|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Downturn, where all the lights are dimmer…
The current economic downturn makes it harder for many people but the biggest pressure – as always - is undoubtedly on the poor of the majority world where food prices have escalated very considerably (doubling would be common) over the last couple of years, without any of the safety nets which exist in most rich countries.
At least the Irish government cannot justifiably renege a second time on its promise to give 0.7% of GNP to world development (the promise this time is for 2012) – or if it does it will lose all credibility but then, the poor of the majority world do not have votes. But the poor in the West are also going to find it hard. The current crisis in the worldwide capitalist system has many repercussions but it bears reflecting on from the point of view of peace and justice.
Housing prices in the Republic doubled in relation to income between 2000 and 2006 and that particular bubble had to burst at some point – house price increases in Northern Ireland were broadly.
There is only so far a budget can stretch, and while people might have stretched as far as they could in the expectation of ‘making a killing’ (a terrible phase) with rapid price increases, at some point prices could not continue going up, and have now declined noticeably (up to 30% in a year in Northern Ireland). This had also meant a building slump and triggered a significant rise in unemployment. However, except for recent buyers, house price decline should be considered good news in general and particularly for those wanting to get on the housing ownership ladder.
But international factors have put the cat among the financial pigeons, indeed, it could be said they have come home to roost.
Over-lending by many financial institutions, on both sides of the Atlantic, has caused nationalisations and rationalisations or takeovers at an unprecedented rate. Confidence in many financial institutions has been shattered and there is the realisation that boom-bust is still a feature of international capitalism.
You can hear the sound of stable doors being shut at a great rate. Ireland, as a highly internationalised/globalised economy, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of the recession, whatever about the guarantees given by governments about financial institutions.
The financial crisis brings problems and opportunities. Surely one opportunity should be to think of what a progressive ‘no growth’ economy would look like (as opposed to the current recession with negative growth).
We cannot sustain the level the economy is at in terms of usage of resources and fossil fuels. But we could do some blue skies thinking and develop an economy where there would be no growth in GNP but growth in services available for free to users, and in quality time for quality recreation, with human happiness as the goal. And some green groups have been doing significant thinking about how carbon usage can be cut. Now is the time for a radical reappraisal of our economic system which has delivered the goods to a certain level but cannot continue to do so. And, as we have stated before, a green economy has to be a more egalitarian one; if we are have a cake which does not get bigger then the shares have to be fairer.
Another point relates to military expenditure.
While the Republic’s military expenditure is modest, and in the context of service with the UN, well-intentioned, there are questions about future military expenditure to tie in with the EU and NATO. These are unnecessary strategically and unnecessary economically. The UK, meanwhile, has squandered considerable sums in Afghanistan and Iraq and is set to squander squillions more on Trident replacement, an example, if ever there was one, of a weapon system which is both immoral (the use of which would be triggering nuclear war one would presume) and strategic nonsense.
The idea that there is any aggressor that nuclear weapons would deter from attacking the UK is absolute rubbish; to turn around the meaning of Nye Bevan’s 1957 quote, retaining nuclear weapons is to send a “British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber” because it shows a paucity of imagination in responding to any threats against the UK, relying on something which is irrelevant. A just foreign policy from the UK would be the best protection for British security.
Whether the current financial malaise as it affects the USA indicates another step away from its world economic dominance we will have to wait and see. The US ‘empire’ (with military bases in over 60 of the world’s countries, and military personnel in more than twice that number) is not dead yet, though its dominance as the world superpower is time-limited, just like all the other empires of the past.
Expenditure on its military misadventures has been a significant factor in its current economic malaise; without that expenditure it could have had so much more in so many ways, both for its own people and for the world.
And regarding the current financial crisis, many commentators have pointed out that government subsidies to big business and agri-business, even in the USA, are the rule rather than the exception. This time the sums just happen to be bigger.
This brings us on to another theme which we have addressed before; if people want adequate social and health services they have to pay for them. At least a survey in the Republic, published in September, showed that 40% of people are happy to pay higher taxes for better services (see http://www.tascnet.ie). Taxing the rich more, given obscene levels of upper end wealth in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, should be an important part of this.
A green society will be a much more egalitarian one. A peaceful society will be a much more egalitarian one. This applies to the world in general. It is time our governments began thinking about the kind of society we need to move to, and making the adjustments needed to get there, rather than tinkering around with bits and pieces of green policies, or attempts at recession proofing. We need a vibrant vision of a society which will appeal to people so that the changes to come, painful as many of them will initially be, will be seen in the context of making life better for the whole of society and for our globe and all the people that live on it. That is a tall order but it is eminently doable.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column–
We Are History in the Making
Every day brings news of environmental catastrophe. There are regular reports of the death of the oceans, the rapid depletion of fresh water supplies, soil erosion and the demise of biodiversity. An article in The Guardian, 13 Aug, informs us that: “Vast swaths of the western Amazon are to be opened up for oil and gas exploration, putting some of the planet’s most pristine and biodiverse forests at risk.”
Earlier in August the same newspaper reported that two of the UK government’s chief scientific advisors foresee the real possibility of global temperatures rising to 4 degree above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Such a rise would mean environmental and economic catastrophic.
The point about the unfolding catastrophe that we are reluctant to accept is that it is caused by us. That is to say by you and me, the people we see on the streets, our colleagues, neighbours, brothers and sisters, mum and dad. It is also caused by the large corporations and the financial and political institutions we support by our actions and inactions.
Many think that problems such as climate change and economic injustice are too large and complicated for us to do anything about. That we are in effect insignificant and powerless to avert what seems like the inevitable.
We are not, however, insignificant and powerless. The truth is we are history in the making, and each of us can play our own personal and particular part in making the planet a habitable place for ourselves, future generations and other species.
We can do this because we are, as Kleypas a marine biologist says in Discover magazine “the only species that can change our behaviour overnight.” (July 2008)
Change is the key to our wellbeing and survival, and yet it is what we fear most. Like other species we prefer the familiar. However, when the familiar is counter to our best interests, change is what we have to embrace.
Change to our oil-based way of life will inevitably involve frugality, which in our gluttonous society of buy and throw in the bin, would not be a bad thing. In fact it may be what we need to realize our creativity and compassion.
Human life is brief.
The average life-span in the UK is 79 years. If we don’t aim to depart from the world leaving it a better place than what we found it, a place able to provide our off-spring with a comfortable existence, a place wondrous and beautiful, we have to ask what the point of our lives is.
A life of self-gratification at the expense of others, and a spoiled planet, is not a life well lived. It is the responsibility of everyone, without exception, to play their part in helping create an environmentally sustainable society.