MEP: Broken Britain needs Great Reform bill with three simple provisions:

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Responding to critics of Jeremy Corbyn, Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP, writing from the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, gets to the heart of the matter:

In a political system based on government and opposition, how can Labour fulfil its constitutional duty to strenuously oppose the government’s Brexit plans when voters in the constituencies its MPs represent have “instructed” them not to?

With no written constitution, there was nothing to prevent David Cameron from unleashing the destructive EU referendum with no proper safeguards.

If we had a proportional electoral system, the sound opposition being provided by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron would be greatly reinforced.

And if we had a democratic and effective second chamber, something my colleague Baroness Jenny Jones has been working for through her House of Lords Reform bill, we might expect its members to restrain the worst excesses of post-referendum foolishness.

Currently they dare not for fear of incurring their own abolition.

Rather than the Great Repeal bill we need a new Great Reform bill with three simple provisions:

  • a written constitution,
  • a proportional voting system
  • and a fully democratic second chamber.

Source: Financial Times

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Land: Scots legislate for the common good

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In marked contrast to the Highland clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, which followed enclosure of agricultural land in England, last March the Scottish parliament passed sweeping land reform legislation intended to increase transparency, boost community ownership, end a twenty-year-old exemption from business rates granted to shooting and deerstalking estates and strengthen the rights of tenant farmers. The bill was passed by a majority of 102 to 14.

Regulation and implementation guidelines will be decided after parliamentary elections in May. Lawyers warn that more clarity is needed on provisions that give community groups the right to purchase privately held land if the government agrees that doing so will promote “sustainable development”.

A strengthening of the rights of tenant farmers, including the creation of a new form of limited duration lease, has been one of the law’s contested elements. Tenants will be able to assign or bequeath their leases to a wider range of people, a change that will encourage transfers to a new generation of farmers.

Some hope for further advances, addressing the over-concentrated pattern of ownership, where it is estimated that 432 owners account for 50% of the nation’s privately held land. A list of the top 20 Scots and foreign landowners was placed on the Highland Clearances website – now shut down. Another list has been found in the Sunday Post. 

However, landowners have warned that the changes could be subject to expensive legal challenge, citing the experience of a previous round of Scottish land reform pushed by Scottish Labour. In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that the 2003 law strengthening the position of tenant farmers violated a landowner’s right to protection of his property under the European Convention on Human Rights.

comm-land-scotOn 16 March 2016, following a final debate, the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed but will not become an Act of the Scottish Parliament until it can be submitted for Royal Assent by the Presiding Officer. This means that the bill could receive the Royal Assent in mid-April, at the earliest. 

The law aims to increase transparency of land ownership and control through a public register and was described as a major step towards a fairer and more open model of land ownership by Megan MacInnes – Community Land Scotland.

 

 

 

Mary Robinson’s call for citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice

Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a member of The Elders, writes:

mary-robinsonMillions across the world feel that the current globalised system is not working in their best interests. From unemployed former steel workers in the US rust belt, to the small island states in the South Pacific where livelihoods are threatened by climate change, people are angry that decisions taken by governments and in corporate boardrooms appear blithely indifferent to their daily struggles.

We know from history that crude populism offers no real solutions, creating only false hope and scapegoats. Yet it is also clear that there are many politicians who will cynically exploit genuine grievances for their own ends. All of this means that the new year is beginning with uncertainty and trepidation at every level of society.

Potentially seismic changes in political leadership in 2017, not only in the US but also across Europe, Iran, India and parts of Africa, could disrupt established institutions and multilateral processes.

At the same time, across the world we see rising levels of xenophobia and intolerance, a narrowing of political vision and a focus on parochial introspection. It feels as if a lid has been taken off a simmering pot of tensions and discontent. Views on race, gender and religion that only a few years ago were deemed unacceptable are now commonplace. Over the past year we have seen how public discourse can be tarnished by harsh and ugly rhetoric. This is most evident online, where women and minority groups are targets of cowardly abuse and intimidation.

Some politicians claim this is a populist revolt against global elites and that the whole system of international governance established since the end of the second world war, including the UN, needs to be comprehensively overhauled. I would argue that the values that form the foundation of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s and that our challenge is to uphold them.

Politicians and business leaders must reassert our values of dignity for all At the same time, we need to make changes to the international governance system so that it is more resilient, robust, representative and equipped to adapt to new geopolitical realities and complex long-term challenges, including climate change, mass migration and growing inequality. If we are to have any hope of making constructive progress in 2017, and stopping this rising tide of anger turning into destructive nihilism, all responsible politicians, civil society and business leaders must stand firm and reassert our basic, common values of dignity for all. I am encouraged by the fact that there are many leaders, organisations and citizens who are still determined to act together to secure a sustainable future for our people and our planet.

I saw this for myself at the COP 22 climate negotiations that took place in November 2016 in Marrakesh. Leaders from countries at all levels of development — as well as business, cities, regions, civil society and indigenous communities — renewed their commitment to the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The focus now is on implementation, so that any rise in global temperatures can be limited to 1.5C or below, an absolute prerequisite for climate justice.

Fortunately, leadership exists. In Marrakesh, I was very impressed by the Climate Vulnerable Forum: a group of 48 countries that are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and most committed to leading a rapid transformation in their own countries to carbon-neutral, climate resilient economies. I was inspired by their call for “a new era of the pursuit of development, ending poverty, leaving no person behind and protecting the environment” and for an international co-operative system that is fully equipped to address climate change. This is precisely the right vision and attitude — and a powerful antidote to today’s pervasive gloom. Only by embracing such a holistic approach can we successfully implement not only the Paris Agreement but also the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Taken together — which is absolutely essential, because without action on climate change the rest of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be unachievable — they have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people across the planet.

It must be a bottom-up approach, in which leaders and policymakers show humility and listen to the experiences and voices of people at the sharp end of climate change, poverty, violence and injustice. This is no time for naive optimism; the challenges ahead are stark and the voices of hostility are strident. But I remain inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, who said in 2003 that: “Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.”

As a member of The Elders, the group of independent former leaders founded by Mr Mandela to work for peace and human rights, I will hold his words close in the coming year and hope they will continue to inspire citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice.

Delhi’s Devinder Sharma calls for a GEP measurement to replace the current GDP yardstick

Edited extracts from the latest article in Ground Reality

Sensible voices, however few these may be, have now begun to be heard. The pressure to de-globalise is an outcome of the anger that built up slowly and steadily as inequalities worsen and the world goes deeper and deeper into an environmental crisis, fast heading towards a point of no-return.

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The term ‘ecosystem’ was coined by Dr Roy Clapham, a botanist, in 1930. According to IUCN, the definition provided by Christopherson in 1997 is apt: “An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of all plants, animals and microorganisms (biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all the non-living (abiotic) factors of the environment.” The Convention on Biological Diversity (Earth Summit, Rio deJaneiro,1992) defines an ecosystem as: “A dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.”

Unfortunately, Adam Smith did not measure the wealth generated by these ecosystems and the generation of economists who followed the principles of market economy also failed to look beyond what was prescribed in the textbooks. Many of the severe problems the world faces today — greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, the melting of ice caps and glaciers and the destruction of the environment (soil, water, oceans and air) — are due to economic thinking which created and thrust upon nations the GDP structure as a measure of wealth generated – based on a flawed assumption of what actually constitutes wealth. As Sharma has repeatedly said, if a tree is planted the GDP does not show it as growth, but if it is cut down the GDP grows.

But according to one study, the actual economic value of a fifty year old tree is as follows: 

  • Oxygen $ 7,700
  • Water recycling $ 10,000
  • Pollution control $ 17,700
  • Shelter for animals $ 8,300
  • Soil conservation $ 8,300

Yet if the tree is felled, the market price would be in the range of $ 1,100. See also the TOI report on Delhi Greens assessment.

Whether we like it or not, Sharma continues, neoliberal economics is bringing the world dangerously close to a tripping point.

A contract was signed in the early 1990s between the pharmaceutical giant Merck and a public-sector research institute in Costa Rica — InBio. Merck agreed to provide $1 million for two years to support ‘chemical prospecting’ which essentially means scouting the available biodiversity for commercial gain. It agreed to provide a 5% royalty arising from sales of any such products developed from samples of plants, animals and microorganism collected from with Costa Rica. Merck was then able to access huge resources for a meagre fee – 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

Biological resources have been conserved and protected by communities/tribes which have lived in these areas over the centuries

Mineral wealth exists in areas where abundant forests and tribes exist and communities living in hilly terrains and mountains have traditionally protected ecosystems. People living downstream in the river basins and plains have enjoyed the benefits of the untiring efforts of these custodians of immense biological wealth, who have been deprived of all the economic benefits – a one way transfer of wealth which has taken place over the centuries.

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Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1981) coined the term ‘ecosystem services’ and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) provided the first international effort to quantify ecosystem services, followed by ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which created an Ecosystem Service Value Database based on 1500 global peer reviewed publications.

The destruction caused by development is generally considered as inevitable, based on economics that does not make any attempt to integrate the real cost-benefit ratio. However, though a number of studies are currently underway in numerous institutes/universities, the discipline of ecosystem services has still to be recognised. Sharma believes that efforts to calculate the monetary value of ecosystem services will be increasingly valuable in development planning, because the value has hitherto been taken as nil or free of cost. He hopes that once economic values are established, planners will make decisions which will not be based solely on economic gain.

devinder-edited-utube-7Sharma (right) advocates the computation of a Gross Environment Product based on the valuation of ecosystem services, ensuring that ecosystems are no longer associated with poverty. This will require the discarding of the economic assumption that growth automatically trickles down. It doesn’t. The amount of real wealth nations has created should be indicated by the measure of sustainable growth achieved. Becoming carbon neutral is one such indicator.

Primarily with this underlying objective, the Chandigarh-based trust Dialogue Highway, in collaboration with the Department of Environment Studies, Panjab University, organised the 2nd International Dialogue on Himalayan Ecology (Jan 28-29, 2017) on the theme: “The Economics of Himalayan Ecosystems”. (The youtube link leads to the programme in detail, but only a few screen shots). Experts from across the country made presentations based on the outcome of research undertaken to ascribe economic values to the ecosystem services provided by the Himalayas.

Sharma is sure that this dialogue will go a long way towards mainstreaming the subject of ecosystem services in policy planning and intends to undertake a similar exercise for the Western Ghats in the months to come.

 

 

 

New Economics question: is there a socially just, green, internationalist and small ‘c’ conservative form of protectionism?

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There was widespread media coverage of American president elect Donald Trump’s appearance at the Carrier furnace factory in Indianapolis, marking a deal to stop the company from moving hundreds of jobs to Mexico and threatening “consequences” for companies that relocate offshore. He also exerted pressure on Ford who backtracked on opening another small plant in Mexico.

Whilst understanding the welcome for more local jobs, Margaret – at a recent meeting of the West Midlands New Economics Group (WMNEG) – wondered if any deeper thinking would take place, “Or will Ford continue to make the ‘gas-guzzlers’ which are damaging the health of human beings and the planet?” Ann asked if there were different forms of protectionism and has decided to look further.

Colin Hines presents a detailed alternative – ‘progressive protectionism’ – which will be the focus of a future WMNEG meeting. As he wrote in the Guardian:

There is a left, green alternative that could effectively challenge the rise of the extreme right, while giving voters hope for a better future. In my new book ‘Progressive Protectionism: Taking Back Control’, I detail why progressives should endorse the controlling of borders to people, capital, goods and services, but not as occurred in the 1930s, when governments attempted to protect domestic jobs while still wanting to compete and export globally at the expense of others.

Progressive Protectionism, by contrast, aims to nurture and rebuild local economies in a way that permanently reduces the amount of international trade in goods, money and services and enables nation states to control the level of migration that their citizens desire . . . championing policies geared to achieving more job security, a decrease in inequality and protection of the environment worldwide.

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Hines would urge Jeremy Corbyn to use his undoubted popularity with European socialist leaders, at next month’s London meeting of European socialist parties, to discuss how all EU member states can cooperate to reverse the present political, social and economic instability that haunts the whole continent.

He calls for a beneficial treaty replacing the outdated, discredited Treaty of Rome, which is increasing economic insecurity through austerity, relocation of businesses and the rapid migration of workers: “This should prioritise the protection and rebuilding of local economies and so provide a positive answer to voters’ concerns. To achieve this, a debate needs to be started about why Europe needs a progressive protectionism to replace the increasingly discredited Treaty of Rome with a Treaty of Home Europe-wide”. Cross-border issues such as responding to non-European migration, climate change, pollution, crime and military security would still of course require intra-European cooperation”.

He will be speaking on this theme at various events, including one meeting on 22nd April in Birmingham

 

Colin Hines is the convener of the Green New Deal group and for ten years, co-ordinator of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit. His latest book, ‘Progressive Protectionism‘, was published in January 2017. It details why and how groups of regional nation states and their communities should join together to reintroduce border controls to protect and diversify their economies, provide a sense of security for their people and prevent further deterioration of the environment. He is also author of ‘Localization – A Global Manifesto‘. This may be bought in hard copy or read on computer/Kindle via the Amazon website. Those who avoid Amazon may like to read the assessment of corporate tax avoidance by lawyer Marc Wadsworth, here.

 

 

Will constructive journalism empower and engage people?

pos-news-headerIllustration by Spencer Wilson: the fact that some conflicts have ended has helped reduce world hunger

Lucy Purdy of Positive News writes: “It was a tough year by many measures but 2016 also saw some reasons for celebration. We look behind the headlines for signs of progress”:

  1. World hunger is at its lowest point for 25 years
  2. The Rio Olympics featured more female athletes than ever before
  3. The Paris Climate Change Agreement came into force
  4. For the 24th year in a row, teenage pregnancy rates declined in the UK and US
  5. Wild tiger numbers increased for the first time in 100 years
  6. The number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes has almost halved since 1990
  7. Evidence suggests that major diseases, from colon cancer to heart disease, are now starting to wane in wealthy countries
  8. India turned on the world’s largest solar power plant – spanning 10 sq km – in the state of Tamil Nadu
  9. Public smoking bans appear to have improved health in 21 nations
  10. Black incarceration rates fell in the US
  11. Measles has been eradicated in the Americas – the first time the disease has been eliminated from an entire world region
  12. An HIV cure may be a step closer after a trial cleared the virus in a British man
  13. Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions
  14. China installed 20 gigawatts of solar in the first half of 2016
  15. Volunteers in India planted 50m trees in 24 hours
  16. Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, it was announced this year
  17. The amount of money it would take to eliminate extreme poverty is now lower than the annual foreign aid spend
  18. Giant pandas are no longer endangered
  19. The number of deaths from malaria is at a global record low
  20. The World Bank says we are now one generation away from achieving universal literacy

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Researcher Jodie Jackson explains that by studying the impact of Positive News upon its readers, she found that constructive journalism can empower people and engage them more in society

The news tells us a story about the world in which we live. But we all know that it is not the whole picture. We are only ever presented with a small fraction of our world, but it is so enlarged it can appear to be the whole picture – and herein lies the problem. The stories that are amplified are the ones that are most extreme, most conflict-driven and most unusual, fitting our modern news mantra of “if it bleeds it leads”.

“The news is not, in fact, a reflection of everything that goes on in the world, it is a reflection of everything that goes wrong in the world”, wrote US academic John Sommerville in 1999.

Even though we may know it to be the case, we are not fully conscious of this distortion of reality the news creates. Instead, our minds are working away to respond to the information around us in ways that keep us safe and protected.

As my research points out, the psychological consequence of the skewed truth created by the negativity bias in the news can lead to a misperception of risk, in which people think that world is more dangerous than it is.

Continuously confronting an unresolved threat can lead to anxiety and a feeling of helplessness. It makes us more likely to become a passive observer of the world rather than a participant in it, leading to lower mood levels, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitisation to the issues being presented and potentially total disengagement . . .

Now, more than ever, is a good time to put the brakes on unbalanced, inflamed news narratives.

positive-news                                                 Another sign of progress.

It appears we may have found a way to do this, which could not only halt the current media trajectory but launch a new one altogether. It is known as constructive journalism and solutions-focused news. . .

My research has found that people who read Positive News magazine were lifted by reading about possibility and progress. Secondly, they showed reduced levels of anxiety and helplessness, and thirdly they also showed increased levels of hope, optimism and self-efficacy – the belief that their actions were capable of making a difference.

Media has a powerful influence on our world. We believe excessive negativity in the press is destructive for society, so instead we are working to create a more constructive and compassionate media.

 

Read the whole article here: https://www.positive.news/2017/society/24721/solution-focused-news-can-empower-people/?mc_cid=c294f1d511&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

A realistic, grounded alternative politico-economic vision – 2

shaun-5Shaun Chamberlin, of the Fleming Policy Centre, Chelsea Green’s UK/Europe commissioning editor, responds to Hines: ‘Amen’. He continued: ‘This very much echoes my response to the interview question: What would David Fleming’s reaction to Brexit have been?” ‘

“I think David’s work articulates the far more positive, reasonable motives that many will have had for their vote—a desire for more accountable control, closer to home; recognition of the economic truth that unlimited movement of both people and capital does indeed drive down wages for the working class; and above all a desire to reclaim a clear identity—something that David describes as “the root condition for rational judgement”. If you don’t know who you are then how can you know what to do?

“A nation, after all, is a powerful root for identity, built through long association with a particular place and culture, which many generations have shaped and defended”.

As David writes, “if defeated, the nation often manages, eventually, to come back into being, with a sense of renewal and justice. It exists in the mind of its people.” And it gives an identifiable meaning to the sense of “we”, to a “national interest”. This, perhaps, is what the European Union was seen to be threatening—our sense of who we are—and why so many rejected it.

“But more than a route to understanding Brexit’s causes, I see Fleming’s work as a progressive, practical vision of what it could look like. If Brexit is the path we are taking, then we need to reclaim it from the xenophobes and racists who see the “Leave” vote as a vindication.

“Globalisation and neoliberalism are destroying our collective future, but they have also all-but-destroyed the present for many, as the neofeudalism termed ‘austerity’ continues to bite. The one common factor behind unexpected election results like Brexit, Trump and Corbyn may be desperate rejection of the establishment and the status quo—all the major parties supported “Remain” after all.

“It is important to remember that fascists like Mussolini and Hitler didn’t only consolidate power on the basis of lies and fear—they also raised wages, addressed unemployment and greatly improved working conditions. So if we are to avoid the slow drift into real fascism, we need to present an alternative politico-economic vision that can restore identity, pride and economic well-being. We need to tell a beautiful story of how we will make the future better for the desperate, rather than a fearful one. This is the story that Fleming’s books tell, and what inspired me to devote my past few years to bringing them to publication.

His seven-point protocol for an economics based in trust, loyalty and local diversity is, quite simply, the only realistic, grounded alternative I have seen to a future I have no desire to live through”.