What’s the Role of Civil Society in the Race to the Zero Carbon Economy?

Originally posted at The Beam

Richard Heinberg interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou

“Since government and the economics profession are largely abdicating leadership, civil society must step forward to lead.” — Richard Heinberg

Climate Change - Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, Richard Heinberg

A Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, Richard Heinberg is an American journalist and educator specialized in energy, economic, and ecological issues. Heinberg also serves on the advisory board of The Climate Mobilization, a grassroots advocacy group calling for a national economic mobilization against climate change with the goal of 100% clean energy and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.


Richard Heinberg on Climate Change

What do you think is the role of the civil society in this race to a zero carbon economy?

Since government and the economics profession are largely abdicating leadership, civil society must step forward to lead. We see this, for example, with the Transition Towns movement.

As populism in spreading all over Europe, and more and more candidates being openly skeptical about climate change, how do we convince the people who vote for them that climate change is actually the most important topic today?

Public rejection of climate science is not driving the success of right-wing populism. Instead, the far-right populists are riding a wave of public anxiety about slowing economic growth, globalization (job competition from overseas), and immigration (job competition at home). The incumbent centrist politicians have opened the door to this kind of challenge by refusing to acknowledge the end of growth and by not suggesting sensible policies for adapting to it. The far-right populists promise to return nations to the good old days — the days of greater job security, easy economic growth, and more cultural homogeneity — and they understand that fossil fuels were key to economic expansion during the growth era. Therefore they tend to deny climate science so that they can promote more fossil fuel use and promise more growth. But it’s all a cynical ruse that is bound to fail spectacularly. The days of easy conventional fossil fuels and rapid economic growth are over, regardless of government policies.

Here in the U.S., most people still believe the climate scientists, even if those same people voted for Donald Trump. The problem is that people are increasingly desperate and they sense that the centrist politicians have lied to them. They want a significant change of direction, and the far-right populists at least promise to shake things up.

What will your next book about?

My next book will be a very short overview of what every thinking person needs to understand in order to survive and navigate the remainder of the twenty-first century.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t despair! We need thinking, caring people to work together as never before! But it is important that everyone understand that our common enemy is actually the fossil fuel-centered, growthist, consumerist way of life that we created in the twentieth century.

If we agree on that, then there are lots of things we can begin to do to change the situation for the better. But without that core understanding, a lot of otherwise well-intended effort can be spent in ways that actually just make us worse off in the long run.

Read the entire interview here.

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The Politics of ‘Out’

Reposted from JohnBrianShannon.com

The 1 percent are already ‘In’ and for obvious reasons. Now, what about the 99 percent?

Widespread dissatisfaction among very large numbers of people is manifesting itself in various ways around the world.

We’ve seen it in politics, in regards to the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Scottish referendum, the Arab Spring, Syrian uprising, in the deepening distrust of globalization and free-trade agreements, lower voter turnouts, and most recently, in the Swiss referendum in 2014 to not join the European Union, in the recent Brexit referendum result, and in the potential for ‘Grexit’ from the European Union.

But it wasn’t always that way. In the postwar world, people from all walks of life and in every country ‘pulled together’ towards a common and better future. Sure, the Cold War interrupted that mood. But in the broadest possible context, the Cold War served to sharpen competition and increase the overall flow towards a better civilization.

When the Cold War ended, Earth’s then-population of 6 billion took a collective deep breath and said; “Now we can get somewhere!” — in regards to creating the kind of world anyone would be proud to live in.

But 26 years on, we have fallen massively short of those aspirations. And it’s becoming more apparent and it is grating on people, moreso with each passing year.

The 1 percent

Politics: In 2016, the richest 1 percent will own more wealth than the rest of humanity combined. Image courtesy of Oxfam International

Instead of a giant leap forward for the human race, we had trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were based on falsehood (the U.S. Iraq Study Group said so) a major recession caused by the unethical and perhaps illegal actions of ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions (but only one person has gone to prison) we had democratic voices being dragged away from peaceful and legal #OWS rallies, we have dangerous people trying to re-ignite the Cold War because it used to be good for the military-industrial-complex economy (so why not try that again?) we suddenly have a 1 percent cohort that owns more than HALF of the world’s wealth (by 2030 they will own 76% of the world’s wealth if measures aren’t taken) we have more outsourcing of jobs (and therefore a larger proportion of low-paying jobs) and we have unelected, elitist, bureaucrats in Europe telling the rest of the continent where to go and what to do.

And that isn’t the half of it.

“It is time for the global leaders of modern capitalism, in addition to our politicians, to work to change the system to make it more inclusive, more equitable and more sustainable.  

Extreme inequality isn’t just a moral wrong. It undermines economic growth and it threatens the private sector’s bottom line.  All those gathering at Davos who want a stable and prosperous world should make tackling inequality a top priority.” 

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Chief Executive Officer of E.L. Rothschild and chairman of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, who spoke at a joint Oxfam-University of Oxford event on inequality in 2015

(So far, not a single recommendation has been implemented)

Consequently millions of people are losing faith in and blaming globalization when in fact globalization isn’t the problem.

Twenty-six years after the Cold War has ended, our civilization is so much less than it could be that it boggles the mind.

The 1 percenters and their acolytes can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

And I understand that! Their lives are so far removed from reality that; Let the peasants eat cake.” doesn’t begin to describe the disconnect they have with the other 7.2 billion people on the planet.

(For the record, none of it was caused by the 1 percent — they are merely the beneficiaries of the trickle-up economy — therefore, we can never blame them for the problems of the 99 percent)

Ongoing troubles with Russia, China, #OWS, the global economy, Brexit, etc. are just the beginning of our problems. Five years out and ten years out, we will look back longingly to the 2010-2016 timeframe where we had these relatively minor problems to contend with!

We need a new global vision, one that is orders of magnitude better than the present mediocre vision, so that 7.2 billion people will say to themselves, Now this; I can support and work diligently towards.”

The present vision of; Let’s keep making corporations and the 1 percent richer and richer at our expense, getting into conflicts with Russia and China for no reason good enough to justify the risks involved, and unelected and elitist technocrats ruling the Earth (seems to be a growing trend) all so that we can feel grateful to have a low-paying job and a declining middle class?

That’s not a vision! That’s the path to economic suicide!

While there won’t be revolutions there is likely to be widespread voter dissatisfaction and a much lower level of ‘buy-in’ to our civilization from everyday citizens. That alone, is enough to cause irreparable damage to our world.

Everyone has a different idea about why the former Soviet Union failed;

Some say it was the sudden drop in oil prices (not really, that was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back) some say it was Western plots (slight attribution there) while some said its fall was due to their failure in Afghanistan (embarrassing, but not Warsaw Pact demolishing by any standard) or by other, unspecified means.

But no, the real reason for the failure of the former Soviet Union was passive defiance by Soviet workers, whose favorite (quietly-spoken) saying was;

“As long as they pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.”

And that is everything!

Once it became obvious to Soviet workers that the Soviet Union was ‘no longer working’ for their best interests, they employed a sort of ‘passive defiance’ in return for the crass neglect they felt they had endured, which lowered the USSR’s productivity to such an extent that all it took was a few months of low oil prices and some sniping from U.S. politicians for the whole thing to implode.

Now, 26 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Western workers are beginning to think in terms of ‘passive defiance’ and may soon follow the path of those Soviet workers.

Long story short; There are very real reasons for the growing dissatisfaction and the disconnect between 7.2 billion people on the one hand — and the 1 percent, their acolytes, and the elitist technocrats that serve them, on the other hand.

The grievances of that many people can’t simply be waved away in a ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of way.

We need a grand and new vision, one that is orders of magnitude better than the present non-vision, and one that 7.2 billion people will urgently wish to support.

Anyone up for that?

If not, we’re already on the path to lose everything we’ve built.

by John Brian Shannon


Related Article:

A Time for Tariffs in the Globalized World?

by John Brian Shannon
(Originally published at JohnBrianShannon.com)

A long time ago when there were unicorns, there was a justifiable need for international trade agreements to spur trade, increase movement of capital flows and to promote movement of labour — but mainly to gain access to potentially larger markets in both developed and developing nations.

International trade agreements like NAFTA and even today’s TPP are throwbacks to a day when we didn’t have all of that. Many global economies then were practically closed markets, with few exceptions.

It’s almost the opposite these days — globalization has certainly prevailed — and it’s the rare country that isn’t buying or selling wares from around the world on a daily basis.

North Korea is a closed market, so is Japan (nominally) although it is a huge exporter, and only a handful of other countries could be considered ‘closed markets’ in any substantive sense.

In your home country you can probably buy a car, a music player, clothing, food, and almost anything else — and it likely wasn’t built, created, or grown, in your country.

Globalization has succeeded wildly and we now live in a globalized world.

How’s it working?

For the people in developed nations it has meant 25-years of inexpensive goods on store shelves — goods that were either built, created, or grown, in developing nations, which has been a real bonus for developed world consumers — and it has also benefited workers in the developing world.

Unfortunately, it also led to many high-paying jobs being sent overseas, resulting in higher unemployment and worse social ills than that in some developed nations.

Liberalized international trade has become all that it could be

Which is fine. It’s served it’s purpose and we now have open markets around the world with levelization of trade, capital, knowledge, labour, and general market equilibrium — if not market symbiosis.

But there isn’t much more room for globalization to grow. Other than tidying-up some intellectual and property rights regulations, we’ve arrived at our free trade destination. We’re already living in the globalized economy.

Where do we go from here?

There are a number of things that can strengthen our domestic economies without turning back the clock to the (almost) closed economics of the 1960’s.

Ten Ways to Make Our Country Better and Stronger – While Helping Citizens to Succeed and Live Happier Lives

The Ten Ways: Increasing Intellectual Rights, Increasing Government Revenue Streams, Preventing Obscene Government Debt, and Enhanced Government Services Designed to Move the Bottom Economic Quintiles Towards Middle Income Status

  1. We and our trade partners — should sign a simple trade agreement to protect intellectual property rights, one that includes universal patent, trademark and copyright protections. The point is to get it done now while it is still relevant. There’s no point in bothering with it if we wait, as all the secrets (the patents, trademarks and copyrights) will be ‘out of the box’ and in the general marketplace. (The rule must be that we don’t trade with nations that won’t sign and abide by those laws)
  2. We and every country we trade with — should pass legislation to allow a simple 5% tariff on every imported and exported good — from supertankers full of oil, to consumer electronics, to clothing — in short, everything. This simple tariff would replace all other import and export taxes/tariffs/levies and related charges. Billions of dollars of goods are imported and exported every month and the tariff revenue stream can be used by the federal government; To improve productivity by funding R&D, and to improve government services and infrastructure — or used to raise national GDP and quality of life for citizens, by reducing unemployment and to lower taxes on the poor and working poor.
  3. We and our trade partners that don’t already have a national Goods and Services Tax (of 7% for example) on all retail goods — should implement one immediately. This revenue can contribute to the overall economy to improve services and infrastructure, reduce unemployment, and lower taxes on the poor and working poor, and should be shared 50/50 with states or provinces — who after all, would be the parties responsible for collecting it.
  4. We, and every country we trade with — should pass legislation making deficits of more than 4% of GDP illegal, at the federal, state, and municipal level. This prevents obscene government spending and prevents the trap of eternal debt servicing costs, once interest rates rise. Which they always do.
  5. Our own country and every country that we trade with — should no longer charge income tax on those who earn less than the equivalent of $25,000. per year.
  6. We and our trade partners — should pass legislation to the effect that every worker has the right to a minimum of 25 weeks of full-time employment, per year. Yes, it would require a job-sharing programme managed at the state level. Some workers may receive layoff notices in order to accommodate unemployed workers. On the positive side, long-term unemployed people could then contribute to the economy (and to their own personal income!) for a minimum of 25 weeks per year. In countries like Sweden, this is common in industries that can’t keep all of their workers employed, and it is normal for two workers to share the same job for many years (6 months ‘on’ and 6 months ‘off’) so that over the course of a year, every worker in the country will have worked a minimum of 6 months. Which keeps their skills sharp, makes them eligible for automatic unemployment insurance benefits during their layoff, and lowers the welfare rate to near-zero.
  7. Most government unemployment insurance programmes around the world pay 66% of a worker’s salary during periods of unemployment, often after a significant wait and a worker’s claim can be turned down for any number of strange reasons. It’s inhuman. Workers pay into unemployment insurance — it’s not their fault that there are millions more people looking for work than there are jobs available — because their jobs have been sent overseas since the advent of globalization. In some countries, a brilliant solution exists whereby workers can opt to pay into a private unemployment insurance programme, one that can top-up their unemployment insurance payments to 99% of their normal salary for the equivalent of 1 or 2 cents per dollar earned. The employee merely indicates how much extra unemployment insurance coverage he or she wants to purchase, and the deductions are automatically made from their wages and directed to the private unemployment insurance company. The private insurer also begins paying unemployment benefits from the first day of a worker’s layoff. Workers no longer need subsist on 66% of their normal income while unemployed. (Imagine working in the fast-food industry, living on subsistence wages, then getting laid off due to a slowing economy, and then having to exist on only 66% of your already subsistence-level wage!) NOTE: In Sweden, both the government-run unemployment insurance plan and the private unemployment insurance plan make a respectable profit, every year. That’s how easy it is to do, when it’s done properly.
  8. Every city, town, village or county in the country should have the option to receive a free website from the federal government — for as long as certain information is continuously updated by the local jurisdiction. Simply by typing in the name of a jurisdiction into a search engine, anyone should be able to find the local time, weather, federal, state, city, village or municipal phone numbers and addresses, emergency services and other essential services (like Hospitals and Veterinary Clinics) and employment information for that city, town, or region. Standardization is key so that workers looking for work, or visitors to a region can quickly navigate to and access important services without a frustrating search (or fruitless search, because not all jurisdictions have their own site or mobile-friendly site — but you don’t know that until you do an hour’s searching and discover that there isn’t one!) Quick access to important phone numbers and addresses can save lives and help to increase productivity.
  9. Streamlined government websites for self-employed people to set-up and begin working in one day with a minimum of confusion, stress and red-tape.
  10. Legislation to require internet service providers to provide basic internet plans of $10. per month with low entry barriers — enough to check emails, find a job, find rental accommodation, and perhaps practice the preferred local language in hopes of finding a job. The internet is an essential service in our era, and those entering the workforce or returning to work after illness, etc. need to be able to start somewhere.

It’s easy to look around the world to see what’s working well in other jurisdictions and write similar legislation.

Legislators in Sweden and Norway don’t have two brains nor any other super powers, that we know of. If they can manage to get these things done, so can we. And if we can’t, we’re not half as great as we imagine ourselves to be.

But we are! Therefore, all we lack is the will to act. So let us act, and help our country to leap forward by one order of magnitude.


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The Economics of Empowerment

Previously published at JohnBrianShannon.com by John Brian Shannon

The Economics of Empowerment: How We Could Add Unimaginable Wealth to Our Civilization by Adopting New Ways of Thinking

There’s a circle centred around a geographical point in Asia where 51% of the world’s people live. That’s 3.6 billion who live in an area only slightly larger than the United States (once you factor-in the land that humans can actually live on)

The 51 Percent Circle.
‘The 51% Circle’ in Asia – where 3.6 billion people live on chunks of arable land that in their totality, aren’t much larger than the U.S.A.

‘The Circle’ has perhaps the widest disparity levels in the world; While some of the people living within that circle have fabulous wealth, others live their entire lives at landfill sites sifting through the flotsam and jetsam in a desperate attempt to find items of value to sell on the street.

Of course, there are disparities all over the Earth but nowhere else are there 3.6 billion people living in relative proximity to each other, some of whom may drive a different Lamborghini each day of the week and fly their personal jets at the weekend to the many exotic resorts in that part of the world, while others live in squalid tents with no water supply nor electricity their entire lives.

If ever there was a region of the Earth where investors might find the most highly motivated workers and many natural resources available to create huge returns on investment, this has got to be it!

In the West, where I live, we are beset by ‘First World Problems’ — it’s a family emergency when little Jimmy doesn’t get EXACTLY the tablet computer he desired for Christmas, or when the pizza delivery driver is 20 minutes late with our pizza. Even more serious is getting stuck in a traffic jam when we’re on our way home from work.

Very. Serious. Problems.

In The Circle, a ‘serious problem’ is when a venomous cobra has killed five people in your tent-city neighbourhood overnight, or when the water supply that is required to sustain human life is suddenly cut off by the authorities or by farmers who divert much of the water for their own use farther upstream, or when the river disappears due to drought.

In some areas of The Circle, once a criminal gang begins operating in your region, your life begins to change on that very day and whatever they decide to do with you, that will be your fate for the rest of your life…

Like the lions of Africa, life is ‘day-to-day’ for alarmingly large numbers of humans caught inside this sometimes cruel circle. At any given moment, a lion in Africa may get killed by hunters/poachers, by competing lions, by a pack of hyenas, or by a stealthy underwater crocodile at the old watering-hole, or any number of other reasons. Shockingly few lions make it to middle age.

And so it is with people who live within most of The Circle. Life is cheap there. You live ‘day-to-day’. If you can’t find a way to make yourself useful or even better, indispensable to someone wealthy — you’re gone.

As I’ve said, it’s a region with highly motivated people and under-developed resources.

Even investors with the worst track record in history should be able to strike it rich almost anywhere within The Circle

If the 20th-Century was ‘all about The Baby Boomers’ and ‘enabling’ their generation to add huge wealth to the Western nation economies by virtue of their buying power (called ‘Disposable Income’ by economists) — we in the 21st-Century might do as well by empowering the people in The Circle to become all that they can and should be…

We’re looking at nothing less than the greatest opportunity to create wealth in the history of the planet — an order of magnitude larger than the baby boomer wealth-creation paradigm

And in so doing, we’ll lift billions of people out of poverty, creating trillions of dollars of new wealth for corporations and dramatically increasing revenue to government coffers, and provide opportunities for ‘Circler’s’ to earn life-changing disposable income.

Instead of the one success story that we hear endlessly trumpeted on headlines everywhere; Apple Computer now worth $1 Trillion Dollars (by virtue of Apple’s decision to choose low-cost manufacturing in China and sales to EVERYWHERE on Earth) we could have dozens or hundreds of similar success stories (and not only in regards to personal electronics, but in many segments of the economy)

As a civilization we can choose to drop this ball or we can choose to make it work for us

The people who live within The Circle are highly motivated to do their part.

All it will take to add trillions of dollars of wealth to the global economy is the empowerment of an already motivated people via the implementation of a more detailed version of this vision, along with courageous political leadership to see it through to its best destiny — a destiny that works for everyone on the planet.

(Or, we could allow mediocrity to rule the day allowing the region to deteriorate, becoming the largest breeding ground for terrorism that the world has ever seen with enough terrorist numbers to seriously impact life on planet Earth — as compared to the relatively minor bits of terrorism we’ve seen emanating from other impoverished regions, thus far)

The West became incredibly rich by empowering The Baby Boomers in the 1945-2000 timeframe and the ‘Boomers’ responded by creating unprecedented wealth and a better standard of life for billions of people.

It’s high time for us to empower The Circle so that they can add their wealth-creation and better-standard-of-life contribution to our shared civilization.

The best time to do that was 20-years ago. The second-best time is now.


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