Green party

Climate Change and Economic Growth


By Dr Richard Lawson

Everybody in this audience understands that due to the trapping of the sun's heat in the atmosphere by gases produced by human and natural activity, the climate of our planet is going to change radically. It is happening now, with storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, desertification.

In the future we are looking at crop failures, spread of tropical diseases, salination of ground water, and rises in sea levels. This will be catastrophic for human beings because we prefer to make our settlements in coastal areas, and our crops are grown in coastal alluvial deposits that will be the first areas to be inundated.

Here in the UK we face the terrifying prospect of a flip of the Gulf Stream. Without that protective influence we will have the same climate as Newfoundland, which sustains a population of half a million, as opposed to the 60 million souls living here now. But hey, lets not forget that the UK is more than twice the size of Newfoundland. That means that even without the Gulf Stream, we should be able to sustain a population of one million. The other 59 million could just emigrate. Or on the other hand we could build another the 100,000 power stations to keep us warm.

We are all a million miles from full realisation of what this will mean for our children and grand children. TS Eliot said: "Go, go, go, said the bird: human kindCannot bear very much reality."

When the going gets tough, our collective reasonableness gets up and goes out to lunch. We are equipped with psychic defence mechanisms that blank out unwanted knowledge, just as Zaphod Beeblebrox had a pair of shades that turned opaque when the vibes were bad. It is called denial.

George Bush and the amoral gang of neo-conservative maniacs who have seized the reins of government in the world's only superpower excel in the mental discipline of denial. Is it not amazing that they are able to face down not just the global community of environmentalists, and the community of nations, but also the global scientific community and, strangest of all, the Pentagon itself, in persisting in their denial? So the whole world, with the sole exception of GWB, the global alpha male who has been described by one scientist as a "deeply stupid little oil spiv", is staring into an abyss of historic proportions. And we seem powerless to do anything about it.Why? Why is a species equipped with a rational consciousness rushing towards the cliff edge like a pack of mad yaks on smack?The answer in one word:


Only an animal or a peasant farmer can live without money. Anyone who aspires to a standard of living has to have money. To get money, you have to go to the moneylender. The banker listens sympathetically to your plight and your plans, and then creates a sum of money out of nothing to lend to you. At interest. He is limited in his lending solely by a multiple of the amount of money he already has. But to pay off the interest, you need to be more productive than you were. So you lay off workers and make the workers that you keep increase their productivity. But your competitors threaten to outstrip you. So you borrow more money to buy newer machinery that lays off more workers. You increase your productivity to beat off the competition and also to pay the hated taxes (those that you cannot avoid or evade). The taxes go in part to pay the welfare benefits of the workers that you have thrown out of work. And the economy grows, and continues to grow forever and ever. (Or does it?)

And all the while, your machines are driven by burning oil, the liquid carbon that was stored in the earth by the action of sunlight on chlorophyll when this planet was young.We are compelled to use this oil to feed our addiction to economic growth, which is in turn driven by our addiction to money created out of nothing by private bankers. In the name of money we are creating a wasteland out of this beautiful world, this priceless, rare, life-supporting planet, our home.

And any rational argument against the unrestrained consumption of a finite resource is as ineffective as an ashtray on a motorbike, because most men would seemingly rather lose their testicles than their driving licence.

Rational argument is unheard, because we belong to a species of monkey that organises itself into social hierarchies. It began in the troupe, where everyone obeys the alpha male; it continued with the tribe, and the clan. It developed into kingdoms, and city states, and sovereign nation states. Nation states grew into empires, with ever more power concentrated in ever fewer hands. And in our time, power has made another quantum leap beyond Governments into the monetocracy, the megacapitalists, the global elite of who run the multinational corporations.

Of course, there have been a few hard won victories for common sense and humanity. In some states, the so-called democracies, we have won the right to change the ruler by the vote. We should give respect to the great campaigners who won us the right to vote. It is rightly the core aim of the Green Party to persuade people to vote. But at the same time, we know only too well how much the vote has been corrupted and subverted, and what a poor instrument it is in Britain for truly expressing the will of the people. The history of the last six years under the premiership of Tony B Liar shows only too clearly the truth of the old proverb - "No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in".

In the 21st century the sad fact is that power has moved on up, beyond Government to the global corporations who contemptuously toss a few thousand dollars here and there to the buy the support of political parties for their projects: the Ecclestons, and the Enrons, and the Exxons and no doubt, if they were to land and offer intergalactic backhanders, the Klingons.

So there we have it. Our living planet is to be crucified on the cross of corporate greed, having been sold by for a fistful of silver dollars by the people we elected.

And here we are, in the shadow of this massive horror, in Conference to plan how to gather a few more votes that will take us one step closer to the great day when the first Green MP dons her ceremonial wetsuit and sploshes off to take her seat in a House of Commons dominated by some future brain dead Government which is still in thrall to its paymasters, the global corporations.

At times like this we remember the immortal words of the Major in Fawlty Towers:

"Why do we bother, Fawlty?"("I didn't know you did Major")So why do we bother? Is there any hope? Can we turn the tide?

I have been sustained over the years by a quote from the great Fritz Schumacher of Small is beautiful fame, who said, "We must do the right thing, and not bother our heads over whether or not we will be successful, because if we do not do the right thing we will be doing the wrong thing, and will be part of the problem, not part of the solution".

But there are reasons for hope over and above Schumacher's moral theorem. One lies in the indefinable quality that we call human spirit. Another lies in something called social catastrophe theory. But here I am going to concentrate on the finite nature of the oil reserves themselves, combined with the nature of the market.

Each and every oilfield has a production cycle with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Production rises, peaks and falls in a bell shaped curve. The production of any given oilfield can be predicted with a fair degree of accuracy. The American fields peaked in 1970, and in the USSR the peak came soon after. For global oil production, the peak is predicted to come sometime between 2007 and 2020, with the smart money riding on the earlier date. This peaking of world oil production is known as the Big Rollover - and it is predicted to arrive sometime in the next sixteen years.

Please note, we are not talking here of "running our of oil". There will still be oil in the ground, and production will continue, but it will be harder and more expensive to get at. The crucial point is that the rate of supply will fall.

Now any skoolboy kno that when demand goes up and supply goes down, the price goes up. Economic growth needs a continuing growth in demand for oil. So when the supply of oil begins to fade, up goes the oil price, and down will go economic growth. The oil price takes everything else with it, because oil is the bloodstream of the economy. The rest I leave to your imaginations. Inflation, hyperinflation, currency instability, confidence crashes, recession, depression, great depression, financial collapse - you name it. The military have an expressive word that covers it. Embuggeration.

Except that it is not that funny, because the last time we had a great economic depression, we got world war two. The Pentagon has been sniffing at the question of global warning, and has been growling about nuclear war as a possible consequence. If Kuwait was Oil War one, Operation Iraqi Liberation is oil war two, and unless we get some radical changes in international governance, it will not be the last.

We will all have our work cut out to avoid this scenario. But it can be done.

So, in a nutshell, money drives growth, which drives consumption, which uses oil, which damages the planet. But when oil production begins to fall, money collapses. When that happens, we have to start rebuilding the economy from scratch - and therein lies our opportunity. Without centralised money, we will need local production of water, food, fuel, shelter, waste disposal and services. We will need to think in terms of systems theory to build local democracies. We will need to relearn out how to govern ourselves with justice and equity, learning from the mistakes of the current age. We will be in a period of green growth, when activity to heal and protect society and environment will undergo rapid and sustained expansion. We should start drawing up our political strategy for the post-rollover scenario immediately.

Crisis for grey economics is opportunity for green economics. The Green Party and the larger Green Movement cannot stop the tide eroding the sandcastle built by the global economic foolishness, but we certainly can get ready to start building a far better structure when the tide begins to go out.

Richard Lawson is a member of the South West Green Party and a Green Party spokesperson at national level.

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