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Holding Government to their Commitments on Climate Change

This posts covers notes prepared in preparation for a workshop at the Climate Change Conference at St Aldhelms Church Centre, Weymouth on Sat 21st Oct, organised by Transition Town Weymouth and Portland.

Clean Growth Strategy published 12 October 2017

Carbon Brief email 13th Oct 2017 says:

“Yesterday, the UK government finally published its long-delayed “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out how it hopes to deliver the nation’s climate goals. The 165-page document is high on aspiration and positivity, but admits to falling short of meeting the UK’s legally binding fourth and fifth carbon budgets, covering 2023-27 and 2028-32.

Ministers say only some of the strategy’s policies were fully formed enough to be included in these sums and that the Climate Change Act offers “flexibilities” that could be used to make up any remaining shortfall. Furthermore, many big policies decisions have been kicked down the road into next year and beyond.

Carbon Brief has read through the strategy to put the need-to-know details in one article.[‘In-depth: How the ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ hopes to deliver UK climate goals’ “


So the government must try harder, but will it? What are the incentives?

  • Shortly before the UK’s strategy was released, the US administration moved to repeal its own Clean Power Plan. – though as Carbon Brief comments ‘federal policy is far from the only game in town.’

  • Continued media coverage of denier Nigel Lawson and his Global Warming Policy Foundation (charity), and its non charitable lobbying arm the Global Warming Policy Forum.

  • ‘The BBC’s Climate Denialism: Coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the South Asian Floods’, Media lens, 5th September 2017, . The article concludes, “A principal function of the corporate media is to keep uncomfortable truths about elite power, not least its role in driving humanity towards climate chaos and mass extinctions, ‘silenced and repressed’. We must resist this with every fibre of our being.”

  • Resulting public confusion and lack of solid support.

Points for discussion: We have to get the public on side if the government is to be convinced to stick to its guns. Author George Marshall suggests we need to tell good stories rather than use graphs and scientific language. Another angle is the appeal to the Precautionary Principle.

Additional Reading:

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

By George Marshall

260 pp., hardcover. Bloomsbury Publishing – Aug. 2014. $27.00

Extra references

1. More on the Clean Growth Strategy

Draughty homes targeted in UK climate change masterplan

Ministers publish long-delayed blueprint for hitting target of cutting emissions by 57% in next 15 years



The Scientific Understatement of Climate Risks


Human-induced climate change is an existential risk to human civilisation, yet much climate research understates climate risks and provides conservative projections. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that are crucial to climate policymaking and informing public narrative are characterised by scientific reticence, paying limited attention to lower-probability, high-risk events that are becoming increasingly likely.

This latest Breakthrough report argues for an urgent risk reframing of climate research and the IPCC reports.


‘UK withdrawal bill ‘rips the heart out of environmental law’, say campaigners’

New bill omits key ‘precautionary’ principle requiring developers and industry to prove actions will not harm wildlife or habitats as well as ‘polluter pays’ protections

[amendments have been put forward to correct this]


Do Christians care about life on Earth?

When Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer, they say, “…Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven…” But what is God’s will? In the middle ages it was accepted that this life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. It was a trial to see whether when you die you deserve Heaven, Hell, or further examination in purgatory. You had to accept your station in life and if your ‘betters’ treated you ill that was just part of the test.

Since then things have changed somewhat. It is now recognised that everyone should be entitled to be adequately fed, housed etc. provided they have made all reasonable attempts to earn enough to support themselves. When this is not the case Christians will give food, money or practical help. Where the problem is a natural disaster there is no more they can do, but what about when the problem arises from a failure of government policy? This is something that Christians back away from – ‘it’s politics’.

No one is infallible but should we not expect a reasonable standard of behaviour from our politicians? Politicians are becoming renowned for their lying and their greed, but that is not the worst of their sins which Christians recognise to be Pride (self-conceit or hubris). That great Christian apologist the late C.S.Lewis wrote [note 1], “…power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to
others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.” The proud politician does not respect anyone else’s opinion or evidence, but has a vastly inflated sense of entitlement.

Christians may reflect upon why senior politicians are so very prone to be being eaten up with pride. They maybe inhibited in calling out individual politicians because they recognise as Lewis did, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.” So are Christians caught in a Catch 22? I say no. Politicians succomb to Pride because in our lousy political system they are simply not accountable; radical reform is required.

It is not for the Church as an institution to prescribe the details of those reforms. There are plenty of experts and campaign groups for that. The message is simple. British is a state built on sand; without radical reform we will founder.

Note 1: see C.S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity, book 3 – Christian Behaviour, chapter 8 -The Great Sin’, first delivered as a series of radio talks during WW2, published as a complete book in the early 1950s.

We should not neglect the Lib Dems

Most of MVM’s efforts are being devoted to winning over Labour (the only ‘progressive’ party not totally convinced) of the merits of proportional representation (PR). In spite of our best endeavours however we can never be certain that a Labour victory in a general election will win us PR. Those labour MPs in safe seats may vote with the Tories. Look what has happened in Canada. Another hung parliament could be our best hope. The role of the Lib Dems could be crucial.

In theory they support PR; they have every incentive to do so. The most spectacularly unfair result for their predecessors – the Libersl/SDP alliance was in 1983 when they received just 23 (3.5%) of the seats for 25.4% of the vote. In the ensuing ‘all party/ no party’ Campaign for Fair Votes, one million signatures were collected on a paper petition to the House of Commons. This involved door knocking up to 9 p.m. on winter evenings! It was all in vain; in accordance with custom, the boxes of signatures were placed behind the speaker’s chair, but no debate ensued. There was no media coverage, the event being overshadowed by the abolition of the Greater London Council.

Since then, during periods of majority government, the Lib Dems  have made little effort to win public support for PR. This was left to ‘all party’ groups, ERS which was hopeless and Charter88/Unlock Democracy which campaigned for far too many things. It has taken another manifestly unfair election and an 18 year old to take up the fight.

Following the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish Lib Dems were for the second time in coalition with Labour and were able to use this position to secure STV for local elections, the first of which were held in 2007.

In the 2010 general election things went less well. The Lib Dems did not appear to have prepared for possibility of coalition, or else why did Clegg make that promise that they they little chance of delivering on? Although there had to be a Tory led government, the Lib Dems were their only possible partners. Theye should not have gone for coalition but only maintenance and supply. They should have fought harder for PR. It would have been good for the country and good for the long term future of the Lib Dems. Ther can be no question about the latter.

They must be helped to learn their lesson. They should ignore the inevitable Tory claims that campaigning for PR is special pleasding. It is vital for the future of Britain.

How New Zealand Got PR and How it has Gone

At the first meeting of Make Votes Matter in Rural Dorset on 27th June I was asked how New Zealand, which had used FPTP up until the 1990s, managed to achieve reform. I was a bit vague. I hope this puts things right, see, In short:

A Royal Commission was appointed in 1985 which recommended MMP with a single top up area encompassing the whole country and a total of 120 MPs (up from 99 under FPTP).

In 1992 there was a non binding referendum at which 85% of people voted for change, and of the four systems on offer 65% voted for MMP, 16% for STV, 6% for PV and 5% for Supplementary Vote.

In 1993 a 2nd binding referendum was held to choose between MMP and retaining FPTP. This was much harder fought. The opposition got organised and ‘project fear’ ruled. The vote was 54% for MMP and 46% to retain FPTP. A pro reformer said, “Had the referendum been held a week earlier I believe we would have lost.”

The first election was held in 1996 in which there were 65 electorate seats and 55 party list top up seats. The proportions have varied over time for reasons I do not understand. On three occasions a party (I think the Māori Party on each occasion) won more constituency seats than the total they were entitled to on the basis of the party vote. This is called ‘overhang’. The no. of seats was increased in order to restore proportionality ( by 1 in two cases and 2 in the other).

A further referendum was held in 2011. 58% voted to retain MMP and 42% to change.

A review carried out by the Electoral Commission in 2012 recommended a fixed ratio of 72 electorate seats to 48 party seats. However in 2014 the ration was 71 to 50 (including one overhang seat).

Read the details at the above link and at:

Letter to Richard Drax MP, South Dorset

copied to news editor Dorset Echo

Subject: Britain a Laughing Stock in Europe

Dear Mr Drax

It is very sad that according to the Guardian ( ) Britain is now a laughing stock in Europe. First Past the Post has not delivered strong and stable government recently.

The article points out that under a proportional system ‘balanced’ parliaments (to use a less emotive term than ‘hung’) will be more likely, but once politicians have  learned to live with this they might be more likely to face the challenges faced by this country as grown ups rather than as a crowd of jeering schoolboys and school girls. Political leaders might be persuaded to show a modicum of humility and start listening.

You may wish to reflect on this. Just to remind you that we are holding a meeting at the United Church, Dorchester on Tuesday to discuss this (see attached). It would be good to see some Conservatives there.

yours sincerely

David Smith, 9 Old Station Road, Weymouth, DT3 5NQ, tel: 01305 815965

Modest proposals for cleaning up UK politics

It has been argued that this is the most important election since universal suffrage. If the Tories are returned to power and Mrs May carries on as she has been doing, many of our rights will be removed (under the pretext of security) in the Great Repeal Bill, much hard won environment and safety legislation will be lost. But also we are likely to face exit from the EU without either a trade deal or even a ‘divorce settlement’. If we leave without the latter then we feel the EU’s displeasure and face huge tariff walls. My only hope is that enough Tories realise in time what a disaster she is, dump her and do something pragmatic.

If we have the opportunity then we should consider the following reforms (in addition to proportional representation), which would have to be enacted as primary legislation:

Election funding: attempts to limit donations from the very rich will always fail; people are inventive enough to get round any regulations. Instead there should be tight limits on NATIONAL party election spending. As a rough guide I would suggest a figure of a little less than what Labour will have spent this time. The figure should be linked to the number of votes received by that party at the last election, but there should be a fixed sum to allow for very small or new parties. This is a limit; they may not be able to raise such a figure. In order to enforce this:

Any transgression whether knowingly or not would attratct a fine levied by Electoral Commission.

Knowingly transgressing the limit would be a criminal offence

Exceeding the limit by 5% or more would automatically lead to the whole election being declared void and the offending party be liable for the cost of rerunning the election. The Electoral Commission would submit evidence to a court which would judge the matter. Any appeals would have to be heard within 6 weeks. The court could treat any undue delay in a party submitting the expenses return as evidence of a 5% overspend.

The BBC has quite good editorial guidelines but they are not consistently applied. They do not lie but they are lazy and biassed in the matters they report. They are also biassed as to the treatment of the people they interview especially during election periods. Channel 4 and even Sky have better records. Members of the BBC Trust should be chosen by lot, but with a power of popular recall. The terms of the BBC Charter should be agreed in primary legislation. Any powers granted to the secretary of state should be subject to the AFFIRMATIVE resolution procedure.

Any commercial media company operating in the UK would be limited to one newspaper title OR one TV Channel. If two companies had any significant connection they would be entitled to just one title or channel between them. A significant connection would be, either company with an equity holding of more than 5% of the other, any loan (including bonds) of more than 5% of the net assets of the debtor company, or anyone who is a director (whether executive or non executive) of both companies.

It has been alleged that Mrs May on Question Time made a false allgation against Diane Abbott to the effect that she had advocated the removal of the DNA samples of ‘criminals and terrorists’ from police databases. (see

“Abbott has, of course, done nothing of the sort. She has advocated the removal of the DNA of innocent people, because it infringes on our civil liberties, disproportionately affects ethnic minorities and includes the DNA of, for example, victims of crimes such as rape.”

If this is true then Mrs May has committed an illegal act under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. I am unclear what penalty is prescribed for this act if proved. It would of course be libel, but libel law is not a satisfactory solution in this case. It is not just Diane Abbott’s reputation that is at stake but the result of the election. It should be a criminal matter and the fact that the alleged offender is the Prime Minister should make no difference to how she is treated. The CPS should consider any complaint without fear or favour. If it is suspected that they are not doing so then a group of citizens should have the right to raise a defined sum of money and demand a judicial review of the CPS’s actions. The penalty for such an offence would be permanent banning from any public office and several years in prison.

Section 106 appears to apply also to media outlets making or repeating false allegations about candidates, but there serious issues of enforcement. In the case of print media, journalists, editors and distributors could be held personally criminally liable for any such offence. But thetre could be delays and difficulties. This needs more thought.

Steering the Economy

I have just been reading Kate Raworth’s book ‘Doughnut Economics’, a brilliant and very readable account of how economics has to change if everyone is to have ‘enough’ whilst staying within the resources and carrying capacity that the planet can cope with. She explains why economic growth cannot in future be the primary goal. We have to learn that the economy is not in stable equilibrium, and that the market cannot solve all. Orthodox models are useless. Systems Dynamics models such as those used by Steve Keen give a good explanation of why credit crunches, such as that occurring in 2008, happen and could potentially forecast the next one on the assumption we carry on as we are.

If we want to work out how we can get from where we are to where we need to be, we surely do not want to have to cope with recurring crises of that sort. Economies need to be steered. During the elction camapign a lot has been said about taxes. That is fiscal policy and is one aspect of what governments have to do to control the economy, but there is also monetary policy, now delegated to the Bank of England. What instruments does the Bank have for this purpose? Currently, for the most part, only interest rates, which are supposed both to keep inflation within acceptable limits and to ensure growth. Here  Kate Raworth says something I do not understand, ‘It’s time to stop searching for the economy’s elusive control levers (they don’t exist) and start stewarding it as an ever-evolving complex system.’

In the decades following WW2 the British did use powerful levers to control money – credit controls and exchange controls. In what Lord (Adair) Turner called a time of ‘financial repression’, the economy did ok. The crash of 2008 could not have happened. There are at least two measures to avoid another 2008:

The first is the one advocated by Prof. Richard Werner. Based on his investigation of Japan’s asset bubble followed by a long period of stagnation starting in 1992, he claimed that in order to prevent future asset bubbles, there should be controls on the amount of credit extended for speculation in existing assets, such as real estate, which makes no contribution to the real economy – see for example, on Richard A Werner, “New Paradigm in Macroeconomics: solving the riddle of Japan’s macroeconomic performance”, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. This depends on being able to keep track of the amount credit extended for speculation in existing assets as opposed to that to fund productive investment. I am not sure the Bank fo England is good at that, but cannot find the appropriate reference. Werner is now professor of Banking and Finance at Southampton and continues to advocate his prescription. He has extensive knowledge of local banking in Germany and has been leading a team working to establish a Hampshire local bank, which would include current accounts, but I think they are still snarled up in the bureaucracy.

An alternative is to adopt the solution advocated by the campaign group Positive Money, whereby money is created by the central bank rather than by commercial banks in the act of lending. This is similar to the Chicago Plan advocated by Fisher et al in the 1930s. It has several advantges, one of which to allow counter cyclical issue of money. However as I argue at whereas at present credit and money are indistinguishable, this reform would separate the two. Werner style credit controls might still be required.

I believe that the two solutions are complementary. For example if we got into a situation of debt deflation Postive Money could be an alternative to ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’.

One way in which these two proposals could be evaluated is by extending Steve Keen’s system dynamics models to encompass rules of thumb based suggested by them. We are straying here into the field of cybernetics, and it would be worth studying the work of the late Stafford Beer, both on his Viable Systems Model, and on the work of his team on the Cybersyn project in Chile on controlling the economy in as close to real time as the state of IT allowed in 1972 – This promising experiment was brutally terminated by the overthrow of Allende by Pinochet and the CIA. Pinochet’s military examined the project, but they found the open, egalitarian aspects of the system unattractive and destroyed it. Since then neoliberal ideology has outlawed such approaches. Would such an approach kill subsidiarity? Not necessarily; this needs looking into.

These measures are in no way in conflict with Kate Raworth’s vision. They would merely create a situation of stability within which the hard work of matching people’s needs to the capacity of the planet could proceed. This requires hard work, much patient negotiation and imagination.