07 February 2008

What Makes A 'Green' Lifestyle?

In a word - poverty. The most poverty stricken people of the world are usually the most ecologically friendly. It is our...
current consumer lifestyle that is destroying the planet. Is it possible to change this through 'individual responsibility' as those on the right claim (including David Cameron)?

Well obviously proper education of the dangers of climate change and playing to people's conscience can have some effect, but lets be honest - billions of people across the world could be frying to death and Mr 40k Tory in the shires would still not give up his Jag. Even if for instance, every car driver did change to a Toyota Prius it would still not be enough.

We have to fundamentally re-evalue what is important. The good news is, the quality of life of most people could actually be improved if we stopped trying to be happy by having more and more consumer goods. We should be reducing pollution, congestion and energy wastage on its own merits even if we don't believe in man-made climate change (as some of those in denial are still desperately clinging to).

The biggest benefactors of these changes would be the poorest whose quality of life suffers the most by other's greediness and anti-social waste of resources. Individualism will just not work. Even the Tories are liable to return to socialism when it suits them. I had to laugh when I learned that part of the reason for the sheer size of the Labour victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005 was the lack of co-operation amongst Tory MPs during the previous boundary review in the mid 1990s. Each individual Tory MP was more concerned about enlarging their own majorities, than drawing boundaries that would maximise their numbers, Labour sensibly did the opposite and reaped the benefits. This time the Tories have learned their lesson and co-operated amongst each other.

It is going to take a revelation of mammoth proportions amongst Tory MPs to reveal to them the scale of the climate change mountain we have to climb. During the war, the Tories recognised that the usual petty selfish squabbles over resources were going to be a detriment to the war effort. They recognised they needed to bring fairness into distribution of resources if society was to be in any position to fight off the Germans - which is why they brought the Labour party into government and gave them free reign over domestic policy. The climate change emergency we face is going to require the same amount of determination and effort as the war effort did.

At the moment, Cameron and others are in denial about what is needed, but tinkering at the edges with silly expensive windmills on his house may look good superficially but do nothing to change the predicament we are in.

We need strong government to move people out of cars and onto public transport (like Ken has done in London). We need to invest in infrastructure, efficiency and make sure that energy usage is reduced and renewable. But above all we need to share resources more fairly to ensure that the difficult challenges ahead are not disproportionately placed on the poorest.

These things are still anathema to the Tories but they are core values for Labour - if only we can find the courage to voice them. When it comes to environmental policy we need a strong government on the Left to ensure Green lifestyles are followed. It is going to mean tough challenges - not least in controlling population growth, but the Right have no answers and Labour are the only party on the Left who can make that difference. If you want to save the planet, then vote Labour, indeed join Labour - we need you to make these natural policies of Labour a reality.


  1. Well, I'll politely ignore that post, but re your comment over at mine, could you agree that VAT is the worst tax? Followed closely by Employer's National Insurance.

  2. Utter Bollocks as usual Neil. If we all changed to a Toyota Pious, we'd be engaging in precisely the behaviour you say you're against - rampant consumerism for its own sake. Getting something new we don't need. Aside from all the resources it consumes to make these new vehicles, a Pious carries around a battery pack full of all sorts of nasties that'll take a huge amount of resources to recycle one day.

    As for Labour - these are the clowns who are always telling us we must submit to countless airport expansions with attendant air and noise pollution whilst telling us to travel less WTF?
    This is at the same time as record train fare increases.

  3. Mark, Thatcher doubled VAT so I could guess it was a pretty regressive tax. Not really followed your post as yet, but I am sure you are right.

  4. Urko, I agree with you about the Prius. The point I was making (probably badly) was that this sort of consumerism is not the answer.

    You are also right that Labour has increased train/bus fares (apart from London) and allowed airport expansions. This is totally wrong but Labour are the only party that can make a difference to climate change. Labour will almost certainly remain the largest party on the left, but even if they were replaced by the Greens - the largest party will always rely on public opinion to get into power - without power they can do nothing. Labour need to be more brave - the only way that will happen is if people like you rejoin the party.

  5. Neil, some points well made but do you SERIOUSLY believe Labour and the Tories are so different? You honestly think Labour are not a rich door taking, corporate lobbied bang smack in the middle of the road power grabbing machine?
    I hate to break it to you mate, but they care about alleged anthropogenic global warming as little as the other corporate fat cats.

  6. R&W: "You honestly think Labour are not a rich donor taking, corporate lobbied bang smack in the middle of the road power grabbing machine?"

    You are right but the Tories are completely funded that way, Labour only partly. If political funding is to be cleaned up - it will come from the Labour party. Even the transparency measures introduced in 1998 (that admittedly all parties have circumvented) were opposed by the Tories. Labour unfortunately are influenced by big business, but all is not lost. If you are right and Labour are lost to us, then who do you suggest will get us out of this mess? The Tories we know will always be corrupt and the minor parties never will be in power (or at least not in our lifetimes). Give Labour a go, join us and see what the real situation is, not the biased headlines.

  7. VAT may well have doubled under Thatcher, but it hasn't exactly gone down under Labour, and either way, that's not the point, the point is the EU say that we have to have it and it has to be at least 15%.

  8. Mark, actually you are wrong, VAT has fallen under Labour. They reduced VAT on utility bills from 8% to 5%, it was due to rise to 17.5% under the Tories. Yes, it is the one tax that cannot be reduced without EU approval - this is because it is partly the agreed way for the EU to raise funds.

  9. Let's not argue and bicker, a 3% cut on domestic fuel bills, that's a drop in the bloody ocean among Labour's other tax rises.

    And no, VAT is not the way the EU raises funds. The UK collects £80 bn in VAT, our gross contribution is (from memory) £12 bn or something. They say that there is some tenuous link between the amount of VAT you raise and the contributions you have to pay, but this is smothered by all the other rebates and haggling and crap.

    And saying 'The Tories would have increased it to 17.5%', is a bit daft ...
    a) They didn't DO it, did they?
    b) The tenor of your post is about cutting down on fossil fuels - isn't increasing taxes on them a good way to do it?

  10. Mark, sorry if I was being pedantic? You did say 'VAT hasn't exactly gone down'.

    I agree with you that VAT is a regressive tax - that is a fact. Did I mention anywhere in the article that green taxes was the answer to our problem? You will probably find my actual suggestion even more unpalatable than that. I mentioned the war because I want to bring back rationing. That is how serious we should be taking environmental protection - we need to ration carbon and allow the poorest to sell their share to the richest - progressively reducing everyone's carbon allowance each year.

    As for taxes under Labour. The total tax rate has only gone up a few percent - it is hardly massive - Labour have cut some taxes you know, 3% off income tax and cuts in corporation tax, even fuel and booze taxes have gone up less than they did under the Tories. We are still historically and internationally at low tax levels.

  11. I like to keep things simple.

    You say "we need to ration carbon and allow the poorest to sell their share to the richest - progressively reducing everyone's carbon allowance each year"

    Far simpler to have a big fat carbon tax (which we do - it's called fuel duties, VAT and so on) and dish it out as universal benefits. Those who use less than the average user win out and those who use more than the average user end up subsidising the less-than-average user.

    Assuming that fossil fuels are under-taxed (and I personally doubt they are - our petrol duty is a large multiple of the $80 per tonne of CO2 mentioned in IPCC/Stern report), this leads to EXACTLY the same result.

    But that's too simple and doesn't generate tens of thousands of jobs for people administering the whole thing, does it?.

    I mean, under my suggestion, the granny shivering in a council flat in Newcastle automatically gets her fuel bills paid for by some footballer with an 18 bedroom mansion in Surrey with the doors open all winter. Under your system, how the f*** is said granny going to sell her unused 'credits'?

  12. Mark, if the regressive taxes can be more than compensated for by a progressive CI, then hunky dory. If not, introducing 'green' taxes will hit the poorest the hardest and not really have the desired effect on the rich. With rationing, everyone gets the same carbon ration. Naturally the rich will want to use more than the poor and the poor can sell them any surplus. I am not sure how bureacratic the system would be. I don't think it would be any more expensive to administrate than say - the oyster card in London.

  13. Sorry Neil but I have to disagree with you on that one. Indeed there are so many examples I could use I hardly know where to start, but lets stick to a field in which I do have some expertise - mining.

    I very much dount that you have visited a modern mine and am even more sure you haven't had the pleasure of visiting an "artisinal" mining site.But if you had you wold immediately be struck by one very noticable difference. The big, nasty capitalist mine will be way cleaner. Certainly a mine is a working environment and is hardly Kew Gardens, but compared to a plot infested with garimperos it might be. Your average artisinal site looks like a cross between the Battle of Paschedale and an illegal toxic waste dump. And that's just the visual impact. Typically the poverty strickem peasants use some rather dodgy methdos to process ore. In the Amazon they use mercury to seperat gold from rock. The mercury-gold amalgam is then boiled producing mercury fumes and the residue is chucked in the river.

    Safety is another issue. The peasants don't give a damn about rock falls mudslides and shoddy equipment. Death and mutilation are simply accepted. Who gives a shit about a dead body when there are plenty of starving kids just waiting to become shovel jockeys? The corporate mines on the other hand tend to care, if only because they will have invested time and money in training their people.

    And the final issue which should worry someone who is concerned about the depletion of resources and reserves: artisinal miners cherry pick orebodies. Because their skills and technology are so abismally low they can only profit by taking the rich bits out of an orebody. Once they have done this they depart (leaving an environmental horror story behind them). But they also leave an orebody so raped and abused nobody, regardless of their access to hi-tech, can revive it even if there is still plenty of mineral in the ground.

    Now, having learn that, can you still tell me that the poverty stricken are really the best custodians of the planet?

  14. RM, Where are these minerals, raw materials, manufactured goods, ending up? Probably the West. A lot of these companies are probably sub-contractors for a Western multi-national anyway. But the bottom line is, even with all this environmental degradation - carbon emissions in Asia, Africa, South America are a fraction per capita of the consumer West.

  15. Sub-contractors for western companies? Methinks not. Usually they flog their product to the local criminal fraternity who have calculated that the risks of drive by shootings are far less than working in a dangerous toxc swamp and that the rewards are far greater. This happens even in China (yep, wonderful workers paradise that it is). A mate of mine did some work at a Chinese nickel mine. The town near the place hadd sixteen smelters two official and fourteen owned by apparatchiki. The ore was supplied in two ways:

    The first invlved gangs of youths jumpinhg onto the backs of moving truks and literally shovelling the stuff off the side. The second involved llegal underground workings inside an open pit. These guys used explosives they stole from the mine. The only warning anyone got a blast was imminent was when a bunch of chinese illegals appeared out of the ground moving at higher than usual speed. Apparently at times it was like working under a mortar barrage - something my chum was familiar with having served with the SADF in Angola.

    As for peasants having a lower carbon footprint - don't make me laugh! Everyday I drive to work through a collection of indigenous villages. One of the major traffic hazards (aside from goats and donkeys) is women struggling under burdens of firewood. The area is has a significantly lower tree density then other similar terrain further away. This deforestation is due entirely to the wood chopping activities of the local communities. The fires they build to cook and keep warm in winter are considerably less efficient economically or carbon-wise than electricity or gas.

  16. RM - "The fires they build to cook and keep warm in winter are considerably less efficient economically or carbon-wise than electricity or gas".

    Are you sure about that?

  17. RM: The point I am making is that the poorer you are, the less resources you use. Think of all the household appliances we have in the average household in the West, think of all the efficiency loss in electriity production, think of all the food miles and overeating causing obesity, think of all the heating and air conditioning, and finally think of all the cars.