Shop local

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The alchemy of modern political economy - turning private debt into public debt and austerity

Excellent post on Bright Green 'People economics: against the European austerity doctrine'. My quick comments on the back of reading it below:

Austerity driven responses to the financial mess is nothing short of simply 'displacing' private loses into public debt. What we're witnessing is a socialism of the rich - we're seeing the 'socialisation of risk' (through this displacement, now copper fastened by the European Commission's decision as you indicate in your post. But we're not seeing the socialisation of profit or benefit - that's still privatised! The transformation of private/banksters debt into sovereign debt is perhaps the nearest we have seen to a process of political economic alchemy – turning the dross /worthlessness of private losses into a publicly (tax-payer) backed but still privately owned income/capital stream.
This can be most graphically seen in the Irish case of the coalition government in September 2008 being forced with inadequate and partial information and the deliberate manipulation by the main banks operating in Ireland (which deliver revenue to banks and bondholders in Germany and the UK and elsewhere), to issue the bank guarantee scheme. The latter was the legal instrument by which the alchemy worked – transforming privately held debt into public, tax-payer backed debt, and kicked off the austerity drive in Ireland.

Another good analysis of the financial crisis in the Eurozone can be found here European Monetary Union: Muddling Through, Falling Apart, Going Where?

Where Next for the Greens in Northern Ireland?

I was asked to write a piece for Bright Green - reproduced here.

With forthcoming elections in both parts of the island of Ireland in early 2011 (Assembly and local elections in NI in May and a general election in the republic of Ireland, probably in March) it is timely to look ahead at what and where next for the Greens in NI.
It seems to me (and I write this in a completely personal capacity) that there are 4 issues which will figure large for the Green Party here in NI.

1. Establishing itself as a permanent political force within NI politics: the coming local and regional Assembly elections in May 2011, will be a real test for the party. It will establish whether the breakthrough of getting one MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) elected in 2007 (Brian Wilson in North Down) can be built upon and a green presence in the Assembly and local government be maintained. Brian Wilson will not be standing again and the party has wisely decided to put its limited resources behind the candidate chosen to replace him (Steven Agnew, European candidate from 2008, the party’s research officer, and the highest profile Green in NI). It is vital that the party keep the North Down seat since this is the best chance we have of electing another Green to the Assembly. There are other strong chances for the party – for example there is a strong presence in South Belfast – with Adam McGibbon as candidate there, another high profile candidate and elected member of Queens University Student Union, who should make a strong electoral impact, building on his excellent Westminster performance earlier this year.

2. Building the party at local level and connecting with communities: as the newest of NI political parties (in the sense of having an electoral presence), it is vital that the party increase its representation at local council level. This is for a number of reasons. The first is strategic and ideological – as a political movement based on bottom-up, grassroots democracy, the party needs to avoid being too ‘top-down’ in terms of having an unbalanced electoral profile. The party really needs an organic bottom-up, locally-focused development plan, selecting candidates and focusing on issues and areas that will offer Green Party representation for local communities and their issues. A second and relayed reason is that through greater local engagement, working with communities and local groups, the party can develop a ‘post-conflict’ analysis and agenda. The political conflict which has shaped and continues to shape NI politics is something that Greens cannot shy away from, and the best way of doing this is to engage more with communities and from that engagement develop and articulate what ‘green politics’ (and associated issues such as sustainability/and the transition away from unsustainability) means for communities (especially urban working class ones) who are coming to terms with the ‘post-conflict’ process in NI. Here key issues/questions are – how to connect the transition from unsustainability to issues of conflicting ethno-nationalist identities; can the party articulate a political analysis and vision that ‘connects’ with the ‘realpolitik’ of the hegemonic ‘nationalist-unionist’ dynamic?; can green politics be ‘indigenised’ in the sense of being a ‘normal’ feature of the NI political landscape? Indeed how can it portray itself not only as ‘normal’ but the natural choice for progressive voters? Some of the work on these issues have been done over the last number of years, but more is needed to localise and build the party and its political analysis and project as entrenched and enduring political presence in the tough political environment of NI politics.

3. Maintaining its distinctiveness : it is clear that as issues such as climate change and peak oil (usually of course translated into energy security) become mainstream political issues, there is a danger of Green Parties losing these policy/political issues as uniquely ‘theirs’. Even in NI, where our last environment minister (from the hardline unionist DUP) was and still is a prominent climate change denier, our most recent budget (ironically from the same DUP Minister who is now minster for finance) has flagged up the ‘Green new Deal’ as a key policy area for investment. In NI traditional Green Party policy areas have been adopted and adapted by local rival political parties (noticeably the constitutional Irish nationalist SDLP, and the ‘soft unionist/cross community’ Alliance Party). The Green Party in NI must (in my view) welcome the (late) adoption of Green policy by these ‘slow learners’ while pushing ahead in maintaining its distinctive approach to these issues. For example, the party needs to begin to question orthodox economic growth – largely unquestioned in most ‘Green new deal’ type proposals- and also the really attack the neo-liberal economic ideology underpinning the current economic crisis and also at the heart of all other political parties’ manifestos and policies.

4. All-island dimensions of the Green Party and green politics: the Green Party in NI is officially a ‘regional council’ of the Green Party in the Republic of Ireland (since December 2006), thus meaning that it is the NI branch of an all-island Green Party. At the same time the party has strong links to the Green Parties in Scotland and England and Wales and has signed Memoranda of Understanding with our sister parties to formally establish these important East-West links. These all-island and all-UK aspects of the Green Party in NI are work in progress and clearly there is more that could be done in terms of coordinating policy development, electoral support, media support etc. between the Green Party in NI and its sister parties in Scotland, England and Wales and the Republic of Ireland. The Green Party in Northern Ireland, like NI itself, is (in my view), the place where these ‘islands overlap’ and there are multiple benefits for all sister Green Parties of these islands in seeing NI as a place, an issue around which the uniqueness of a Green political vision can be articulated. Doing green politics in NI is like running on sand, given the legacy of the war and conflict and its outworkings. The creation and sustaining of a strong Green Party in NI will benefit all sister Green Parties throughout these islands, by acting as a key link between them all, and demonstrating how a shared green political perspective (often viewed as ‘fragile’ and ‘soft’ by some) can thrive and be relevant and take strength from its tough political surroundings.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Podcast of interview with me by Bob Hernan

Podcast of me being interviewed by Bob Hernan from Irish Environment

Rethinking economics - first workshop of new think tank

Last Saturday (27th November) I organised a workshop, the first public outing of a new think tank I've helped start - the Centre for Progressive Economics. The title of the workshop was 'The Global Economic Crisis: Analyses and Responses' and on a very cold morning around 30 people braved the elements to listen to three presentations and discuss ways in which the progressive left in general and the Trades Union movement in Northern Ireland in particular could beef up its analysis through engaging with university reseachers and becoming informed of the growing and existing evidence base for alternative economic analyses and policy prescriptions to the dominance 'neo-liberal' one.
The first presentation was from my colleague Andrew Baker who gave a wide-ranging, informed, incisive and provocatively entitled paper "Why Austerity is not commonsense but a politically driven nonsense". In his paper and subsequent discussion during the Q&A, Andrew systematically outlined and then demolished 5 'myths' that characterise the UK Lib-Con coalition's economic rationale and rhetoric of 'austerity' as the only policy option for the UK.
The five myths are
1. The country was on the verge of bankruptcy and risked becoming like Greece
2. Government debt is like household debt, or credit card debt. Like a household we have to balance the books and not live beyond our means as a nation.
3. Spiralling public debt is the result of 13 years of ruinous Labour spending and economic mismanagement.
4. Bond markets were demanding cuts in public spending and without them interest repayments on government debt would have spiralled out of control, choking off any prospect of UK economic growth.
5. Fiscal austerity is expansionary and will lead to private sector growth

The upshot of Andrew's analysis is that there is no economic rationale behind the drive for austerity, but rather represents a poliotically opportunistic attempt by the coalition to:

a) drive through deep public sector cuts now and blame the previous Labour adminstration on it, while the latter is still fresh in the public's memory. As Andrew puts it in his conclusion:

"The principal driver of the strategy is political opportunism and a concerted effort to pin the blame on the last government. This is the coherent thread running through the narrative the government are constructing."

and b) ferment/re-ignite class divisions and social tension. As he puts it
"Government strategy looks to be an effective way of fermenting class politics, social polarization and dislocation. "

Both the dogmatism around 'there is no alternative' to austerity and the deliberate creation of class tensions have obvious echoes of Thatcherism and its clear the Con-Lib adminstration is laying down a marker for how it wishes to proceed in 'remaking broken Britain', largely by breaking up the welfare state and immiserating millions with all the social costs of that, it seems.

Andrew's presentation was followed by John Woods (Convenor, NI Green New Deal group) who talked about a green approach to responding to the economic crisis. His presentation on ‘The Green New Deal in Northern Ireland’ outlined how this rather unique coalition of groups and organisations (from the Trades Unions to the CBI, Friends of the Earth, NICVA and the Ulster Farmers Union) have proposed job creating policies around the retrofitting of social housing, which also tackles fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions. See here for the group's Housing proposals.

The final paper was from Andrew Fisher (Coordinator- Left Economics Advisory Panel) the title of which was "It’s the politics, stupid: ‘Responding to the UK Comprehensive Spending Review’" in which he pointed out the millions in unclaimed tax which could be used to address the fiscal problems of the British state, rather than attacking those on low income and welfare. Based on previous research by the Tax Justice Network he explained how the existing Tax Gap and Tax Injustice within Britain means that £120 billion in tax is lost, avoided or uncollected.

The final element of the day was a open discussion around the relationship between the Trades Union movement, progressive economics, academics and academic research. It was opened by Brian Campfield (NIPSA) and touched on issues around the research needs of the trades union movement, the importance of being briefed and up to speed on the latest research and the need for a focus on challenging the media's constant re-inforcing of the dominant neo-liberal line when discussing the economic crisis and Northern Ireland's response to it in particular.

It was a good start, the first of many and well done to all who participated and helped in its organisation.

It is hoped that the papers and presentations from the day will be put up on the Centre for Progressive Economics website soon.

Monday, 18 October 2010

The White Poppy: Remembering all war deaths and challenging the culture of violence

On November Remembrance Sunday and the weeks leading up to it we will see the proliferation of Red Poppies, people wearing them in the lapels and what seems almost like the compulsory display of red poppies by TV presenters. The red poppy, distributed and promoted by the British Legion has become the dominant way in which people in the UK remember that who gave their lives in war (both world wars and other conflicts including the current ones in Iraq and Afghanistan).

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is according to its website, the oldest secular pacifist organisation in the UK and each year at this time promotes the wearing and public display of the White Poppy as an alternative or in addition to the Red Poppy. The origins of the White Poppy campaign can be traced to the aftermath of the First World War, there was discussion about the link between the commemoration of those who gave their lives in that war and the ways in which that commemoration promoted and sustained a ‘culture of war’.

Thus the idea of decoupling Armistice Day, the red poppy and later Remembrance Day from their military culture dates back to 1926, just a few years after the British Legion was persuaded to try using the red poppy as a fundraising tool in Britain. A member of the ‘No More War Movement’ suggested that the British Legion should be asked to imprint 'No More War' in the centre of the red poppies instead of ‘Haig Fund’ and failing this pacifists and others who rejected war as a means of resolving conflict should make their own flowers.The details of any discussion with the British Legion are unknown but as the centre of the red poppy displayed the ‘Haig Fund’ imprint until 1994 it was clearly not successful. A few years later the idea was again discussed by the Co-operative Women's Guild who in 1933 produced the first white poppies to be worn on Armistice Day (later called Remembrance Day). The Guild stressed that the white poppy was not intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the women lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers. The following year the newly founded Peace Pledge Union joined the CWG in the distribution of the poppies and later took over their annual promotion.

The key motivations and distinctiveness of the White Poppy from its origins in the mid war period to this day are a) to commentate all war dead (the British Legion’s red poppy campaign only commemorates British war dead) and b) it rejects the military culture which still characterises Remembrance Sunday and to promote instead a culture of peace and challenge war and state-sanctioned violence. Within Northern Ireland and Ireland as a while where thousands of men (and women) have fought and died in the British armed forces since the first world war onwards, the White Poppy also has the advantage of enabling those who cannot support the British Army connotations of the Red Poppy a way to acknowledge and remember those Irish men and women who have died and fought in the British Army.Indeed, while I am a pacifist (but a believer in non-violent direct action if needed) I am drawn to wearing the White Poppy also as my way of commemorating my grandfather, a Dublin man who joined the British army and fought and was injured fighting in North Africa. In providing this way of commemoration, the White Poppy, finally allows those in the Republic of Ireland or those from the Irish Nationalist community in Northern Ireland, to publicly express and acknowledge those Irish citizens who fought and died while serving in the British armed forces. Up until recently, there was a silence, a shameful silence politically about these men and women, as if from an Irish nationalist perspective one had to ashamed of them. Thankfully this is now changing and one can only think that a wider appreciation and awareness of the White Poppy can help rectify this wrong.

At the same time, the White Poppy campaign in its expression of non-violence also means it has a very real and current relevance in drawing attention to the continuing ‘culture of violence’ which characterises how states (and others) seek to resolve conflicts and tensions. For example, one of the motivations behind the Peace Pledge Union is to highlight the ways in which military spending (at essence improving the capacity to inflict death and injury) takes funding away from life-sustaining efforts to improve human life. The PPU estimates (as of Monday 18th October) that Global Military Spending Since Jan 1, 2010 is approximately $1,065,098,794,869. Against that figure consider the following: Estimated costs to provide the following:

Shelter for every human being $21,000,000,000

Eliminate ALL Starvation and Malnourishment $19,000,000,000

Clean Safe Water for every human being $10,000,000,000

Thus, the White Poppy campaign is a call to question this shameful waste of resources and also to remind us that we should never be fooled (if in these days where talk of public spending cuts and reducing budget deficits serve as blatant propaganda to soften us and prepare us for reductions in the welfare state) that the issue is funding. How is it we can spend hundreds of millions of pounds on an illegal war and occupation of Iraq yet are told there is no money for new hospitals? How can we take seriously the proposition that we can and will spend millions of tax-payers money on upgrading the Trident nuclear missile system yet we cannot subsidise university education so that its available to all, but rather are told we have to allow universities to charge what they like? In this case, the PPU and the White Poppy campaign enable a space to be created where we can look forward to the day when it is an army general rather with a tin can on the main street looking for donations for a new tank, rather than a junior doctor doing the same looking for funding for a dialysis machine. Ultimately, the question is where do we want our taxes to go – on funding better ways to kill or better ways to sustain life?

In many respects what the White Poppy campaign attempts to do is to move Remembrance Sunday celebrations away from a mere commemoration of past conflicts and an exclusive focus on only British servicemen and women, towards an expression of sadness at humans’ inability to resolve their differences in a peaceable way. Wearing the white poppy is an opportunity to reflect on the causes of war not just the inevitable human casualties and should not be seen as an insult to those who choose to wear the Red Poppy. There should be space given to those of us who choose to wear the White Poppy and we should not be made to feel, as I sometimes do at this time of year when I wear the White Poppy, as disrespectful to the memory of those who have died in conflict. The White Poppy, when properly understood and placed within its context, is a more universal and encompassing expression of remembrance within which the wearing of the Red Poppy can be placed.

More information on the White Poppy and the Peace Pledge Union can be found at

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Resilience: individual and communal

Rather appropriate coming after my post about 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain' project I have just came across the following series.

Eight-part series of The Basics of Resilience by Chris Martenson

I have read some of Martenson's work in the past and while close to some aspects of the DM perspective, there are elements that overlap with the Transition Movement. However there is a distinctly American flavour to his perspective, one that can also I think be seen in the work of Sharon Astyk, the influential blogger and author of the wonderful Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.
The American flavour I am talking about is the often very individual/family focus of their writings (combined almost always with clear, practice 'how to....' advice on everything from growing and storing food, house maintenance, health and making whatever money and energy you have go further). This very domestic focus - while not neglecting community or politics completely - stands at one end of a continuum of resilience with the community focus of the UK and Irish Transition Movement at the other. It is, as Astyk herself states a 'Little House in the Suburbs' (Chapter 9 of her book), and obviously echoes the pioneering spirit of those who went west in the 19th century in America, set up farms, villages and towns bootstrapping and laying down the infrastructure for themselves as they went. While of course not buying into the American myth of 'rugged individualism' completely, there is a clear individualistic focus to these conceptions of resilience which one does not find in the UK and Irish cases which are much more community and communal in focus. Though not definitive evidence it is telling perhaps that it is only the final of Martenson's series that addresses community. Astyk is more community orientated but even here her take on community seems to be one of neighbours and friends coming together to help one another out rather than a community which may include strangers and people we only dimly know, the connection being that they live in the same geographical space as we do.
So beyond telling us that different cultures and places are thinking about and practicing resilience differently is there more to be said about these differences (given after all that what they share is as important as what differentiates them)?
I'm not sure to be honest....and in these times of inevitable transition we need to try as many different ways of living, experiments in building resilience...and yet that dimension of the 'American' take on resilience canvassed here (and of course focusing on two writers cannot be taken to be representative of all American resilience thinking and action), that dimension which has a 'lifeboats' feel to it does spark a nagging doubt in my mind that when the shit hits the fan, it is communities not families or individuals that will be to be fore in offering responses to those inevitable shocks and transitions associted with peak oil, climate, food and resource crunches.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Dark thinking for dark times - The Dark Mountain Network

A couple of months ago, reading an extremely thought-provoking and provocative article by Paul Kingsnorth on openDemocracy entitled 'Confessions of a recovering environmentalist' (a colleague and friend Andy Dobson written a response), I followed a link from the article and discovered 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Network: A space for conversations in a time of global disruption' and ordered a copy of its first publication Dark Mountain, which I'm part-way through.

Part of me was repelled by the strong pessismtic (or realist) 'ecocentric' critique of human-centred green thinking - largely I supect because I detected or could only believe that the almost celebratory tone of 'the end of human civilisation as we know it' was motivated by a deep and disturbing misanthrophy...and therefore I was transported back over 20 years to my negative and gut reaction to certain misanthropic - and at times racist strands of - 'deep ecology'. It is clear that the Dark Mountain project is animated by deep ecological concerns, and can be seen as yet another spontaneous green/ecological response to the crisis of our time, and the great transitions that are unfolding and will quicken as this decade progresses. Other related responses include the Transition movement, the related peak oil /post-carbon discourse, such as the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, permacultural inspired thiking and movements (especially around food and land - is it perhaps no surprise, at least from my anecdotal evidence, that most Transition towns are focused around, are strongest in or at least have their foundation in local food production and connecting to the land?), to Collapsonomics and anarchistic 'eco-primitivism' .

But there is a growing number of reports and writings both within civil society and from within the 'state system' which point to the looming threats coming down the pipe in the coming years. These range from the recently leaked German Military report on the destablising political implications of peak oil to a report from the Irish think tank FEASTA, written by David Korowicz entitled 'Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production - An Outline Review' .

Collapse, threats, apoclyptic thinking, dread and a clearly identifable 'endism' can I think be fairly used to characterise these new and emerging forms of green thinking and action. Dark thinking for dark times indeed...

And I think they all have a point, and whether one agrees or disagrees they should not be simply dismissed as doom-sayers, irritating 'teetotalers pissing on the party' - though no doubt they will and have been. They may after all be simply pointing out the bleeding obvious that 'the emperor has no clothes' and rather than trying to green our existing way of life (perhaps in a more regulated, perhaps even more democratic manner), we should prepare ourselves and our communities to live different lives, 'fit for purpose' for living in more resilient, low-impact societies. That issue - and its a huge one of course - will have to wait for another time.

For now what I'd like to conclude with is what attracted me about Uncivilisation. Apart from its brutal honesty, it was in both the Dark Mountain manifesto and subsequent edited volume, the integration of culture, music, poetry, imaginative fiction all tremendously 'life affirming' (or the sugar to sweeten the pill perhaps). It has always been my view that one of the appropriate responses to crisis is creativity and imagination, and certainly the style (if not necessarily) the substance of the Dark Mountain project is one that those of use active in thinking and acting about green issues and the pressing need to create and sustain individual and collective resilience in face of the inevitable transitions we are facing, need in these anxious times. To think about living life in a carbon constrained, climate changed world will require not only courage, something I think is evident in the Dark Mountain perspective, as it is is also in all those movements, practices and groups that stand against foundational aspects of our dominant culture (and here, and of course partly speaking from where I stand, people active in Green parties and environmental, transport, food, land reform groups etc. - though I feel the DM perspective wrongly dismisses the latter). But along with courage it is the creativity, the reaching into our culytural imaginary that I also think is to be applauded in the Dark Mountain intervention. An perhaps 'intervention' is entirely appropropriate here in that the DM call (for it is clearly such) is one which in part calls on us to 'stop', down tools as it were and re-think and re-act. If as the now commonplace view has it 'business as usual is not an option', why would we not entertain the prospect that 'thinking as usual is no longer an option'?

This cultural turn is to be welcomed not simply for the inlcusion of this life affirming perspective but also more importantly because it forces us to confront the deep cultural, ethical and psychological imperatives driving ecocide (if I were not weary, as a humanist, of the term, one could include 'spiritual' in that list). Perhaps my main worry here is the tendency (and one I detected long ago in deep ecology) for this cultural turn to also go along with or act as a prelude to a depoliticised or anti-political turn in green thinking. While of course a lot more argument is needed to substantiate my closing comment here - I remain unconvinced - and not a little troubled by - the claim that the solution to the deracinated contemporay human condition lies in a depoliticised reponse to our current crises. Perhaps one indication of this is when the The Dark Mountain Network becomes a Movement.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Saral Sakar 'Understanding the present-day World Economic Crisis: An Eco-Socialist Approach'

Interesting essay from an eco-socialist Indian colleague - Saral Sakar - offering an eco-socialist analysis of and prescriptions for the global economic crisis.

He notes the following:

It was said that in the first seven days after the stock exchange crash, wealth amounting to 2.5 trillion dollar was lost, and since the stock exchange peak of one year earlier, stock owners lost 8.4 trillion dollar (Wall Street Journal, 10.10.2008). But what does that actually mean? One says in such cases, the wealth vanished into thin air. But in reality, nothing concrete vanished, no house, no car. What vanished into thin air were only some numbers on paper, some zeros after a digit. The 8.4 trillion dollar were only fictitious wealth. A year before the stock prices peaked, the same stocks were valued much lower. Only speculation had driven the market value of the stocks upward. After the crash, what was in any case fictitious wealth ceased to exist.

Worth remembering of course that much of this lost wealth was illusory, paralleling the creation and circulation of 'fiat money' within an over-heated economy fulled by a double whammy of a stock market bubble and a housing bubble. But...while this correct, how many peoples' pensions were reduced or lost in that process of fictitious wealth destruction?

Later he suggests that what really triggered the crisis is the fact that the capitalist world has reached 'limits to growth'

Trade-unionists and all kinds of leftists may blame the current misery of the working people on brutal capitalist exploitation, on the weakness of the working class, on speculators without any conscience, on greedy bankers, on globalization that has caused the relocation of many production units in cheap-wage countries etc. Of course, at first sight, all these explanations are partly correct. But on closer look one cannot but realize that when, on the whole, there are less and less resources to distribute because it is getting more and more difficult to extract them from nature (think of oil exploration off the west coast of Greenland!), then, even in a better capitalist world with a strong working class, at best a fairer distribution could be achieved, not more prosperity for all. It is now necessary to think in totally new terms; a paradigm shift isnecessary, a shift from the former growth paradigm to what I call the limits-to-growth paradigm.

His analysis is that we are headed for a long period of economic contraction, which must, in his words, lead to a 'steady state economy' as we adjust our economic system to the available energy and natural resources we can exploit and use sustainably. And he concludes that what we are witnessing is "not simply the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of industrialism altogether, in whichever socio-political frame it might be packed. "

Interesting and provocative analysis as one would rightly expect from an eco-socialist perspective. It would have been useful if there had been some attention given to what one might call the classic question posed by Lenin 'What is to be done?'

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Peak oil and the coming world's energy mess

Interview here from the Energy Bulletin with Bob Hirsh about his forthcoming book The Impending World Energy Mess: What It Is and What It Means to You. He was the lead author of an influential US report in 2005 on peak oil - of course completely ignored by the Bush adminstration. Hirsch :

"I believe that the onset of the decline of world oil production is likely
in the next two to five years. And when I say “oil,” I mean all liquid

What's noticeable from the interview (though the book may be different) is
the typical American focus on the individual (how we as householders can best
protect and forewarn - and forearm - ourselves about the decline in world oil)
and the blame being put on the government. While there is talk of that new
buzzword 'resilience' there is no sense that this is a collective property or
venture. I'll hold off any further comment until I read the book but I would be surprised (pleasantly) if the analysis involved more than techno and individualistic options all filtered through a free market pro-innovation lens...

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Talking about economics...

Very late (and lazy) ...but just came across this podcast of my contribution to the TASC conference last October in Dublin City University....enjoy

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Celebrating the Cuban Revolution

Off later this afternoon for a boat trip on the river Lagan for a trades unionist organised celebration of the Cuban revolution in 1959. The revolution is now 51 years old and the 26th July movement celebrates the 1953 campaign leading up to the overthrown of the Batista dictatorship, which began with Castro and others attacking the Mocanda barracks in Santiago de Cuba

While of course not saying that Cuba is perfect, it has abused the human rights of its citizens in the past and is still short of being a democracy - and therefore should be criticised - it has made some remarkable achievements nevertheless and has on the whole improved the welfare and lives of millions of Cubans. The fact that it's managed to survive in the face of concerted US pressure and the continuing blockage led by the US (though Obama has relaxed some of the worse excesses of the Helms-Burton act) is remarkable and something worthy of celebrating.

Not least of the reasons is the fact that Cuba had its 'peak oil' experience decades ago when the Soviet Union collapsed and had to adjust rapidly to a declining oil economy. The Power of Community film that's commonly shown and discussed in the Transition Town movement is about how Cuba responded to growing food when oil, chemicals, fertiliser, machinery etc (the oil-based elements of industrialised agriculture) gives an indication of the ingenuity and community-based solutions Cubans came up with. Cuba, warts and all, therefore has something to teach us...and then there's the fact that it has some of the best health care outcomes for its citizens that countries with much more wealth....and at the UN Haiti Donor Conference on March 31st, the government of Cuba made the offer to rebuild the entire Haitian National Health Service. What this translates into is that Cuba has made a commitment to Haiti greater than the entire G7 bloc...nuff said...

Hasta La Victoria Siempre !

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Economics Anti-Textbook...

Just got a copy of The Economics Anti-Textbook: a critical thinker's guide to micro-economics - really looking forward to reading it. Have just posted a quick 'preview' on Progressive Economy...will do a full review when I've read it fully...

Celebrating the 12th across the entire island

Former PD leader and Irish minister for justice, Michael McDowell made a (calculated) media splash at the annual McGill Summer School in the Glenties in Co. Donegal this week by suggesting that the 12th of July should be celebrated in the Republic of Ireland. Before I give my own reaction/take on this I want to point out how his suggestion was received here in 'norn iron'.

His comments were welcomed by the Orange Order and some unionist politicans while others, such as the normally sensible Nick Garbutt in the Newsletter condemned it his opinion piece yesterday 'Flags, Emblems and Ignorance' His argument completely by-passed the possibilities and debate opened up by McDowell's comments, focusing instead in McDowell's starting position of 'republicanism' and the fact that not all Protestant or Unionists are members of the Orange Order. On the former point I think McDowell was engaging in an attempt to reclaim republicanism from Sinn Fein (something that is to be welcomed and indeed the articulation of a 'civic republicanism' is something I support and have attempted to flesh out from a green political perspective in some of my academic writings). On the latter Nick seems to approach the debate about a more inclusive celebration and public acknowledgement of the 'orange tradition' in Ireland, determined from the outset to reduce that tradition to the Orange Order. That was not McDowell's point at all. His references to truly celebrating the 'orange panel' in the Irish Tricolour is, if one reads his speech, is about the 'non-gaelic, non-catholic' tradition on the island of Ireland i.e. that bit which is (take your pick, British, Anglo-Irish, Ulster Scots) and largely located in Northern Ireland. No one, I think, reduces the 'orange panel' to the Orange Order but the call for the celebration of the 12th opens up a debate about the Republic of Ireland becoming more mature and inclusive and living up to the spirit of a republican polity and society in the public acknowledgement of pluralism and diversity (and as indicated below, a recognition of the sectarianism suffered by the Protestant community in the Republic. But more significantly, and taking Nick's point head on, it raises the issue of what the 12th of July celebrations mean for those Protestants and Unionists who are not members of supporters of the Orange Order. It seems to me that this calls for a debate about whether there is a need for another non-Orange Order, non-12th July celebration of Britishness, Anglo-Irishness, Ulster-Scottishness etc? Because at present this public celebration is defined and confined to the 12th July. Thus it is unfair to criticise McDowell for reducing the cultural celebration and public display and acknowledgement of Unionism to the 12th celebrations since there are no other ones currently available. But the main issue is that McDowell should be congratulated not accused of ignorance for starting a long overdue debate on this issue.

My own views are that what McDowell's suggestion opens up is to be first and foremost to be welcomed. If the Republic of Ireland is to live up to its 'republican' (i.e. civic republican) not Irish nationalist character (though of course the latter has historically dominated and coopted the former) then making the 12th July a public holiday in the Republic - or failing that, providing some state-backed i.e. public recognition of it (beyond the President hosting a 'private' reception), has another (in my view) progressive advantage. And that is the acknowledgement within the Republic of Ireland that the Protestant community has suffered sectarian discrimination, marginalisation and unequal treatment since the foundation of the Irish state. That this discrimination was uneven, subtle and did not mirror the levels suffered by Catholics in Northern Ireland, does not in any way undermine the fact that there has been a wall of silence and a refusal within the Republic of Ireland to acknowledge the fact that to think that 'sectarianism' was and is something confined to Northern Ireland in general and is another term for 'anti-Catholic' in particular, was and is simply wrong.

That many within the Protestant community in the Republic quickly realised that to get by within the new state the best course was to 'keep their heads down' is itself evidence of how, to abuse that well-worn phrase and apply it to a different context, the Republic of Ireland was 'a cold house for Protestants'. It is of course for members of the Protestant community in the Republic themselves to articulate the extent to which this was and is the case, and it is good to see that in the last number of years there has been a steady stream of academic research focusing on the sectarianism and discrimination experienced by them.

If we are to build a new relationship between the two parts of the island, the two dominant political and religious traditions (which involves the active seeking to create a more pluralist set of identities upon which to base political interests and politics), then a public debate needs to begin the Republic of Ireland around the claim that it was 'a cold house for Protestants'. This has begun - fitfully - for an example see the exchange between Senator Eoghan Harris and historian John A Murphy on the extent of anti-Protestant discrimination in Cork

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Killing the Messenger: Con-Libs close down the Sustainable Development Commission

The cuts have begun...the Con-Lib coalition has lost no time in cutting one of the few 'critical friends' of the government, the Sustainable Development Commission, described as an 'arms length agency' by the DEFRA (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) Minister who announced it was to be axed at the end of the current financial year in the House of Commons on Monday. Also to go is the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which shared with the SDC an unrivalled reputation of evidence-based, brave and courageous inquiries, reports, holding government to account and advocacy.

Clearly the Tories don't want any friends paid by the taxpayer (critical or otherwise) while they're running the show (as a rule Tories don't have too many friends...unless the 'market' dictates some 'optimum' number of course). The message is clear, the Tories (despite Cameron's piffle about 'being the greenest government ever') could not give a fuck about the environment, climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, soil fertility erosion or any of the other related newly categorised 'non-problems' the UK faces. Have a problem with the implications of really implementing 'sustainable development'? Well, here's a solution, simply kill the messenger. Power speaks so clearly and eloquently when it this case organises something 'out' without reason. Why should a reason be given, the fact that the government has spoken and determined that the £3 million saved from the SDC is 'the reason' is sufficient...nevermind that it was one of the few decent initiatives of the previous government in terms of preparing this country for life in the 21st century, that is life in a carbon constrained, climate changed world.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Centre for Progressive Economics

Sneak peak of a new progressive think tank I'm involved with in that space!

Mission statement of the new Centre

The Centre for Progressive Economics Economic exists to promote an alternative, progressive economics for Northern Ireland and beyond. A range of progressive economists, activists and social policy researchers working in universities, the labour movement and activist research organizations have come together to break the cosy neo-liberal consensus that controls the public debate and dominates economic policy. We have joined forces to ensure that a critical and alternative perspective is heard.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

New publication

Bit of self-promotion...well if I don't do it who will? Just got the proofs of a new book Renewable Energy and the Public, edited by Patrick Devine-Wright in which I have a co-authored chapter (with Geraint Ellis, a colleague from Queens). Our chapter's entitled 'Beyond Consensus?: Agonism, Republicanism and
a Low Carbon Future'.

One of the things we argue for is that the transition to a low carbon economy should not shy about from embracing, accepting and ultimately viewing conflict, debate and disagreement about that transition as negative or worse, to shut up, marginalise or otherwise vilify those who object to the decarbonisation of the economy in general or who raise objections to specific renewable and low carbon energy technologies or initiatives - such as most commonly objections to wind farms. Rather, from a broadly civic republican perspective (which values pluralism and agonistic/respectful democratic disagreement over 'consensus') we suggest that what is required is to move the debate away from a narrow focus on renewable or low carbon energy production (which is sadly the dominant political response). To quote from our conclusion:

"The argument we have outlined is that, by allowing a greater range of options for communities to choose how (but not whether) they ‘do their bit’, changes their incentive structure to allow a greater range of low carbon options to be negotiated in each locality. This requires moving beyond a focus on energy production to include reducing energy consumption, increasing, efficiency and adopting nonenergy carbon options such as ‘green’ waste management, food, transport, housing etc. This would require a major reformulation of the institutions in which energy and development are regulated; for example, changing land use planning to energy descent planning. Indeed, a rethink of the regulatory system is necessary in order to provide the appropriate context for the bargaining we have outlined here, with a need for a nationwide low carbon energy strategy in which communities (spatial or aspatial) know that they must achieve carbon reduction targets, but with a degree of flexibility about how they do this.

This may paradoxically) deliver more renewable energy deployment than one which narrowly focuses on the installation of renewable energy technologies. However, the greater penetration of renewable energy is not the only, or indeed the most, important consideration – it is but one among a variety of means by which the transition to a low carbon economy can be achieved. We need to take a ‘bigger view’ than renewable energy production as the only way in which we can create a sustainable energy future: allowing communities the option, for example, that a sustainable energy future may be one that uses less energy. "

Now yer appetites are whetted, go ye out and buy loads of copies!

Overcoming addictions

Nice to see the new Lib-Con (or is it Con-Lib...or just a simply Con?) government's Energy and Climate Change secretary (secretary for DECC now there's a title!) the Liberal Democrat's Chris Huhne following in the wake of his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, the Green Party Minister for Energy, Eamon Ryan, in a public all for the UK to end its addiction to fossil fuel. As he put it,

"But as oil becomes ever more difficult to extract, and as demand for oil surges in the emerging economies, we need to recognise the dangers inherent in our history of fossil fuel addiction"

Also interesting to note his brazen appropriation of the language of the 'Green New Deal' championed by the Green Party and think tanks such as the new economics foundation.
No mention of peak oil, unlike Eamon Ryan's open acceptance of this as the policy and geological context within which we need to address energy security, and of course nothing about reducing energy consumption. It will be interesting to watch how far each - Huhne and Ryan - can get in their plans for decabonisation of the economy given the constraints each face politically as junior coalition partners in bed with right-wing, non-progressive parties.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Deputy leader of Rwandan Green Party hacked to death

"The deputy leader of Rwanda's Green Party was found murdered yesterday amid a crackdown against opposition organisations before next month's presidential elections. Andre Kagwa Rwisereka's body was found in the early hours on a riverbank, a couple of miles from his abandoned pick-up truck. His head was nearly severed and a large knife was found nearby. The murder followed complaints by senior party officials of death threats, police harassment and intimidation."

Terrible, just terrible...

Against the backdrop of the Democratic Green Party being banned from registering as a political party and to stand candidates in next month's election.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Orange parades, protest and rioting

Well...its that time of year again when I'm torn between wanting desperately for some sunny, rain-free weather and wanting it to lash out of the heavens to keep the 'recreational rioters' off the streets. We've now had four nights rioting, attempted shooting of police, attempt to burn the Dublin-Belfast train and while I can't say I'm a fan of the Orange Order and their insistance on walking down areas they're not welcome or wanted (the ostensible reason for the rioting and protest by nationalists) neither do I support the wanton violence that we've seen here (mostly by young men, but there are reports of kids under 10). It seems things have 'kicked off' in part due to the concerted and organised efforts of republican dissident groups such as erigi who for example formed the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective which effectively ousted the original Ardoyne Community group from protesting against the Tour of the North Orange Parade. Even Sinn Fein has criticised GARC as a 'self-styled and non-elected' i.e. they represent competition for them.

On a related point I cycled into work on Monday - the 'Twelfth' as its known here, the main day for the Orange marches and met about four of the them on my 14 mile trip from Bangor to the University - no issues there. But I went to get lunch round the corner from my office in Botanic Avenue - those from norn iron will know - quite an experience...Two drunken young men out of their heads singing sectarian songs (could not make them out they were that drunk but something along the lines of "If you''re a taig"), groups of people squatting around drinker export larger and blue WKD, general air of menace about the place. Two PSNI landrovers cruised about, one with a touching (and large) sign which read 'Alcohol may be confiscated'...decisive policing!
Went home late ...mistake, Botanic a sea of druken men and women with the policce trying calmly to contain them, had to pass people blocking the road on Donegall pass, then the stand off at Short Strand where on the other side had to wade through crowds of people - drunk of course- and hoping they would not hear my accent. Welcome to Norn Iron!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Remember Limits to Growth?

Remember this? Well despite the passing of time the basic analysis of the Limits to Growth report from the early 1970s is still as valid as ever...we just have more science, data and evidence to back it up.
While the Club of Rome and the green movement, parties, thinkers and activists it mobilised still hold the main hypothesis of the LTG report - namely it is biophysically/themodynamically/ecologically impossible (that means no fictional 'free market' can overcome these non-negotiable limits - for any orthodox economists out there the limiting factors on the economy is energy not money) - some extremely eloquent new thinkers and movements have emerged in the past decade. Alongside movements such as Transition Towns, of which I am a (not very active) member and also sometime observer, I have been drawn to authors such as James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg. Heinberg in a recent article has noted that
The "normal" late-20th century economy of seemingly endless growth actually emerged from an aberrant set of conditions that cannot be perpetuated. That "normal" is gone. One way or another, a "new normal" will emerge to replace it. Can we build a different, more sustainable economy to replace the one now in tatters? Let's be clear: I believe we are in for some very hard times. The transitional period on our way toward a post-growth, equilibrium economy will prove to be the most challenging time any of us has ever lived through. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can survive this collective journey, and that if we make sound choices as families and communities, life can actually be better for us in the decades ahead than it was during the heady days of seemingly endless economic expansion.
I like the idea of a 'new normal', though not the sentiment that we will /may suffer before we get to it, and think this is perhaps as good a way of describing the alternative infrastructure, lifestyle, economy, economic thinking that greens like me have been banging on about for years.
Now that I think of it, my Masters dissertation way back in 1990 was on Limits to Growth...wonder where it is?

Peak oil and political theory

Every since I got into the green/sustainability/environmental academic and activist area a frequent question for me - as a 'political theorist' by profession, academic discipline and disposition - has always been what does political theory, theorising about our political situation look like in the context of all the stuff I usually read about such as biodiversity loss, climate change, peak oil, food insecurity, energy insecurity and the geopolitical implications of all of these and more? What do the likes of great contemporary political thinkers such as John Rawls, Jurgen Habermas, Judith Bulter, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and others within the 'political theory canon' have to say to us about these issues? Do they tell us anything? Are they the temporary product of an oil-based civilisation and therefore the foundations and principles upon which they are build and their main concerns (their particular take on justice, identity, group rights, agency, the subject etc.) as shaky and as finite as the fossil fuels which (in part) made them possible in the first place? While of course too crude a way to frame modern political theory, it is a moot question to ask - what use/benefit are these theories if removed from the reality of the situation we are facing? Can they/should they be critiqued for not including more than a cursory discussion of the ecological crisis? Look up the following key words in the index of any contemporary political theory book - ecological, energy, climate change, biodiversity, peak oil, low carbon, thermodynamics - to see how much attention is paid to these pressing concerns? The danger of course, and one that is only too obvious if one were to mechanically follow this logic - is that we would make a standard for judging the usefulness/merit etc of any political theory by how it was grounded in/related to/spoke to the ecological crisis . Is the ecological crisis and the associated energy, climate, resource and food crises - of such import that one could justify this? Have the 'circumstances of justice' (and identity, group rights etc) changed so radically that one can dismiss the vast majority of contemporary political theory as patently 'unfit for purpose'? But is the 'applicability' and 'usefulness' of political theory its only or main criterion? I'm not sure and would hate to see a systematic 'ecological -proofing' of political theory (reminscent of Mao's injunction during the disasterous cultural revolution of forcing intellectuals to work in the fields perhaps - though I do think academics could get their hands dirty a bit more than we do!), BUT...given the 'planetary crisis' we are facing it is an entirely legitimate question to ask 'what is political theory doing to help?'

Aftermath: World without oil

National Geographic documentary 'Aftermath: World without oil'...

The dawn of a post-carbon world?....

Hmmm...well, its been a while since I used this site! Facebook has taken over my on-line 'diary writing', and can't promise to keep this blog updated....but anyhow, sure no one is reading this and like most blogs its more for me and my own amusement/sanity.
The link to James Howard Kunstler, an author of fierce and honestly held views - largely offering a 'doomer' analysis of peak oil - or a 'realistic' one depending on one's views - think Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but with more jokes and acerbic wit (and a bit more hope...). Somewhat like John Gray - another author I've strangely come to admire more and more over the years (sure sign of me becoming more conservative/reactionary?!) , Kunstler offers a scientifically informed, ecologically and energy-informed analysis of our coming post-carbon world, and it ain't pretty....Hobbes and Malthus for the internet age...but sobering nonetheless to read if nothing to temper the often hopelessly unrealistic views of those who think 'the market/reform' will take care of it, or others who think simply circling the wagons and re-localisation (by itself) will suffice.