When Governments Lie Citizens Fly

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

When it comes to climate change the Government lies to us, but we also lie to ourselves.

Again and again we are told by the honourable conservative political elite that the UK is a world leader in the fight against climate change. Many of us clearly realise that this neat slogan is often furtively utilised to dodge the question as to whether the UK Government is doing enough to avert a global climate catastrophe. Nonetheless, credit should be given where credit is due. In some respects it is certainly true, “the UK is leading action to tackle climate change”.

After all, the UK was the first nation to underwrite a legally-binding target to reduce CO2 emissions and has since improved upon that target, claiming that it intends to hit net-zero emissions by 2050 – a short 42 years after the initial target was passed by the UK Parliament. Furthermore, in an impressive display of executive vigour, the UK Government has greatly reduced its subsidising of coal mining for electricity generation, which proved especially difficult to achieve since the coal economy collapsed decades ago (1, 2, 3). Additionally, DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) appear to be deeply invested in the noble concept of carbon offsetting to make the expansion of Europe’s busiest airport ethical.

However world-leading this record may (or may not) be, it is not nearly a sufficient response to humanity’s existential crisis. Such a response requires nothing less than for us to establish a war footing against climate change; to divert all resources towards one goal: averting the extinction of humankind. Yet, the UK Government rejects this motion as rash and economically unviable. In other words, the Government gives precedence to the capitalist project of economic growth over any sufficient attempts to avert anthropogenic human extinction. What’s more, when the Government’s record on climate change is scrutinised it’s plain to see how pitiful it really is, and their slogan is exposed for what it is: pretentious trickery.

Unfortunately, the UK Government’s apparent leadership on climate change is quickly eclipsed by its unwavering inclination to surreptitiously pass the buck. Whilst its emissions are falling nationally, the UK Government subsidises the fossil fuel industry more than any other EU nation and, what’s maybe worse, it refuses to subsidise renewables until 2025. On top of that, it provides billions of pounds in financial support to overseas fossil fuel industries. Again, there is merit in the UK’s achievements concerning its divestment from coal and its reduction in emissions. Yet, its mission to reach net-zero emissions nationally by 2050 is fundamentally negated if it continues to inconspicuously fund international fossil fuel industries and altogether fails to subsidise renewables. Indeed, it becomes clear that the UK Government is not being entirely truthful to its citizens. According to a study published by the Overseas Development Institute in 2018, the UK ranked 1st amongst all G7 nations for its fossil fuel subsidy commitments but last for its transparency. So, if the UK Government continues to insist that it is a world leader, it is so only in prevarication and dirty populist politics. Alternatively, perhaps the Government is simply incapable of recognising its own contradiction.

This isn’t altogether an impossible idea. A similar praxis of compartmentalisation is reflected in the growing popular culture around sustainability. Even though the growth of this culture signals a long-awaited, welcome increase in public awareness concerning the climate and ecological emergency, it also actively encourages us to greenwash our lives. Take carbon offsetting as a case in point. If, like Elton John, you believe that throwing money into carbon offsetting schemes will miraculously make your air miles eco-friendly, you are woefully mistaken. Sure, carbon offsetting constitutes doing something. In theory it’s a respectable way of funding carbon capture and storage projects or other similarly green initiatives. However, offsetting our carbon-heavy lifestyles definitely does not constitute doing enough – it is far from a sufficient response to the emergency at hand. Fundamentally, it prevents us from doing what is necessary: it prevents us from having to face up to the harsh reality of the climate emergency; it dissuades us from rebelling against ourselves; from rebelling against our own destructive habits and desires; and coerces us into continuing with business as usual. Convinced we are saintly, we thus allow ourselves to conscientiously wreck the planet rather than impetuously so.

Sure, it’s better than denying the existence of climate change. It is also better than ignoring it. Yet, the emissions we offset – say by flying, eating meat or travelling in SUVs – still involve pumping copious amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. When we invest in carbon offsetting, we are simply passing the buck; quickly and conveniently we relieve ourselves of our environmental responsibilities and in the process we inhibit any meaningful cultural change. In an era when what we do today will undoubtedly determine whether or not civilised societies will exist in a hundred years, merely offsetting these emissions is not enough. The concentration of CO2 currently in the atmosphere is greater than it’s been for millions of years and it takes centuries for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to reduce naturally. So, to do anything other than to actively attempt to reduce its concentration as much as possible is insane. To do anything other than to establish a war footing against climate change is insane. Compartmentalisation is practiced by the insane.

Further still, a recent study by the European Commission found that 85% of carbon offsets are unlikely to produce any real reduction in carbon emissions. So, we are kidding ourselves if we think that carbon offsetting lets us off the hook. It is rarely even helpful, let alone sufficient.

Given the circumstances, a sufficient response to climate change entails doing the best we can possibly do to reduce our emissions, not merely offsetting them or shipping them off to distant lands and pretending we have nothing to do with them. Ultimately, the UK Government needs to go fully fossil fuel free. That’s what a leader would do. On top of that, we the citizens ought to go flight free. Anything else would constitute insanity.

Join me and pledge to go flight free in 2020.


A.C. Stark

A critical examination of the duty to promote and protect Fundamental British Values (FBV) in education.

Politics & Public Debate

Rationale
The promotion of British values in schools is a rather contentious issue, not least because teachers are legally obligated to promote and protect ‘fundamental British values’ (FBVs) (DfE,2014,p.5). I witnessed this in practice, whilst working as a Learning Support Assistant, where a Year 7 English class was explicitly taught about Britishness as an independent scheme of work (SOW). Deeply traditional British imagery was ubiquitously employed throughout these lessons (such as the Union Jack, Big Ben and Churchill) and students were directed to reflect upon and discuss the meaning of Britishness – which ultimately led to stereotypical conversations about the importance of tea, football, the monarchy and empire. This narrow conception of Britishness was unchallenged by the teacher which greatly disconcerted me.

As an indigenous British national, I saw this as an unbalanced conception of Britishness since the SOW failed to highlight values representative of my own views on Britishness (including multiculturalism, tolerance, freedom of speech and democracy). If the objective of the SOW was to enable people to better understand what Britishness means or to help them identify with the British community, then for me it had failed. What concerned me more was that over a quarter of the class were not of British heritage. I wondered: if I had found it difficult to relate to the narrow conception of Britishness prevalent in those lessons, some students had probably found it difficult too. Surely, I thought, teachers should attempt to challenge narrow conceptions of Britishness in order to make such lessons relatable and accessible to all students.

This is what sparked my interest in FBVs. I began asking myself questions, such as:

What truly is ‘Britishness’?
What are British values?
Do the British people share a homogenous set of values?
Are British values not just universal values?
Why and how was this legal obligation to promote and protect FBVs introduced?
Is the project to promote and protect FBVs self-defeating?

This essay is concerned with these final two questions. Specifically, by understanding the pretext for the introduction of FBVs and teachers’ legal obligation to promote and protect them, I aim to understand in what ways the policy surrounding FBVs might be – or at least appear to be – self-defeating. Furthermore, if they are self-defeating, I wish to examine whether teachers are necessarily hindered in their practices as a result. 

There is a plethora of ways to explore the question of whether the project of FBVs is self-defeating. Nevertheless, here we will address just two. The first concerns whether FBVs are intended to be inclusive. As will be revealed, there are strong reasons to believe that they are. Yet, I will argue that there is a risk that FBVs can appear to merely feign rather than embody inclusion. Secondly, I wish to highlight how the broad advice on how to promote and protect FBVs may conflict with the specific duty to promote and protect democracy – for, democracy is one of the FBVs (Ofsted,2018,pp.42). We begin, however, by looking at why and how FBVs and teachers’ legal obligation to promote and protect them were introduced.

The Pretext for the Introduction of FBVs
It appears that a change in the British political landscape was instrumental to the introduction of FBVs. Britain’s involvement in the USA’s ‘War on Terror’ in the early 2000s arguably helped to institutionalise a politics of anti-terrorism and securitisation (Kapoor,2013,p.1029) which can be seen to have catalysed a notable shift in UK public policy concerns away from what was called ‘state multiculturalism’[1] (Holmwood & O’Toole,2018,pp.6-7). Later, in 2011, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, claimed that “state multiculturalism […] encouraged different cultures to live separate lives […] apart from the mainstream” and in order to “belong” in Britain one must believe in “certain values”, values which Cameron believed were not shared by some ethnic minority groups (Cameron,2011)[2]. These values were subsequently defined in Britain’s anti-extremism Prevent Strategy as “fundamental British values” (FBVs) within its definition of ‘extremism’, which itself was defined as “vocal or active opposition” to FBVs (Crown,2011,p.107).

Fundamental British Values (FBVs):

  • Democracy;
  • The rule of law;
  • Individual liberty; and
  • Mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

Shortly after, from September of 2012 the new Teachers Standards required teachers to protect FBVs (DfE,2011,p.14)[3]. Subsequently, the politics of anti-terrorism and securitisation was further proliferated by national and international incidents of terrorism, the growth of notorious terrorist organisations and the so-called Trojan Horse Affair in 2014 (Lander,2016,p.275). Consequently, the DfE published non-statutory advice relating to the promotion of FBVs as a part of social, moral, spiritual and cultural (SMSC) development in schools (DfE,2014).

[1] A multicultural state or society, or a state that advocates being multicultural.

[2] Here is an excerpt which shows this: “What I am about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all.  In the UK, some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.  But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.  Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.” (Cameron,2011).

[3] “Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by: … not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” (DfE,2011,p.14).

Feigning Inclusion
As we shall see, there are elements of the pretext of FBVs which could cause us to believe that they might be self-defeating. By drawing upon some of those elements my central claim within this section is that if FBVs are intended to be inclusive, then they risk appearing to feign inclusion rather than embodying it. This is because some of the history surrounding education policies concerning Britain’s minority groups, as well as some aspects of the pretext for the introduction of teachers’ obligation to promote and protect FBVs, can appear to be racist. I will focus on the government’s treatment of the Swan Report of 1985 and then on the Trojan Horse Affair of 2014 as two illustrative cases.  

According to Robin Richardson, in the late-1980s central government sought to “de-emphasize and marginalize the conclusions and recommendations of the Swann Report” (Richardson,2015,p.38) which identified a distinct need in schools for “change where attitudes to the ethnic minorities are concerned” and that a “[m]ulticultural understanding… [ought] to permeate all aspects of a school’s work” (Swann,1985,pp.767-769). In support of its marginalisation, Beverley Shaw argued that an education founded on “universal tolerance and understanding” would fail to respect its students’ social, ethnic or religious identities “for such an education cannot of its nature reinforce home and family values” without creating the social divisions it is intended to repair (Shaw,1988,p.258). However, one might contend that Shaw’s reasoning is flawed because (A) it is mistaken about the role that schools have with respect to reinforcing home and family values (or, as I will term them, ‘cultural values’); and, more importantly, (B) the rationale by which that mistaken role is assumed can appear to be (and may even be) racist.

With respect to (A), Shaw’s argument could be invalidated if one believed that schools have no role in necessarily reinforcing (viz. instructing on) cultural values but rather have a role in educating on (viz. informing on, revealing, or modelling) them. The process of reinforcing certain cultural values may, indeed, involve excluding other cultural values since it would necessitate being selective when deciding which to reinforce[4]. Hence, as Shaw remarks, in a culturally plural school setting, reinforcing cultural values might almost necessarily fail to respect some students’ identities. Conversely, the process of educating on cultural values has the potential to succeed in respecting all students’ identities because it is not as restricted by ideas concerning prescriptivity[5]. Accordingly, Shaw is mistaken in repudiating the Swann Report on the belief that the kind of education it recommended fails to respect its students’ identities, for that need not be the case if one believes schools have a role in educating on cultural values rather than reinforcing them.  

[4] For reinforcing all of the world’s cultural values would be impossible.

[5] I say ‘potential’ because, despite it being logically possible that all cultural values are respected, some cultural values may still be perceived as unworthy of respecting.

Importantly, concerning (B), some people might view the kind of rationale employed by Shaw as racist. The assumption that education ought to reinforce certain cultural values arguably entails the implicit premise that there exists a specific set of cultural values – rather than ‘universal’ values – which is inherently superior to others, including those of resident ethnic minorities, and is thus more deserving of being reinforced. It is these kinds of attitudes and “inherited myths” with which the Swann Report was concerned (Swann,1985,p.769) – attitudes purporting that ethnic minority cultures and their respective values are inherently inferior to those of the mainstream culture. Furthermore, it is beyond mere speculation to suggest that many people would qualify such attitudes as racist. Hence, if the central government’s move in the late-1980s to de-emphasise and marginalise the recommendations of the Swann Report was seen to be decided upon reasoning equivalent or similar to that of Shaw’s, it could quite conceivably be considered by some as a racist move.

The government’s marginalisation of the Swann Report is just one example of how racism might be seen to be present in the history surrounding education policies. For those concerned with the possibility that its marginalisation was racist, the question for today is: is it possible that FBVs were conceived on the back of similar attitudes to those which ostensibly denounced the Swann Report?

At first glance, the answer is potentially yes. For, FBVs are identified by their title as being distinctly ‘British’ values, suggesting that they are cultural values unique to Britain. Thus, it could be claimed that FBVs are racist, in a way similar to the allegation made against Shaw in (B), by “implying that Britain is somehow better and more civilised than other countries” (NASUWT,2016,p.6). This would explain why teachers are duty-bound to promote and protect FBVs and why the government defined ‘extremism’ as “vocal or active opposition” to FBVs (Crown,2011,p.107).

However, it would be unfair to cry ‘racism!’ too quickly. For, upon looking at the individual values which constitute FBVs it becomes clear that they are “certainly not unique to Britain” (NASUWT,2016,p.6). For, democracy (FBV1); the rule of law (FBV2); individual liberty (FBV3); and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith (FBV4) are all values held in multiple countries and cultures worldwide. Therefore, to prevent people from mistaking FBVs as uniquely British values, moreover to prevent “alienation and division”, it would be prudent to understand FBVs as ‘Universal Values’ (NASUWT,2016,p.6). So, perhaps despite their name, FBVs were not devised from racist attitudes since they appear to embody Universal Values – values which are not exclusive to Britain.

Further evidencing that FBVs were not devised from racist attitudes, in the Department for Education’s advice for promoting FBVs in practice they state, “[i]t is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own, but nor is it acceptable for schools to promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background” (DfE,2014,p.6). This embodies FBV4 and it is an example of how the promotion of FBVs is intended to be inclusive, qua respectful for and tolerant of those with different faiths and beliefs, in practice.

The problem with this is that there is a risk that those who might view the kind of rationale employed by Shaw as racist may thus see FBV4 as an ad-hoc attempt at making FBVs seem more inclusive when in reality they are not. This contention could be inspired or compounded by the pretext for the introduction of FBVs and teachers’ obligation to promote and protect them, since it appears to encourage differential treatment of minority groups (Strathers,2017,p.100), contradicting FBV4. This, according to Richardson, is because “the discourse of politicians […] implies that a central purpose of teaching British values is to control and regulate young Muslims” (Richardson,2015,p.45). The Trojan Horse Affair exemplifies this allegation: In March 2014 the Sunday Times reported on a Muslim plot to take over the governing bodies of a collection of Birmingham schools (Richardson,2015,p.39). Soon after, the national press was fuelled by headlines warning of Islamic extremists, fundamentalism and a “Jihadist plot to take over schools” (Richardson,2015,p.40; quoting the Birmingham Mail on 7th March 2014), now referred to as the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair. The document alleged as proof of this plot was a forgery (Richardson,2015,p.40). Yet, well before any state-led investigations were able to make this official conclusion – moreover, before hearings from teachers of the implicated schools were conducted – the government cited the Trojan Horse Affair as justification for its new plans to counter extremism (Holmwood & O’Toole,2018,p.16). The introduction of the aforementioned obligation conferred upon teachers to promote FBVs as a part of SMSC development in schools constituted an element of these plans. Hence, the treatment of Muslims in this case (and the potential perception that they were scapegoated for political ends) could be considered by some as amounting to “a betrayal of the very values that the teachers in the Birmingham [Trojan Horse Affair] case are held to have disavowed” (Holmewood & O’Toole,2018,p.20), those being the fundamental British values – especially FBV4.

So, it is possible that FBVs were conceived on the back of similar attitudes to those which possibly inspired the marginalisation of the Swann Report. It is because of this that FBVs risk appearing to feign inclusion rather than embodying it. Teachers are encouraged to be inclusive in their practice, to embody and model FBV4 (DfE,2014,p.6), yet at times, both in the past and with respect to pertinent recent events, the central British government appear to have actively contradicted FBV4.

Be that as it may, I would argue that the practice of promoting and protecting FBV4 is not necessarily undermined by these events. For, even if FBVs were devised with racist intent, this need not have any impact upon the practices of a teacher when promoting and protecting them. The teacher can, regardless of recent history, protect and promote “mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith”, by educating on FBVs. Furthermore, rethinking FBVs as Universal Values could help to prevent any conflation between narrow stereotypical conceptions of Britishness with values education and help teachers consider their obligation to promote and protect FBVs in a more inclusive fashion (NASUWT,2016,p.6), in line with FBV4.

Subverting Democracy
However, an element of teaching practices relating to the promotion and protection of democracy (FBV1) which could be seen as self-defeating concerns the non-statutory advice relating to the promotion of FBVs as a part of SMSC. This advice instructs teachers to “enable students” to “respect the civil and criminal law of England”, “to acquire a […] respect for public institutions and services in England” and to “encourage respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied in England” (DfE,2014,p.5). However, practitioners may have reservations “concerning the appropriateness of teaching students to respect public institutions and the Laws of […] England when a key element of critical and empowering education should arguably be that they are equipped with the capacities to challenge the state and its actions” (Struthers,2016,pp.98-99; referencing Goodwin,2014). This could be argued on the basis that a state’s citizens must have the capacity to take properly informed democratic action to safeguard themselves against the state and other powerful entities, such as when those entities threaten Human Rights or contradict FBVs, which requires that its citizens hold a degree of scepticism with respect to the state. In short, democracy necessitates having a degree of freedom not to respect the state. Arguably, therefore, by instructing teachers to encourage students to respect the state, the DfE’s guidance regarding the promotion and protection of democracy (FBV1) is potentially self-defeating.

That being said, teachers could reinterpret the DfE’s advice to avoid this. Teachers may, for instance, reinterpret ‘enabling students to respect’ the civil and criminal law of England as meaning that they ought to enable and encourage their students to abide by the civil and criminal law of England. For, abiding by laws need not necessitate respecting them. Hence, through reinterpreting the DfE’s instructions, it is possible that democracy can be promoted and protected by teachers in practice in a way that is not self-defeating.

Yet, another way in which the practice of promoting FBVs could be seen to contradict democracy relates to how FBVs are promoted. If promoting FBVs equates to reinforcing them, just as Shaw assumed teachers should do, then there is a danger that an allegation could be made stating that the promotion of FBVs is merely a political tool to nationalistically indoctrinate students. Having said that, if it is believed that the process by which FBVs are promoted equates to educating on them, then this allegation might be quashed. Fortunately, it is possible to infer from the DfE’s advice that the latter method is preferred. This is because the language within their description of “the understanding and knowledge expected of pupils as a result of schools promoting fundamental British values” appears to connote an educating on approach when it states that students should have “an understanding” of democracy or “an appreciation” for the rule of law and other such things which characterise FBVs (DfE,2014,pp.5-6). Conversely, if it had stated rather more obstinately that students “must believe” in democracy and the rule of law, then we could potentially infer that it connotes a reinforcing approach to promoting FBVs.

Concluding Remarks
So, whilst the guidance on how to promote FBVs could be seen to be self-defeating by potentially (perhaps unwittingly) encouraging practices which could arguably subvert democracy, teachers are able to interpret the guidance such that democracy is nonetheless promoted and protected in their practice. Furthermore, we can infer from the language of the guidance that teachers can achieve this by educating on FBVs rather than reinforcing them.     

Similarly, whilst some history concerning education policies and elements of the pretext for the introduction of FBVs and teachers’ obligation to promote and protect them might be seen to be racist and thus undermine FBV4, the FBVs, through being in essence Universal Values, are not themselves racist. Therefore, teachers are able to promote and protect FBVs without undermining them, again by educating on them.


A.C. Stark


BIBLIOGRAPHY

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DES. (1971). The Education of Immigrants, HMSO, London.

DfE. (2011). Teachers’ Standards, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/665520/Teachers__Standards.pdf [Accessed: 10/06/2019].

DfE. (2014). Promoting fundamental British values as a part of SMSC in schools, [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380595/SMSC_Guidance_Maintained_Schools.pdf [Accessed: 07/04/2019].

Gillard, D. (2008). The 1981 Rampton Report, [online] Available at: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/rampton/index.html [Accessed: 07/04/2019].

Goodwin, M. (2014). British values? Pupils should be questioning the rule of law. The Guardian, 11 November. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/11/british-values-pupils-question-rule-of-law [Accessed: 03/04/2019]

Holmwood, J & O’Tool, T. (2018). Countering Extremism in British Schools?: The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair, Policy Press, Bristol.

Kapoor, N. (2013). ‘The Advancement of Racial Neoliberalism in Britain’, in Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36:6, pp.1024-1046. [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.629002 [Accessed: 07/04/2019].

Lander, V. (2016). ‘Introduction to fundamental British values’, in Journal of Education for teaching, 2016 Vol. 42, no. 3, 274–279. [online] Available at:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2016.1184459 [Accessed: 03/06/2019].

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NASUWT. (2016). Universal Values: Responding holistically to the requirement to promote Fundamental British Values, [online] Available at: https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/b49175fd-4bf6-4f2d-ac5b2759c03015be.pdf [Accessed: 10/06/2019].

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Race, R. (2005). ‘Analysing the Historical Evolution of Ethnic Education Policy-Making in England, 1965- 2005’, in Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, Vol. 30, No. 4 (114) (2005), pp. 176-190.

Rompton OBE, A. (1981). West Indian Children in our Schools: Interim report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups, HMSO, London.

Shaw, B. (1988). ‘The Incoherence of Multicultural Education’, in British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp.250-259.

Struthers, A. (2016). ‘Teaching British Values in Our Schools: But why not Human Rights?’, in Social & Legal Studies 2017, Vol.26(1) pp.89-110, Sage.

Swann, M. (1985). Education for All: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups, HMSO, London.

The Overpopulation Myth

Nature & the Environment, Philosophy & Ethics, Politics & Public Debate

Just because Thanos erased half of all life in order to bring balance to the universe it doesn’t mean that everyone who is concerned about overpopulation is also an eco-fascist beset on subjugation and murder. It is quite probable that they’re simply anxious about the climate and ecological breakdown and see overpopulation as a legitimate cause. We needn’t assume to know any more than that; whom they blame, if they blame anyone, and what solutions they endorse we cannot assume to know. Sure, there is a distinct risk that arguments about overpopulation and their purported solutions can, and have been, subverted by fascist reasoning. However, concerns about overpopulation are not intrinsically fascist. On the contrary, in many cases such concerns are typically apolitical, much like “iceberg ahead!” implies “politics aside, we need to avert disaster!”. Such proclamations deserve our attention.

After all, the Malthusian premise that exponential human population growth will one day inevitably exceed Earth’s finite stock of resources is a compelling one. Just watch a few episodes of David Attenborough’s Our Planet and one will discover that we are already “totally out of balance with nature”.

In today’s prevailing global capitalist context, overpopulation is already in effect, for the logic of capitalism implies that we prosper today in lieu of living tomorrow.

Despite this present imbalance, however, there is an increasingly fashionable argument permeating amongst social thinkers contending that global society is maturing to a point where overpopulation needn’t be an issue of concern. Call this the Sub-Replacement Argument. This argument is made on the assumption that the ‘third-world’ societies predominantly responsible for global population growth, due to their (delayed) industrialisation and socio-economic development will soon have greater access to education and contraception (importantly, education and contraception are proven to be essential in reducing reproduction rates in developed countries). Couple this with current statistics showing that developed countries have a collective ‘sub-replacement fertility rate’ – meaning new generations are less populous than preceding generations – and there is a strong argument to suggest that: Once capitalism pulls Africa and Asia out of the third-world, they too will have sub-replacement fertility rates! Thus, their populations, just like those of the world’s better, more advanced nations, will begin to diminish and those cries of ‘global overpopulation!’ will all be in vain.

Nonetheless, this covertly neocolonial argument fails on two accounts. Firstly, the fact that now, during the human epoch – the Anthropocene – Earth is experiencing its 6th Great Extinction, at a rate 100 times faster than normal, we can be certain that the issue of overpopulation is already pressing. Even if the third-world does attain sub-replacement fertility rates in the not-too-distant future, it’s already too late; innumerable irreversible tragedies have already come to pass.

I implore you to rebel against yourself.

That being said, maybe what counts as ‘overpopulation’ differs depending upon what politico-economic system the term is applied. Indeed, one may argue that in the context of the currently prevailing system overpopulation is already underway because capitalism’s tautological requirement for growth guarantees exponential ecological degradation. This inevitable degradation inexorably leads to agricultural collapse and thus the Malthusian premise is a priori fulfilled. In accounting terms, we are already overpopulated; theoretically speaking, humans exceeded Earth’s finite stock of resources long ago, it’s just that the effects are yet to be properly experienced on a global scale.

Perhaps, therefore, in order to prevent that from happening, moreover to prevent it from getting worse, we should transform the system into one that doesn’t necessitate the decimation of ecosystems. It’s already blindingly obvious that this is what’s required in order to sufficiently mitigate the climate breakdown, so this makes sense, right?

YES! Yet, this is unfortunately where the Sub-Replacement Argument fails again. We cannot possibly assume that a post-capitalist world is necessarily capable of enabling third-world countries to meaningfully develop. It may be, but we cannot assume it will be. For it is quite possible that in such a world standards of living in third-world countries would stagnate, whilst standards of living would by necessity have to decrease in ‘developed’ countries. This could arguably lead to increasingly limited access to education and contraception worldwide. So, it is possible that even if we manage to overcome the climate breakdown, there could well be another existential crisis lurking in the shadows of the future: overpopulation.

This is the overpopulation myth, the myth that overpopulation isn’t a legitimate cause for concern, when of course it is. In today’s prevailing global capitalist context, overpopulation is already in effect, for the logic of capitalism implies that we prosper today in lieu of living tomorrow. And we cannot be sure how overpopulation might feature if our dreams for systematic change become a reality.

So, we are left with two options. We can choose either certain death-by-capitalism, whereby the climate breakdown and overpopulation will kill us; or we can choose a transition out of capitalism into the ominous unknown, the shadows, wherein overpopulation might kill us. I know which I’d choose. My question is what one would you choose? In any case, I implore you to rebel against yourself.


A.C. Stark

First, Rebel Against Yourself.

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

In Owen Jones’ recent interview video with Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam criticises the political ‘left’ as having been perpetually dishonest about what economic action is required to mitigate the climate breakdown and what cultural changes this will necessitate. He contends that the ‘left’ have become so embroiled, so entrenched in the (conceptually politically right-wing) neoliberal ideal they are unable to conceive of human life “in anything other than cost-benefit, materialistic terms”. Their proposed resolutions have therefore assumed that market forces are enough to tackle climate change: business as usual WILL work, it just needs tweaking! They were wrong, whilst Roger is correct: The ‘left’ – the supposed political guardians of justice and equality – have fundamentally failed to realise that at the very heart of any suitable action to mitigating the climate breakdown requires a redefinition and restructuring of our society and economy. Just like all life on this planet, justice and equality depend upon this for their survival.

It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

So, the political ‘left’ need to become Left again. For many of us, this has long been clear to see. Thankfully, it appears that they’re (just) starting to see the light. But we, and they, need to be clear about what the necessary changes in our society will require of us culturally and personally. Roger was unequivocal about this. It requires us to accept, moreover embrace, lower standards of living. For freeing ourselves from our capitalist indoctrination involves repudiating everything tied up in capitalism’s tautological relationship with growth. So we must retract from our supposed inter-generational contract with every consecutive generation to give them a better standard of living than the previous (I say ‘supposed’ because I’ve never seen nor signed this thing). It’s a faulty contract, the objectives of which cannot be sustained by virtue of its very design. We pursue its fulfilment in vain, and at what price? At best, the end of civil society, justice and equality; at worst, the end of human existence altogether.

Therefore, we need to redefine ourselves, every one of us; we need to change our expectations of what life entails. Reducing our standard of living involves changing a whole host of our own personal life-defining ideas. We need to be willing to fully extend the service life of everything we own, instead of repeatedly repurchasing unnecessary replacements. We need to re-skill ourselves so as not to be reliant on corporate manufacturers. We need to be canny, creative and imaginative. And we can be! We must reuse, recycle, repair and adapt our clothes again and again and again, until they are literally unusable as objects of clothing; and then up-cycle them into rags and quilts. We must re-green and re-wild our concreted areas, reconnect with the wilderness, walk upon, re-learn, appreciate and cultivate our privately owned microcosmic lands. We must localise ourselves (without vulgarising ourselves into xenophobes), so that we can walk, push or cycle ourselves to work, the grocer, to our friends and families. Concede that animal husbandry is one of the greatest causes of environmental degradation, and thus accept that meat ought to be reserved for special occasions, or better yet not be consumed at all. Accept that we needn’t pollute our drains with noxious chemicals when we wash ourselves and our possessions; realise that we needn’t shower every single day in order to be sanitary.

And this needn’t amount to austerity as we currently understand it – as a degrading, unrelenting existence at the margins of civilisation, wherein nothing possesses beauty or meaning. Kings and queens of empires old had austere lives compared to many of us. Ingenuity in practical utility can be appreciated in aesthetic terms. Yes, the story, the history and destiny, and the scars of our possessions can cause us to marvel over them, giving them aesthetic merit. Further still, in the process of changing ourselves, our conceptions of objective perfection will entirely evaporate, but the ‘civil’ part our civilisation will not. THAT is what we are doing this for. There is meaning in all this. So, don’t mistake reduced ‘living standards’ for reduced ‘quality of life.’ They are very different things. Happiness and contentment are in this imagined society, and can wholly be found in the process of transitioning to it.

I’ve said it before: the changes required will not be easy. We will all experience some strife in the process of challenging and changing ourselves. I’ve experienced it myself, and last week I met many people at the Extinction Rebellion protests in London that had, are or were beginning to experience their own internal mental rebellions: I am not you anymore, I am someone else; I wish there was another way but there isn’t, so leave me be! This internal, somewhat subconscious self-rejection is relentlessly tiring because redefining ourselves, re-finding ourselves is a tortuous task. There is no physicality to this kind of lost-ness; we are truly alone in an ethereally grievous mental-state. Those who’ve experienced it may now know very little about who they are, but they have realised that our self-image is inextricably bound up in our culture, and that culture has been hogtied by a now rotting politico-economic system. For us, denouncing this system is like pronouncing in the 19th century that “God is dead”. It can feel as though we are left in possession of nothing, yet still have everything to lose. It can feel as though we need to go through our very own personal extinction in order to prevent a global one.

Yet there is something that keeps us going. There is hope. There is solidarity and love. More importantly, there is a new social contract to draw up, and quickly. Its objectives may just about be attainable, if we really try; if we continue to rebel. This contract won’t catalyse injustice, inequality and global extinction. No, neither will this contract aspire to give our future generations a better standard of living. Instead, it will aspire to give them life. No luxuries. Just food to eat and air to breathe. In essence, that’s all Extinction Rebellion are asking for: that we allow our children to live.  

We rebel for life. Viva la Rebellion.

A.C. Stark

This article was recently posted on the Extinction Rebellion blog, XRblog.

The International Extinction Rebellion

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

Extinction Rebellion is a breath of fresh air, you might say literally. I could almost taste the oxygen in the London air this week as I paraded around Parliament Square, stood in solidarity with my sisters and brothers at Waterloo Bridge, and received abuse whilst heading the Edgeware Road blockade at Marble Arch.

Extinction Rebellion continue to display a form of activism that has been remiss in the UK for an extremely long time. Finally, a small collection of people (Gale Bradbrook,Roger Hallam and Jamie Kelsey Fry being key players) have managed to consolidate the world’s many grassroots activist organisations and convinced them to re-brand under as single banner. And, surprisingly, their objectives are not muddled. They’re clear and easy to remember and regurgitate, which is especially useful when a naive and myopic passer-by aggressively asks and asserts, “Oi, you prick! Tell me – just tell me! – what do you want out of this?! It’s a F###ing joke!”

Well, kind Sir, we would like the following:

  1. Tell the truth
    The government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.

2. Act now
The government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 (as advised by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Change Report).

3. Beyond Politics
The government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

This is not vague. Neither is it unreasonable.

The most up-to-date scientific projections of climate change tell us that at best we are facing the end of civil society as we know it: A world partially submerged by water, ravaged by extreme weather events, wherein humankind struggles to subsist because of food and water shortages and where masses of people are displaced and/or die because of conflicts waged over basic resources. At worst, on the other hand, the projections tell us that the Earth will no longer remain inhabitable: No human life.

I agree! Neither possible world is one I want my children growing up in. It’s a case of picking the best of a bad bunch of options. Yet, to do that, we need to start telling the truth.

Scientists began speculating about the possibility of climate change back in the 19th century. In the 1970’s the evidence really started to shine bright, and since the late 80’s there has been a concerted effort by scientists and activists alike to better know and share the truth about climate change. Due to the structures of power pervading our societies, these truths still fail to permeate through our shared consciousness and popular culture. The only way to at least try to improve those projections is to speak truth to each other and collectively speak truth to power.

I really am sorry about the inconvenience, Mr Commuter we all are. Yet, dare I say, your personal inconvenience is a small price to pay in order to prevent the collapse of civilisation.

Don’t be a dinosaur! Get involved!

A.C. Stark

The Greatest Gift that I Possess

Philosophy & Ethics, Politics & Public Debate

Everywhere I look I see countless miniature empires. This makes sense when one considers the many necrophilous sectarians ostensibly populating Britain, as their morals seem to be founded (if Brexit is anything to go by) in the delusional glory of this little island’s historically imperial sovereignty. Small-man syndrome is a natural phenomenon, even at the state level. However, worryingly, even members of today’s ‘hipster’, left-wing subculture – cultural decedents of a cleaner living, hitchhiking, happy-go-lucky, hippy era – revel in the excesses of their individual realms. Today everyone is an emperor. Myopic, capitalistic narcissism is pervasive. It’s killing humanism and the planet with it.

Taken from his recent book, Happy (his recent and a fascinating serious prose on welfare philosophy), Derren Brown hits the nail on the head, when he says, “‘Get what you want’ remains a mantra of modern living, as if we each had the birthright to accumulate whatever we think will make us happy.” We’re programmed to desire, indoctrinated even. Society is set up to consume. Without our desires being quenched by consumption, we’re destined to be miserable. This is the message we’re sold.

As a result, we’re constantly seeking to expand our empires in the pursuit of something more addictive, more socially corrosive than crystal meth. Purchasing is the tool by which we seek our little hits of serotonin and dopamine, each dose a sparrows-step toward securing a peculiarly phantom mental state: happiness. Obsessively, most of us seek it, but in vain. The era of achieving happiness collaterally is long over. Now, we seek it as an end in itself. More fool us.

We’re so addicted to these minute hits of gratification that we don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of our attaining them. This is not a clean drug, its cut with numerous toxins. It kills. Collateral damages, in the form of physical (1, 2), mental, environmental (1, 2, 3, 4) and cultural sickness (1, 3, 2), have been normalised. It’s an unfortunate necessity but a necessity all the same; a small price to pay for “happiness”. Crucially, we reject that our pursuit of happiness is damningly self-defeating (perhaps through fear of self-loathing). Moreover, those that indiscriminately pursue happiness are often considered virtuous. This is despite their holding a complete disregard for traditional virtues such as moderation, wisdom, morality, or empathy and a sense of community.

Regretfully, and rather non-virtuously, Conspicuous and invidious consumption (purchasing goods to flaunt economic power and incite envy), the bread and butter of capitalism, affect us greatly (the recent #OOTD appeal is a hideous example). Products are designed and marketed specifically to create and then cure anxietynot to promote happiness – which stimulates us to indulge in further self-destructive retail therapy. Possessions are seen and brandished as symbols of identity, wealth and “happiness”. This is no conspiracy theory; it is advertising theory (1, 2). It’s business. As a result, western society has entered a mental health crisis (1, 2) as its free markets mass produce depression and narcissism, as we are all miss-sold happiness.

Social media compounds the issue, providing “short term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” (1, 2) which manipulate us into to further embellishing and flaunting our lively possessions – the flags of our empires – in the virtual world, as we unwittingly encourage one another to consume more still.

What is deeply disconcerting is that the means by which we might relearn the value of empathy, community and virtue, and consequently rediscover happiness as contentedness, is being dismantled. With central government stripping powers of discretionary spending from local councils and redirecting the cash to Whitehall, our communal infrastructure is rapidly disintegrating. With it go the remnants of a once humanistic, community-based Great British culture. Youth centres, libraries, care homes, parks and public gardens are being left to ruin, so that the state can financially compete on a global scale in order to recreate the illusion of a “Great British Empire”.

It’s difficult to decide which of Britain’s politico-economic ideologies are causing all this: sectarianism, capitalism or neo-liberalism? It could be any or all of them. However, all of them scream the same battle-cry, wealth and empire are all.


A.C. Stark

Recommended Reading
Happy; Out of the Wreckage; Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered;
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

Climate Change: The Elephant in the Room

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

The elephant in the room is trampling all over us. Yet we’re still living, thinking and talking as though it were not there.

Climate change is so inescapable, so entangled within the definition of our politico-economic system, that to explore it, to educate about it, is to create a wide-spread existential crisis wherein the persistence of the very thing by which millions of us in some way identify and define ourselves – our culture – is perceived as both necessary for very short-term pleasure but morally abominable for the sake of those millions who have, are or will suffer and die as a consequence of it.

As such, discussions surrounding the climate breakdown are not being appropriately entertained by those in power (nor the media). They know that such discussions, if made publicly, would expose our economic system for what it really is (i.e., the root cause of the climate issue), and would certainly cause public outcry – they know that very well. However, maintained as a mere side issue, the realities of climate change will unlikely be exposed and the necessary changes never made. Those in power will retain their grip.

In reality, however, they are not psychopaths. They are not intentionally drowning, burning and starving people (though that is what they/we are all doing). They’re simply petrified to face up to the moral imperative. They’re fully aware of their irrationalities; they can feel the increasing pull of their inner cognitive dissonances. But to talk about climate change would require them to iron out their irrationalities, bring their subconscious biases to the fore, force them to realise their complicity in Othering, which would ultimately oblige them to change who they are. Regrettably, to many, that notion is more terrifying than the seemingly distant idea that our culture, in keeping with its very definition, is currently committing mass genocide (1, 2, 3, 4).

You see, it is not simply the case that people must accept climate change as a reality. We must also explore its causes and implications and talk about them and shout about them, and be outwardly furious with the forces that continue in trying to avert our eyes from them – even if this means that in so doing we ourselves suffer a little. For the sake of humanity, and for those you profess to love, be willing to challenge yourself. Be willing to talk about climate change. Further still, encourage it.

But the media is talking about climate change, is it not?  Yes, albeit sporadically and obtusely. The typical style of the ostensibly rare pieces of coverage concerning the relationship between climate change and, for example, Hurricane Irma or Harvey obstruct the wider conversation. That conversation would lead us to recognise that our deep-seated consumerism, our self-professed right to newer, better, more, is the cause of it all. (I suspect it’d also lead us to recognise that the depraved neo-liberal system in which we live is based on a theory of democratic “consent without consent”).

Many of the reports caveat that freak weather events are not caused by climate change (1, 2). This is extremely damaging for two reasons: Firstly, the inclusion of such caveats (regardless of whether such a report exaggerates that the increasing ferocity, frequency and consequent suffering to ‘natural disasters’ is directly linked to human-induced climate change) foolishly reassures already steadfast climate change sceptics. Secondly, and most importantly, this caveating deflects blame away from those who created the problem, i.e., us! – the post-industrial capitalist world. It serves to destroy our sense of agency, enabling us to reject responsibility. It solidifies climate change as a side issue, as something not deserving of inquiry or exposition, and ultimately promotes the damning political praxis of business as usual.

As long as the media persists in caveating, as long as we fail in holding those in power to account, and as long as we entertain the deluded idea that we and the culture by which we define ourselves is not the problem, the greater the catastrophes will become. It is our duty to start talking openly and candidly about the elephant in the room.


A.C. Stark

Recommended Reading
Introductory: 10 Billion;  2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren
Advanced: Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations;  Fossil Capital

Populism: Activism’s Evil Twin

Politics & Public Debate

A word has been washing around in the media, spilling from the plump and pouted lips of politicians and journalists everywhere, with a meaning that is surreptitiously adapted at every convenient opportunity. It’s as though they’re all in on the act, utilising the word to make specious claims about things which in reality they have no factually-based ideas. The only certainty about this term is that it serves a receptacle function, enabling any debate within which it plays a significant role to be argued from divergent purposes, ever evading truth and certainty. Is it a Trojan Horse, a decoy, a false premise, or just utterly confused empty talk? What are people really talking about when they speak of ‘populism’? 

One answer is that populism denotes a society with a heightened degree of political engagement. In which case, the term ‘populism’ has recently been used as a veil to mask what is otherwise known as democracy, disguising it as an undesirable, even radical ideology deserving of great criticism. When sold under the guise of an “-ism”, the term becomes categorised alongside real ideologies, truly deserving of our concern (be it socialism, capitalism, fascism – now rebranded, the ‘alt-right’ – etcetera). And when the term is propagated by the media, given precedence in discourse above some truly heinous, yet increasingly popular alternative political and economic systems, more important issues relating to the corruptive intention of this term’s use become buried and forgotten under pages and pages of hypocrisy: Long live democracy, down with populism! This is the layman’s view, and has been interpreted by many as David Cameron’s view also.

Perhaps, however, populism isn’t about the political actions or championing of the common folk and their expressions against whichever branch of the politico-economic elite that they deem either (at best) detached from the needs of society or (at worst) entirely uncivilised. Maybe it has nothing to do with political empowerment or mobilisation whatsoever. Maybe it’s simply a descriptive term, used as shorthand to express a state of democracy, whereby the people take democratic action as a consequence of the system force-feeding them ‘untruths’ within a ‘post-factual’ era – still implying that it is the people and not the system that is untrustworthy, denigrating the value of democracy without appearing to do so. Indeed, a world in which the people’s opinions can do easily be called into question would be utterly enticing, would it not? Opportunities to defend the infallible necessity of radical paternalism would regularly present themselves, clearing the road to a seemingly democratic plutocracy! Bliss. Oh what a beautiful world… I kid, of course, but that’s how Donald Trump’s cabinet seem to be benefiting from populism (12).

But then, maybe it is not the political system that is populistic. Maybe it is the politicians themselves who are the populists – popularising themselves and their prejudices via vicious demagoguery and nationalistic fear mongering. If this is the case, then it appears as though populism isn’t being used as a veil but instead creates the veil through which the electorate are presented a skewed and biased version of democracy. (This leads one to consider whether contemporary populism is a symptom of neoliberalism – read here).

In one sense, these two ideas – that populism describes a state of true democracy and that it is the leaders, the protagonists and not the people who are the populists – both hold true. Just as an activist movement can be described as democratic action, so too can a populist movement. Similarly, activist and populist movements and groups share the characteristic of being led by those who we might also refer to as activists or populists. This might suggest that activism and populism are one and the same; activists are populists and populists are activists.

However, what differentiates these two schools (as far as I see it), if they are truly differentiable at all, is that activism is led by the virtuous and populism is lead by the incongruous. What this means is that, quite unfortunately, well-intentioned, politically-engaged people, who might otherwise be seen as activists, unknowingly become populists when their chieftains decide to take the low road, promoting their positions through deceitful means, justifying them using pseudo-academic literature. (Which is suggested by the rhetoric and subsequent rise of history’s most prominent populist leaders as being so tightly associated with and attributed to post-fact politics. As two examples of this rising trend, Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump come to mind here. Hence, whilst Bernie Sanders may be described, perhaps even criticised as a champion of activism, Trump is populism’s equivalent, as was Hitler during his rise). In short, populism is activism’s evil twin.

So, whilst activism is the attempt by the people to perpetuate democracy through social empowerment, populism is the attempt to perpetuate politico-economic empowerment through pseudo-democracy. Populism is democracy gone wrong. And whether or not you find this conception compelling, one thing is for sure: ‘populism’ is rarely ever what is seems.

 

A.C. Stark

The Glorious Twelfth: What the BASC Aren’t Telling Us

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate

The Glorious Twelfth has passed. Which means that for the next 25 weeks droves of white, upper-class, tweed-adorned cronies, sharing in their conceited politico-moral sensibilities, will make to the Scottish Highlands, the Peaks and North Yorkshire (and anywhere else that’ll entertain them) to take part in a legalised blood frenzy.

It’s not that I have anything against the upper-class per se. It’s the corrupt, plutocratic manner by which many of them reign financially supreme that I detest. Yes, I’m sure many less-advantaged folk fancy the idea of blood ‘sports’ too, but that shouldn’t deflect from the fact that, for the most part, game shooting just isn’t an activity accessible to the masses. With a day’s shoot likely to cost £20,000 to £40,000 (in some cases up to £70,000), membership to this exclusive club is granted almost solely to the conservative financial elite.

This wouldn’t be so bad if ordinary taxpayers weren’t forced to foot the bill for their fun – or at least a large portion of it, as I discovered with a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: Throughout England, Scotland and Wales there are roughly 300 grouse moors. The average size is 2000 hectares. Notwithstanding moorlands used for field sports other than grouse shooting, with moorland subsidies being ~£54 per hectare taxpayers subsidise this faction some £33,600,000 per year (in 2011 Animal Aid calculated a figure closer to £37,000,000). Is this some sort of sick joke?

Ironically, for some of the beneficiaries, oracularly denouncing benefits claimers has become a casual past-time. They conveniently fail to recognise that they’re the same as those they condemn. You see, despite the fact that they’re given a different name, subsidies (in this context at least) are nothing more than benefits for the rich. Benefits exploited by incredibly wealthy grouse moor proprietors, such as the Daily Mail’s editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre (who earned £5.36m in 2014-15) and pub-chain owner Michael Cannon (who’s net-worth is £240m), who’ve evidently already been heavily advantaged by a vastly disproportionate wealth distribution system. These plutocrats just don’t need the help. While benefits are cut and living standards for the lower classes continue to decline, the country’s richest are given pocket-money and told to go out and play. Adding insult to injury, these subsidies propagate financial inequality and miss-educated bigotry. It’s entirely unnecessary, offensive and damning to the every-day taxpayer.

What’s more, these ‘sports’ wreak havoc upon our environment, consequent to the pseudo-conservationist land management techniques used to maintain their requisite landscapes. One main such technique is swailing: the burning of mature heather shrubs in order to make way for newer shoots (which many gamebirds feed upon). Yet, despite that “[t]he burning… can lead to increased flooding, decreased biodiversity, more carbon being released into the atmosphere and increased water pollution. And [that] we have to pay for the water to be treated, and we pay higher home insurance bills because of that increased flood risk.” (Which is far from the propagandist assertion it has been described as (1, 2, 3)) – Despite that, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) insists that the pros of this archaic practice by far outweigh the cons.

But their arguments are about as logical as those in favour of witch-dunking (i.e., they’re incredibly illogical). In their recent white paper, the BASC insinuates that unscorched terrains are bad for the environment; that any collateral damage resulting from land management, however immense it may be, is positively justifiable on the basis that denser populations of some red-listed wader species are found on moorland sporting estates. It’s absolute poppycock! Socio-economic injustices aside, what about the rest of our natural world? Why does the BASC disregard our depleting populations of hen harriers (1, 2), skylarks, or whinchats, of which all are red-listed also? What about the meadow pipit, the golden eagle, buzzard or carrion crow (1)? What about foxes, badgers, moles, voles, pine martens, weasels, pole cats, adders, mountain hares? All of these creatures suffer to the prevalence of blood sports, despite their legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Since the establishment of gaming estates, the continuous decline of this country’s wildlife has been less attributable to collateral damage and more to all-out assault (as is eloquently detailed in Roger Lovegrove’s Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation’s wildlife). Indeed, there is much intention to the BASC’s general omissions of the wider facts. 

Why does the BASC value some creatures less? The answer is simple. They find them economically undesirable. They’re a hindrance to gamekeeping. They out-compete and at times prey upon gamebirds, ransack nests and feed upon their young. Unhabituated to human linearity (the human obsession to organise and manage everything), and unfamiliar with the concept of arbitrary borders, they wander, nest and predate wherever they please. Consequently, gamekeepers regard them as vermin, failing to recognise that the backbone of our world economy relies heavily upon a relatively healthy and stable global ecosystem. Yet, in our progressively liberal world, with laws prohibiting the senseless killing of wildlife, groundskeepers, the BASC, indeed all blood sports enthusiasts cannot risk being seen to denigrate any creatures, given the possibility of wide-spread public denouncement. Instead they sell falsities, hoping to foster a culture of ignorance, so that they can continue to exclusively quench their everlasting thirst for blood.

Occasionally, when they realise they’re opposition is qualified enough to expose their quasi-logics (as Chris Packham recently has) they resort to elementary politico-economic arguments, appealing to fear rather than reason. They argue that particular rural communities would fall apart if the shooting industry ceased to exist, since much of their income relies upon the industry. But this line – that there exists no alternative method of financial stimulation in rural areas other than by the running of killing estates – is a fear-mongering fallacy. We don’t permit human trafficking because failure to do so would put many people out of work. We disallow it because it’s wrong, inhumane, entirely immoral. And the same logic should apply to blood sports. They form a barbaric and damaging industry, and ought to be relegated to the history books.

When I first heard of this day, the glorious twelfth, I wondered what I’d been missing out on. I was ready for some sort of personal enlightenment. Instead I found disappointment, a deep sense of discomfort. For me the glorious twelfth celebrated something exceptionally inglorious. It celebrated wide-spread naivety, extreme social and environmental injustice, and a common indifference to the needless slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of birds.

#NotSoGlorious.

A.C. Stark

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Nature & the Environment, Politics & Public Debate
“[I]nstead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today.”David Cameron, COP 21 Summit in Paris

 

I haven’t had much time to write recently. Besides working a day job I’ve been supporting Campaign Against Climate Change with their current campaign, Going Backwards on Climate Change – a cause that’s well worth the sacrifice.

Going Backwards will reach its climax on the 7th and 8th of May, as communities around the UK, in London, Bristol, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham and Sidmouth will take to the streets in protest against government backtracking on laws and initiatives fundamentally created to tackle anthropogenic climate change (click here for full event details). 

For a while I’ve been wanting to write a post about what inspired this campaign. Thankfully, courtesy of Claire James from Campaign Against Climate Change, my work has been done for me. Here, in full, is her article.


Going Backwards on Climate Change

In 2008, an unprecedented law was passed in the UK: the Climate Change Act, committing the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Recognising the crisis faced and the need for urgent action, all major parties supported it: just five MPs voted against.

What has changed since then? More greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, inducing record heat. Even climate scientists were surprised by the record-breaking temperatures in January and February 2016, following 2014 and 2015 consecutively being the warmest recorded. More extreme weather events linked to climate change, including severe flooding in the UK in recent years. Clearer science, including a better idea of the (diminishing) carbon budget we can afford to burn. In short: even greater urgency.

But that cross-party consensus on climate change has fractured. This is not admitted openly: David Cameron still felt able to deliver a speech urging negotiators in Paris “Instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today”. But the sense of urgency in tackling climate change at home has clearly slipped away. And since the current government took office on 8 May 2015, there have been a series of major policy reversals taking us backwards on climate action, just when we should be pressing forward with a shared understanding that the alternative is unthinkable.

We call on the government to start going forwards again – to base all policy-making in a clear recognition of the reality of our situation, facing catastrophic climate change…

Going Backwards on Solar
In December subsidies for solar panels on homes were cut by 65%. The Government has also imposed a cap on the total subsidy paid out, meaning the rate of domestic solar installations is set to halve, according to the Solar Trade Association. Larger solar installations (more than 1MW) on roofs and in solar parks have had their support cut by 85% and 71% respectively, meaning the market for the most cost-effective projects is all but dead.1

The industry said the planned cuts announced in the summer have already cost 6,500 jobs. The government’s impact assessment for the changes shows that between 9,700 and 18,700 jobs in the solar industry could be lost as a result of the cuts.2

Going Backwards on Wind Energy
Perhaps it should not be a surprise that this government has been less than green: the Conservative manifesto even contained a pledge to ‘halt the spread of onshore wind’. Onshore wind farms are the cheapest form of clean energy, recently found to be competitive with burning coal or gas.3 And despite some active campaigns against them, they are relatively popular with the public compared to other forms of energy generation.

New planning obstructions were introduced to make wind farms more difficult to build, and then the tap was turned off on government support. New onshore wind farms are excluded from the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than expected (with a grace period for projects which already have planning permission).

Going Backwards – Taxing Renewables
The Climate Change Levy (CCL) is a tax on business energy use, from which electricity generated from qualifying renewable sources was exempt, to encourage a switch to clean energy. But this exemption was removed in July 2015 with almost-immediate effect. The additional tax on renewable energy was estimated at £450 million in 2015/16, rising to £910 million in 2020/21, a total of £3.9 billion over the next six years. This is now expected to be even higher from 2017 onwards, because of changes announced in the 2016 budget.

Going Backwards on Warm Homes
The UK’s renewable resources mean we can quit our dependence on fossil fuels – if we cut down our energy waste by becoming more efficient. CO2 emissions from housing currently make up nearly a third of all the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions4 and we have among the poorest-insulated homes in Europe. There is an immediate human cost to this: there were 43,900 excess winter deaths in 2014/15, of which 9000 are directly attributed to people living in cold homes.5

First the Green Deal was scrapped. With no forewarning or consultation with industry, the scheme offering loans for energy efficiency measures was killed off. Then ECO (the requirement for energy companies to fund energy efficiency measures, targeted on poorer households) was cut back: to be replaced in 2017 by a ‘cheaper’ option.6

The number of energy efficiency measures installed in British homes has fallen by 80% since 2012. During the last Parliament 5 million households were helped but only 1.2 million households are expected to receive energy efficiency measures this Parliament.7

Much more effective than retrofitting existing homes is ensuring new ones are efficient, but the government has also scrapped the Zero Carbon Homes requirement. This would have ensured that all new dwellings from 2016 would generate as much energy on-site – through renewable sources, such as wind or solar power – as they would use in heating, hot water, lighting and ventilation. This was to be supported by tighter energy efficiency standards that would come into force in 2016, and a scheme which would allow housebuilders to deliver equivalent carbon savings off site.8

 Going Backwards – Fossil Fuel Subsidies
For decades, exploitation of the UK’s North Sea oil reserves brought in billions in tax receipts (although whether this was wisely invested is another question…). Now with low oil prices and oil companies pulling out of the depleted fields,9 it is no longer a cash cow.

But in February 2015 the Infrastructure Act legally bound all future governments to ‘maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum’, in direct contradiction of climate change obligations.10 George Osborne has been throwing tax breaks at the sector (the only G7 country to dramatically increase fossil fuel subsidies, despite a pledge to phase them out).11 Further tax breaks in the 2016 budget mean that between 2016 and 2021 oil companies will be actually receiving up to £1.2 billion a year from taxpayers because of tax repayments to loss-making operators.

There is only one way to protect jobs in the long term: a plan for a carefully managed transition to a sustainable economy based on clean energy, not a desperate scramble to extract every drop of oil while pulling the plug on jobs in renewables and energy efficiency.

Going Backwards – Fracking and Local Democracy
The government continues to look to fracking in search of a new oil and gas bonanza. But they face two obstacles. The first is growing evidence that any significant exploitation of shale gas would breach UK carbon budgets.12Claims that it could be a cleaner ‘bridge fuel’ to replace coal have been shattered by alarming research is emerging from the US on the scale of leaks of the greenhouse gas methane from fracking sites.

The second is determined local opposition. Campaigners in Lancashire celebrated last year when the local council rejected Cuadrilla’s fracking application, but were then told that the decision could be taken away from the local council by the Secretary of State. Councils had already been told to fast-track decisions on fracking or ministers will step in13 (as announced shortly after making it harder for wind farms to get planning permission).14 The consistent message from government has been that fracking is of such national importance that local concerns can be overridden.

Going Backwards –  Coal
The government announced that coal power stations would be shut by 2025 (“if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.”)15 But in last year’s ‘capacity market auction’, handing out subsidies for electricity generation, a total of £139 million of subsidies were to be awarded to coal power stations in 2019, in addition to £176 million over the next 15 years to small-scale dirty diesel generators.16

Coal burning in the UK needs to stop, and so does opencast coal extraction. However there are currently applications for new or extended opencast coal mines in Wales and North East England. In 21st century Britain, local communities should not be having to mount a defence against these threats to the local and global environment.

Going Backwards on Sustainable Transport
It has been estimated that £30 billion of public money from various sources will be spent during 2015-2020 on roads. This spending is predominantly on large-scale new roads, widening motorways etc.17 In his 2016 budget, the Chancellor announced £75 million funding for research into a Trans-Pennine tunnel, a project which if it goes ahead would have a £6bn budget. Meanwhile local bus services are being slashed under the pressure of shrinking local authority budgets.

Fuel duty has now been frozen for six years. And in July 2015 Vehicle Excise Duty was reshaped to remove incentives to buy less polluting cars. After the first year, rates for new vehicles would be set at a standard rate unless their CO2 emissions were zero. So owners of efficient vehicles get a tax rise, owners of the most polluting cars get a big tax cut, and to round it off, the income will be ring-fenced for spending on roads.

Going Backwards on aviation expansion
The lack of concern for carbon emissions is shown most dramatically in Cameron’s own personal U-turn on a third runway at Heathrow – emitting more than the whole of Kenya, this would make it impossible for the UK to meet its legally binding climate targets, even if a coherent carbon-cutting policy was adopted for the rest of the economy.18

Going Backwards – One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back?
To avoid being accused of caricature or unfairness, it should be said that not every decision made by the government in the past year has been relentlessly negative for the climate. However, overall these decisions have taken us in the wrong direction. And the way decisions have been taken has seemed almost designed to undermine the confidence of potential investors in clean energy or energy efficiency. Drastic changes have been made at short notice with no forewarning or consultation; existing schemes scrapped with a vague promise of replacing them at some point in the future; and despite ambitious long-term targets, there is a lack of clarity on how the UK will meet them.

 Going Forwards on Climate Change
Looking globally, there is a huge shift underway to clean energy. But it’s not happening fast enough. The only thing that can get us on the right track in the UK is huge public pressure. We are building a mass movement and it needs participation from people from all walks of life. There is an urgent need for both inspiring direct actions and millions of conversations on climate change among ordinary people – breaking the silence and bringing the message to politicians that we will not accept any more backtracking on climate change.

1. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2015/dec/17/uk-cuts-renewable-energy-make-a-mockery-of-its-pledge-paris-climate-talks1

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35119173 

3. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/07/onshore-wind-farms-cheapest-form-of-uk-electricity-report-shows

4. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/10/uk-scraps-zero-carbon-home-target

5. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/fuel-poverty-killed-15000-people-last-winter-10217215.html

6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/12017361/autumn-statement-2015-30-energy-bill-saving-as-Chancellor-cuts-insulation.html

7. http://www.ukace.org/2016/03/treasury-slammed-following-9000-cold-home-deaths/

8. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/10/uk-scraps-zero-carbon-home-target

 9. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/02/23/north-sea-oil-standing-at-the-edge-of-a-chasm/

10. http://www.desmog.uk/2016/03/29/not-even-osborne-s-1bn-fossil-fuel-tax-break-can-convince-some-oil-companies-stay-north-sea

11. http://www.desmog.uk/2015/11/12/uk-government-has-ramped-fossil-fuel-subsidies-nearly-6-billion-year

 12. http://www.carbonbrief.org/mps-brand-fracking-incompatible-with-uk-climate-targets

13. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/13/government-will-step-in-if-councils-dont-fast-track-fracking-applications

 14. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/giving-local-people-the-final-say-over-onshore-wind-farms

15. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34851718

16. https://sandbag.org.uk/site_media/pdfs/reports/Capacity_Mechanism_analysis4.pdf

 17. http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/blog/roads/231114-road-spending-30-billion

 18. http://www.aef.org.uk/2015/06/19/aviation-emissions-to-soar-under-airports-commission-proposals-new-aef-report-shows/