Why is our consumption falling? | Environment | The Guardian


Since 2001, UK consumption seems to have fallen in spite of rising economic growth. If true, this ‘decoupling’ of consumption from growth offers hope to a world running low on natural resources. Eating less, buying digital products and re-use may have something to do with this.

It is unlikely, however, that many other countries can follow this path. Better, then, to remind all that economic growth does not lead to happiness. Once this is accepted, we can downsize without getting down in the mouth. We need only ensure those workers reliant on our consumption are safeguarded: even if we pay them to write poetry, it would be better than paying them to produce things we do not truly want or need.

The calorific intake of Britons has been falling for around 40 years.

In the footsteps of Marco Polo.

Zarg writes: I love travelling, don’t you? Last night I trawled William Coffin’s mind for all he knew about Marco Polo, which wasn’t much. It seems this guy walked a good half of the journey from Italy to China and back. Wow! I set William Coffin walking this morning in an experiment to see how far he could get. Not far, as it turned out. A multi-lane highway soon blocked his path and he couldn’t get over, under or around it without great risk to body and soul. On the way back I stopped him for a coffee and got him chatting to a lady. She told us there were places between Italy and China where it was unsafe to walk now. Things must have gone downhill since Marco’s time. We also spoke of those lines on the ground you call borders – lines only certain people can cross.

I will investigate more, but it strikes me that dominion over those lines may be key to control of the world. Some people own vast sums of money and businesses, which can move easily over the lines. Others own nothing but their brains and brawn, which are often trapped in small patches of the Earth’s surface. Imagine the power of these rich businesspeople! Isn’t freedom of movement what separates the jailers from the jailed, and the serial exploiters from the serially exploited?

Marco Polo highway

Photo sources: Connecticut State Library and Geograph.

The Age of Stupid – it certainly is that.

After watching The Age of Stupid (2009) I felt resolved to do a bit to benefit the environment, to help save our civilisation. So I turned off a few appliances and walked to the local recycling centre with a bagful of plastic, paper and tin. Of course, I shouldn’t kid myself that this is helping; it’s simply reducing my impact. Less bad does not equal good. But even this half-hearted effort didn’t last long.

And why should it? As the film’s narrator, Pete Postlethwaite, puts it, we’re all engrossed in our beach games as a tsunami approaches beyond our vision. We have been warned, but that warning is drowned out by the hundreds of advertisements we each see every day. And so we carry on as normal.

Americans have been advertised to for the longest, and thus they are consummate consumers. One Americans consumes enough for two Europeans, nine Chinese or fifty Kenyans. And all this consumption is already doing damage, with climate change clearly visible in the Alps and the Arctic, and the devastating effects of our thirst for oil plain to see in Nigeria’s Niger Delta and Iraq.

Still, we all want the lifestyle of the American – the big house, big car, big television and big travel budget. Yet unless the resources of the world increase fivefold, we won’t get it.

It is possible, however, for all of us to live happy and equal lives. It would need the neutering of capitalism, for capitalism demands infinite growth which cannot be provided in a finite world. The model would put a global cap on emissions, with countries allocated a share based on current emissions, adjusted yearly until their shares reflect population. This would allow Third World growth but enforce green reforms in the First World. Such a system might even mean we avoid the climatological feedbacks which could lead to uncontrollable changes.

According to Mark Lynas if we do not stabilise greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and then reduce them to pre-industrial levels over the next half-century, temperatures will rise by 2ºC and keep rising until the world is nigh-on uninhabitable. Trouble is, the Copenhagen conference proved our politicians lack the courage to act. Popular pressure could change that, but if environmentalist cannot even defeat nimbys in the battle for more wind farms, what hope have we?

The documentary’s premise is that, looked at from forty years into the future, our current age could be labelled the age of stupid. As a fan of science fiction I would have liked to have seen more in the film about life in the 2050s, but with a shoestring budget that was always going to be little more than wishful thinking. Still, The Age of Stupid’s final message, beamed through a ring of space junk to the stars far above, was a powerful one worth waiting for.

William Coffin

Zarg writes: 2055? You’ll all be dead long before then. Human civilisation is prone to over-reacting. A 2% reduction in economic activity could easily be absorbed by a functioning society, but here on Earth it produces enormous strife – evident in today’s levels of unemployment and hunger, and in street protests from New York to Athens. If in a decade’s time the Ganges dries up and a 100 million Indians flee their country, a working world could find food and shelter for all of them. But unless a great deal changes between now and then, such a migration is more likely to trigger global nuclear war.

BBC News – How scary is a financial transactions tax?


The UK is expected to block a proposed EU-wide tax on financial transactions, unless it is applied worldwide (which it won’t be, due to US politicians serving business interests and not the interests of their people).

Most of these transactions are nothing to do with wealth creation but are transfer payments from poor to rich and from worker to owner. They are a drag on the real economy and hugely destabilising.

Even though a transactions tax may help divert capitalism from its self-destructive path, those addicted to gambling and greed seem hell-bent on going down with the ship.

The tax would hit the City of London hard, but it would still help Britain as a whole.

9/11 lost decade: The American dream, and the missing years – Americas, World – The Independent


What of the tribute lights over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 80 men, women and children have been killed for every victim of 9/11?

Illuminating: the site of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan.

A world without borders makes economic sense | Michael A Clemens | Global development | guardian.co.uk


If we are to run a system of global free trade (and I’m not certain that we should), then it make sense that the various factors of production – land, labour, capital and enterprise – should be as mobile as possible. Okay, land is pretty much fixed, but the other three, right? According to capitalist economic theory, the answer is yes. But ‘capitalism’ is run by the capitalists, and for them it makes no sense.

Rich people want to be able to send their money around the world to find the cheapest labour to exploit – one country at a time. If labour were allowed to move freely, wages would begin to equalise and the game would be up for the rich. Hence they convince us to support closed borders by drumming up fear and using the sense of nationalism they created at the dawn of the industrial revolution. And we let them.

Border controls: keeping the world poor and the rich rich.

Change now, or have change come to you…

The old economic certainties – markets generally rising, the dollar as a safe haven, houses a sure investment – are certainties no longer.

The environment is changing, faster than many scientists have feared.

And while children starve in Somalia and teenagers loot in London, the elite drink 900-euro bottles of champagne or send private jets to collect their shoes.

Change is coming, and quickly. The question is, should we work together to craft a new form of society, fairer and more sustainable? Or should we wait for others to impose their chosen system upon us?

Avaaz – Australia: the next great hope for climate


Carbon pricing forces the worst polluters to reform and generates revenue for green projects. This win-win measure has already come to Costa Rica, Denmark and Sweden. If Australia is next, will it eventually become a mainstream global environmental policy?

Our choice for the new generation: a green future or a dim future.

Noam Chomsky on Adam Smith _ Invisible Hand – americanfeud.org [www.keepvid.com].mp4


Adam Smith’s invisible hand does not drive the market toward optimal solutions – it drives capitalists to invest close to home where they can keep an eye on their money. Along with Keynes and just about every other economist, Smith is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by those with a policy to sell.

Tomgram: David Bromwich, George W. Obama? | TomDispatch


Useful reminders of a bygone age…

On 21 January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order ‘requiring that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.’ No ifs, no buts, just closed. CNN called it ‘a clean break from the Bush administration.’ On the same day he hailed a ‘new era of openness’: ‘every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known,’ said he. Then along came Wikileaks.

Nope. Obama campaign poster, from Anthony Baker on Flickr.