While US President Trump has lent his ears to climate change deniers, huge storms of unknown ferocity have caused widespread havoc in the Caribbean and parts of the USA. In this guest post, Alan Simpson calls for a new economic model that reconnects people to planet and weather to climate. What is required, he argues, is a fundamental rethink of markets, ecosystems, inclusion, security, interdependency and accountability.
Hurricane Corbyn must be the only good news story in a season of storms. In Germany, the SPD may not have deserved to win, but Merkel never deserved to have the far-right AfD party strung round her neck for the coming parliament. In Britain, Theresa May's future US/UK trade agreement delusions were kicked into touch by Trump's 220% tax-hit on Bombardier planes: so much for UK jobs being safer in the embrace of Trumpland. And now UK climate deniers get their own Free-Trade Think Tank launch in the Foreign Office, courtesy of Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. Some weird stuff is being inhaled in parliamentary circles.
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And as for climate, we just don't get it. We really don't. How quickly the world looked away from the Caribbean after Hurricane Maria had barrelled its way across the region; turning the debris left by Hurricane Irma into bullets in Maria's 160mph winds. And what the wind didn't destroy the following rains, tidal surges and overwhelmed drains finished off. For slightly longer we looked at the earlier devastation of Hurricane Harvey, if only because global insurance claims in the USA - which will be massive - cover the rich, but skip past the poor. Harvey caused 'catastrophic' flooding, turning Texan streets into rivers: the biggest recorded storms in the State's history. And then Irma did the same to Florida.
Whatever bills follow, the Trump Administration will not have you connect any of this to climate change. Government Agencies across the USA were instructed to erase all references to climate change from official documents. This is a big step from Newspeak into No-speak. Denialism, however, won't help those in California where runaway fires rampaged outside Los Angeles, forcing whole communities to flee. Nor those in Baghdad, where temperatures of 51C led the Iraqi government to declare a mandatory holiday; sending people home to shelter from 'unbearable' heat.
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It offers nothing to the 6 million people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh who have faced devastating monsoon flooding, nor those hit by the blistering heat that scorched a path across North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. In such a catalogue of events, Kuwait's 'ungodly summer' - which saw exhausted birds dropping from the sky - barely got a mention.
The blizzards of the world
Back in the Caribbean, Puerto Rica has been left with no power, no clean water, no agriculture, and little food... and it won't have much more for the next 6 months. But who cares? In the 'Deniers' lexicon, these are just examples of 'weather'. They have nothing to do with climate ... and even less to do with us.
Pre-apocalyptic warnings of Leonard Cohen hang ominously in the air –
"Things are gonna slide, slide in all directions.
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore.
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world,
Has crossed the threshold,
And it has overturned
The order of the soul."*
*(The Future, Leonard Cohen)
We have not (yet) overturned 'the order of the soul' but the world is in real danger of losing a meaningful sense of its own humanity. The urgent need is to find Global Leaders willing to re-connect people to planet, and weather to climate... and they need to be quick about it. Extreme weather events will dominate everyday economics unless economics itself embraces climate.
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Things are already starting to slide. When the Archbishop of Canterbury argued that conventional economics is broken, he should have added '...and is not repairable'. This is no longer just about indefensible chasms dividing the rich and poor. It is that today's economics no longer works: conventional solutions will only make matters worse. Whatever comes out of the Brexit debacle, understand this: there are no new Free Trade Agreements on offer that will reduce carbon emissions or reverse climate change; none that are intended to reduce food miles, restore biodiversity or add to global security. We need a new economic model. 'Denialism' is what stands in the way. Fear, cynicism and self-delusion threaten to turn humanity into its own perfect storm.
The ending of 'equivalence'
A huge unravelling has to take place; in the way we think, act and interact. So let's begin with the press. Nigel Farage may hail Steve Bannon (Trump's former Gauleiter) as ‘the greatest political thinker in the Western Hemisphere’ but World Leaders had already rounded on Donald Trump, rejecting his (and Bannon's) attempts to claim moral equivalence between Nazis and anti-Nazis.
it is for the media to do the same in the bigger battle between climate science
and fossil fuel/corporate lobbyists. Climate deniers have much in common with
the Confederate slave owners. Both defend the right to own, subjugate and
exploit. Both reject any commonality of rights, either between peoples or
between people and the planet. Domestically, if the BBC feels under no obligation
to offer platforms to the KKK, why treat GWPF climate deniers differently?
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There are acres of space for uncertainty and debate within mainstream climate science. Such exchanges, however, focus on the pace of change (and the scope for repair) rather than the fabrication of doubt. It may be harder for the press to grasp this in the USA. Trump can insist on climate No-speak but there's no press obligation to cover False-News briefings. If the press simply stopped attending White House briefings - turning elsewhere for legitimate political commentary - the framework of public debate would profoundly change.
the UK, the undermining is more subtle. The Adam Smith Institute downplays more
profound demands for change coming from young voters, arguing that they can be
won back to the Tories by offers of tax-free air travel; as though snorting Air
Miles is all the young are asking for. What the ideological and institutional
Right fail to understand is that their edifice is crumbling. Tomorrow's
priorities may not yet have an adequate framework, but they will be built
around the word that hung above Jeremy Corbyn at the end of his Conference
speech: it was the word 'Hope'. In the face of an economics that is heading
over a cliff, Corbyn's collective, inclusive 'hope' is what just might get us
out of the mess. But as he said, hoping and doing must now be harnessed to a different
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Anthropocene: inspirations vs distractions
In doing so, progressive movements must be as wary of their own false prophets as of the ideological Right. Modern philosophers such as Timothy Morton are enjoying huge acclaim merely for embracing the Anthropocene - a recognition that we live in an age of man-made extremes. Many offer little more than jazzed up versions of James Lovelock's earlier notions that humanity has locked itself onto a life-destroying trajectory. I've never had difficulty in facing up to Lovelock's analysis of the ecological carnage neoliberal economics brings with it. The research teams who wrote the Limits of Growth follow up - '2052' - did much the same. As we are already seeing, extreme weather events need ever larger slices of conventional economic budgets to mop up the mess that conventional economics creates. When you're in a hole...
The current danger, however, is to allow 'hopelessness' to appeal to self-indulgent individualism. This is also our burden. A philosopher like Morton, who clocks up 35,000 air miles a year just to confirm your worst fears - and encouraging everyone to ‘shake hands with a hedgehog and disco’ - is surely taking the piss. Far better to turn to those who would offer a more holistic, hope-filled framework. My own preference is Ernst Schumacher.
As Labour launches its national consultation on 'Alternative Models of Ownership', the wrap around should be Schumacher's thoughts about 'economic purpose'. In essence, Schumacher's 'human scale' economics were about 3 things - the relationship between a person and their own creativity; the relationship between a person and others in the creative process; and the relationship between them all and the wider environment they must nurture.
Whether you realise it or not, Corbyn and McDonnell are about to take Britain into a fundamental rethink of markets, ecosystems, inclusion, security, interdependency and accountability. These will be the cornerstones of a new economics we must all write. As yet, there are few roadmaps, signposts or sat-nav systems to rely on. We will have to find our way together; writing a new economics of connectedness. Schumacher called it Buddhist economics. I don't care what you call it. Just throw yourselves in. The avoidance of catastrophe may depend on it.
Alan Simpson is the Shadow Chancellor's Advisor on Sustainable Economics.