January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Democratic definitions and deficits; Lisbon
The second Irish vote, in the Republic, on
the Lisbon Treaty looked fairly decisive, the ‘yes’ vote being carried by 67%
to 33%. But major questions remain, not just about the campaign but (as we have
been exploring in editorials in the last couple of issues) the nature of
‘democracy’, and the future direction of the EU. The extent to which there is
real democratic backing for the Lisbon treaty across the EU is very debateable,
and while various people on all sides issued predictions and guarded threats
during the Irish campaign, it was clear the EU establishment was determined to
railroad it through, and, in the current economic climate, veiled mentions of
the effect of a second Irish ‘no’ in terms of negative consequences for Ireland
worked wonders in pushing Irish people to vote yes. But it was not democracy as
it should be. And the lack of citizen involvement and backing for EU
developments does not bode well for the future.
The increasing militarisation of the EU,
which the Lisbon treaty facilitates in various ways including the demand for
increased military spending (traditionally low in the Republic), is a worry
which will be with us in the years to come. There is the proposal to have an EU
‘defence’ budget (mooted by the French European Affairs minister in late
September) similar to any other item of EU expenditure and this is likely to
arrive as one of the next proposed developments in the militarisation of the
EU. Ireland may have its opt outs from military operations remain but the
nature of the EU is gradually being transformed, and a group of countries will
be able to go ahead and act on behalf of the EU. While his star is fading
regarding his prospects for it, the fact that a war criminal like Tony Blair
could even be thought of for president of the EU Council shows something of
where EU politics is at.
The so-called ‘free market’ economics which
the EU espouses and which are strongly backed by Lisbon are another reason to
be doubtful. Opposing the possibility of restrictions on international trade,
or on the movement of capital, as Lisbon does, is not what is needed by the
poor world. Witless introduction of competition in services such as bus routes
and postal services has been leading to decreased quality of services in some
instances and the automatic requirement for this kind of competition is a
disservice to social development, facilitated by the EU.
The EU projects itself as ‘Europe’. All those who live in Europe are, by nature, European, and, if such citizens are
opposed to certain EU policies they cannot be called ‘anti-European’, they
cannot necessarily even be called ‘anti-EU’ if their vision for the EU and for
Europe happens to be a different one to that espoused by the EU centrally. But
the EU establishment has sought to portray anyone opposed to particular EU
developments as ‘anti-European’. How we cooperate together in Europe is a big
question and the EU has certainly facilitated cooperation in a wide variety of
fields. However, to equate ‘Europe’ with the ‘EU’ is an Orwellian attempt to
constrict policy debate and choice.
The measure of how far we have to go, and
what we face if we don’t, is given in a map which the British government
published during the month showing the impact of an ‘average’ 4C rise in
temperature; this does not happen evenly across the globe and some parts of the
word face catastrophe. See
for example here
As we near the Copenhagen summit, this
nightmare should be one which is firmly set in people’s minds, both citizens
and leaders. But nightmares can make people tired, grumpy and uncooperative.
This information should be the backdrop to the rich world thinking – Right, we
have to have major change here, how can it be done so the poor – at home or
abroad – do not suffer? How can it be done so we have a better quality of life
for everyone afterwards? Instead, at the moment, it looks like governments are
thinking more of short-tem national interests which is a really pathetic
Getting off the consumer and consumerist
treadmill, fuelled by cheap oil, will not be easy. We have been oil and carbon
fuel junkies for far too long for it to be easy. But it can be exhilarating and
exciting; to build a really sustainable future which cares for all the people. This
is the big challenge, not just to make the transition to an economy with low
use of carbon fuels, but one with high emphasis on the quality of life for all.
We have said it frequently before; when the
pie stops getting bigger (‘a rising tide lifts all boats’), based on profligate
carbon fuel use, then the slices of the pie have to be more fairly distributed.
We live in a divisive society and this simply cannot, and will not be allowed
to, continue as we move to a low carbon use future. People – citizens,
community organisations, trade unions, even some political parties – simply
will not accept it. So major changes have to take place, and a major shift in
But we need also a major change in mindset,
to a ‘can do’ low carbon future mindset which refuses to accept the
impossibility of the radical change needed, and jumps at the opportunity to
build a more human and humane society, a caring society which does not look
down on anyone, and offers everyone the best possible chance in life, and
suitable support to those who need it.
This can be done. It can be done as part of
change from consumerism to a post-consumerist society which has time for people
and their needs.
Copenhagen (the UN
climate change summit starting 7th December) is the latest opportunity to help
build a non-carbon future internationally. If we fail to jump this hurdle then
we are falling way, way behind in the race to stop a terrible future for the
people of the world. We already have an incredible amount of catching up to do.
‘Business as usual’ is, literally, a recipe for disaster and one which the
future citizens of the world will find hard to forgive. If the deal which is
need is not accomplished in Copenhagen then we do not have a lot of time to get
there, and ‘history’ will judge us harshly; how could they baulk at what needed
done, they will say, when they knew what they knew?
We need clear and binding agreements for
radical reductions in carbon emissions; the G77 proposal that the developed
world cut its emissions by 40% in 2020 is what we should be aiming for (with
subsequent reductions thereafter). Ireland, so far, has been quite content to
be with the mass of countries in dragging its feet on global warming and carbon
emissions. The Celtic Tiger may be a dimming memory but Ireland remains a rich country, with high carbon emissions. Failure to act decisively and radically
now is condemning not only the poorest of the poor to an ongoing life of
misery, but will create a growing and massive band of climate change victims,
largely people in the poor world who are totally innocent of causing global
warming themselves. It is also storing up trouble for Ireland itself through storm damage and loss of low-lying land in the near future. It is going to
cost the rich world, not just to adjust itself but also to pay for the changes
the poor world needs to make. But there is no choice.
We must continually emphasise that cutting
our carbon habit is also an opportunity to build a fairer, more just and
equitable society. Without the move to a more just society, Ireland and other western countries will not accept the radical changes needed. This requires not
just a radical change in energy use and generation, it also requires a radical
change by political elites in this country, and that is a stumbling block which
they, and we, must overcome.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column
A personal experience which I feel sums up
our response to climate change is the occasion I bought a rabbit for my
daughter in Sligo to find on arrival home that it had died on the journey. As
the rabbit was healthy when I bought it I surmise that it died of fear. It
unknowingly was the author of what it most certainly did not want to happen,
which is to die. The response of the majority of humankind is like that of the
rabbit as the likely outcome of the Copenhagen climate change talks suggests.
Science tells us what the probable outcome will be if we don’t radically reduce
our dependency on fossil fuels, yet we almost point blank refrain from
preventing what we don’t want to happen.
The fate of humankind does not have to be
that of the rabbit. The rabbit would not have known the likely end result of
its response to being placed in a new and uncomfortable situation. If it did it
would probably have adapted an alternative response. A trait that distinguishes
us from other species is that we have knowledge going back thousands of years
as inscribed in landscapes, manuscripts, artefacts and the ruins of ancient
civilizations. This knowledge enables us to predict the likely outcome of our
behaviour. We also have the imagination to find ways of avoiding undesirable
outcomes. Thus we wash our hands before we eat, are compelled to wear car seat
belts and have smoke-free zones. Our adaptability largely accounts for our
success as a species.
The challenge for humankind today is not to
develop new technologies, which we are good at doing but to rapidly move to the
next stage of our evolution as a species. We need to morph into creatures that
actually practice our humanitarian wisdoms, many of which are contained in
belief systems and stories written and unwritten that are held to be sacred.
One such wisdom is that from the Great Law of Peace of the Six Nations Iroquois
Confederacy (N.E. USA) which teaches that we should consider the impact our
decisions will have on the seventh generation. Another wisdom, which is shared
by the major religions, is to love your neighbour as yourself. Almost all
religions teach us not to over-indulge, which is what the global economy is
based upon and we are encouraged to do, even by political leaders vocal about
their religious beliefs.
What would the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change talks be if the negotiators applied the above three wisdoms?
Almost certainly we would not have the United States urging countries to sign
an agreement in which countries pledge to cut their greenhouse emissions
without binding timetables and targets. This is self-delusion. If the political
representatives of humanity sign such an agreement in December we will almost
certainly share the fate of the rabbit mentioned above as it will lock the
global community into patterns of behaviour that will seal the fate of
humankind and our fellow species.
Whether we acknowledge it or not we are
part of the political process, makers of the world and authors, in partnership
with others, of the destiny of our species. This means that we can be the
change we quest and live the three wisdoms, not as in old religious speak to
save our souls but to save creation. One way we can do this is through joining
the Transition Towns movement, which promotes local eco-sustainable forms of
living. They can be contacted at the following e-mail address. firstname.lastname@example.org