The British government recently announced an additional £100 million of funding to tackle chronic homelessness in Britain. Chronic homelessness means those sleeping rough on the streets, rather than much larger numbers of invisible homeless: consisting of people in temporary accommodation or sleeping on friends’ couches.
The additional funding will pay for a three pronged ‘attack’ on homelessness:
£50 million for houses to be built outside of London, for people currently ready to move on from hostels
£30 million for mental health support for those sleeping rough.
Further funding to help people move on from prison into secure accommodation.
There is also funding available to provide more information and support to help those on the streets navigate their way out of homelessness, as well as the promise of research into the nature and extent of LGBT homelessness, currently a very under-researched area.
How effective is this social policy likely to be in combating homelessness?
Probably highly ineffective…
That funding is over 10 years – to 2027. There are an estimated 4751 people currently sleeping rough on any given night. If you divide £100 million by that figure, and then by 10 (10 years), the government is only committing an additional £2000 per person per year to combating homelessness. This doesn’t sound like a huge amount of money compared to the cost of housing, for example.
We have to understand this ‘additional funding’ in the context of the wider Tory cuts since 2010 – which have been linked to the increase in homelessness this decade…. 169% increase since 2010.
Finally, this policy does nothing to combat the much more widespread problem of households living in temporary accommodation -of which there are nearly 80, 000, again a figure which has increased under the Tory government since 2010.
Maybe this is more about creating some positive news for the government rather than it being any serious attempt at combating homelessness.. £100 million is nice round, easy soundbite type of figure, yet in the grand scheme of what’s needed to tackle social problems, it is almost certainly insufficient to make a real difference to a significant number of people.
The idea behind ‘Nudge’ was that by exploiting traits of ‘human nature’ such as our tendencies to put of making decisions, or to give into peer pressure, it was possible to ‘nudge’ people into making certain decisions.
10 years on, it seems that government all over the world have applied ‘nudge theory’ to achieve their desired outcome. They have managed to implement some relatively ‘small scale’ social policies and make huge savings at little cost to the public purse.
In the U.K. for example, David Cameron set up the Behavourial Insights Team (or Nudge Unit) which seems to have had some remarkable successes. For example:
Reminder letters telling people that most of their neighbours have already paid their taxes have boosted tax receipts. This was designed to appeal to the ‘heard instinct’.
The unit boosted tax returns from the top 1% (those owing more than £30K) from 39% to 47%. To do so they changed their punitive letter to one reminding them of the good paying taxes can do.
Sending encouraging text messages to pupils resitting GCSEs has boosted exam results. This appeals to the well-recognised fact that people respond better to praise.
Sending text messages to jobseekers reminding them of job interviews signed off with ‘good luck’ has reduced the number of missed interviews.
As with so many public-policy initiatives these days, the Behavourial Insights Team is set up as a private venture, and it now makes its money selling its ‘nudge policy’ ideas to government departments around the world.
The Limitations of Nudge Politics
Methodologically speaking there are a at least three fairly standard problems:
Firstly, the UK’s nudge unit hasn’t been in place long enough to establish whether these are long-term, ’embedded success’.
Secondly, we don’t really know why ‘nudge actions’ work. The data suggests a correlation between small changes in how letters are worded and so on and behaviour, but we don’t really know the ‘why’ of what’s going on.
Thirdly, I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many controlled trials out there which have been done to really verify the success of some of these policies.
Theoretically there are also quite a few problems:
The book and the ‘team’ above both talk in terms of ‘nudging’ people into making the ‘right decisions’… but who decides what is right? This theory ignores questions of power.
It also could be used towards very negative ends… in fact I think we’ve already seen that with the whole Brexit and Trump votes….. I’m sure those campaigns used nudge theory to manipulate people’s voting outcomes. It doesn’t take a massive swing to alter political outcomes today after all!
Finally, I cannot see how you are going to be able to ‘nudge’ people into making drastic changes to save the planet for example: I can’t imagine the government changing the message on its next round of car tax renewal letters to include messages such as: ‘have you ever thought about giving up the car and just walking everywhere instead? If you did so, the planet might stand a chance of surviving!’.
Final thoughts: the age of the ‘nudge’?
I think this book and this type of ‘steering politics’ are very reflective of the age we live in. (The whole theory is kind of like a micro-version of Anthony Giddens’ ‘steering the juggernaut’ theory.) This is policy-set very much favoured to career politicians and bureaucrats who would rather focus on ‘pragmatic politics’. It’s kind of like what realism is to Marxism in criminology theory: not interested in the ‘big questions’.
I just cannot see how this kind of politics is going to help us move towards making the kind of drastic social changes that are probably going to be required to tackle the biggest problems of our times: global warming, militarism, inequality, refugees for example.
1 in 3 children in the U.K. is either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, with those from deprived areas twice as likely to be affected.
There are some pretty obvious downsides to childhood obesity to both the individual and society – such as the increased risk of obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, and estimated annual cost to the NHS of > £billion/ year.
The government today announced a set of measures designed to halve the number of children suffering from obesity by 2030, which included
A ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.
A uniform calorie labeling system to be introduced in all restaurants, cafes and takeaways.
Shops are to banned from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts and entrances
Shops are to banned from including unhealthy food in special offers.
Primary schools would be asked to introduce an “active mile” to encourage children to be more active, including daily running sessions and an emphasis on walking and cycling to school.
The plan forms the second chapter of the government’s childhood obesity strategy. The first chapter was criticized for being too weak when it was published two years ago.
Given the increase in childhood obesity, this seems to be like a timely intervention:
Arguments for banning advertising junk food to children
There is strong evidence that children who are more exposed to advertising are more likely to eat more junk food, which is a starting point argument for banning the ads.
Even if you argue that is is the parents’ responsibility to control what their kids eat, the fact that in reality, it is simply impossible for parents to regulate every aspect of their children’s lives: kids are going to go online and be exposed to whatever’s there: better that junk food adverts are not.
This move ‘fits into’ the general movement towards more child protection. In fact, I think it’s odd that junk food manufactures have been exempt from doing harm to children (by pushing their products onto them) for so long.
Those of a liberal persuasion would probably be against even more state intervention in the lives of families, however I personally don’t see these policies as ‘intervening’ in the lives of families, they are more about forcing companies to restrain their marketing of unhealthy food to children, so personally I can’t think of any decent arguments against these government policies…… suggestions welcome in the comments!
In the final section of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s ‘Man Disconnected’ the authors outline a few suggestions about how to combat the crisis faced by young men around the world. The post summarizes chapters 16-21).
Before reading this you might like to read the following posts:
Man Disconnected, which summarizes the evidence that young men are in crisis (chapters 1-7)
Zimbardo and Coulombe break down their solutions to focus on what governments, schools, parents, men, women and finally the media can do…
What governments can do:
Support the role of the father
Limit the use of endocrine-disruptors
Get more men into grade school teaching positions
Get junk food out of schools
Improve how schools prepare students for their lives ahead
What schools can do:
Teach life skills
Incorporate new technology for more interactive learning
Quash grade inflation
What parents can do:
Teach children to be resilient by letting them organise their own play and take risks
Give children responsibility for important tasks within the family
Encourage children to think about a future career, and to explore vocational options
Discussing taboo topics like sex
Fathers need to priorities fatherhood
Get children to track how much time they spend on different activities
What men can do:
Turn off the porn
Track your activity and consider what else you could be doing!
Make your bed (small accomplishments lead to bigger accomplishments)
Discover your inner power
Make a few female friends
Don’t call women sluts
Find a mentor, be a mentor
What women can do
Mothers and sisters basically need to encourage the strength and hardness associated with manhood, while having the depth of character and emotional sensitivity to help men become better communicators.
Don’t be promiscuous – because this just sends out the message to men that they will always have a string of available sexual partners
Choose a ‘good partner’ rather than a ‘flash partner’ – there are plenty of ‘good men’ (who want long term relationships) being overlooked because they are ‘drowned out’ on dating sites by better looking men who have no genuine interest in commitment.
Zimbardo’s final chapter is a brief one on what the media (especially the porn and gaming industries) can do to help stem the crisis of masculinity.
One person (probably among many others) that’s not happy about this is Russell Brand, who pointed out that yet again it’s the marginalised and powerless who are being made to suffer so that the elite can have a ‘jolly nice time’.
He outlines his views in this brief, 5 minute video clip:
One of this suggestions is that Slough Council should hand over one its buildings to SHOC ‘Slough Homeless Our Concern’, so at least there is some real, tangible, extra support being made available for the homeless in the area.
You can sign an online petition in support of the idea here>
Relevance to A level sociology
I thought this was a cheeky little example to highlight how the marginalised get treated in this country, also illustrates elements of the social construction of crime – in that ‘homelessness’ becomes more of a problem when the context (the impending wedding) approaches.
Also – here we have celebrity Russell Brand, a ‘moral entrepreneur’ spearheading a very specific, niche, social policy campaign (/suggested intervention) via his YouTube channel – there’s something very postmodern about all of this…
The Daily Mail and their Tory beneficiaries would have you think that the current crisis within the NHS are caused mainly by a combination of the following variables:
HOWEVER, this is not the case according to some more in-depth analysis by Ravi Jayaram, an NHS consultant (in The Guardian), who instead blames several years of chronic underfunding by the Tory government which have had the following effects:
Firstly, Primary Care services have been decimated by funding cuts, and as a result there are fewer GPs per patients, and so people feel they have to go to A and E rather than seeking help from their local GP.
Secondly, the recent conflict over Junior Doctors’ pay and the removal of the nurses bursary has left a sour note in the NHS, with those who are able to do so retiring early or leaving the country, meaning that the staff left behind struggle to provide safe and effective care.
Thirdly, whole wards of some hospitals have been closed by hospital trusts in order to stay in the black, meaning there is a decrease in supply.
NB – all of this has been going on while, as is well known, there is an increasing demand for NHS services by an ageing population!
And the deeper cause of all of this….well it’s a blinkered commitment to a neoliberal ideology which champions lower taxation and tight control on public spending….
In 2005 New Labour liberalised the gambling the laws, ending the ban on T.V. advertising, which is in line with neoliberal policies of decreasing state regulation of private companies.
12 years later and we have a situation where endless T.V. adverts glamorise gambling and hook new converts, and where online gambling companies such as 888 Sport and Paddy Power are targeting children with their online gambling games – exploiting a loophole in the law in which allows online games to advertise to children, but not casinos etc.
According to the industry’s own regulator, the Gambling Commission, around 450 000 children, or one in six of all those aged 11-15 now gamble at least once a week.
It seems that in this case, the right of gambling companies to make a profit trumps the well being of our children (*), and there’s also a nice example of Toxic Childhood here…. not only do our kids now have to deal with information overload, the contradictions of staying thin while being surrounded by junk and the pressures of over-testing, they’ve now got to deal with a potential life time of gambling addiction.
Stephen Hawking this week accused the Conservative government of damaging the NHS by slashing funding, weakening the health service though privatization, demoralizing staff by curbing pay and cutting social care support.
Hawking blamed a raft of policies pursued since 2010 by the coalition and then the Conservatives for enfeebling the NHS and leaving it unable to cope with the demands being placed on it.
“The crisis in the NHS has been caused by political decisions,” he said. “The political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on the junior doctors and removal of the student nurses’ bursary.
Hawking also accused the Tories of ‘cherry picking evidence’ to back up their views that funding cuts were not damaging the NHS…
“When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others, to justify policies that they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture…One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people not to trust science, at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever, given the challenges we face as a human race.”
Comments/ Application to Sociology
I thought the news item above was worth summarizing as it’s such a great example a critique of neoliberal social policy – Hawking basically picks up on all the three main aspects of neoliberal policy – deregulation, funding cuts and privatization.
The matter of ‘trust’ is also a very central concept in any sociology of the risk society – Hawking is saying that you can trust scientific research as long as you’re objective about it and take into account all of the data and (appropriately reviewed) studies on the topic in-hand – not enough people are saying this clearly enough, and I think it’s important as it’s a useful antidote to post-truth politics.
As to the credibility of science being undermined when politicians cherry-pick data, this is less likely to happen if more scientists like Hawking get involved in social policy discourse. I mean: who do you trust more: The health minister Jeremy Hunt telling you the NHS is doing great based on studies B, F, AND M, or someone like Hawking telling you that, yes studies B,F, and M tell suggest the NHS is doing OK, but if we also take into account studies A through Z, on balance the neoliberalism is screwing our public health services?
The focus of this book is on the causes of climate change, some potential solutions, and the dangers of carrying on with ‘business as usual’. More specifically:
Chapter two provides an overview of how globalised neoliberal policies helped to cause climate change (chapter two)
Chapters three and four explore how governments have a crucial role to play in combating climate change (chapters three and four)
Chapter five reminds us of the possible consequences of carrying on with the extractivist logic of the industrial era which underpins the neoliberal exploitation of the environment (chapter five).
Chapter one alerts us to the strategies which neoliberals employ to deny climate change in order to prevent the collapse of their neoliberal world order and their fall from world power
NB – I changed the order from the actual book because I think my order makes more sense!
NB2 – I’ve changed the arty subtitles of the chapters so they are more meaningful to a mass audience.
Chapter Two – Hot Money: How Neoliberalism Accelerated Climate Change
Klein argues that the three policy pillars of the neoliberal age (1989 – present day ) are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels and bring climate change under control.
The three main neoliberal policies are:
privatisation of the public sphere
deregulation of the corporate sector
lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending.
These neoliberal ideas lie at the heart of the World Trade Organisation, and many of its policies are incompatible with a sustainable future. Specifically Klein says there are three contradictions between the (neoliberal) goals of the WTO and what’s needed to control climate change.
Firstly, the WTO encourages more international trade which has meant a huge increase in fossil fuel burning container ships and lorries. Reduced carbon emissions would require less trade or more local trade.
Secondly, the WTO gave TNCs the rights to sue national governments for preventing them from making a profit out of mining/ burning fossil fuels, whereas to protect the environment, governments would need to be able pass laws to protect the environment.
Thirdly, the WTO has given western companies stronger patent rights over their technologies – whereas if renewable technologies are to be transferred to the developing world, they would need to make their own cheap copies of those technologies (because they would not be able to afford to buy them).
As general evidence of the link between neoliberal policies and the increase in global warming we have the following stats – ‘Before the neoliberal era, emissions growth had been slowing from 4.5% annual increases in the 1960s to about 1% a year in the 1990s, but between 2000 and 2008 the growth rate reached 3.4%, before reaching a historic high of 5.9% in 2009. (Evidence for this comes in the form of the report below (although growth does slow in more recent years!)
To illustrate the link between increasing international trade and global warming Klein gives the following examples:
According to Andreas Malm, China had became the workshop of the world by the year 2000 and by 2007 China was responsible for 2/3rds of the annual increase in global emissions. However, global warming cannot all be pinned on China – because only half of that growth in emissions is down to China’s internal growth, the other half being because of China’s increasing exports to other countries (production being done for TNCs).
This in turn is down to the primary driving force of the trade system in the 1980s and 1990s – allowing multinationals the freedom to scour the globe in search of the cheapest and most exploitable labour force (the ‘race to the bottom’) – it was a journey that passed through Mexico and South Korea and ended up in China where wages were extraordinarily low, trade unions were brutally suppressed and the state was willing to spend seemingly limitless funds on massive infrastructure projects – modern ports, sprawling highway systems, endless numbers of coal-fired power plants, massive dams, all to ensure that the lights stayed on in the factories and the goods made it from the assembly lines onto the container ships in time – A free trader’s dream, in other words, and a climate nightmare.
Klein suggests that there is a causal link between the quest for cheap labour and rising CO2 emissions – the same logic which works labour to the bone will burn mountains of coal while spending next to nothing on pollution controls because it’s the cheapest way to produce.
As further evidence that it’s the global trade system/ increasing consumption in general (rather than just China) that’s the problem – most of the increase in emissions in the last decade and a half are a result of the globalisation of the trade in food (as observed by Steven Shyrbman a decade and a half ago). The global food system accounts for between 19 and 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
At one level this is a result of the increase in food miles that come with shipping food products around the world (for example shipping New Zealand apples to Britain in September), at a deeper level it is about the intensification of production through the industrialisation of agriculture – which has resulted in larger and larger farms devoting themselves to producing one crop (or one animal in intensive meat-factories) which requires not only tractors, but also artificial fertilisers and pesticides, all of which are derived from oil. At deeper level still, the problem lies in the fact that gigantic food companies such as Monsanto and Cargill are major players in writing the WTO rules that allow them to operate this way.
To illustrate the second point above: How TNCs use the WTO to sue governments Klein cites the following:
(Firstly some context) Fossil fuel companies lie firmly at the heart of the global capitalist system, and presently receive $775 billion to $1 trillion in annual global subsidies, but they pay nothing for the privilege of treating our shared atmosphere as free waste dump.
In order to cope with these distortions (which the WTO has made no attempt to correct), governments need to take a range of aggressive steps – such as price guarantees to straight subsidies so that green energy has a shot at competing.
However, green energy programmes which have been instigated under nation states are increasingly being challenged under World Trade Organisation rules. For example:
In 2010 the United States challenged China’s wind powered subsidy programs on the grounds that it contained supports for local industry considered protectionist. China in turn filed a complaint in 2012 targeting various renewable energy programmes in mainly Italy and Greece.
In short, the WTO encourages nation states to tear down each others windmills while encouraging them to subsidise coal burning power stations.
The sad thing is, when governments subsidise green energy – it works – Denmark has the most successful renewable energy programs in the world, with 40% of its energy coming from renewables, mostly wind, but its programme was rolled out in the 1980s, with most installations being subsidised at 30%, before the WTO was established. Now such subsidies are illegal under WTO rules because it’s ‘unfair’ to fossil fuel companies.
Climate Change Treaties – The 1990s to the Present Day: Free Trade Trumps Environmental Protection
Klein notes that there is startling parallel between the emergence of international treaties on climate change and the neoliberal agenda free-trade agenda advanced by the World Trade Organisation.
1992 marked the date of the first United Nations Earth Summit in Rio – the first UN Framework Convention of Climate Change was signed.
1995 marked the date of the establishment of the World Trade Organisation, which formally put in place all of the above rules which effectively prevent any country doing anything about climate-change.
However, the commitments made in the climate negotiations all effectively functioned on the honour system, with a weak and unthreatening mechanisms to penalise countries which failed to keep their promises. The commitments made under trade agreements, on the other hand, were enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth, and failure to comply would land governments in trade court, often facing harsh penalties.
The hierarchy was so clear that the 1992 Rio Earth Summit agreement made clear that ‘measures taken to combat climate change… should not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.’
To illustrate how weak the measures to combat climate change actually are Klein cites the fact that there are fundamental flaws with the way CO2 emissions are monitored:
Countries are bound by voluntary agreements to keep CO2 emissions low – but the emissions counting system on which nation states are judged is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t take account of emissions from transportation across borders – and container shipping has increased by 400% over the last 20 years.
Also countries are judged by the emissions which take place in their boarders – not for the pollution produced in the manufacturing of goods which are shipped to their shores – for example the TV set in my living room is not counted on the UK’s emissions count, but on China’s, where it was produced.
Basically, Klein sees the lack of effective monitoring as allowing countries to under-report their CO2 emissions, and thus dodge responsibility.
What can we do?
We need to consume less, straight away, and aim to reduce our emissions to the levels of the 1970s, if we wish to be staying alive…
Chapter Three – Public and Paid For: Arguments and Evidence that Ground-Up Social Democracy Is The Most Effective Way to Combat Climate Change
Much has been written about Germany’s renewable energy transition – It is currently undergoing a ‘transition to green’ – with 25% of its energy coming from renewables. This is up from only 6% in 2000.
Though rarely talked about there is a clear and compelling relationship between public ownership and the ability of communities to get off dirty energy.
In Germany, this has taken the form of local citizens groups taking control of their own energy supplies from multinational corporations. There are about 200 of these in Germany, and they take the form of locally controlled energy companies which are concerned with public interests, not profit, which was democratically controlled by citizens, with money earned being returned to the city, rather than lost to shareholders of some multinational.
This movement is actually more widespread than Germany (there are even some cities in America have done this, such as Boulder in Colorado which have gone down this route), and is most prevalent in the Netherlands, Austria, and Norway, and these are the countries with the highest commitment to coming off fossil fuels and pursuing green energy alternatives.
On the other hand, according to John Farrel, the attitude of most private energy companies has been, and still is ‘we’re going to take the money we make from selling fossil fuels and use it to lobby as hard as we can against any change to the way we do business’.
In 2009 Mark Z. Jacobsen and Mark A Deluchi authored a road map for how 100% of the world’s energy for all purposes could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources, by as early 2030. There are numerous studies which confirm the possibility of this, but the biggest barriers to change are social and economic.
Increasing Natural Disasters Require Strong Public Institutions to Manage
In the course of the 1970s there were 660 reported disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wild-fires and storms. In the 2000s there were 2,322 – a fivefold boost…. There is not doubt that man-made climate change has caused this increase.
Yet these are three decades in which governments around the world have been chipping away at the health and resilience of the public sphere – the problem with this is that governments are realistically the only institutions that are up to the challenge of responding to natural disasters (during disasters most people tend to lose their free market religion and wants to know their government has their backs).
A case in point here is the devastation caused by the the floods of 2013-14 – These were particularly awkward for the coalition government because a year earlier David Cameron had gutted the Environment Agency, which was responsible for dealing with flooding. Since 2009, approximately 25% of its workforce has been axed or were lined up to be axed and nearly 300 flood defence schemes had been left unbuilt due to government budget cuts.
The worldwide costs of coping with weather extremes are astronomical – In 2011 the global cost stood at $380 billion.
Given this it is clear that public money needs to spent urgently on reducing the carbon emissions which are causing these crises – and much of that needs to spent in developing countries – and who should pay? The polluters!
The Polluter Pays Principle
A 2011 Survey by the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs concluded that it would cost $1.9 trillion dollars a year for the next forty years to overcome poverty, increase food production to eradicate hunger without degrading land and water resources and avert the climate change catastrophe, and at least half of that would have to be spent in developing countries.
The problem is that public spending has been going in the opposite direction, and the fossil fuel companies who profit from climate change have blocked moves to sustainability on every turn.
These companies are very profitable – the top five oil companies pulled in $900 billion in profits from 2001 to 2010. These companies are rich because they have dumped the cost of cleaning up their mess on regular people, and this needs to fundamentally change.
So who should pay?
Oil and Gas companies should be forced to pay by putting in place a steep carbon tax, and laws to prevent these companies from polluting – If these companies are going to stop polluting, it will be because they are forced to do so by law.
The United States – because the US military is the biggest consumer of petroleum in the world, arms companies should also pay.
The 500 million richest of us are responsible for about half of all emissions – so we are going to have to pay for our pollution.
Other suggestions for raising the almost $2 billion annually include:
A low rate financial transaction tax (would raise $650 billion)
Closing tax havens ($190 billion)
A 1% billionaires tax ($46 dollars annually)
Slashing the military budgets of the top ten military spenders ($325 billion)
A $50 tax per metric ton of CO2 would raise $450 billion
Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies – $775 billion.
If these measures were taken, they would raise more than $2 trillion annually.
Our current political class is probably not going to sort out climate change – because
They are not prepared to challenge big money Corporations
They are not prepared to engage in long term planning (real market fundamentalists don’t plan – the market sorts all that out!
Chapter Four – Planning and Banning: Arguments that Governments will need to Plan and Regulate Corporations to Combat Climate Change
In short – Governments need to plan for jobs.
The gist of this section is that the public sector needs to put green jobs creation at the centre of its green strategy – investment in renewables and local agriculture, as well as the renationalising of private companies (like in Germany, but also extended to rail networks in countries like Britain) could create millions of jobs worldwide, many more than a continued dependency on fossil fuels.
Governments need to plan for power (the transition to green energy)
We need to depart from neoliberal ideology to bring about the green transition – like is being done in Germany – this means engaging in long term national planning and deliberately picking green energy, and fixing prices to help young start up renewable companies.
However, what we don’t need is massive state owned energy companies – The highest rates of renewable energy have been achieved in Germany and Denmark with lots of smaller locally run co-operative businesses.
One threat to the green transition is cheap gas – In the US fracking has damaged Wind Power’s position in the new energy market – down from 42% of the market in new energy in 2009 to 32% in 2011.
Governments also need to plan for food.
Here Klein cites the important role agroecology which is about small scale, organic, local production, increasing as far as possible the species diversity on farms, in sharp contrast to the monocultures preferred by big international food companies, which are heavily dependent on fertilisers and pesticides.
In Malawi, agroecology has led to a doubling or tripling of Maize yields, and to date projects world-wide have shown a crop yield increase of 80% in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116% for all African projects.
Governments will need to learn to say no to big oil companies.
For example, companies simply should not be given permits to frack, period. Some studies have found that the methane emissions from fracking are 30% higher than those associated with natural gas, and that the warming potential once the gas is emitted is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide.
The government should also say no to projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline which is being built to pump shale gas from Canada to the US – this will require massive acts of civil disobedience to achieve.
Meanwhile, big oil companies are investing in extracting projects like never before, and spending a fortune on lobbying governments – One study found that they spend $400 000 a day lobbying.
Chapter Five – The Decline of Nauru – The Consequences of Carrying on with Business as Usual
In this chapter Klein provides us with a brief history of the tiny Island of Nauru, which offers us a useful warning against the extractivist logic of the industrial era.
Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in: I covered this in a previous post – The Island of Nauru…..
Chapter One – Climate-Change Proves that Neoliberal Policies are Killing the Planet and Us With It – thus Neoliberals Deny Climate Change in Order to Cling on to Power.
Neoliberals know full well that our global economy is created by and reliant on the burning of fossil fuels and that to change this requires the opposite of neoliberalism – It will require governments to intervene heavily in business – with such measures as
sweeping bans on polluting activities
deep subsidies for green alternatives
pricey penalties for violations
new public works programmes
reversals of privatisations.
There is however, little motivation for neoliberals to adopt climate change policies because climate change will affect the poor more than the rich…
For starters, in the wealthier countries we will be able to protect our cities from the effects of sea level rise with expensive flood barriers, and then there’s the fact that climate change will affect poor countries in the South more than rich countries in the North.
And more drastically, in the words of Naomi Klein….
‘Since people who scare Americans are unlucky to live in poor, hot places, climate change will cook them, leaving the United States to rise like a phoenix from the flames of global warming.’
So instead of changing anything, neoliberals have established institutions which fund people to do research which counters the overwhelming (97%) scientific consensus that climate change exists.
The premier institute for doing this is The Heartland Institute, which hosts annual gatherings of climate change deniers, during which little serious scientific debate takes place, with the most popular speakers being right-wing (neoliberal) ideologues who present the issue of climate change as a hoax being perpetuated by the left in order to force people into giving up their high-consumption lifestyles.**
Worryingly, these think tanks seem to be very influential in shaping public opinion – A 2007 Harris poll found that 71% of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would alter the climate. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51%. In June 2011, to 44%. This is one of the largest shifts in a short period of time seen in public opinion in recent years.
Two Possible Futures…
Klein believes that we have a choice….
If we stay on the road we are on, we will get the big corporate, big military, big engineering responses to climate change – the world of a tiny group of big corporate winners and armies of locked-out losers that we have imagined in virtually every account of our dystopic future, from Mad Max to The Children of Men, to The Hunger Games, to Elysium.
Or we can choose to heed climate change’s planetary wake-up call and change course and steer away not just from the emissions cliff but from the logic which brought us that precipice.
That means laying out a vision of the world that competes direclty with neoliberalism….. that resonates deeply with the majority of the people on the planet because it is true: that we are not apart from nature, but of it. That acting collectively for a greater good is not suspect, and that such common projects for responsible for our species’ greatest accomplishments. That greed must be tempered by both rule and example. That poverty amidst plenty is unconscionable.
** That their position on climate-change is not objective is suggested by four facts:
Transnational Corporations which are responsible for climate change (and so benefit from it) such as Koch and ExxonMobil fund such think tanks, to the tune of almost $1bn a year.
Many of the companies funding climate change denial are at the same time insuring themselves heavily against the future consequences of climate change.
A 2013 study by political scientist Peter Jacques found that 72% of climate denial books, mostly published since the 1990s, were linked to right-wing think tanks such as the Heartland Institute.
One’s political outlook predicts one’s views on climate change more so than anything else – only 11% of Americans with hierarchical/ individualistic (right-wing) worldviews rate climate change as high risk, while 69% of those with egalitarian and communitarian worldviews rate it as high risk.)
This truly horrific, and avoidable tragedy seems to be a perfect illustration of the downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.
NB – This isn’t just me saying this, below is an approximate quote by Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in a speech given on 24th June:
‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a ‘direct consequence of Tory attitudes towards social housing… they think they are second class citizens, and thus they got second class fire safety standards. It is also a direct consequence of outsourcing and of deregulation” (video from The Independent).
Five things which suggest Kensington Council put profits before safety…
I’ve taken the five pieces of evidence from a recent article in The Week : ‘The Grenfell Inferno: were profits put before safety’? (NB – as far as I can tell, this is only in the print copy of The Week, 24th June, Issue 1130).
One – The council ignored repeated warnings by Grenfell residents
Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned KCTMO that the building was unsafe:
rubbish blocking hallways was going uncollected
emergency lighting was inadequate
there was no fire escape (save the main stairs)
fire extinguishers weren’t being tested
repeated power surges had led to electrical appliances catching fire previously.
It was also claimed that on the night of the fire, the fire alarms failed.
Kensington and Chelsea council also have £274 million in reserves.
Amelia Gentlemen in The Guardian suggests that, in the context of the vast wealth in the borough, there is a strong suspicion that council officials ‘see social housing tenants, many of them immigrants, as a nuisance, occupying valuable land that could be sold off to developers at a vast profit’.
Three – The council outsourced the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower to a firm called Rydon, which has a track record of putting profits before safety.
Rydon, which made a pre-tax profit of £14 million last year, won the contract over the councils ‘preferred contractor’ by undercutting them, despite the fact that another council, Sutton council, had recently cancelled a five year repairs contract with Rydon becaue its performance fell short of requirements.
Rydon subcontracted out the Grenfell work to nine different companies, which raised ‘serious concerns about the quality of supervision and accountability’.
So it was Rydon that was the firm who would have agreed to install the non fire-proof cladding, rather than going for the fire-proof panels for an extra £5000.
Four – Deregulation has meant that landlords have managed to avoid acting on fire safety advice.
Retrofitting sprinklers (which would have cost £200 000) was one of the recommendations made after a fire at Lakanal House in south London in 2009 killed nine people, but lawmakers decided not to make this mandatory – they left it up to landlords and councils to do so on a voluntary basis, and few did.
Five – The incapable response by the council to the disaster
Despite an amazing voluntary response by the public, the ‘council was no where to be seen’ – even 24 hours after the fire, there was no centralised co-ordination from the council, no point of information about missing persons, and some residents were still sleeping rough 4 days later.
All of this suggests that the council see social housing tenants as second class citizens.
NB – the poor treatment is continuing several days later….According to The Guardian around 30 households were subsequently told by the council that they would have to move out their Holiday Inn accommodation because of previous bookings; some families have been asked to move several times.
The relevance of all of this to A-level sociology….
As I mentioned above, this tragedy can be used to illustrate downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.
It’s also a useful reminder that poor people in rich (unequal) societies can be treated appallingly, suggesting that inequality is the main barrier to further social development in so called ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom.
I also think Bauman’s concept of ‘flawed consumers’ can be applied here – Bauman has long commented that capitalism produces ‘surplus people’ – those without the means to consume, and many of the Grenfell residents fit this category – and because they perform no useful function in a capitalist system (because they can’t buy that many things and keep profit flowing) these people are treated with contempt, as this case study clearly demonstrates.
As a final note, a harsh question I’d like people to consider is simply this – how many people in the U.K. genuinely believe that the state should guarantee a decent standard of housing for everyone, even if that means spending a few billion extra pounds at the national level, which in turn would mean an increasing in taxes?
Clearly the Kensington council leader, and probably most of the Tory party, think the state should provide no or minimal help to the poor in the form of social housing, that’s one of the main strands of neoliberal thought, but how many of those people cheering for Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury really believe the state should pay more towards social housing, especially if that means your council tax bill going up?
I have this uncomfortable feeling that while it’s easy to come together and hate the Tories, if you probed public opinion a little deeper, there probably wouldn’t be that much support for increased spending on social welfare, or that much commitment to giving serious thought about how to implement policies to make capitalism work better for the poor, let alone how to replace it with a post-capitalist order.