Brazil presidency 2018

Brazil presidency 2018

It is Election year again in Brazil this year and we have already had a Facebook promise to take down fake news pages (which prompted demonstrations outside FB offices claiming the pages were not fake!) so I wonder whether we might yet see a cleaning up of politics in this very politically corrupt country. I should say I am an Englishman married to a Brazilian woman for the last 7 years, so I have only seen one Presidential election close at hand. I have a permanent visa, through my marriage, but no residency, so I am not allowed to vote.

The final date for Presidential candidates to be nominated was last Sunday, 5th August. Despite there being over 30 actual political parties (proportional representation allows widespread fragmentation, but, sadly, does not prevent widespread corruption!) there are only 13 Candidates, some of them with several parties backing them.

What do we know so far?

The current 77 year-old President, Michel Temer, who came to power in what many people in Brazil see as a coup against Dilma Rousseff, for whom he was the Vice President, indicated earlier in the year that he was going to stand, but his approval ratings were in single figures and there were, and remain, a lot of question marks about his personal “cleanliness” from corruption. So, Temer is NOT standing and his party has rebranded itself from the PMDB, changing back to the Movimento Democratico Brasiliero – MDB – perhaps hoping to shake off the corrupt image, reverting to identify itself with the big-tent movement which emerged in 1979 after 14 years of military rule in Brazil.

The MDB candidate is Henrique Meirelles, who was Minister of the Economy under Temer from 2016 to 2018 and had been President of the Central Bank of Brazil 2003-2011. One of the quirks of Brazil, by the way, is that the “H” is not pronounced in a name and the “r” is pronounced as if it were an “h” so Henrique becomes Enheekay, sounding somewhat strange to the English ear.

Brazilian electoral law stipulates that television airtime must relate to the percentage of seats held by the candidate`s party plus any supporting coalition parties. Meirelles and the MDB therefore benefit from plenty of relative airtime, but, despite that, Meirelles has not yet made much impression on the electorate.

The same can be said of Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democrats) who has the backing of seven other smaller parties. Perhaps the reason he has made little headway, however, is that Aecio Neves, former head of the PSDB, and a candidate for President in 2014, has made too many bad headlines for the party as a recipient of huge bribes in the country`s corruption scandals, so the party`s deputies are all severely tainted.

Similarly, Alvaro Dias of the PODE group of three parties which go under the title of Podemos (Portuguese for “We Can”, an optimistic slogan if ever there was, as Barak Obama discovered!) has also managed to make no serious impact upon the electorate.

Small Party status.

Oddly, on the other hand, three of the front-runners in terms of impact, so far, do not have as much air-time on TV, because they represent smaller parties. Marina Silva was a Presidential candidate four years ago and came quite high in the popular vote but not high enough to make the second round of voting. She has left the party which she represented, which has been tainted with some corruption accusations (though none touching her personally) She has started a new movement the Sustainability Party (REDE) in a way along similar lines to the way President Macron did in France. We have yet to see if it can be as successful. As an environmentalist myself she would be my first choice by a long way.

In 2014, Marina, coming from an environmentalist background (she had been the Green Party candidate in 2010 getting 19% in the first round vote) was chosen as Vice-Presidential candidate by Eduardo Campos of the PSB (Brazil`s Socialist party). Campos was killed in a somewhat controversial plane crash in August 2014 and, in something of a hurry, Marina was then chosen by the PSB to be their official Presidential candidate. From that point on she was doing very well in the opinion polls and at one point was literally neck and neck with Dilma Rousseff, the eventual winner. However, her support fell away somewhat towards the last couple of weeks of the campaign and she slipped into a close third place to Aecio Neves, thus not making the second-round run-off with Dilma. (First round Dilma 40%; Neves 24%; Marina 22%)

Controversial right-wing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has chosen a retired general as his running mate, but the suggestion was not approved of initially by his Social Liberal Party (PSL). His political positioning, by the way, is neither Social nor Liberal in the English sense at all.  I suppose it might be categorised as libertarian, in the sense that he seems in favour of (elite) individuals having plenty of freedom, particularly from the burden of paying taxes. He has been categorised in international articles as a sort of Brazilian Trump character, with typically right-wing disciplinarian intentions and a similarly misogynistic view of women.

The other candidate doing pretty well at the moment is Ciro Gomes of the PDT, Brazil`s Democratic Labour party. Considered as “centre-left” he comes from a family heavily engaged in politics (his father and Uncle as well as two siblings have all been elected officials). Gomes, known in Brazil simply as Ciro, seems well-liked and has had ministerial experience under Lula, as well as having a high profile as an academic with economic credentials.

Closely identified with his home state of Ceara in the North East of Brazil he has been the State`s Governor, as well as representing the state as its federal deputy from 2007-2010. As seems quite common in Brazil he has been a member of several parties over the years, as far as I can see at least seven different parties resting now in the PDT since 2015. Perhaps because of this he knows where quite a few of the bodies are buried?!

One of the largest political parties in Brazil, the PT (Workers’ Party), of former two-term president Lula and (one-and-a-half-term) Dilma Rousseff, is in an unusual position. PT has chosen former President Lula as its presidential candidate. Unfortunately for them, Lula is in prison at the moment for corruption and has therefore been ruled ineligible to run. As the Rio Times has pointed out, Lula “… leads in all polls, and his coalition will have a healthy amount of free air time. PT has decided former SP mayor Fernando Haddad will run if Lula is declared ineligible, but Haddad was so unpopular that he could not win re-election as mayor in 2016.”

The Party is appealing the ineligibility ruling and it is expected not to be finally sorted out until some time in September, with the first round of the election taking place in early October. Lula is still very popular and would probably win the popular vote if people voted tomorrow. What will happen over the next few weeks, however, is rather unpredictable, the final result probably depending upon the extent to which Haddad can make inroads as a credible candidate in his own right.

There is a very strong sense that voters would love to put the country`s corruption behind them, but it has to be said that corruption seems pretty endemic to the political system here and it is by no means clear whether the imprisonments of the worst culprits, Cunha, Cabral, Neves and the rest has cleared the dirt enough for people to be confident that the newly elected representatives and the new President will have enough “clean power” to keep mucking out the stables!

It will be interesting to see over the forthcoming weeks whether the appearance on television or their links on the internet prove to be the making or breaking of their campaigns. Personally, I am rooting for Marina to do better than she managed in 2014 and certainly hoping to goodness that Bolsanaro is not able to make any serious progress as a Brazilian Trump. I guess we will have to wait and see!

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Social Enterprise and the Environment

Social Enterprise and the Environment

My political experience and way of thinking, developed over many years, proved very useful back in 1998, when I started up the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business. One of the things that became very obvious, very quickly, dealing with environmental business issues was that Social Enterprises have the potential to have a much bigger positive effect on the environment than more conventional business models, largely because of their tendency to treat issues more holistically than is generally the case with a conventional business approach.

Let me try and expand on this idea with three examples recently in the news, starting with the example that caught my eye from yesterday`s Guardian, which prompted this post. It was one of a number of stories paid for by the Skoll Foundation promoting social entrepreneurship. Jeff Skoll was one of the founders of Ebay, so found himself to be pretty wealthy at a pretty early age, and when he launched his charitable foundation it soon became clear to him that social entrepreneurs could have a distinctly positive effect on the world too.

As I said in my last post there are significant negative health impacts including potentially many premature deaths from excess heat, but it is not just humans that are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Crops, too may suffer from drought, excessive rain or whatever may turn up unexpectedly – and THEN humans suffer too, especially in less developed countries where a large percentage of the population is probably tied into agriculture as a major `industry`.

One of the social enterprises supported by the Skoll Foundation is now using modern technology to put support directly into the hands of smallholder farmers, using mobile phones and satellite technology. Forecasting weather in their local areas and sending messages directly to the smallholders about when it is going to rain or when there might be a long spell without rain helps them plan and act and react more quickly than hitherto.

As the article says – “In developing countries, a far higher proportion of people (often between 50% and 90%) are directly engaged in agriculture; and it is this close connection with the land and its yield that puts them on the frontline in the battle against climate change. They are subsistence farmers, with few of the protections of a well-established, high-functioning economy (such as early warning systems, high-tech interventions, or insurance payouts) that tend to make climate change easier to deal with – at least in the short to medium term.”

The thing about Social Enterprises is that, as well as taking a more holistic view, as I already mentioned, they are actually “Social”, in the sense of putting people at the heart of their operations, instead of attempting to maximise profits. It is this “satisficing” approach that can often make the difference for small scale operators and those who are often marginalised. This is, of course, nothing new! The Skoll Foundation may be making a difference with their support and assistance with modern technology, but the primary factors were clearly recognised back in the day within the manifesto of the Liberal Ecology Group published in 1978.

The following policy headings were all included in the LEG manifesto and were also in the Liberal manifesto of that era too

a) Encouraging, especially by easing planning controls, the development of appropriate rurally-based crafts, industries and other commercial activities, including small-scale tourism.

b) Making more land available for smallholdings.

c) Setting up a Land Bank to help smallholders and co-ops.

None of these actually make reference to the term “Social Enterprise” because that did not apparently appear in print until 1981 in a publication by Freer Spreckley – “Social Audit – A Management Tool for Co-operative Working”. What I am not sure about is whether there is any family link between Freer Spreckly and David Spreckley who fought the 1966 Cambridge by-election for the Liberals and was, as far as I can remember, an original member of the Liberal Ecology Group (it will have to wait until I get back to England to check the membership records for LEG!)

I mentioned earlier about three examples. My second example is a fairly young Social Enterprise, run by three young friends who grew up and now run their enterprise in Washington DC. They call themselves “Up Top Acres” and have partnered with building owners, restaurants and local community groups to create rooftop farms in Washington (https://uptopacres.com/)

This caught my eye because many years ago, even before I was running the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business, I sat on a Nottingham Trent University Committee that was “greening” the University and the building I worked in had a flat roof ideal for development into a Green Roof. The University spent the money to lay down the necessary covering to make the roof waterproof and available for being “greened”, but somewhere along the line, I fear the money ran out, or, more likely one of the senior decision makers chose to spend it somewhere else and the project never came to life.

It was one of the small regrets in my life that I was not able to make this project happen. Clearly at that point I did not have the ear of the appropriate decision maker, so my congratulations go out to the three who made their farm project happen in Washington. The great benefits of a rooftop are of course the openness to the weather – rain and sun both being needed for growth of course – and there are distinct benefits for the building owners, since the green activity helps to protect the roof coverings from degradation in the very same weather of sun and rain which helps crops grow!

Additionally, the slowing of water run-off, by using it to go through the crops means that the urban environment has a reduced requirement for drainage. There is the further benefit of carbon dioxide sequestration and oxygen formation from the crops themselves. To be honest it is environmentally a no-brainer, BUT it does require people working together to make it happen.

The people who generally own the rooftops are not farmers and farmers do not generally have easy access to the roofs. And the roof owners will not get paid for the extra oxygen and the sequestration of carbon, unless the community provides at least modest financial incentives to make it happen. And THAT, it appears, was the trigger for the success of the Up Top Acres approach, because their local authority was offering subsidies for roof-top greening. Seems to me like a pretty good Liberal Democratic idea, but we do have to be in power in a local authority or, at least, to be holding the balance of power to make the initiative available and enthusiastic enough to make it work.

The third example is best approached by viewing the TED talk of the guy who came up with and implemented the idea for this example, David Katz, from Vancouver in Canada. He and his business partners have created the notion of “Social Plastic” and linked it to a blockchain protected Plastic Bank, where recycled plastic is the central currency and the bank`s primary customers are the recyclers themselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT4Qbp89nIQ&authuser=0

Katz explains that clearing up the plastic waste which has made it to the Ocean really should not be the first priority. His analogy is of walking into the kitchen and the sink is overflowing madly pouring water onto the floor. Your first instinct, he argues, is that you should first turn off the tap, before you start madly mopping the floor, otherwise you are wasting your effort. So his idea was  to make it more viable for potential recyclers of plastics to make a real living doing the recycling BEFORE the plastic made its way to the rivers and thence into the sea – “shutting the tap off”. It is certainly a story worth following up and you may be able to offset YOUR plastic footprint by making a donation to the organisation. This will add value to the Social Plastic, thus enabling the recyclers to get better value for the plastic they collect. The “blockchain” link is a way of paying the recyclers safely without giving them the risk of having cash which can easily be stolen from them. They get paid directly into their own electronic bank account, accessible only by themselves – and the website gives examples of the sort of people who have already benefitted.

This particular example caught my eye because one of the first countries they will be helping to install such a system is in Brazil, so I have a local story to follow up and share with my Brazilian neighbours. The potential key to the success of this approach is that it is tackling key sources of Ocean plastics. Research in 2014/15 showed that over 50 % of ocean plastics originate in just a handful of relatively poor countries, China, Indonesia, the Philippines Vietnam and Sri Lanka, although Brazil is another country where collection and recycling is largely done at an informal level rather than state or local area sponsored activity. So, if you are going to try and stop the flow, you need to try and stop it where it is at its highest level of “loss”.

Just as a matter of record, although Katz says you should stop the flow INTO the oceans before thinking of “mopping up” the mess that is already there, if someone happens to start the mopping first at least you should not stop them. The Ocean Cleanup is the brainchild of a young man, Boyan Slat, who has devised a method of sweeping up the plastic in the “Gyres” in the Pacific Ocean and other seas and oceans, which looks very promising. Their latest video suggests they may soon be ready to deploy the first of their plastic sweepers and have estimated they may be able to collect up to half of the plastic in the oceans within a five-year period.

For more information on this, have a look at their video promoting the launch of the prototype I 2016 here >>>    https://youtu.be/RLAq19hGTBw

The last word

I just wanted to leave you with an image that caused me some amusement today. Apparently the picture herewith is of Donald Trump indicating what he has recently heard is the tiny amount by which the Global Average Temperature has increased recently. Most of you reading this will already know that even a very tiny rise in Global AVERAGE temperatures can spell unpleasant side effects for Climate Change, so the Donald is showing with his inane grin his lack of understanding about such effects – but for all the world it looks as though he is proudly announcing the REAL size of his manhood!

REALLY the last word

The real last word I wanted to add for you today is the factoid that the widespread heatwaves in the highly populated areas of the Northern Hemisphere this summer have occurred because the Jetstream has stalled. The Jetstream is the high-level fast-moving air stream that is usually responsible for shifting weather patterns around as it curves and winds its way around the world. It has apparently “stalled” because the VERY high temperatures around the arctic circle are not much different from the `normal` summer temperatures much further south and it is the net difference that keeps the air circulating. That is my “non-scientific” interpretation of what I have been reading, so I am open to correction if it is inappropriate or incorrect!

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Health impacts of the Climate Catastrophe

Health impacts of the Climate Catastrophe

One cannot be sure, but the heatwave of 2018 in the UK may just have changed the nature of the debate about environmental politics here, not least because it has provoked a flurry of articles and broadcasts about the issue of how health may be impacted by the greater frequency of extreme weather events prompted by the changing climate. Partly, I think, it may be because people now have a common shared experience, which will find its way into the `stories` we tell each other.

The very hot summer of 2018 has been compared with the very hot summer of 1976 which the older ones amongst us experienced in living memory and that, in turn, was compared with the very hot summer of 1947, which I must have experienced, but from the inside of my pram!

This time however, there is much more awareness of the possible downsides of very hot summers and the heat-related deaths and illnesses they may cause or exacerbate, rather than just the opportunities for barbecues such weather might allow.

On 26th July the Guardian reported that the UK is “…`woefully unprepared` for deadly heatwaves, according to a cross-party committee of MPs, with the government ignoring warnings from its official climate change adviser.” Apparently one in five homes can overheat dangerously during heatwaves and on the hottest day of 2016 alone there were almost 400 heat-related deaths. The MPs` report went on to say that “…climate change has doubled the risk of heatwaves and events even worse than the heat currently baking the nation could occur every other year by the 2040s with a tripling of heat deaths to 7,000 a year as a result.”

So, instead of looking back from 2018 and remembering 1976, or looking back from 1976 and remembering 1947, people may be looking back from 2037 and remember the hot summer from 2035. So, why am I concerned about this now? Basically, because if I live that long – and I shall be 90 in 2037 – it is the vulnerable and elderly that probably suffer most and “hospitals and care homes, must be prepared for heatwaves” according to the committee. I agree!! And there is no current requirement that such buildings are built to protect inmates against excessive heat.

Now, you may argue that I seem to be showing a selfish streak here, but I am just trying to make a point! The fact is that Climate Change has already had an impact upon health in many areas around the world, including here in Brazil, where I am writing these words. One of the fastest growing deadly diseases is apparently Dengue fever and recently there has been a more widespread occurrence of Dengue fever in Brazil as climate change favours the types of mosquitos that carry this disease. Many of you will also remember that one of the health headlines from the run-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016 related to another mosquito-borne disease Zika.

Worldwide it is estimated that 550 thousand hospitalizations with 20 thousand deaths occur per year among a total of approximately 2.5 billion people exposed to Dengue, and Climate Change is a factor in the increasing occurrence of the disease. The same may be said about the Zika virus. (See here for more >>> http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1415-790X2013000200240&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en)

As the Guardian reported last October, Christiana Figueres, who negotiated the Paris climate change agreement as the UN’s climate chief, co-chaired a report in Lancet of findings by researchers from 26 institutions around the world, including many universities, the World Health Organization, World Bank and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Figueres said “Hundreds of millions of people are already suffering health impacts as a result of climate change. Tackling climate change directly, unequivocally, and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that.” (See the Guardian report from Oct 2017 here>>> https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/30/climate-change-already-damaging-health-of-millions-globally-report-finds)

The same report indicated that there has been a 46% increase in extreme weather events in the years since 2000 and such extreme weather events are themselves potentially harmful: floods, fires, hurricanes etc.etc. Earlier reporting relating to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement forecast more and more Climate migrants – people being displaced because of sea-level rises, or famines caused by water shortages – and called for a more sympathetic response to such migrants as victims rather than threats.

Earth Overshoot Day

Coming up to the end of July as I write this, it would also be timely to mention Earth Overshoot Day and the fact that the Global Footprint Network (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/) is forecasting that Earth Overshoot Day will occur two days earlier this year on August 1st. This is the day upon which it is expected that we shall have used up a whole year`s resources – the day that marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate. Of course, with an increasing world population and a reduced doubling period relating to the world population growth it becomes almost inevitable that Earth Overshoot Day will keep on getting earlier in the year.

The question that environmental politicians and political environmentalists need to keep asking is “How do we persuade other (unaware/ignorant) politicians and voters that things need to change? More to the point, how do we persuade them that WE ALL need to promote and activate change?”

This question brings me back to the start of this post – perhaps the very real effects of an extremely hot, dry summer may be the push that we need to get people to make the connection for themselves. After all, environmental politicians have been going on for ages about plastic waste – particularly plastic waste in the oceans – and then, “all it took” was one television programme and a David Attenborough voice-over and, all of a sudden, pretty well everybody is now into reducing plastics, particularly single use plastics, in our everyday lives!

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Channeling the anger part 2

Channeling the anger part 2

Since writing my post about channeling MY anger, it has become apparent that the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) of the Liberal Democrats has angered a whole other group of people (to which I also belong!) by NOT taking for consideration a resolution on nuclear disarmament. It was submitted with 157 signatures, including mine, from members of the group called “LibDems against Trident” which does pretty well what it says on the tin.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that the FCC chose to pay attention more to who submitted the resolution, rather than to the resolution itself. In the FaceBook discussion thread that is red-hot with comments as I am writing this, one commentator has put it thus…

This motion was the quintessential multilateralist motion. No sane person could not have voted for it. And it perfectly pinioned a do-nothing Tory Government for its inaction and hypocrisy. FFS Trump is more interested in nuclear disarmament than this committee!

There was no good reason to reject it. This is a truly appalling, shocking, waffle-headed decision typical of a party which by its repeated behaviour reveals itself to be full of committee sitters and time wasters who would argue how many angels can sit on the end of a pin head for days on end. This is precisely why so many Britons consider us a waste of useful oxygen.

Now that strikes me as a paragraph written with a degree of angry distaste at the Party hierarchy.

The resolution

For clarity let me just place the resolution in front of you so you know what the fuss is about. Although the Lib Dems against Trident probably can be classed as a unilateralist group since the group`s target is to get rid of Trident from UK, this resolution was really not that contentious (or so we thought!)

SIGN THE UN TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Conference notes that:-

(a) in July 2017 the United Nations voted on and approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

(b) The Treaty opened for signature on 20 September 2017

(c) The UK has repeatedly claimed to support multilateral disarmament

Conference regrets that despite this, the UK Government:

(i)  Has boycotted the negotiations, and

(ii) Has since insisted that Britain will never support the Treaty

Conference believes that these failures demonstrate the UK Government’s lack of commitment to ridding the world of nuclear weapons despite its repeated claims to support multilateral disarmament.

Conference commits Liberal Democrats to campaign for the UK to add its name to the list of signatories to the Treaty.

 

The resolution was submitted for the 2017 LD Conference and refused and has just been refused again for the 2018 Autumn conference. Jon Ball, who is on the FCC said there were some votes for it to be included but the Party`s “official position” was based upon the fact that the resolution “could be a proxy for a unilateral disarmament debate was based on the assertion made at the meeting that signing the treaty requires signatories to make a plan in a short timescale to give up their nuclear weapons.”

Frankly my thought is, “so what!”  Moving the Liberal Democrats to a position of unilateral disarmament could actually now prove to be a vote-winner, especially in our currently lowly state. Over many years before I retired from Lib Dem party politics back in 1998 and subsequently the overwhelming Party position has been that it would be self-defeating to have the Party take a unilateralist position. Whilst there may have been a bit of mileage in this viewpoint when the Lib Dems were claiming to have a position as a centralist Party I can say with certainty that it did the Liberal Party no harm back in the day.

I stood in Broxtowe in 1983 against a Tory Government Minister and was standing VERY clearly on a unilateralist position which had been the Liberal position for years, and my publicity made that clear. We came second, not having stood a Liberal in the seat since the 1950s, and achieved 25% of the vote. In these times when many constituencies are counting Lib Dem votes in low single percentages any constituency with a 25% share for the Lib Dems would be a target constituency looking to get close to winning next time!

For those who are not following the threads of discussion in FaceBook (and, frankly, who can blame you!) I have just made the point that any Liberal Democrat Party members opposed to seeing this resolution on the agenda for Brighton should consider a couple of sentences from the Preamble to the Party Constitution. The first sentence I have mentioned here recently because it is a sentence I wrote back in 1988…

We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.

The second sentence is as follows…

We will contribute to the process of peace and disarmament, the elimination of world poverty and the collective safeguarding of democracy by playing a full and constructive role in international organisations which share similar aims and objectives.”

In the context of a planet rapidly consuming itself with a Climate Catastrophe it is probably incumbent upon us to stop the military-industrial complex and cut back significantly on the international arms trade and the pressures to stockpile environmentally unsound nuclear weapons. So, this is not simply a unilateralist stance but a Green survivalist stance anyway.

But I must bring us back to the point that the resolution above is not actually a unilateralist position. It is after all a United Nations initiative and we should take on board the sentence from the anonymous contributor to the FaceBook discussion – “No sane person could not have voted for it.”

So, what does that say about the members of the FCC who did NOT vote for it?

I leave that to your judgement ….

 

Still ANGRY!

Posted in Elections, emotions, Environment & Sustainable Development, Peace, Politics, Radical Liberal | 1 Comment

Channelling my anger (or – “Poking the Hornets` Nest” part 2?)

Channelling my anger

(or – Poking the Hornets` Nest part 2?)

As you will know if you read my earlier post about poking the hornets` nest a little while ago, we submitted a resolution for the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in the name of the Newark Lib Dem Constituency Party supported by Rushcliffe Constituency and the signatures of over 50 Lib Dems from around the country, calling for a focus on Green Campaigning in the local elections of 2019 and the next General Election, whenever that may be.

https://keithmelton10.wordpress.com/2018/06/19/poking-a-hornets-nest/

We also called for closer cooperation with the Green Party, where appropriate.

I have just had an email from the Powers That Be to tell me that the resolution is NOT to be put on the Agenda for the Brighton Conference and this was what they said…

I’m afraid your motion has not made it on to the agenda. It does not propose any new environmental policies, but instead focuses on election strategy. As such it pre-empts the work of the Federal Communications and Elections Committee in setting campaign themes for any particular election.

On the proposal to develop closer links with the Green Party, this would require context and detailed justification if it were to be considered in a motion.

I’m sorry we can’t take the motion as it stands.

Well, of course the motion “pre-empts … the FCEC in setting campaign themes” – that was rather the point of the whole thing, on the basis that within the Liberal Democrats, decisions of the members are “Sovereign” and the members can decide in a Conference what the Party should do. So, as you might imagine, I am feeling somewhat grumpy just at the moment. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, I am ruddy furious. Not simply at the slight implied (and the fact that the email was signed “Best Wishes… M…”!) but for the fact that, yet again, it is a sign that the Party will not be putting Green issues Front and Centre in our campaigning, nor yet realising that we have to appeal to a newer, more radical audience than we have done in the recent past if we are to make any real progress in the current confusing political landscape.

It does not help that I have been a campaigning environmentalist since at least 1971 (close to 50 years!) and this is yet one more slap in the face, to add to many over the years (despite a few successes too.) But the point is that when I started out, the environmental threats we were aware of were important but not necessarily life threatening, or, should I say, not life threatening to ALL LIFE ON EARTH as Climate Change is now.

We are getting het up about whether or not we stay in Europe (and, for the record, I think you know I am passionately FOR staying in Europe) but even the damage of Brexit will look very tame when we have to face rapidly rising sea levels and growing extremes of weather events of all kinds, hot and cold and wet and dry. I am sure you are aware of the saying about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – that is what the European issue amounts to if we continue to do nothing about Green issues.

Yes, the party is going to be debating plastic pollution in the oceans I gather, and we have a great deal of environmental policy in our manifesto locker – much more than either Labour or the Tories, it goes without saying. BUT – if we do not put these issues at the top of the Party`s agenda, however worthy each and every policy is – we simply are not going to make the difference that we need to make.

Channelling the anger

So, I am angry and it may be that there are more of you out there who feel somewhat cross, too. The question is, what are we going to DO about it? How do we channel our anger and frustration to good effect? Just at this moment I am feeling more or less as I did back in 1998 when I retired from Party politics from frustration, but then I was able to channel all that frustration into my new role as the founding Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development in Business and I only just came back into the Party just over a year ago, so I should not yet hang up my boots and stop playing, though the temptation is there, I assure you!

Somehow we need to raise the profile of Green issues much, much higher up the Party`s agenda and one suggestion has been made that we need to get Green people onto the various Party Committees in a more obvious way (I know there are several anyway, already there – and thank you for being there, please do not take this personally!) but the problem with that is that there are no internal elections to those committees before autumn 2019 as I understand it. And we need to fight the Green fight for the 2019 local elections, which needs much planning, plus we must place Green issues at the top of the General Election manifesto and we have no idea when the next GE might occur.

We fought the 2018 local elections largely on an Exit from Brexit platform and, although the Party made progress in terms of seats around the country it cannot be said that such progress was spectacular. Being so pro-European is clearly not clearing the coalition toxins from our image amongst voters, so we need a new approach. I already referred to the Lib Dem topic day in the House of Commons last week. Apparently 77% of those party members who were asked to choose a topic for debate chose Europe, rather than the Environment or whatever the third topic was. The outcome? 9 Lib Dems, one Green MP and three Plaid Cymru MPs trailing through the lobby against the massed ranks of the Tories – with Labour and the SNP abstaining. Result – nothing in the news to energise either Party members or the general public. A damp squib would have had more effect.

We need to be Radical, we need to be Green and we need to do it Now!

If you have ideas on how we can channel our anger, please write to me at keith.melton10@gmail.com

Posted in emotions, Environment & Sustainable Development, European referendum, Politics, Radical Liberal | 2 Comments

The Climate really IS changing (serendipity part 3)

The Climate really IS changing  (serendipity part 3)

OK, I have decided for the moment that daily politics will work itself out somehow and eventually its impact will become obvious on longer term issues, so I am going to pick up sort of where I left off mid blog in the last post. Except to say that in the meantime I have read another blog that picks up on Climate change with concerning additional information I had not seen before. It relates to the current set of extreme heat events of this Northern Hemisphere Summer. (Just to remind you I am in Brazil, where it is “winter-time” and really it is like a balmy English summer here at the moment, mid-20s Celsius, a pleasant light breeze through the open French doors behind me!) But I know from Facebook posts that it has been Very Hot in UK just recently, with raging fires on Saddleworth moor, for example, not far from where I lived when last in the North West more than 40 years ago.

It turns out we have been racking up record temperatures around the northern hemisphere for a while. The latest to catch my eye is in a blog post about Siberia written by Nick Humphrey who normally only writes about Ocean temperatures. The data he talks about caught his eye because of its possible impact upon the Arctic Ocean.

https://wxclimonews.com/2018/07/02/extreme-heat-event-in-northern-siberia-and-the-coastal-arctic-ocean-this-week/

Just recently there have been a number of fairly static “heat domes” sitting, unmoving over various places, including one hovering over Siberia. Temperatures there are apparently reaching around 90-95 deg F.  These temperatures are typically 40 deg F (20 deg C) above normal seasonal temperatures for the region. This mirrors the 60 deg F increase in winter temperatures at the North Pole this last winter, too.

As Humphrey says … “It is absolutely incredible and really one of the most intense heat events I’ve ever seen for so far north. Climate change has sent temps skyrocketing in the far north of the planet over just the past 20 years. While that’s been quite reflected in the rapid rise in wintertime temperatures, it’s increasingly being reflected in summertime temperatures as more and more sea ice disappears earlier in the season, leaving more dark blue ocean to absorb more daytime sunlight. This heating of the ocean surface by low albedo (very low reflectivity…little sunlight being reflected back off into space) causes some heat to be released back to heat the atmosphere above, speeding up warming of the Arctic region. This is known as Arctic Amplification.”

As well as feeding into this warming feedback loop, it will also be having a serious effect upon what used to be known as Permafrost – as it was permanently frozen. The trouble is it is now occasionally melting and in doing so is releasing both carbon dioxide and the more powerful greenhouse gas, methane, into the atmosphere – perhaps an even more significant feedback loop for Global Warming.

So, let me return to my original question, raised effectively in the blog post before last – “What do we Green Liberal politicians need to do to put this right?” Of course, it goes without saying that we need to continue to fight for a zero-carbon Britain by 2050 as highlighted by the picture from the GLD website.

This is already party policy, but, to point out the obvious, we are now a party of 12 MPs in a highly fragmented and fragile parliament which is bickering about Brexit or not, undifferentiated Conservative Soft Brexit or Labour Soft Brexit, with the Labour Party led by a man who has been at best a Eurosceptic all his political life.

And, even if we get a zero carbon Britain by 2050 we definitely need not to be the only country following this path, otherwise we will get roasted anyway by everyone else`s global warming. There have been encouraging signs amidst the gloom. China, really tackling the problem of air-pollution –  reminiscent of the 1950s London SMOGs – has actually made remarkable progress in cutting back on carbon dioxide output and has already set out a target of ensuring its still-growing emissions peak by 2030, a target which it was suggested may even be beaten by five years according to an LSE study back in 2015, assuming their carbon trading scheme works effectively. More recently, however, declines in carbon and particulate outputs increased in both 2016 and 2017 as China increased its steel production to meet apparent demands.

Several countries have reported periods of varying lengths where they were producing ALL their electrical demands from renewable energy sources. Iceland, Albania and Paraguay lead the way with virtually 100% of their power needs provided by renewable supplies; Iceland 28% geothermal the rest Hydro; Albania and Paraguay hydro. Norway gets close with 93% hydro and even Brazil has over 75% renewable (mostly hydroelectric) power. Costa Rica aims to be completely carbon-neutral by the year 2021 and has already achieved some impressive results, running on 100% renewable energy for more than two months twice in the last two years. Germany, Portugal and even the UK have reported varying periods of days when all the electrical power needed has come from solar or wind power.

Additionally it is worth noting that Sweden is actually likely to reach one or more of its 2030 targets for renewables even before we reach 2020. “In 2012, Norway and Sweden reached a joint agreement to increase their production of electricity from renewable energy sources by 28.4 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2020. Sweden then increased its target, with the aim of adding another 18 TWh by 2030.” It is now expected to achieve this, perhaps before the end of 2018, due to the commitment to wind turbines. See here – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/sweden-to-reach-its-2030-renewable-energy-target-this-year/    – for details.

As far as Europe generally is concerned there was, in late 2016, a final proposal to change the nature of markets for the production and consumption of electricity. As of mid-2018 that proposal is now agreed. Previous market designs had been based upon older types of energy production methods – i.e. centralised power stations producing masses of electricity which then had to be distributed to households in relatively small quantities. With the rapid recent increases in renewable supplies of energy, particularly on photovoltaic (PV) solar panel production of small quantities of electricity, some of which can be fed back into the grid, there was a need to address the impacts this has had on the market place for energy.

The full details are quite extensive and can be seen here – https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2016%3A861%3AFIN  – but, just by way of an example that has pertinence to this blog-post, article 15 shows jus how important it is to be a “member of the club” – “new Art 15 – Efficient decarbonisation of the electricity system via market integration requires systematically abolishing barriers to cross-border trade to overcome market fragmentation and to allow Union energy customers to fully benefit from the advantages of integrated electricity markets and competition.”

As far as this impacts the UK, it would mean far greater flexibility for local community based production, use and “sale” of electrical power produced renewably (eg solar panels on the tops of school roofs; or power from a wind farm created by a Housing Association, and so on) as well as the larger opportunities of cross-border sales of stored renewable electricity to top up gaps in renewable outputs in neighbouring countries.

It seems quite clear to me that we would benefit most by being part of the European Union (where this agreement relates to) as a full member with a seat at the table to (help) reform the rules as appropriate, but as already alluded to, the decision is out of our hands as Liberal Democrats. There has been quite a bit of talk recently, mostly on Facebook with occasional mentions in the press media, about the potential for a so-called Progressive Alliance with Lib Dems associated with the Green Party and the SNP, in conjunction with the Labour Party, providing an alternative option for Government to the badly split, muddles, back-biting, incompetent Tories.

Sadly there was an occasion to test out the likelihood of such an alliance working earlier this week, when one of the infrequent occasions where the Lib Dems had the right to choose a topic for debate. The Lib Dem proposal was to allow for a People`s Vote to establish whether whatever deal was reached with the EU was satisfactory, or whether we should accept “No Deal”, or whether we should say “none of this is likely to work, let`s stay inside the EU”. Most of the Conservative Party voted against this proposal – there were 9 LD votes for, One Green Party vote for and three Welsh Nat votes for. Nothing from the SNP, who all abstained and no votes, either, from the Labour Party. So, I reckon such a Progressive Alliance is dead in the water – looks as though we will have to be progressive all by ourselves! It probably did not help, however, that the full Lib Dem motion called for a “Government of National Unity” as well as a People`s Vote, so maybe it is not too surprising that labour and SNP abstained!

Also this week there has been a vote as to whether the UK should stay in the EEA (European Economic Area) which would guarantee access to the Integrated Energy Market (IEM). It is not definite that the UK would be thrown out of the IEM if we did not but `experts` think that is likely. If so, we would then also lose the capability of using the European energy `interconnectors` to top up energy at times when we do not have enough. This will not cause blackouts but it WILL probably mean more expensive energy than otherwise available. For more on this see here –  https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/06/14/brexit-eu-internal-single-energy-market-interconnector/

Back to history

All of which brings me to another `dip` into my serendipity – to whit – my reading of William Wallace`s article in the Journal of Liberal History, Spring 2018, which provides a fascinating insight into “How the Liberal Party Became Committed to the European Union”. In particular I was struck by the tension between the 19th century traditions of Free Trade and the, then, new-fangled support for European reconstruction and the implied Peace Dividend of a uniting Europe – or, as Lord Wallace puts it, the tension between Libertarianism and Liberalism. Broadly speaking (and if you want more detail, you will have to read the whole article) many of the more libertarian elements of the Liberal Party, who also identified themselves with a continuing role of Great Britain as a World Power, with transatlantic links to the Anglo-Saxon USA and a preference for the white Commonwealth, eventually opted out of the Liberal Party and drifted towards independent think tanks or straight into the Conservatives.

The more “Liberalism inclined supporters” rallied around the notion of a reconstructed Europe, together with newer members coming into the Party under the influence of Jo Grimond`s radical articulacy for these ideas – and that includes me arriving into the Party in the mid-sixties as a Young Liberal. Many of my generation of Young Liberals were also influenced at the end of the 1960s by the incredible pictures of the planet on which we live as a small blue marble in the black infinity of space, as seen from the Apollo  moonshots. This led to an enthusiasm for environmental measures to protect this fragile earth and these were increasingly included in the Environmental Dividend of a uniting Europe.

So, if all this is to be torn asunder by an exit from the European Union, which we may not be able to prevent, whether the exit is to be hard and cliff-like, or some degree of cushioned landing in a no-mans-land of a so-called Soft Brexit, what can we do to preserve as much progress as possible? Let us assume for a moment the hardest of Brexits – if such were to happen it would clearly be some time before sufficient damage had occurred to the economy and the environment for there to be much movement in public opinion, so we can probably rule out an early re-entry into the EU (though, from FaceBook discussions, that is where many pro-Europeans would place their energy.)

My intuition is telling me that those of us really concerned about the urgency of tackling the Climate Change problem, from such a revised UK perspective, should perhaps “jump a level” from our former concentration on the benefits of belonging to an integrating Europe, and take the people`s democratic route to a re-energised people`s United Nations. Seeing things from the perspective of citizens of the World, rather than as Citizens of Europe.

Whilst the reputation of the UN as a Peace Keeper has been severely tarnished over recent years (decades?) the UN sponsored conferences on Environmental issues and links have played out positively in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals which have gradually been discussed and agreed at Government level and World Bank level. My intention with the next Post in this brief series is to explore how that might work from a party-political viewpoint which would have meaning for member involvement, rather than seeing it as a distant dream. As a personal step in this direction I have just paid up a membership fee for the United Nations Association – perhaps something I should have done many years ago. I remember my Dad`s older brother, my Uncle Arthur Melton, was, for many years the treasurer of the Lincoln Branch of the UNA.

Posted in Environment & Sustainable Development, History, Peace, Politics, Radical Liberal, Serendipity | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Federal Europe and the Green Dividend (serendipity part 2)

A Federal Europe and the Green Dividend

(overtaken, mid-post, by current political events!!)

Serendipity Part 2

My last post concluded that building informal coalitions within a fluid European Union was potentially significant for achieving great advances in combating Climate Change, both as far as Europe itself is concerned, but also in terms of the influence a strong Europe has on World-scale agreements.

As I write, it is, of course, not at all clear whether the UK will still be part of the European Union in a couple of years` time, so as an exercise in crystal ball-gazing, I thought it might be appropriate to set out some alternative scenarios and try to decipher whether there is a common pathway for “saving the world” whatever happens to the political and/or the institutional framework(s) within which we have to work.

“A week is a long time in politics!” But it is a lot less than a week (barely more than a day!) since I wrote the first words of the last post and writing these words now but even in that short time the framework has shifted a little – maybe even more than a little! The infamous erstwhile director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, eventually ran out of rope with President Trump, and has eventually been forced to resign, having racked up one or two too many misdemeanours in his short tenure at the EPA.

He had apparently accepted a low rent condo from a lobbyist, accepted many thousands of dollars` worth of free trips, built a secret telephone booth in his office costing $43,000 and used an EPA employee to run personal errands, including searching for a second hand Trump style mattress as well as paying said employee an over the top pay rise, as a friend of himself and his wife, all of which he denied or obfuscated about. Apparently the thing that decided his fate was shooting his mouth off about an idea he and Trump had been considering, of appointing Pruitt to run the Justice Department in place of another of Trumps “friends” Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Presumably he felt it was a “done deal”, but it clearly caused embarrassment to the difficult-to-embarrass Donald.    So – “You`re Fired!”

We do not know, of course, whether Pruitt`s successor will be any better at protecting the Environment than Pruitt himself (my view is that s/he could hardly be worse, but even that is not especially encouraging). The point is that we, Green Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrats, need to deal with the world as we find it, whilst always pressing for things to become better. So we need to set our campaigning stall out to cope with whatever alternatives may be likely, even to the point where the prospective frameworks may be substantially different, such as being IN the EU or being OUT OF the EU.

I am thinking in particular of how we should approach campaigning issues for Climate Change and energy use, but there are no doubt commonalities for any and all environmental campaigning. As well as the urgency that climate catastrophe places upon change, the planet is also facing a huge bio-diversity collapse, no doubt partially driven by climate change pressures, but also caused by other environmental degradation factors associated with our sadly Anthropocene age. David Attenborough and many others have pointed towards an extraordinary “Extinction Event” comparable to the loss of the dinosaurs and other megafauna 65 million years ago.

Research in Germany associated with protected areas of their nature reserves over nearly three decades shows a decline in flying insects of around 75% – for details see here… http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/germany-s-insects-are-disappearing

There are many other examples showing declining populations of common birds, common fish and common animals as well as the widely known threats to iconic endangered species, Tigers, Polar Bears,  Blue whales, Hawksbill sea turtles, Orangutans and so on and so on…and, sadly, so on and so on again!

One of the bizarrely counter-intuitive effects of the UK vote to leave the EU has been the urge amongst leading politicians in the remaining 27 countries to seek even closer ties within the EU. That is not to say there are not other forces in several other countries pulling in the direction of a European break-up, usually associated with the hard-right or the alt-right as they are sometimes referred to, but it seems the pro-EU strength is currently out-pacing the splitting force of such groups.

Indeed (and here we get back to my recent serendipitous reading) the prominent Flemish Liberal leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has just published a book called “Europe`s Last Chance: Why the European States Must Form a More Perfect Union” which was reviewed, in the Journal of Liberal History, by Sir Graham Watson a former UK Liberal Democrat MEP and also former leader of the ALDE Group.

According to Watson, Guy Verhofstadt is “…a federalist at all costs…” and “A fundamental argument of the book is that Europeans are at risk of being rapidly overtaken by others. Trapped between a protectionist America and an aggressive China, the EU is failing…  …the EU can be saved by full political union.”

A page or two later in the Journal, in Tim Oliver`s review of Andrew Duff`s book about the Governance of Europe, Oliver makes reference to Duff`s use of Jean-Claude Junker`s comment from 2007:  “We all know what to do. We just don`t know how to get re-elected after we`ve done it”.

There is clearly a significant tension between what is needed and what is politically possible – so it is not just the UK that has to cope with `realpolitik`, but it may just be the UK that will bear the greatest scars, by ejecting ourselves from the team just as the team is pulling itself tighter into unity. So, what can we do as environmental activists, seeking major changes in the politics of the world as a whole well beyond what politicians of most colours in most countries seem to think is possible anyway.

Week – Long time – Politics!!

Since I put a full stop at the end of the last paragraph, the political tectonic plates have shifted again, with the resignation of David Davis over the weekend and who knows where it will have got to before I have finished writing the next few paragraphs. In a way I have been rather surprised the makeshift Government view has lasted even this long and, although I fundamentally disagree with the man, at least Davis has ended up being true to himself (either that, or he has realised there is simply no way he can deliver what he has promised!?)

It has been painfully obvious to anyone with a grain of common sense that Mrs May has been kicking the can down the road and that she could not carry on doing that indefinitely, pretending she could realistically “square the circle” and meet Brexit hopes as well as keep the EU negotiators talking. There are just too many areas where the fundamental “requirements” of Brexiteers and European negotiators are in discord. For any kind of negotiation to succeed there has to be a pretty significant overlap between the desires of one party and those of the other for an outcome acceptable to both sides.

Oh! Just checked the news and Boris Johnson has resigned as Foreign Secretary too!! Hmm – where will the government be at the end of the day? Looks as though I shall have to cut my philosophising short with regard to long-term environmental issues at least until this dust-up is settled. An interesting quote from an article in the Guardian on Sunday night, before he announced his resignation, of course, referred to someone “close to Boris” who reported that “He thinks that what’s on the table is so flawed we might even be better off staying in.”

Well, at least I can agree with that assessment.

Interesting that the Guardian`s martin Kettle says “Davis resigned on an issue of principle; Johnson resigned on an issue of self-interest.” And an earlier question in the Guardian as Monday`s events are unfolding is to discover whether Johnson`s dithering during the day on Monday raised the issue of whether he was waiting to see if enough letters (48 were needed) from dissatisfied MPs calling for a vote of Confidence in Mrs May – or whether MPs were waiting to see if Bojo was going to resign before they sent their letters to the Chair of the 1922 Committee!?

I have to say it is a great relief to see Boris Johnson leave the office of Foreign Secretary, since he was so often a real embarrassment to the UK. This is severely tempered by the worry that he might end up being Prime Minister – now, that WOULD be embarrassing. As I am writing these words it is approaching 6pm in the UK, although I have only just finished eating lunch… so I shall close and post this section, with the intention of writing more once the febrile UK politics has settled a little. I am not yet sure whether to feel positive at the course of events over the last 24 hours in the hope that it is the beginning of the “end-game” of the Brexit catastrophe, or be concerned that it has to get much worse before it can get better. No doubt time will tell. (serendipity part 3 should follow soon!)

Posted in Boris, Environment & Sustainable Development, History, Politics, Serendipity | Tagged | Leave a comment