, without trees, hedges, birds, mammals or insects? Are our children to encounter rich wildlife only on distant holidays – if at all?
It is also clear that they are inclined to torch environmental protections. With neither incentives nor rules constraining their behaviour, the least responsible farmers will thrive, while the more careful will struggle to compete. These matters are not peripheral to our lives. Without soil, there is nothing.
Andrea Leadsom’s leadership campaign was characterised by incompetence, grandstanding and vacuity. Her record in government is dismal. One of her officials told the Financial Times “she was the worst minister we’ve ever had.” What does this say about the prime minister’s priorities? The living planet – the biggest and most important portfolio of all – is treated by Theresa May as the government’s Craggy Island.
So here is the fix we’re in. We have an environment secretary whose ideology urges her to see the environment as an impediment to profit, a communities secretary whose every fibre rebels against the planning system and an international trade secretary who used his previous post in government to connect mysteriously with American corporate lobby groups. We no longer have a climate change secretary, of any description. We have a government that treats the Earth’s systems, upon which our survival depends, as an afterthought. Or not a thought at all.
When these people say they are defending British sovereignty, what Britain do they have in mind? A country of famous and peculiar beauty, or the same bleak monoculture that you can see from Kansas to Kazakhstan? What lovers of the nation are these, who seem prepared to scrub its features from the map?
"When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean-up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities," a witness testified before a committee in Vancouver, WA.
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One record showed Fairbanks' airport reaching 96 degrees Wednesday
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The fire started Monday, forced evacuation and as of Thursday morning it is still burning.
The post Fire From New Mexico Fracking Site Explosion Keeps Burning Three Days Later appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The public is increasingly alarmed and concerned about global warming. They should be.
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Yet in historically conservatives states at the forefront of clean power, public officials have opposed policies aimed at advancing low-carbon power.
If we saw it anywhere else, we would recognise our political funding system as utterly corrupt
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 13th July 2016
Is this a democracy or is it a plutocracy? Between people and power is a filter through which decisions are made, a filter made of money. In the European referendum, remain won 46% of the money given and lent to the two sides (£20.4m) and 48% of the vote. Leave won 54% of the money and 52% of the vote. This fearful symmetry should worry anyone who values democracy. Did the vote follow the money? Had the spending been the other way round, would the result have reflected that? These should not be questions you need to ask in a democracy.
If spending has no impact, no one told the people running the campaigns: both sides worked furiously at raising funds, sometimes from gruesome people. The top donor was the stockbroker Peter Hargreaves, who gave £3.2m to Leave.eu. He explained his enthusiasm for leaving the EU thus: “It would be the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had … We will get out there and we will be become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.”
No one voted for such people, yet they are granted power over our lives. It is partly because the political system is widely perceived to be on sale that people have become so alienated. Paradoxically, political alienation appears to have boosted the leave vote. The leave campaign thrived on the public disgust generated by the system that helped it to win.
If politics in Britain no longer serves the people, our funding system has a lot to do with it. While in most other European nations, political parties and campaigns are largely financed by the state, in Britain they are largely funded by millionaires, corporations and trade unions. Most people are not fools, and they rightly perceive that meaningful choices are being made in private, without democratic consent. Where there is meaning, there is no choice. Where there is choice, there is no meaning.
Politicians insist that donors have no influence on policy, but you would have to be daft to believe it. The fear of losing money is a constant anxiety, and, consciously or subconsciously, people with an instinct for self-preservation will adapt their policies to suit those most likely to fund them. Nor does it matter whether policies follow the money or money follows the policies: those whose proposals appeal to the purse holders will find it easier to raise funds.
Sometimes the relationship appears to be immediate. Before the last general election, 27 of the 59 richest hedge fund managers in Britain sponsored the Conservatives. Perhaps these donations had nothing to do with the special exemption from stamp duty on stock market transactions the Chancellor granted to hedge funds, depriving the public sector of around £145m a year. But that doesn’t seem likely.
At the Conservatives’ Black and White Ball, you get the access you pay for: £5,000 buys you the company of a junior minister; £15,000, a cabinet minister. Politicians insist that there’s no relationship between donations and appointments to the House of Lords, but a study at Oxford University found that the probability of this being true is “approximately equivalent to entering the National Lottery and winning the jackpot five times in a row”. We might not have had a say in the choice of the new prime minister, but I bet there was a lively conversation between Conservative MPs and their major funders.
Among the many reasons for the crisis in the Labour Party is the desertion of its large private donors. One of them, the corporate lawyer Ian Rosenblatt, complains “I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn or anyone around him is remotely interested in whether people like me support the party or not.” Why should the leader of the Labour Party have to worry about the support of one person ahead of the votes of millions?
The former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika urged Corbyn to overcome his scruples. “Meeting rich people and asking for money is not exactly part of the brand that has been so successful among his party faithful. But … sometimes you just have to suck it up and do things you don’t like.” Under our current system, she might be right, not least because the Conservatives have cut Labour’s other sources of funding: trade union fees and public money. But what an indictment of the system that is. During the five years before the last election, 41% of the private donations made to political parties came from just 76 people. This is what plutocracy looks like.
Stand back from this system and marvel at what we have come to accept. If we saw it anywhere else, we would immediately recognise it as corruption. Why should parties have to grovel to oligarchs to win elections? Or, for that matter, trade unions? The political system should be owned by everyone, not by a subset. But the corruption at its heart has become so normalised that we can scarcely see it.
Here is one way in which we could reform our politics. Each party would be allowed to charge the same fee for membership – a modest amount, perhaps £20. The state would then match this money, at a fixed ratio. And that would be it. There would be no other funding for political parties. The system would be simple, transparent and entirely dependent on the enthusiasm politicians could generate. They would have a powerful incentive to burst their bubbles and promote people’s re-engagement with politics. The funding of referendums would be even simpler: the state would provide an equal amount for each side.
The commonest argument against such arrangements is that we can’t afford them. Really? We can’t afford, say, £50m for a general election, but we can afford the crises caused by the corruption of politics? We could afford the financial crisis, that arose from politicians’ unwillingness to regulate their paymasters? We can afford the costs of Brexit, which might have been bought by a handful of millionaires? Those who urged us to leave the EU promised that we would take back control. Well, this is where it should begin.
The coal industry is expected to suffer a downward trend, even if the Clean Power Plan is defeated in court.
Oil money has tainted the American Geophysical Union, leading its board to offer slippery and slick statements to defend the indefensible -- taking money from anti-science ExxonMobil.
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