Follow by Email

Sunday, 1 March 2015

We Must End Neo-Liberalism, Starting with the UK

According to Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist, activist and author of "The Shock Doctrine" and "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate" ( :

“We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” 
― Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate


Obviously climate change is a global issue rather than a national one. However it is up to developed nations such as the UK to set precedents and advance the fight back. The current rate of global warming is extremely alarming. Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850. Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss. Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin a week later. Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature, suffered the worst bleaching, or die-off in response to stress, ever recorded in 1998, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise.

As Naomi Klein shows in "This Changes Everything", Neoliberalism and free market fundamentalism are preventing initiatives to combat global warming rather than encouraging them.
In 2010, for example, the United States challenged one of China's wind power subsidy programs on the grounds that it contained protectionist supports for local industry. Ironically China filed a similar complaint in 2012 targeting various renewable energy programs in the EU, singling out Italy and Greece. Time after time neo-liberal trade agreements have encouraged more and more air travel, transporting of goods over ridiculous distances and challenged localised production on the grounds that it is protectionist. Secretive trade deals such as TTIP are the inevitable consequence the path we have been on since the late 1970s. As Klein puts it:

"You have been told that the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day. Change requires breaking every rule in the 'free-market' playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies".


I get annoyed when green campaigners use the term 'left-wing' to describe themselves. It is exclusive, limiting and associated with the politics of class conflict. Many 'left-wing' regimes have had terrible environmental impacts ( Yet it is the case that the right has been so comprehensively hijacked by neo-liberalism since the late 1970s that we think in these terms. We need to be moving forward. Which means rejecting both neo-liberalism and the old anti-ecologist left. However eco-socialism is welcome.
Which brings me to Mrs Thatcher.......
For a time in the late 1980s Mrs T actually managed to convince some naive souls that she had 'gone green'. Tutored by Sir Crispin Tickell, British ambassador to the UN in New York, she made several dramatic environment speeches. The first, to the Royal Society on 27 September 1988, galvanised the emerging green debate in Britain by stating:
"For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself."
The second, to the UN general assembly, in November 1989 was aimed at the international community. Thatcher had by then understood the environment's political importance in a globalising world and was the first major politician to hold out the prospect of international legislation. But the real motivation was because the Green Party looked dangerous after securing 15% of the UK vote in the European elections only months before. Back when Sara Parkin and David Icke were the principal speakers. I remember this well as I was living in Leicester at the time and recall that anyone who was not going to vote Labour was undecided between Green or Conservative.

Now for the reality.......

Maggie was about as green as I am a freshly squeezed watermelon. Her enthusiasm for green issues soon evaporated. She opened the Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research in 1990 but did not attend the Rio Earth summit, leaving her successor, John Major to formally sign up Britain to forest, climate and other agreements. In retirement she had nothing more to say about the environment until her 2002 memoirs, when she rejected Al Gore and what she called his "doomist" predictions about climate change.
The reason for this is that Mrs Thatcher was one of the chief architects of the rise of neo-liberal fundamentalism along with Sir Keith Joseph and economists such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. She was not only anti-green to the core but also a bad conservative as well. By a bad conservative I mean that she and her ilk desired to transform not to conserve and to create an economic model which would unleash unfettered destruction of the natural environment and the institutions of civil society.


When Mrs Thatcher was plotting how to transform the economy in the early 1980s, she instructed her patron and close ally Sir Keith Joseph to give every member of her new cabinet a copy of  a 1981 book by Martin Wiener entitled "English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit: 1850–1980". They were ordered in no uncertain terms to read it. Wiener was an American academic whose book had ironically found favour with some of the dinosaurs on the academic Marxist left such as Eric Hobsbawm. This shallow, nasty little book's main contention was that English culture was holding back rampant capitalism and development because of its sympathy with the countryside and nature.It was a concerted attack on the British elite for its indifference to and wariness of industrialism and commercialism. Although the commercial and industrial revolutions originated in England, Wiener blamed a persistent strain in British culture, characterised by wariness of capitalist expansion and yearning for an Arcadian rural society, which had prevented England, and Britain as a whole, from fully exploiting the benefits of what it had created. Constable paintings of rural landscapes, William Blake's art and paintings, William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, Wordsworth's nature poetry and so on were all to blame. Wiener believed that any concern over pollution or the human cost of the industrial revolution was some foppish upper-class indulgence. His solution was to forget such 'sentimentalism', forget the countryside and concrete it over. Let loose rampant development!
The poisoned legacy of the Wiener Thesis lives on today in David Cameron and George Osborne. Freeing up the free market must come first. So the planning rules have been reformed to create a presumption in favour of development and remove environmental regulations. When Cameron talked of "dropping the green shit" you could almost see the ghosts of Mrs T and Sir Keith Joseph smiling down on him.


Since the UK was at the forefront of the neo-liberal revolution, it should be at the forefront of its demise. Currently free-market fundamentalism dominates the thinking of all the grey parties as well as the governments and functionaries who shape the policy of the EU. It dominates culture in the UK in ways that Wiener would be proud of. The answer lies in a return to protectionism. We must adopt a new approach which I would term the ten heresies.


1) Protect small localised producers from competition from international corporate interests via tariffs and preferential trade agreements.

2) Regulate all economic activity to serve ecological goals.

3) Preferably use our influence to reform the EU away from neo-liberalism and use its institutions to achieve heresies 1 & 2. If this is not possible pull out of  the EU.

4) Raise income tax in order to expand and subsidise renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels.

5) End all road building schemes, impose high taxes on air travel and reduce airport capacity.

6) Weave ecology into the curricula of all schools. Put as much emphasis on encouraging children to become young naturalists as it put on IT skills.

7) Impose tariffs on imported milk and food to protect small local farmers.

8) Create public works programs, paid for via general taxation and selling government bonds, in conservation, renewable energy such as wind farms, planting new forests and other key areas of the green economy.

9) Ban all development in the countryside

10) Reduce the working week, expand leisure time and set a target of zero unemployment.

No comments:

Post a Comment