Key evils of neoliberal free market economics: climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, increasing homelessness

Opinion piece by George Preddy.

George Preddey is a former atmospheric physicist (DSIR), futurist (CFF), tertiary teacher (VUW), disaster manager (MoCD), chief adviser (MoE), and international tertiary education consultant (ADB, ILO, OECD, UNESCO, World Bank).

 

Two contrasting colour illustrations on the back cover of the NZ Listener (July 2-8) are disquietingly reminiscent of contrasting sketches that appeared in a 1981 report on climate disaster by the Commission For the Future, 35 years ago.   These illustrations and sketches feature the Beehive as in 1981 and 2016 and as inundated later this century by rising sea levels, now unequivocally attributed by climate scientists to climate disruption.

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A conjecture that CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause climate disruption was published 120 years ago in 1896 by the Swedish physicist Arrhenius.  Unequivocal proof of Arrhenius’ conjecture has been provided by decades of peer-reviewed science consolidated in the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR5, 2013).

A strong driver of climate disruption and sea level rise is neoliberal free market economics, in many respects an ideology rather than a science.   A truly “free market” is a myth since free trade in child labour or heroin would be unacceptable, even to economists, as should free trade in carbon.   The belief that the so-called “invisible hand” will optimally match supply and demand defies rational explanation.   There is compelling evidence that the so-called “trickle down” theory simply doesn’t work.   Indeed data recently released by Statistics New Zealand shows that the divide between the rich and the poor is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In 2016, some 305,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty, some in cars.

Another driver of climate disruption is outlined in the Limits to Growth (L2G) report published by the Club of Rome in 1972.   L2G describes a set of computer simulations of a future Earth.   Its business-as-usual (BAU) projection predicts overshoot and collapse of the global economy, environment, and human population from about 2020 onwards.   L2G’s central argument, rejected by most economists and politicians but self-evident to most scientists, is that growth within any closed system including the Earth’s closed biosphere is ultimately unsustainable and inevitably leads to overshoot and collapse.   L2G’s BAU projection has accurately tracked 40 years of subsequent statistical data collected by many international agencies, and accordingly should be taken very seriously.   So too should the warning of a preeminent scientist in 1954, at that time describing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that continues unabated today but equally applicable, in my view, to climate disruption and to overshoot and collapse from about 2020 onwards.

 

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

(Professor Albert Einstein, 1954)

 

Another indicator of overshoot and collapse is the increasing global divide between the rich and the poor demonstrated by global increasing homelessness.   This divide is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty (2013) argues that the divide between the rich and the poor will continue to widen as long as political decision-makers continue to tax income rather than wealth.   According to Piketty’s reasoning, New Zealand should progressively shift from taxing income, especially of low wage workers, to taxing wealth, especially wealth derived from capital gains (currently tax-free).

 

Climate disruption is a compelling example of overshoot and collapse.   AR5 predicts emissions growth driven by population and economic growth (without “additional mitigating measures”) will result in a mean global temperature increase of 3.7 to  4.8 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, contravening the agreement among 195 nations at the 2015 Paris climate summit to limit global warming to 2°C without actually specifying any “additional mitigating measures”.   UK Met Office, NASA, and NOAA data all confirm 2015 as the hottest year on record since systematic reporting began in 1850; a new world record is likely to be set in 2016.

 

According to AR5 (2013), unabated emissions by 2100 will eventually cause a 2.3m sea-level rise per 1°C of mean global temperature increase.   However AR5 is not the whole story.   Radar soundings of Antarctic glaciers have revealed troughs under the ice sheet that when inevitably flooded by relatively warm sea water will trigger major ice sheet collapses sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 10m.   An improved ice sheet model in 2016 predicts major ice sheet collapse over the next few decades in response to currently predicted levels of global warming.   During the Pliocene era 4 million years ago when the planet was 2-3°C warmer than today, sea level was 20m higher, attributed largely to collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

 

The Royal Society of New Zealand recently hosted a screening of “Thirty Million”, a documentary film about the devastating consequences of sea level rise for the low-lying nation of Bangladesh over the next few decades: refer http://www.thirtymillionfilm.org.   “Thirty Million” is the number of climate refugees predicted to be displaced by sea level rise by 2050 from Bangladesh’s current population of 160 million.   About 200 million climate refugees globally are predicted to be displaced by 2050: hundreds of times greater than the current influx of refugees into Europe driven by drought and ongoing conflict.

 

“We have enough knowledge to act, but it is the collective acting that is required now

…If we are not careful then we will be definitely suicidal if not evil, a word attributable

to those who have the power to act and have not used it.”

(Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, 2016)

 

New Zealand’s current population (4.5 million) is 0.061 percent of the global population (7,400 million).  Its annual refugee quota of 750 was recently increased to 1,000.   In my view, the revised quota should be increased to at least 0.061 percent of 200 million over the next three decades: i.e. 5,000 annually, especially from low-lying Pacific Island nations.   Even a five-fold increase does not fully compensate for New Zealand’s relatively large per capita contribution to climate disruption nor for its evil policy choices.

New Zealand’s response to climate disruption reflects poorly on the integrity of a Government that achieved pariah status including a “Fossil-of-the Day” award at the 2015 Paris climate summit.   Its commitment to an 11% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared very unfavourably with the commitments of the European Union to a 40% reduction, the United States to 28%, and China to 20%.   Equally unacceptable, under current policy settings New Zealand’s net emissions are officially projected by the Ministry for the Environment to increase by 159% by 2030, not to reduce by 11% by 2030 as promised at Paris, nor to reduce by 50% by 2050 as promised by the “50-by-50” election slogan used shamelessly by National during its successful 2008 election campaign.   The National Government to date has not been held accountable for this broken election promise.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s climate protection policies ranked fourth worst among 60+ countries according to a reputable Climate Change Performance Index (2015) and its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) ranked 25th of 26 countries according to a World Bank review (2014).   Accordingly, New Zealand’s ETS should be scrapped entirely in my view and replaced by:

–   a carbon budget that emphasises essential outcomes determined by robust science rather than by shonky carbon pricing inputs based on spurious and possibly fraudulent economics; and

–   an inescapable increasing carbon tax/charge applied at points of fossil carbon extraction, importation or emission and remitted in full to the public to compensate them for increasing fossil energy power bills.

Increasing homelessness is one of the inevitable consequence of a rampant neoliberal free market economy in my view.   In Bangladesh the immediate driver is sea level rise.   In New Zealand the immediate driver is property investment, often by speculators who are manifestly increasing their wealth through huge, tax-free capital gains.   The solutions to increasing homelessness, both locally and globally, in my view are for political decision-makers including the National Government to:

–   consider whether neoliberal free market economics is a fundamentally flawed ideology that may have evil consequences;

–   consider Professor Einstein’s warning about the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that, in my view, is also applicable to climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, and increasing homelessness;

–   increase New Zealand’s annual refugee intake quota five-fold to at least 5,000 climate refugees annually;

–   accept Piketty’s rationale for taxing wealth rather than taxing income, and, having the power to act, use it;

–   enact appropriate tax regimes including a carbon tax/charge to address climate disruption and a capital gains tax to address increasing homelessness.

 

 

Teaching kids about climate change

Uma Campbell writes about how and why we must teach our children, even at a young age, about climate change:

 

Learning about the importance of climate change is important for every child. This may seem like a rather advanced project for kids, but there are ways you can tailor the topic to fit kids of all ages.

Why do kids need to learn about climate change at such a young age? Kids will be on this planet much longer than adults, so it is in their benefit to nurture and care for the Earth to protect it for as long as possible. Scientists believe there is still time to limit climate change to only 2 degrees Celsius, so now is the perfect time to teach kids how to live sustainably. How can you get started? Follow these tips:

Explain the tough concepts.

No matter how smart your child is, climate change is a difficult concept to understand, but there are ways to make it easier. One way is to visually show them different climate change concepts through science experiments. For example, take an empty aquarium tank and turn it upside in your backyard when it’s hot and sunny outside. Place a thermometer on the outside of the tank and one on the inside, too. Then, watch as the temperatures rise at different rates. Talk to your kids about how this is what is happening to the Earth, too. Gases (or in this example, heat) are trapped inside the atmosphere and causing our temperatures to rise as a result. When kids are able to see it demonstrated this way, they will be more likely to understand what you’re talking about.

Visit museums.

Find a museum in your area that has programmes designed to teach kids about the environment. There may be day camps for your kids to sign up for that will help them learn about the importance of saving the environment with other kids their age.

 Test their problem solving skills.

To make the concepts of climate change applicable to children’s lives, go through a kid-friendly workbook designed to teach kids about sustainable ways of living. In this workbook, children will have to answer questions such as “how would you reduce water use at your school during a drought?” or “what are the most important needs in your community involving climate change and global warming?” Tackle these questions together so you can help your kids apply what they know so far to their own lives.

Teach them green habits.

The sooner kids begin to adopt greener ways of living, the better off the planet will be, but it’s up to you to instill these habits in them at an early age. Show them how easy it is to make energy efficient choices, such as riding a bike or walking instead of taking the car when you’re just traveling a few blocks. Turning off the water as you brush your teeth and flipping the light switch as you leave a room will do a world of difference for the environment, so why not start now?

 

 

Future security priorities – military hardware or climate mitigation?

Frances Palmer from Auckland reflects on our current priorities and how little understanding there is of where the real threats are:

No military threats to our security were cited to justify a $20 billion upgrade to New Zealand’s military hardware over the next 15 years. It was stated that the last time New Zealand made such a major investment in military hardware was for the Vietnam War. Few of us want to be drawn into further military misadventures of empire. It is imperative that the world develops more humane and relevant notions of security for the 21st century – a broad understanding of causes of conflict and appropriate solutions.

Imagine how $20 billion would enhance our security if spent on health, homelessness and climate change mitigation? Evidently government doesn’t understand scientist’s warnings that climate change will become a key security issue if lip service in Paris is not matched by action. It will multiply risk for all other security issues. (Jonathan Boston) Priority investment is required now to reduce atmospheric carbon rises, which will generate disastrous impact chains on health, farming and the economy over forthcoming decades. Climate change doesn’t fit traditional definitions of ‘enemy’, but as security threats go, no other compares.  But military hardware won’t fix it.

Protest is not terrorism: the Maritime Crimes Bill

Protest is not terrorism: a ‘protest’ against Maritime Crimes Amendments Bill

Frances Palmer, ECO supporter and local environmental activist from Auckland, argues that the Maritime Crimes Bill will enhance “security” for visiting ships whilst placing our democratic rights at risk:

It’s over three decades since peace protests on Auckland Harbour and ‘water-borne’ protests like government’s Moruroa ship visits. Do New Zealanders realise that a Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill being rushed through Parliament will classify future ship-borne protests as ‘terrorism‘?

We should ‘protest’, vigorously question, any attempt to redefine ‘protest’ as ‘terrorism’. Such shifts threaten democracy, the right to express opposition to any questionable, contestable policy. New Zealanders cannot permit labels of ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ loaded with inferences of ‘enemy’ and ‘security threat’, to cynically tarnish a tradition of ethical protest crucial in our history; nor to threaten well-meaning people from exercising democratic rights to defend issues like peace, justice, human rights and the environment.

We should also protest such bills being rushed through under the radar. Inadequate public consultation is an undermining of peoples’ right to express alternative opinions from that of any government. Facilitating broad public debate should not be perceived as a security nuisance. It is democracy. It is part of what protects our society from terror or terrorism.

Perhaps the Bill aims to enhance a sense of ‘security’ for visiting warships, such as visits looming, sponsored by weapons giants like Lockheed Martin, with a weapons expo to match the merry event. Given the sickening violence we see such weapons do daily overseas, most Aucklanders would prefer to protect our well-earned reputation as a ‘liveable’ Peace City, and the real sense of security that comes with that.