We don’t need Osborne’s ‘roads revolution’ – we need a green revolution

First published at Left Foot Forward

It’s possibly the worst time Osborne could have announced his plan for £15bn of spending on new roads.

Why? Because this week, international climate change negotiations are taking place in Lima to set the stage for next year’s pivotal Conference of the Parties (CoP21) in Paris – potentially our last hope for sticking to the IPCC’s two degree warmer world.

But let’s be clear. There’s no way we can stick to that commitment if the RAC’s estimates of seven million more cars on the road by 2030 proves correct. If it does, it will be the government’s doing after this week’s announcement.

£15bn is a lot of money. With it, the government will fund 84 new schemes that will plough through English land to create 1,300 miles of new lanes.

Osborne said it would ‘transform some of the country’s most important strategic routes’ – and it certainly will, particularly when it rips through countryside and promotes further greenhouse gas emissions, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England have pointed out.

Coupled with the continued freeze on fossil fuel duty over investment in renewables, it’s a disaster for the environment.

These plans were published in the government’s first ever comprehensive ‘Road investment strategy’. Where’s the strategy to comprehensively green the transport sector?

The European Transport Workers Federation note that across the continent, a clear plan to reduce transport emissions by 80 per cent would create seven million new jobs. That would include tens or even hundreds of thousands in the UK. Yet the Conservatives’ heads remain firmly in the sand – no doubt partly because of the surge of a climate-sceptic UKIP.

Unbelievably, the government have even taken to boasting about the increase in car and lorry journeys – putting out infographics that will make people choke on their coffee (if there’s any still able to be grown) in a generation’s time.

It’s encouraging however, in some ways, to see the launch of a new National Infrastructure Plan. The problem is that, in Osborne’s own words, it will focus on ” roads, railways, airport capacity, power stations, waste facilities, broadband networks.”

Just about the only thing worth cheering here is railway investment, though having just sold off the successful East Coast franchise, it’s hard to see how this will be coordinated.

Of course, spread over five years, these disruptions will ironically just mean years of road-works chaos for drivers.

It will be done with money that should be being used to fund a reversal of slashed bus services in rural areas, a massive rollout and extension of tram and metro systems in cities outside London, and a cycling revolution that would localise travel and cut down the shocking levels of air pollution that are emerging in Britain.

Even more revealing is the reaction of the government’s so-called opponents. Labour challenged the government not on the principle of the need to move away from cars as a form of transport, instead focusing on the claim that the investment was from previously-announced ‘old money’.

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists”.

Meanwhile the TUC, disappointingly given their commitment to ‘Climate Jobs’, appeared to half-back the plans, indeed calling for more road spending: “£15bn sounds a lot, but is it?”

It was left, instead, to the Green Party to call out the plans, describing them as ‘short-sighted and retrograde,’ with local transport spokesperson Caroline Russell arguing:

“If the government is serious about creating jobs and supporting a sustainable economy they should be seizing the huge opportunities available from investing in new, less carbon-intensive transport technologies and looking to reduce our need to travel by car.”

Caroline Lucas also weighed in: “Instead of scrapping air passenger duty for children, the chancellor should be protecting children with urgent action on climate change.”

There was plenty more to be angry about – broader austerity being the obvious one – but the chancellor froze fuel duty, cut flight taxes and gave a £94m tax cut to oil companies drilling in the North Sea – enough to put a solar panel on every school in the UK twice over.

Ellie Mae O’Hagen of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies put it best:

So Osborne is either is a climate change denier, an idiot, or a sadist. Either way, it will be future generations that will get hurt by this budget’s moves against the planet.

This statement took us back to Thatcher’s folly of the ‘80s, before we knew the full extent of climate change. It was stupid back then. Now, it just looks vindictive.

Josiah Mortimer is a co-editor for the progressive political site Bright Green. Follow him on Twitter

To deal with the climate crisis, everything must change

Originally published in the Green European Journal  

With the global climate negotiations beginning in Lima next week, the question of climate change is in the public eye more than it has been for a long time. Yet when much of Europe has still not recovered from the financial crisis, there’s a tension that remains in the minds of European leaders.

So it was a good time for the European Trade Union Institute to hold its conference: ‘The Socio-Ecological Transition: A New Climate for the EU’s Sustainability Transition,’ last week.

A key point of discussion was inequality and growth in relation to the climate crisis – with politicians scrambling for the latter while the former grows. Speaking wasJean Pascal von Ypersele – the IPCC vice-president – who spoke about their latest report.

Taking on board over 140,000 comments from scientists, governments and researchers across the world, the fifth IPCC report was ground-breaking. But it was also interesting that it included the ideas of sustainable development and equity for the first time.

A RICH-POOR OR NORTH-SOUTH ISSUE?

A key message from the IPCC was therefore that climate change is a major threat to sustainable development – a vague concept, but one that demands development should not harm communities or the environment. But do politicians really care about this, or is it generally just lip-service?

Von Ypersele also noted that the poor are more vulnerable everywhere, but especially in global south. Therefore, given that the vast majority of CO2 increases have been over the past 50 years from developed countries, it seems that any concept of equity would demand that the majority of emissions reductions therefore come from the global North – historical emissions overwhelmingly stem from here. Von Ypersele – avoiding ‘political’ discussions – of course could not comment on this.

The challenge however is clearly enormous. The IPCC note that we need zero net emissions well before 2100 to ensure warming stays below 2 degrees – the politically-set maximum. Achieving this without radical change appears – and Naomi Klein would argue is ­­– impossible.

Looking at the climate crisis, and despite the rising emissions of countries like China, Brazil and India, it’s hard not to perceive it as a North/South issue. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and a leading socio-economic academic pointed out that the EU had only stuck to its Kyoto commitments by outsourcing production to the Global South – which it then blames as a contributor to climate change.

Yet if we are to have climate action it must be viewed as fair: after all, agreements perceived as fair have higher probability of acceptance. We need everyone on board.

Driving the surge in production and outsourcing however is arguably the global economic obsession with ‘growth’ – GDP as the prime metric of economic success. Yet De Schutter argued that while it is too simple, it is politically popular for a key reason: it avoids talk of redistribution, i.e. who gets the wealth in society, by masking inequality.

INEQUALITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE – HAND IN HAND

At the heart of the GDP question is this issue. More unequal societies have higher rates of ‘conspicuous consumption’ – buying commodities as mere status symbols in a context of ‘status anxiety’. Not only that, but in more unequal societies, you need far more growth for any of it to reach the poor, which in turn leads to much higher emissions. Yet higher emissions in turn hit the poor again through ‘environmental inequality’ – air pollution, economist and academic Eloi Laurentclaimed.

Moreover, in equal societies, sacrifices are more evenly shared, so people are more likely to give up polluting lifestyle choices. In less equal ones, the desire to out-do each other drives unsustainable habits. Yet as Laurent noted, ecological crises themselves aggravate inequality, as poor communities are destroyed while the richest stay relatively protected.

These issues exemplify that climate change is inherently political. Yet scientists have shied away from political questions.

It’s not a one way street however – social science has similarly traditionally ignored climate change, said ETUI director Philippe Pochet.

But there was a poignant comment from Laurent: ‘Without politics and economics, climate change science is just disaster contemplation – spreading depression.’

To actually inspire people to save the climate, there has to be a social justice element. ‘If the transition is not socio-ecological, it will be nothing at all’. Since inequality destroys a sense of collectivism – ‘we’re all in this together’ – the climate fight has to be a radical one.

It was clear from this debate that inequality is a major driver of both destructive growth and (linked to this) runaway climate change. All of which begs the question: why aren’t we fighting inequality and climate change side by side?

This is the challenge for the climate movement: to empower communities to do this.

RADICAL DEMOCRACY

Tackling social and economic inequality requires tackling inequalities of power too. Our democracies have been hollowed out by neoliberalism, putting the market above all else. People change their behaviour when they think it’s morally right or matches their values – but also when they are in charge.

There are no top-down solutions to climate change. The freedom to experiment among states is vital, within broad objectives. It’s not just governments though – social movements and social innovations have been wrongly ignored by many involved in discussions around climate change.

Such social movements are making a difference, not just through pressure but through shared, collaborative economics – peer to peer economies, the commons, Transition movements and so on. People buy into their own solutions.

UNIONS AND ‘SOCIALISTS’

Where do unions sit within these debates? Sadly, not always comfortably. ETUC Advisor Benjamin Denis raised a worrying case study: the recent European Trade Union Council conference in Poland was picketed by miners opposed to tackling climate change (and by implication their industry). In a country 80-90% powered by coal, perhaps this was understandable. And while the ETUC and Polish confederation did eventually agree a joint statement, it was not without difficulty (and harsh words were exchanged).

Similarly, the Socialists & Democrats group in the EP appears to pay mainly lip service to climate change. Maria João Rodriguez, Vice President of S&D, said simply that job creation is now the most important thing (falsely counterpoising it with the environment), stating ecology was just one of several priorities – ‘but there are financial constraints’. There was little talk of financial restraints when it came to bailing out the banks however…

AFTER THE CRASH

All this brings us back to the crisis. Now is a difficult time for those wanting to tackle climate change. Public debt creates a drive for growth, as debt is measured as a percentage of GDP (if the latter expands, the latter declines relatively). And in its 70th anniversary this year, it doesn’t look like growth as a metric is going anywhere soon, particularly with wages remaining stagnant or declining for the 99%. Signs of nominal growth are a useful distraction for politicians to use when standards of living are falling.

But Greens need to seize the moment and create a positive narrative around climate change – not of doom-mongering, but pointing to the opportunity for radically reshaping our societies in socially and ecologically just ways. ‘We need to decolonise our minds’, said Olivier.

A major issue is boredom: people just produce and consume. Tackling both the crisis and climate change means finding meaning in life outside of economics.

If we don’t? There will be conflict, predicts Laurent – one akin (and not separate to) the labour v capital divide. Since climate change is caused mostly by the richest 20% – not the bottom 80%, these two issues feed off one another in worrying ways.

The ramifications for Europe are enormous. But there is hope. If battling climate change requires making our societies less superficial, less focused on expansion and instead more focused on equality, then that’s something we can all fight for.

Darren Hall on the three horse race in Bristol West

Republished from Bright Green

With less than six months until the next General Election, the campaign is in full swing for Greens. Across the country, members are canvassing, crowdfunding and getting serious about achieving some solid results in 2015. They’re even talking about electing a couple more Green MPs.

With this in mind, last week I thought I’d speak to someone who many see as potentially the next Green Party MP – Bristol’s Darren Hall. He told me about the Green surge going on in his city at the moment, and his prospects next year…

Josiah: What brought you into the Green Party, and politics more generally?

Darren: About 15 years ago I realised that climate change and the destruction of our natural ecosystems were the biggest challenges facing humanity, and I became more and more interested in the green agenda. Five years ago I got a job managing the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, and led the team that helped win the European Green Capital Award for Bristol in 2015. However, I disagreed with the way it was being run, and on leaving my job, I felt it was time to take a stand.

What do you think has caused the Green surge in Bristol and elsewhere over the past few years?

Partly good old fashioned hard work of local parties in establishing Green Party Councillors and showing that positive politics can get things done. On a broader basis, I think there is widespread dissatisfaction with short term mainstream politics and the culture of point scoring, as well as the worrying rise of UKIP, coupled with the Green Party being much clearer about its social justice agenda as well as its environmental agenda. We are definitely not a single issue party any more.

How did you get selected to become a parliamentary candidate? What’s your platform?

There were two hustings at which I presented my thoughts to Party members, and then an on-line vote. My platform was really my variety of experience and my credentials as someone who can get things done. I am an ex RAF Engineering Officer, with 4 years in the private sector, 10 years in the Home Office and 5 years in local government! The ever growing gap between rich and poor makes me really angry, and the dreadful way in which we treat the planet’s natural resources that are the source of life makes me sad. The only way I can cope is to get stuck in!

What do you think should be the most pressing issue for the Greens during the next election?

Not being seen as a single issue party, and that voting for us isn’t a wasted vote. A lot of people will be tempted to vote tactically, but the reality is that a tactical vote won’t really change anything. Voting green will.

Is the seat winnable – what do you think your chances are?

Definitely. It’s a three horse race, and if you look at recent local voting, we have polled more than any other the other local parties. Bristol West seems to vote for values, rather than party politics, and I think this will be a key element in May next year. The Green Party stands up for the long term and more and more people are thinking about the legacy that they will leave behind for their children and grandchildren.

How is the campaign going so far? What has your support been like?

The support has been fantastic. Green Party membership in Bristol has more than doubled in six months. We have a good story to tell, and I think people are looking for a genuine alternative. Green Party politics is very friendly too, and I have some great colleagues around me who are equally determined.

Some people argue the party’s sole focus for next year should be ‘Keeping Caroline’ – what would you say to that?

It is rightly our number one priority. Caroline is fantastic and deserves to be re-elected, more than anyone else I know. But we now have enough support to broaden our focus and make sure that the Green Party has an even greater voice in Parliament. In any case, Caroline has told me she would love some company!

What do you think is the most likely outcome from the 2015 election for the Greens? And who do you think will ‘win’?

I’m going to duck that one as it is so difficult to tell at the moment, but we will know more soon as the main polls are now including us as a real force in UK politics (even if the BBC aren’t!). I’m really glad that the Scotland debate has re-energised people’s interest in politics, particularly around the devolution agenda. I’m also really pleased to see people fighting back against UKIP. The Green Party is being really clear about its social policies, so expect to see our overall vote share increase massively. It’s just a shame that our voting system doesn’t reflect that.

To help Darren Hall’s campaign in Bristol West email bgp@bristolgreenparty.org.uk

This article is part of a series of ‘Green Challenger’ articles in the run up to the General Election. Read Adam Ramsay’s interview with Edinburgh’s Peter McColl here.

Josiah Mortimer is Green Movement Co-Editor at Bright Green.

Political folk EP ‘Luddite Ballads’ smashes £3k crowdfunding target!

I’ve got some really exciting news!

The crowdfunding campaign for my new political EP, Luddite Ballads – my first professional recording – has just hit its £3k target after four weeks (with just a few hours to spare)!

crowdfund

It means we can now musically master it, publish it, get it on all the music websites (Spotify, iTunes etc), push it into music stores, print it, promote it online and offline, potentially get merchandise (!!!), launch loads of gigs, get some media coverage, and most importantly of all – get some political acoustic music out there!

I’m pleased to say it makes me the first musician who has successfully crowdfunded a recording through the UK crowdfunding start-up Crowdshed. The team at Crowdshed have been great.

More importantly though, Rack Mount Records, my York-based indy label, have been absolutely amazing in getting this off the ground and pushing it, so a MASSIVE THANK YOU to them. Check them out. Hopefully you’ll be hearing a lot more from them!

It’s been a great journey and has taken a lot of hard work (mainly by the Rack Mount team, Hugo, Tristan and Tom!) and I’m really excited for the year ahead. It’s gonna be a good ‘un!

WE DID IT!!!!! #SocialismWin

PS You can still support the project here (and in doing so pre-order your copy!) :D

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Finally, some other little musical updates :D

1. I’ve gone and got myself my first ‘abroad’ gigs – two gigs in Brussels next month!

2. A random listener has done a dub remix of my latest SoundCloud post, a spoken word piece about the Greens being excluded from the TV debates. My first remix Will share when it’s online!

3. I’ve been invited to play on the Sunday Breakfast show for BBC Radio York next month. Will keep you posted.

4. I’ve just passed 100 followers on SoundCloud – make sure to give me a follow http://soundcloud.com/josiah-mortimer

5. My recent parody of UKIP’s awful Calypso Song has just hit 700 listens in three weeks, which ain’t bad – https://soundcloud.com/josiah-mortimer/not-the-ukip-calypso-song

6. The album art is well on its way for my new EP – you’ll be able to see it if we hit the #crowdfunding target!7. The wonderful peeps at Rack Mount Records have been working on my new website – and it’s looking AMAZING

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Peace and solidarityJosiah x

Is this the future of party funding?

Plymouth Green Party has had significant success with crowdfunding.

Republished from my article for Bright Green, November 4  

We all know the facts about parties. Most of their memberships are declining, and with falling subs they’re more and more relying on large donors – typically from wealthy people and major companies. But the Greens may have just discovered a much more democratic way of financing its future – tapping into something that’s been going for a while but has as of yet been little used by political groups: crowdfunding.

The Scottish Greens seem to have started a trend back in August, launching their Green Yes fund. They smashed their target of £5,000, securing £6,290 in just three weeks – providing a significant boost to the pro-independence campaign. Meanwhile their General Election crowdfunding campaign for next year easily soared past it’s £5,000 target with well over a month to spare.

It helped having a good social media presence, with the post-indy ref surge sending their Facebook likes past 40,000 and their Twitter followers over 24,000 – a significant reach in a country a tenth of the size of England. The indiegogo page was shared over 1,000 times on Facebook, spreading the Greens’ message and enabling even more donations. It spiralled. A definite campaign success.

Then Young Green Laura Packham launched her crowdfunder page for Plymouth Green Party, twice smashing their targets of initially £1,000 (within two days), then £2,000 – with a new target of three grand being well within reach over the remaining two weeks. With just two constituencies, £1,500 per seat is a decent sum for a Green Party candidate; £500 for a deposit and £860 for 70,000 flyers, leaving a bit spare for events and online promotion.

This now appears part of a concerted fundraising strategy under the fairly recently-recruited Fundraising and Operations Director Tom Beckett, with anofficial press release going out from GPEW at the end of October focusing on the crowdfunder.co.uk site (as opposed to say indiegogo or Kickstarter).

Beckett said: “Working with Crowdfunder allows the Green Party, which, unlike other parties, does not receive large corporate donations, to raise the money necessary to stand more candidates than ever before and potentially boost our representation in Parliament next year.”

He also states that five Green Party MP campaigns are potentially going live on Crowdfunder.co.uk over the next few weeks. It could be the start of something big, as well as potentially setting an example to other parties to democratise their funding.

Now platforms themselves seem to be hyping up this new relationship, with Newquay-based Crowdfunder publishing their own article praising the shift as the start of something positive (for them, obviously, too). Interviewing Laura, they state ‘If you would like to crowdfund your seat for the 2015 elections, upload your project today!’ Perhaps many will.

Laura explained her strategy: “Crowdfunding is a great way to engage because…finding and targeting supporters through social media is made much easier.

“For example, on stories published on Facebook relating to politics, you might find people who say ‘Vote Green’ and show support for the party – they are good people to target as you already know they are Green at heart. Or on stories about the Green Party…sharing the link in the comments section means it is likely to be viewed by supporters and people sympathetic to the cause.”

It’s not all success however – at least not yet. The West Midlands indiegogocampaign still has a fair way to go, having raised 5% so far, albeit with over 40 days remaining. Equally, the Peterborough and Fenland campaign has sadly only managed 2% thus far, with two weeks left. Make sure to give them a boost if you have a few quid to spare.

On many of these projects however – included the latter two – ‘Flexible Funding’ options mean that even if the target isn’t reached, the Greens still get whatever money is raised (with a small percentage going to the host platform), meaning it’s a win-win situation. Whatever you get online then is therefore just a bonus.

The Greens are pioneering what seems to be a great formula for mobilising finances through genuine people power. Lots of small donations from lots of different people, expanding knowledge of the Greens and reaching out to supporters who may not be members. Combined with an astonishing membership surge this year (and thus a corresponding surge in member subs), the Greens are in a good position going into the 2015 General Election. Mainstream parties: take note…

#InviteTheGreens petition hits 200,000 signatures

Reposted from Bright Green, where I’m now Green Movement Editor

The petition demanding the major broadcasters invite the Greens onto the 2015 General Election debates has now reached over 200,000 signatures.

bennet_farage1-450x252

It hit the 200k mark at around 3pm on Monday, piling further pressure on the media companies, including the BBC, to open up the televised debates to the Green Party.

The landmark means that the petition has racked up an average of 50,000 signatures per week since launching exactly four weeks ago, on the 13thOctober.

The petition, by Robyn Meadwell, states: “The Green Party beat the Liberal Democrats in the 2014 European Elections and is polling neck-and-neck with them in General Election opinion polls. In May 2014 more than 1.2 million people voted Green – more than 150,000 more than voted Liberal Democrat.

“Natalie Bennett has just as much a right to be on that panel as the men. Apparently it’s too “messy” to have too many candidates in a TV debate.

“By excluding a party with a female leader, we are sending a clear message to the public — politics is still an old   boys club.”

The 200,000 signatures follow Caroline Lucas’ appearance on BBC Question Time last Thursday, which led to the hashtag #InviteTheGreens trending across the UK.

The BBC will come under the most heat after this news, in the wake of the BBC Trust’s decision to open up the question of the TV debates to a public consultation this week – a move welcomed by the Greens and the SNP.

Thousands have joined the Greens over the past few weeks following the broadcasters’ controversial move, with the parties’ now having a combined UK-wide membership of over 31,000.

Open letter to the VC of the University of York

Josiah Mortimer:

Shocking to see the university I graduated from engaging in old-school union busting, threatening staff of 100% pay cuts for engaging in action short of a strike. Let’s hope they reverse this disgraceful position.
Please sign and share the statement below.

Originally posted on University of Leeds UCU - Blog:

The following letter was sent today to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, who yesterday threatened to stop paying their staff if they participated in legitimate industrial action. If you agree with the sentiment of the letter, please do sign the petition below the letter text.

The form will show you the total number of respondents when you complete it. We’ve had so many responses, that we are uploading the petition responses manually (in part, to allow us to monitor for inappropriate comments). We’re placing them online in this posting.  (last updated 7pm, Saturday 1 November – 440 signatures)

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