Sunday, November 06, 2016

Stern words from Nicholas Stern

“At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing over nature - but that we, with flesh and blood and brain, belong to nature and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly. We are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our productive activity, and so are afforded the opportunity to control and regulate these effects well. This regulation, however, requires a complete revolution in our existing mode of production . . . in our whole contemporary social order…” -  Frederick Engels, Dialectics of Nature, (1875)

Socialists have been warning about the effects of capitalism's production methods and how they impact on the wider environment for well over a hundred years, and it is often with despair that we reiterate Engels' message.

Ten years ago Sir Nicholas Stern published a 700 page report on the environment. Since then, global temperatures have risen to record levels, Arctic summer sea ice has continued to shrink, the world is still burning more and more fossil fuel and carbon dioxide is still being released into the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts.

“We have been too slow in acting on climate change,” Stern told the Observer. “In particular, we have delayed the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions for far too long. When we published our review, emissions were equivalent to the pumping of 40-41bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. Today there are around 50bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. At the same time, science is telling us that impacts of global warming – like ice sheet and glacier melting – are now happening much more quickly than we anticipated.”
He concludes, “With hindsight, I now realise that I underestimated the risks. I should have been much stronger in what I said in the report about the costs of inaction. I underplayed the dangers.”  Stern then goes on to point out that “The consequences are terrible. Air pollution kills more than 30,000 people a year in Britain. That is about one in 2,000 of the population. It has become one of the very big killers around the world. In China, it causes about 4,000 deaths a day. We are killing millions every year from air pollution produced by burning fossil fuels. Yes, there are other sources of air pollution but burning fossil fuels is a large part of the story. That understanding is new and very important.”
Stern sets out his future view, “If it is dirty and high carbon, it will lock us into that technology for a long time. We will be sentenced to live in cities where we cannot breathe or move or be productive. If we do it using sustainable technology, however, we could have an extremely attractive future where you have strong growth, poverty is reduced, cities are cleaner and forests are saved. People have not sufficiently understood the importance of the next 20 years. They are going to be the most decisive two decades in human history.”

All the SOYMB blog can say is that we have wasted valuable time in dealing with the environmental crisis because people listened to Nicholas Stern in the first place. According to Nicholas Stern, the greatest ever market failure, but the answer is not to replace markets. Instead, we need to price pollution into markets and extend market mechanisms so that they work more effectively. In other words, calling on Beelzebub to cast out Beelzebub. Stern's pet measure to try to reduce carbon emissions was not, as might be expected in view of how serious he says the problem is, coercive legislation to force companies to comply, but carbon trading, or the buying and selling of a decreasing number of permits to emit carbon dioxide. Despite his then reassuringly low-cost estimates attempts to arrest and roll back carbon emissions by relatively mild taxation and regulatory measures over decades always looked a tall order. As a conventional economist, he saw the solution as making the
polluters pay in one form or another. Traditionally this is through taxation and regulations. Stern
proposes to give capitalist market forces a second chance via so-called “carbon trading”. If that’s all capitalism can offer, then, in the words of Private Fraser, we are all doomed – unless, that is, we establish world socialism.


 It has long been our case that human needs can be satisfied without recourse to production methods that adversely affect the natural environment, which is exactly why we advocate the establishment of a system of society in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit. We are not talking about tinkering with the present system, but rather its entire abolition and replacement with a global system in which the Earth’s natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled; a society in which each production process takes into consideration not only human need but any likely effect upon the environment. One does not need a mastery of Earth sciences to envisage types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil, the systematic recycling of materials obtained from non-renewable energy sources while developing alternative sources that continually renew themselves (i.e. solar energy and wind power); industrial processes that avoid releasing poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere; the manufacture of solid goods made to last, not planned to break down after a period of time. Once the Earth's natural and industrial resources have been wrested from the master class and become the common heritage of all humanity, then production can be geared to meeting needs in an ecologically acceptable way, instead of making profits without consideration for the environment.

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