|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
The capitalist system has not yet been adapted to iron out boom and bust periods. Gordon Brown may have thought he was doing it in Britain, and the Irish government felt it was in permanent boom time, but what a difference a couple of years makes. The Celtic Tiger is dead and gone, a myth of Ahern and Cowan, although a myth which many bought into, expensively for them. And the capitalist system internationally has been wreaking havoc on the Republic as the boom blew up in people’s faces; Northern Ireland has still to feel the full effect of cuts. Again we see socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.
There are very considerable problems, with unemployment considerably increased, banks nearly nationalised, massive negative equity for many who have purchased properties, and ghost towns where developments ran – literally – into the ground. This situation is exacerbated by the current Irish government through the poor taking a bigger hit than others by the cut in one Euro in the minimum wage and through social welfare and other cuts. The Republic may have had one of the highest minimum wages in the EU but it has also had one of the highest costs of living and it seems brutal to reward the poor with cuts when the crisis is the fault of the rich and the powerful (developers, bankers, mainstream politicians). Outside intervention through the EU and IMF may have been humiliating but those lending money will also get a good rate of interest, thank you very much; how much the deal is about propping up the Republic, and how much the European banking system (owed money by Irish banks and now the Irish taxpayer) remains a good question. Even the state’s pension fund has been robbed to put into the pot.
The Republic remains a rich society, much richer than it was and with better infrastructure than it had. Economic indicators such as exports and even corporation tax are doing better than they were. The problem is the debt which the banks accumulated which has been taken on by the state and thereby inherited by Joe and Joan Citizen. That is going to take a major effort to get clear of. And the problem for ordinary people is lack of equality. If you are in permanent employment with a low mortgage or mortgage paid then you may still be laughing all the way to the bank. If you are poorly paid, unemployed, in negative equity, or with a job teetering on the brink of redundancy then you have problems.
Fianna Fail will undoubtedly get its comeuppance at the forthcoming general election in the Republic. It deserves everything which can be heaped on it in terms of the financial ignominy which it substantially helped to bring about. Its cosy relations with developers, its tax breaks for unnecessary property developments, and its failure to even think about curbing property prices mean it chose the worst possible policies for avoiding the super slump which has come. Whether the other political parties would have done better remains a moot point but the government of the day, which happened to be Fianna Fail, did an incredible amount to bring on the current disaster.
Eamon de Valera’s image of athletic youths and happy maidens has often been laughed at, and is a trillion miles away from the gombeen cronyism of some of his political successors. His St Patrick’s Day message of 1943 stated; ”Acutely conscious though we all are of the misery and desolation in which the greater part of the world is plunged, let us turn aside for a moment to that ideal Ireland that we would have. That Ireland which we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis of right living; of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit - a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. It would, in a word, be the home of a people living the life that God desires that man should live.”
At that stage in Ireland, ending emigration was just a dream and the resources did not exist to provide for all the people. If you excuse the antique language, and tweak and update the speech a bit, including changing ‘frugal’ to ‘comfortable but not extravagant’, there is actually nothing wrong with Dev’s vision; to label it a ‘green’ (ecological) vision would be anachronistic but it is certainly compatible with a green vision. ‘Things of the spirit’ (which he expounded on further) can also be interpreted in a secular way for those who wish; developing our human capacities as sensitive and sentient human beings. His vision is actually much more appealing than the boom time Fianna Fail reality of rat race workers over-building useless dwellings while they struggle to keep ahead of rising prices, or, indeed, of the post-boom reality.
The need now is to build a green future, to bring down carbon dioxide emissions to our ‘fair share’, a tonne per person per year. In building that green society we should value the things that make life enjoyable – and decouple human and economic development from oil, gas and carbon fuel use both for the sake of the planet and for the sake of future economic stability. A green economy would be an economy much less affected by the instability of carbon fuel prices.
In Britain David Cameron’s government is going to start measuring ‘happiness’. This could, of course, be simplistic but there is a need to move beyond the false indicators of GNP and GDP to more realistic and meaningful indicators of individual and social wellbeing (levels of equality would be one of these – not that this will be a measure in Tory UK!). And in so doing we need to move beyond an economy which is a boom and bust economy. No, we cannot insulate ourselves from what is happening in the rest of the world but we can create an economy which puts ordinary people before banks, which puts people’s needs ahead of profit, and which minimises the cyclical nature of capitalism. An important part of this for the future is that only those who wish to explore the world, and get experience abroad, should have to emigrate. Tragically, the numbers emigrating to get work has once again become a safety valve for the Irish economy – without that discontent would have boiled up much more rapidly.
The Republic is one of the most internationalised economies in the world and the world slump was bound to have a major effect. But what has happened has been a tragedy as cuts hit the poor and services are slashed. As of this moment, few lessons seem to have been learnt, with the false god of economic growth remaining the goal rather than seeking to use the crisis as an opportunity to move towards sustainability and a society which treats all the children – and all the adults – equally. The wealth is there to do this but the political will is lacking.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
Christmas and Climate Change
We all have a birthday, which, as the word implies lasts a day. Christmas is generally considered to begin when Christmas cards and wrapping paper appear in the shops. This year they were on sale in the first week of September, which means that Christ’s birthday is not a day but a season. Christmas as a shopping experience has superseded its religious origins and is the time of year when shops have their biggest sales, heavily promoted by TV advertisements, radio jingles, sentimental films, shop displays and colourful brochures.
The manner we celebrate Christmas makes any differences between our nominal beliefs and our actual beliefs visible. An outsider looking at our culture would find it difficult to understand how people can celebrate the birth of Christ, God incarnate, through trashing and causing stress and pain to His / Her handiwork. This is akin to wilfully causing grievous harm to someone we say we love.
Almost everything we buy as a gift this Christmas will be at the expense of the environment and likely harm those involved in the cradle to grave life of the gift. If it is an item made of wood there is a 50% chance that the wood was logged illegally, depriving some of the world’s rarest animals and plants of habitat. As well as loss of biodiversity, deforestation is responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. The forests we destroy are the home, economy and culture of indigenous peoples. Thus if an item of wood is not marked as FSC, or is not reused or recycled, we really should not buy it.
Electronic goods are popular Christmas gifts. Yet the rich world is awash with them. According to recent figures the number of mobile phones in the UK is suffice for every man, woman and child to own two. Almost every home has a computer, and according to my own survey, albeit unscientific, the average household in Northern Ireland has four televisions, a significant number have six. In the manner cigarette packets carry a health warning, electronic goods should carry an environmental and equity warning as when discarded they are disassembled in poor African and Asian countries in ways that are harmful to human health and the environment. In addition, it is likely that most electronic goods are manufactured using underpaid labour.
Feasting and partying are at the centre Christmas. If our fare contains vegetable oil, and most processed foods do, (as well as cosmetics), then it is likely that the oil is palm oil, 80% which is grown in cleared forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. These forests are home to endangered tigers, rhinos, orang-utans, clouded leopards and elephants. An alternative is sunflower oil.
Christmas may be a time for good cheer, a welcome respite from routine, a time for family, a religious festival, but what it is not is benign. Christmas-time consumption makes a significant contribution to global warming. According to The Independent, 29th November 2010, the Earth’s temperature is likely to rise to 4C above pre-industrial levels within the life of today’s young children. This will lead to a dramatic transformation in what we have taken for granted for 10,000 years. There will be global water shortages, the collapse of agriculture in semi-arid regions, a catastrophic rise in sea levels in coastal areas and diseases will be more easily transmitted. It will almost certainly lead to wars over resources. Is this the Happy Christmas legacy we want to leave our children, grandchildren and their family and friends?
To forego consumerism does not mean foregoing having a wonderful Christmas. We can make Christmas gifts by reusing materials we have at home. We could buy crafts made from local materials by local crafts people, buy bird feeders and native trees, and one way to really help others and the environment, is to purchase our gifts from one of our many charity shops.