“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money”. Chief Seattle.
The following brief and analysis was prepared for the Environment Commission by comrade Phil Bayliss.
The attribution of this quote is disputed, but then an indigenous truth is always contested by a western objective truth. It is not the issue that Chief Seattle did or did not utter these words. Listen to the words.
The Conference of the Parties, Number 27 (COP27), is based on the 47 International Panel on Climate Change Reports (IPCC AR6, WG2). Somehow, letter abbreviations of panel meetings or committees (including the Westminster acronym COBRA- Cabinet Office Briefing Room A) lend a weight to something which doesn’t exist, or at least which assumes an authority that, in its mundane existence, is only banal.
Climate catastrophe exists. The IPCC reports are unintelligible to anyone who can read English (47 Reports, some 6000 pages, 2 million words, footnotes, references, indices, the authoritative texts that nobody reads).
The reports have been written by committees of academics, seconded for the task. The reports do not specify the human outcomes of change for societies or communities.
The delegates at the Conference, especially for those representing the ‘Global South’ are reported as providing the personalised human outcomes of climate change. These are distinct from scientific or political outcomes, which separate rational generalised understanding of the climate challenge from its effects on particular human communities. The IPCC Reports are based on ‘climate models’, ‘climate change scenarios’, ‘projections’, which postulate future temperature increases, and their effects of global civilization- and as such are speculation. ‘Likely’ and ‘confidence’ are words, which have a high frequency in the Reports. The language of science is abstract and impersonal.
COP27 continues in the tradition that the predictions of change need to be mitigated through interventions by Governments. Governments, which no longer have the capacity, will or resources to fulfil the conditions of change.
It is not that such scenarios are misplaced or misdirected. The premises underpinning such speculations reinforce the view that mitigation, adaptation or transformation of the causes, effects or solutions can only be affected through environmental economic interventions.
Environmental economics emphasise that it is only the (neoliberal) free-market that can ‘save the world’. The intervention of financial markets, directing technological change to develop new technologies, ‘carbon budgets’, ‘value chains’, can support the planet and the ‘Global South’ by providing the $ billions necessary for mitigation, adaptation and transformation.
The politics do not actually tackle the elephant in the room of the COP27: the neoliberal Global economic system that created the climate crisis is now supposed to rescue the planet from the effects of the system that it created. The neoliberal consensus is also now in chaos. The economic system is facing recession, stagnation, inflation – as well as the economic effects of drought, fire, storm and flood. The cycle of economic collapse is self-reinforcing. Over-consumption, energy consuming global trade networks, technology which doesn’t work – all contribute to resource exhaustion and a planet that is increasingly incapable of self-healing. Once the ice-caps are gone, once the permafrost areas of the world have released their stored methane into the atmosphere, there is no return to a world which can sustain the economic modes of production and consumption, which have caused the problem.
The G7 (the Group of Seven is an inter-governmental political forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) is yet another acronym that gives authority to economic powers that increasingly can no longer control a global economy within a multi-polar world. Why would the ‘G7’ have any kind of authority within a world where nations outside of the G7, i.e. the other 185 nations of the world, are experiencing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Delegates at COP27 complain about the lack of progress since COP26 (or since the Paris Accords in 2015, or the Kyoto Protocols of 1997 for that matter). If the world is dependent on a corporate response to climate change – for example the World Economic Forum that sees climate change as a business opportunity, then the shareholder value of economic ‘opportunity’ will diminish as Chief Seattle’s predictions begins to bite.
If the response to climate change is left to neoliberal Governments, who see ‘Government’ in terms of its absence- to allow unregulated free market liberalism, without Government intervention, then returning the world to temperature changes below that required by the IPCC Reports, becomes the responsibility of corporations whose Chief Executive Officers ought to distance themselves from the effects of their profit or rent seeking behaviour. But where climate effects are ‘externalities’ and do not figure in ‘base-line’ accounting procedures that guarantee shareholder value, it is unlikely (‘low confidence’, following the terminology of the IPCC Reports) that an ought can be realised as an is, an ethical imperative with concrete results- without a change in Governance.
The World Bank: “New research estimates that climate change will drive 68 million to 132 million into poverty by 2030. Climate change is a particularly acute threat for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — the regions where most of the global poor are concentrated. In a number of countries, a large share of the poor live in areas that are both affected by conflict and facing high exposure to floods — for example, Nepal, Cameroon, Liberia, and the Central African Republic.
The newest and most immediate threat to poverty reduction, COVID-19, has unleashed a worldwide economic disaster whose shock waves continue to spread. Without an adequate global response, the cumulative effects of the pandemic and its economic fallout, armed conflict, and climate change will exact high human and economic costs well into the future.
The latest research suggests that the effects of the current crisis will almost certainly be felt in most countries through 2030. Under these conditions, the goal of bringing the global absolute poverty rate to less than 3 percent by 2030, which was already at risk before the crisis, is now beyond reach without swift, significant, and substantial policy action. History shows that urgent and collective action can help us tackle this crisis.
Last Updated: Oct 14, 2021”
The climate challenge is not about money – or the financialization of ‘carbon’. Reducing poverty is not about financialization. It is about re-distribution. It is about a rejection of free-market ideology that argues that ‘business can fix it’ and that an abstract market established price mechanism is the most efficient way of distributing social and public goods. The rise of foodbanks is evidence of the failure of price mechanism to feed the poor. Foodbanks are a communal response to need, which is not based on economics, but on social need.
Change is about fundamental changes in the way that societies are organised to enable all members of that society to share in the bounty of the community. We are rapidly approaching the state of play where change is being forced through consumers reacting to shortages. In the past, such changes have been affected through war, plague or migration. We need a better way, which doesn’t require throwing vast quantities of steel at ‘enemies’, creating artificial barriers to human movement, or require large numbers of people to die through lack of access to food, water, health care, security, or in the case of the coming winter, warmth.
There must be a better way – a process of Governance that allows communities to decide how to provide for themselves and how the benefits of our world should be distributed. Not through inequality or the increase of billionaires, profiting from ‘green business opportunities’, but through communities of practice that cater for people, not only the rich, but also the poor, young, old, the disabled and infirm-where these people are generally excluded from the debate as they represent ‘the swinish multitude’. The process of Governance should allow the dispossessed who are directly affected by the forces of exploitation that have created the climate crisis, to have a voice.
The voice of Chief Seattle has been attributed to an indigenous leader who was trying to protect his people. ‘People’ for indigenous populations around the world are named for who they are. In the West, identity is recorded for a State or a gender, ethnic group, not a territory. The West has seen the privatisation of land and, for most people, a dislocation from that land. As long as that dislocation continues globally, the State will continue to be responsible for managing the process of climate change, and people will always be outside -either politically inside the room, but outside of the power structures; or physically outside the conference rooms of Sharm-el Sheik (or COP, or COBRA), or climbing pylons on the M25.
Socialism is about ‘Stakeholder economics’, where the ‘stakeholder’ is the community, which also has a stake in the planet; not having a financial return on investment.
If the idea of ‘stakeholder community’ is a direction of travel. Then campaigning is about:
- Tackling corruption (returning politics to the community): Corruption can be defined in many ways. Zephyr Teachout , an American Professor of Law , describes how the Founding Fathers of the American Constitution tried to protect the newly emerging Republic from the vicissitudes of the old Georgian order of endemic corruption of the Court of George 3rd.
Teachout lists five main areas of political corruption, which have relevance today:
Criminal Bribery: Corruption As “Quid Pro Quo” and “The Creation of Political Debts Inequality: Unequal Access,
Unfair Deployment of Wealth and Undue Influence, Drowned Voices: Corruption as Suppressed Speech, Dispirited Public, and a Loss of Integrity: corruption as a loss of political integrity, and systems that predictably create moral failings for members of Government. N(all of these forms of corruption are evident within our present Parliamentary systems.
- Education about climate change to counter misinformation: “Organised social media manipulation campaigns were found in each of the 81 surveyed countries, up 15% in one year, from 70 countries in 2019. Governments, public relations firms and political parties are producing misinformation on an industrial scale, according to the report. It shows disinformation has become a common strategy, with more than 93% of the countries (76 out of 81) seeing disinformation deployed as part of political communication. Social media manipulation of public opinion is a growing threat to democracies around the world”. Prof. Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute.
- Local Democracy and the need for common voices (People’s Assembly)
- Sharing Common Spaces: retake the commons (land, access to knowledge, rights to roam……. (this is not about gluing yourself to a pavement, but identifying common spaces and protecting them for the community
- A politics of resistance: consciousness raising and platform building
- ‘You can’t eat money’
- Voices for the voiceless: plain language.