Ever wondered why, despite all the conferences, treaties, international agreements and other excuses to travel around the world to expensive hotels, nothing seems to get done.
Targets are set and not met, only to be reset again.
And the process of resetting requires another swag of conferences to thrash out the new agreement.
Once the convention wording is agreed upon, often, we are told, in the early hours of the morning by emotional delegates who have put their hearts, souls and grandmas pension into the negotiation, the countries sign up.
Here are the signup rates for a baker’s dozen conventions and international agreements since 1971.
There are 195 countries in the world today. This total comprises 193 countries that are member states of the United Nations and 2 countries that are non-member observer states: the Holy See and the State of Palestine.
Most countries sign up on the day—one-time offer deals that make you look bad for any hesitation. These are the steep curves on the graph like the UNFCCC, UNCCD and the CBD. Everyone in the room will notice if you skip past the table with the dude offering the fountain pen.
Some agreements are hard to make, especially if you are morally or politically compromised by what they expect. These are ok to dodge for a while or not sign up to at all—for example, the Ramsar convention on wetland or the conservation of migratory species.
Heads of delegation smile, offer platitudes, thanks, and support for the premise of the agreement, “but we don’t have any wetlands or birds in our country”.
A quarter of countries avoid signing half the agreements, presumably not the same countries each time. Although some likely suspects do emerge as repeat non-signatories. In other words, it is acceptable to ignore a convention if needs must.
Signing up on the day and not signing up seems the opposite. But if the conventions do not achieve any results—settled science tells us that biodiversity loss is accelerating and greenhouse gas levels are increasing steadily—then both options come from the same place.
Both responses gain kudos, the national equivalent of an ego stroke.
Because if everyone signs these things but nothing happens, we healthy sceptics are left to conclude that the elusive ‘goodwill’ of putting disparate nations in a room together every few months for some wine and cheese is the extent of the outcomes.
Let’s hope this, plus a few trade deals on the side is enough.
The UK will soon see the back of their lying toerag of a prime minister who effortlessly broke the ‘economical with the truth’ adage attributed to Edmund Burke, who wrote in 1795
Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an œconomy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer.
Johnson is just a liar.
The odd thing is that everyone knew his pathology because it followed him throughout his public life. He didn’t try to hide it. Indeed his was more Trumpesque doubling down tactics whenever questioned.
And for way too long, it worked.
A few more torrid weeks from now and the only prime minister known to have broken the law whilst in office might be gone; for a while. Recall that there have been many political comebacks, and there is always the truth about bad smells.
What I find curious, having already talked about the lessons for democracy and the vacuum of leadership in general among modern-day politicians, is how such an unsavoury character like Boris Johnson happened—not the excruciating going but the coming.
I know there are commentators with an excellent grasp of political economy and public sentiment that will describe the proximate causes, most likely to do with an electorate who were up their epiglottis in the Brexit stalemate and just wanted it done. But what was it ultimately? Did the UK people pay such little attention that they went to the voting day booth and forgot the top job candidate was only in it for himself?
Australians managed to come to their senses. We realised, perhaps just in time, that the muppets were not there for our best interests, and enough of us voted for the alternative, especially the predominantly women independents. It has only been a short time, but the new government is getting on with it, especially the repairs to our international reputation.
Back in Blighty, commentary has already switched to who the UK will get next. A series of whittling down votes by the MPs followed by a vote on the last two standing by conservative party members, roughly 200,000 people or 0.29% of the electorate, will determine who will receive the hospital pass from Boris who is still holding the ball and knocking over schoolkids.
The candidate list is long, and all of them are tainted by association.
Each one should start their campaigns by telling the truth. The last thing anyone wants is more of the same.
I was born in south London, Croydon to be precise, and lived in the UK until I was 26 years old. Today I am an Australian citizen, and in a few months, I will have lived in Sydney for 26 years.
A lot has happened since I left to seek fame and fortune in far-flung lands, or was it to escape from the religion of my upbringing. You will need to read Paul Sorol to find the answers to that intergenerational conundrum.
I lament what has become of my homeland as I watch its descent into parody from afar, and I worry for the future of its people.
The latest escapades in the Boris saga make my previous sarcasm over political buffoonery sound tame. He is a disgrace but not half as his sycophants. Failure to endorse a no-confidence vote in an incoherent, toerag who lies to everyone is extreme cowardice. The shame will eat their souls in the end.
It is hard to imagine anything worse than fooling people into Brexit and partying during a lockdown to break the law of the land you just imposed, but it is coming—a food crisis.
Briefly, the UK does not grow enough food to feed everyone. There is a roughly 50% shortfall. The arrogant assumption of the muppets is that food can be purchased and imported as needed. Wake up. In the coming food shortage, families get fed first, not foreigners in a country with the worst economic outlook in the OECD. Why do you think China is shoring up its supplies?
I highly recommend reading the excellent book Feeding Britain by Tim Lang for a thorough explanation of the dire situation the UK is in, together with a logical and achievable list of solutions. Boris and his cronies have no excuse. Wise advisors have already told them the extent of the problem and how to fix it.
Food security has become my “outfit of the day” as I gather together my career in ecology into some pre-mortem eulogy.
In thinking about how much food is grown, what society does to share that production around (or not), and the precarious prospects for global supply chains, I imagined that our cultural maturity would hold us in good stead. Well-educated, intelligent, technologically gifted people in democratic societies would be able to anticipate the challenges and figure out solutions, even if it took a global crisis to trigger deployment.
Then I came across this quote from Canadian historian and author Ronald Wright
When Cortés landed in Mexico he found roads, canals, cities, palaces, schools, law courts, markets, irrigation works, kings, priests, temples, peasants, artisans, armies, astronomers, merchants, sports, theatre, art, music, and books. High civilization, differing in detail but alike in essentials, had evolved independently on both sides of the earth.”
Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (2004, pp 50-51)
I had no idea.
My schoolboy knowledge of the Aztecs did not cover such sophistication. I was blinkered by education in a country famous for its colonialism. The truth of expansionism is brutal; just ask the Ukranians.
What shocked me the most was the gaping hole it shot in my assumption about mature, gifted people being able to solve problems. Tragically the Aztecs couldn’t deal with the disruption heralded by Hernando Cortez in 1519, even with their high civilisation.
Maybe our modern version of civilisation will not be enough either because there is no invisible guiding hand on the tiller.
But it is ok; a few dipshit politicians still have a job.
Check out sustainably FED for over 120 posts with comments and suggestions to get everyone through the food, ecology and diet challenge.
The loss and the horror are a stain on history that is painful to recall but stare past the nightmares of the war and remarkable things that happened during the years of conflict. Here are a few of them.
The US government increased spending by an order of magnitude between 1940 and 1945 and spent more money (in current dollar terms) between 1942 and 1945 than in the 152 years before 1941.
The US was in the war for three years and, during that time, manufactured 87,000 naval vessels, including 27 aircraft carriers, 300,000 planes, 100,000 tanks and armoured cars and 44 billion rounds of ammunition.
Whole towns and cities were turned into munitions factories, all while many young men served in Europe and the Pacific. Women took on blue-collar jobs, so there were workers to run the machines.
At the same time, the manufacture of cars was banned, as was the construction of new homes. There was rationing of food, tyres and gasoline because it was considered fairer than taxing scarce goods. And to save fuel, a national speed limit of 35mph was imposed.
Remember, this is the US where libertarians rule, and US Senator Joseph McCarthy was about to unleash the Second Red Scare, lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s. Heightened political repression and persecution of left-wing individuals and a campaign spreading fear of alleged communist and socialist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents characterized McCarthyism.
Even in a society suspicious of socialism, the war produced an extraordinary collective effort in the US and an acceptance of government regulation. It was a similar story in the UK; even in occupied countries, people resisted for the greater good.
If such collective will against the axis powers could bring such change and effort, why not now when we need it again?
Here is what George Monbiot suggests
Public hostility and indifference create a lack of political will.
Indeed, don’t look up.
I agree, but I would add another break on drastic responses — the ineptitude of our politicians.
Most of those in the big dog posts are there because they have a single skill, political surfing. They ride the political waves into positions of authority. Very few get there on intellectual merit, leadership skills or foresight.
It is not always their fault.
Our collective failure to recall history and use it to see the future means we have no sense of urgency. Indifference means we don’t ask for leaders with flair, vision or skills. We accept muppets.
But the decisions needed now are as era-defining as those made by the US in the 1940s that won a war and set the country on a steeper industrial path.
We need that decisive force to deal with imperialist aggression and feed everyone well. Yes, if we fail to feed everyone, all bets are off.
Casual observation over time suggests they are characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements. One minute they are persuading us of the necessity of fiscal frugality, that money doesn’t grow on trees, and a balanced budget is the desire of all sensible governments.
The next minute they spend up big to bail out ailing economies that would fail without a subsidy borrowed against the future.
They have been having these ‘breakdowns in the relation between thought, emotion, and behaviour, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion’ for quite a while.
Over two centuries ago, the Panic of 1792 was the first time the U.S. federal government intervened to prop up the markets. During that crisis, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton authorized purchases to prevent the collapse of the securities market.
The Great Depression between 1929 and 1941 began with the stock market crash of 1929 and included banking panics in 1930 and 1931, included a government program to buy and refinance defaulted mortgages that kept a million families in their homes.
The Savings & Loan crisis between 1986 and 1995, when nearly a third of the 3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States failed, cost the government $160 billion (in 1990 dollars) to clean up.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government authorized more than $2 trillion in assistance including direct cash payments to citizens in April and December 2020, and again in March 2021.
In between these moments of apparent madness, the modern neoliberal mantra is fiscal conservatism — small government, small spending, deregulation and an unencumbered faith that the market will save everyone.
What this history tells us is that what gets done in a crisis is very different to business-as-usual and could even be the exact opposite of it. Interventions that save people from tragedy are necessary and moral.
And for the most part, the madness works. Excessive bonuses to executives notwithstanding, bailouts do seem to save economies and reduce impacts on communities.
At least for a time.
Most environmentalists will tell you that the environment is in trouble and has been ever since the industrial revolution changed the way humans interact with nature.
So this question from one of those advocates, George Monbiot, is a conundrum.
Why do nations rescue banks and other financial institutions but not the planet?
Why not save the planet?
Well, perhaps the answer to the central question stems from the biblical notions of dominion.
Why save something that humanity was designed to exploit?
Maybe it is because nature has been through troubles before and shown remarkable resilience. Over geological time climate changes, massive atmospheric disruption and even meteorite strikes have come and gone with nature none the worse. Admittedly she takes time to recover from shocks but is still remarkably resilient.
It is worth remembering that there was more biological diversity on the planet a hundred years ago than at any other time in the history of life on earth—biodiversity is a consequence of time, disturbance and a replicator molecule.
No need to spend money on a rescue because nature will recover herself.
Perhaps it is ignorance of the crisis itself. People with spending power have no vision of the environmental crisis. They are, after all, more likely to be focused on the banks when they look up from their single bottom line. Plus nature is the perennial provider of goods and services that humans have a right and moral responsibility to exploit.
No vision of the problem so there is no problem.
It could be that money can’t buy nature’s happiness because no matter what is spent, nature would not notice. Why spend vast sums on the environment when she has no ability to respond to the spending. Anyway, there is nothing to see if the food keeps growing and the people keep spending.
No use throwing good money on something that can’t be fixed.
It could be that money could buy nature her happiness but she is a fickle thing and it is not clear what to spend the money on. In the financial crises the ailments were obvious and the salve equally so. Other than emission reduction that may or may not reverse climate changes, spending on the environment to save nature is a mystery with no obvious return on investment.
No point in spending on random actions.
Cognitive dissonance is a possibility. This intriguing explanation from psychology says that when two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent. Rather than accept an inconsistency we look for ways to resolve the conflict to reduce our emotional discomfort. The easy option, call it fake news and decide that the garden remains full of roses.
No environmental problem can exist if it makes me feel bad.
And finally, in this incomplete list, it could also be that the planet is not in need of rescue. Nature isn’t sentient and couldn’t care less what happens. The planet is a small blue ball in a vast universe that happens to have organic life that persists in spite of drastic perturbations. No matter what life does, the rock will continue to fly across space until the sun grows to consume it. Such an opinion is heresy but it does fit the evidence.
There is no Gaia to save.
So there we have it. A preliminary list of reasons why humans save banks and not the planet. No doubt I have missed many others and will be reminded of them in the comments.
We do know this…
Whatever humans do over the next hundred years or so, 100,000 years from now the planet will still be here.
When I was growing up through the 1970s the only financial advice that stuck with me was the rule of thirds on what to do with income. It was to allocate one third on rent, one third to spending for everyday living, and a third saved.
Oh, how naive; how quaint.
Today rents in England account for half of the tenants’ take-home pay if you are lucky enough to live outside London. In the big smoke expect the proportion to be 75%.
The rent just ate the savings.
And for today’s younger renters there is no bailout from inheritance despite the apparent wealth of the baby boomers. The typical inheritance age in the UK is somewhere around 60, and the median amount handed down is about £11,000.
Not surprisingly the youth are not happy.
The Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) in the UK, was brave enough to publish numbers that suggest 80% of youngsters blame capitalism for the housing crisis, 75% believe the climate emergency is “specifically a capitalist problem” and 72% back sweeping nationalisation.
Worst statistic of all for a right-wing think tank—67% of youngsters want to live under a socialist economic system.
It’s a similar story in the US.
A Harvard University study in 2016 found that more than 50% of young people reject capitalism, while a 2018 Gallup poll found that 45% of young Americans saw capitalism favourably, down from 68% in 2010.
So much for the libertarian land of opportunity.
And so much for the trickle-down.
The numbers for youngsters do not add up anymore.
At the end of 2021 in Sydney, the average house was selling for $1.36 million and units for $837,000 with a typical Sydney house about $340,000 more expensive than it was at the end of 2020.
Take a deep breath for this statistic—the rise in value in a year matches the full cost of a house just 25 years ago.
Who can afford the mortgage?
Borrow the money to purchase one of these $1.3 million houses to avoid paying rent and you will need $65,000 on the minimum 5% deposit and expect to pay back the bank $4,500 a month for 30 years.
Total repayments of 1.62 million at $54,000 per year in after-tax dollars.
The average salary of an Australian in 2021 was around A$99,600 per year with a wide range starting around A$33,000 and a median salary of A$72,000.
Assuming an approximate tax burden of 25%, a single person on $72,000 could pay the mortgage but would have zero dollars left for any of the other bills life throws their way.
Clearly, this is not sustainable.
Rather than do what most of us baby boomers would do and lament the loss of the picket fence and the Sundays spent painting it white, how about a reboot.
What if ownership was not the only route to the long-term security of house and home?
What if we invented new social norms that not only promoted rents but removed the landlord. Let’s take rent-seeking out of the equation and have society build the housing stock at cost, then rent that stock to individuals in the community at rates that reflect recovery of those costs and perhaps a modest return linked to the bank rate.
You know, the sort of thing a sovereign wealth fund could handle.
Politics is no longer a contest of ideas that are formalised as policies but a free for all devoid of content with the weapons in the contest drawn from the marketing arsenal.
We have an election looming in Australia. The incumbent prime minister is supposedly a ninja at marketing. He certainly comes out with crass one-liners. Only they say more about his attitude to leadership than the outcome he wants.
“This is coal, don’t be scared”, “I don’t hold a hose, mate” and “It’s not a race” are marvellous phrases to capture the crises of climate, fire and flood.
What a legacy.
Imagine being remembered for gaffs that scream to the world how out of touch you were at crisis time, despite sitting in the chair reserved for leading the nation. More worrying than not reading the room is disrespecting the chair, the failure to take responsibility for leading and the prime objective of keeping people safe.
Now we are told that people don’t believe politicians so all the gaffs are just the noise of the media cycle and are ignored. And perhaps we don’t.
But these are challenging times that will worsen before we figure out how to make things better—the climate is the least of our problems; when the food prices start to spike and there are shortages on the shelves—we need more.
Heaven help us if the war in Ukraine escalates.
It is time to get that contest of ideas back.
I don’t want tragic events politicised, I want to see the ideas on energy, food security, defence, and all the usual suspects of jobs, education and health.
I want the politicians to bring substance, not lumps of coal and Hawaiian shirts.
I am keen to get the benefit from the wood at my feet. The tree trunk is enormous, raw, and not in any shape to be used. It needs to sit and dry out. Then I can fashion it into beams to repair the roof of my rondavel.
But the tree is far from my house. I cannot watch over it until it is dry. I have hunting and gathering to do, and maize beer to drink by the fire.
So I leave the tree where it fell.
My neighbour also needs to repair his roof. He could steal my tree trunk while I am not looking, but he doesn’t because we agree with what tradition tells us.
A tree felled belongs to he who felled it.
Everyone in the tribe knows the rule and agrees to abide by it. Break this agreement and there are consequences from the chief and his many wives.
Society is built on this type of contract.
Called the social contract in moral and political philosophy during the Age of Enlightenment — an actual or hypothetical compact, or agreement, between the ruled or between the ruled and their rulers, defining the rights and duties of each — it originated to give legitimacy to the authority of the state (tradition and the chief) over the individual (me and my stone axe).
Through the social contract, individuals surrender some of their freedoms and submit to collective authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights and maintenance of the social order.
It is easy to forget how critical the social contract is to our well-being and the opportunity for personal success in modern times.
Personal and societal safety, efficient education, security of business contracts including the exchange of time for money, ownership of goods and legal entities, access to health care and expertise, all happen through the contract. Everything that makes modern societies wealthy and safe comes from our collective agreement to follow the rules.
That is not to say that everyone is always happy.
There is a constant tension in the social contract as it ducks and weaves its way alongside the development of societies.
A critical source of tension is the actual or perceived fairness in the rights and duties, especially in the difference between how they are defined and how they play out in the real world.
For example, the government decides, on advice from health professionals, that the best way to manage a pandemic from an infectious airborne virus is to tell people to stay at home. House arrest for the masses. I am no longer at liberty to go and find another tree to cut down even though I have a permit from the Agriculture department to cut one.
No problem. It is in the interest of public health, which is a crucial benefit of the social contract.
The pandemic, fake news, authoritarian regimes, and even social media put tremendous strain on the contract even as neoliberalism persuades people to expect less from governing authorities in exchange for greater civil liberties, including individual, political and economic freedom.
The contradiction is enough to do your head in.
Society is so much more complex than it was in the days of the stone axe. But the importance of the social contract grows with it.
Only to protect the benefits, we have to be vigilant. The rulers cannot ignore the rules any more than we can and must not act unilaterally and claim the authority of the state to justify their self-interest.
Still upset about media drivel, claims from fake news, and the deceit that passes for public debate these days? Check out sustainability FED for objective ideas on how to feed everyone well.
Not a bad adage at all. People will like you for your honesty and integrity, two of the most important human attributes.
Indeed without these two, we would be far less successful as a species for we would not have commerce, collaboration or cooperation. Nor would we have science, technology and engineering for these are professions built on self-policing rules that fail without honesty.
Australians have a reputation for saying what they think — they are keen on the first part of the adage.
Many are larrikins too, with a healthy disregard for convention. It is ok to play golf in thongs or even bare feet.
And after living in Australia for 25 years, I have to say that Australians mean what they say for the most part. Although sometimes I am not sure they think before spouting forth, another expression of larrikinism.
Author Lech Blaine suggests that conservative politicians in Australia have commandeered this straight-shooting on the fringes into a blue-collar revolution for their political ends.
Stupid white men wearing white shirts pretending to be working class is an odd image.
These well-educated and affluent individuals would never dream of playing golf in thongs. They only pretend to be among the masses, especially the working-class battlers, because this is where elections are won.
In one of the most complex voting systems in the world with two-foot ballot papers and weirdness with preferences, Liberal governments win enough seats not by playing to their rusted-on base of conservative support but by pretending to represent the undecided in a handful of seats at each election. And these swing voters are not in the cities; they are in the suburbs and the rural areas.
Now the shirt-wearing men not only have to pretend to wear overalls but drive a tractor too.
The men courting the battlers never shoot straight. They are the ignoble larrikins. They prefer to be on holiday in Hawaii than in front of the wildfire and anonymously report the thong wearer to the golf club chairman.
They lie and cheat and pork-barrel their way into the top political jobs.
And we let them.
As the French Ambassador to Australia said, “What you say in confidence … will eventually be used and weaponised against you one day.”
He was a British statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, a Sandhurst-educated soldier, a Nobel Prize-winning writer and historian, a prolific painter, and one of the longest-serving politicians in British history.
Remembered as the leader the British people needed to repel the spread of nazi fascism, he was at the same time a social reformer, an economic liberal and an imperialist.
Such a combination may seem odd today but understandable given the late Victorian and Edwardian eras that he grew up in.
Churchill was a canny politician, being an MP for over 60 years, and he knew a thing or two about people and words.
Here is one quote from his 1948 book The Gathering Storm, the first of his twelve-volume memoir on the Second World War
This is a man convinced that rearmament was essential because the war was inevitable. The House was still hoping for peace because another war so soon after the horrors of WW1 was unthinkable.
How many truth-tellers have the experience most painful?
We can count on many frontline staff and public health experts, from epidemiologists to hospital administrators, feeling that pain right now.
The environmentalists have been suffering for decades.
Now the young are feeling the pain too. Truth-telling over climate and the environment has fallen on their bold shoulders.
Reading Churchill is sobering. Knowing that the House has always been hard of hearing may make it easier to take modern ostrich behaviour from our leaders. Leaders rarely heed warnings.
Although Sir Winston felt despair, he led with irrepressible fortitude through the darkest time in British history, forcing people to listen.