One of the things that has surprised me about advocates of ecological footprinting (on which basis we have been ‘eating into capital rather than living off the interest’ of the biosphere since the 1980s) and of capitals metrics (where we measure wealth by adding up social, environmental, human, physical and financial capital, and then watch the trends) is that they have not in the past used the narrative that we have been in recession for a long time.
The evidence has been there to make the case for donkey’s years.
So, while I agree that there is an opportunity here, because the economic situation is so high profile and affecting most people personally, the big question is ‘where is the leadership going to come from to make these ideas mainstream?’. There’s even a populist case to be made that we’ve been tricked by always hearing about mean, rather than median, income: the top X% have been getting wealthier at the expense of the rest of us. You don’t even need to reference capitals models or wellbeing metrics to make this case. But even this sort of argument seems beyond those in the political mainstream.
Remember when you were given an injection at school? You were told to look away and then, before you had time to panic, the nurse was telling you it was all over. Maybe the best way to get people to accept something daunting is to tell them it’s happened already.
As our conversation ranged far and wide,we agreed that in these times of economic difficulty and public spending austerity, the suggestion we should question traditional ideas of economic growth seems to most people at best irrelevant and at worst barmy. We didn’t pursue the issue much further but the implication was that it is only when growth feels reasonably secure that we can begin again to ask ‘but what kind of growth?’
Then, this morning, I read a powerful article in the Financial Times headlined ‘spectre of stagnating incomes stalks globe’. Here is a quote from the piece:
‘Median male real US earnings have not risen since 1975. Average real Japanese household income after taxation fell in the decade to mid-2000. And those in German have been falling for 10 years’.
We know from research commissioned by the TUC and the excellent work of the Resolution Foundation that the same is broadly true for the UK. The future looks no better (indeed it looks much worse in the short term for many countries including the UK). The impact is not just on those in the ‘squeezed middle’ but, arguably, on the whole liberal market model.
A second FT article on the same topic concluded thus:
‘Dick Longworth of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is more categorical ‘this is a consumer society and they’re the consumers…if they don’t buy, we don’t survive’
It is important to understand that what we are seeing is not the result of a downward blip but the collapse of the device – excessive household and national borrowing – which disguised the reality for the decade up to 2007. This is a profound crisis of global capitalism in the developed world.
But if you put the FT piece together with the Porritt conversation a surprising possibility emerges. Instead of talking about abandoning traditional growth as some kind of outlandish and unrealistic green vision, how about recognising that for most earners in the West no growth (in their living standards) has been the reality for over a generation.
In other words, the question is not how do we create a different model of growth but how do we adapt to the long drawn out end of the traditional model of growth? Or, to put it another way, how can the quality of our lives and our society improve even if for the majority of citizens disposable incomes (including the social wage of public investment) are not?
Below, I’ve clipped the blog of Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, who took part in one of the events set up chiefly to consult on the content of the draft Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy. At the event, I ran a session on carbon metrics, beginning with the Windfall Game Cllr Leese describes.
The solution to the Windfall Game doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the fact that everyone who has taken part so far has instinctively included all the CO2 in the supply of the product or service we asked them to consider the impact of. Which is the point of the whole exercise.
So, I now feel even more confident in asserting that the consumption-based perspective is the most appropriate way of understanding our carbon footprint. It’s the one we instinctively use. No-one, asked to estimate the footprint of their flying to Barcelona, only includes the emissions from vehicle fuel for that part of their drive to the airport that takes place in their own authority, offsets it against the CO2 from the energy they save by not being at home, then excludes the flight emissions as these aren’t included in NI186 or national accounts. Yet that is the logic of the machinery and metrics that government has built at local and national level since Kyoto.
Why have we so meekly accepted the use of this perspective in policy-making? And is there still time to take the much more easily-understood consumption-based approach?
Fascinating meeting of the Environmental Advisory Panel yesterday evening which included a few guests from elsewhere in Greater Manchester as we were discussing the city-region’s climate change action plan. There was a challenging section on metrics.
Pretty much every climate change action plan including Manchester’s is based on reducing our direct emissions, challenging enough in itself. However, if you look at indirect emissions as well, the total emissions based on our carbon footprint, then the task becomes even more daunting. But fact is for the last couple of decades our direct emissions have been coming down largely because we have been exporting them, principally to the developing world. Not the path to a sustainable future.
The session on metrics began with a game. You have had a lucky windfall – a £1,000 to spend , and a choice of nine things to spend the whole thousand pounds on. Which has the lowest emissions? Not surprisingly, spending it on home energy efficiency measures scored best, and a European city-break ( travelling by air ) scored worst. In between, champagne socialists will be delighted to know, spending a grand on a champagne party for your family had far less emissions than buying a thousand pound bike, lap-top, or blowing it all on low cost clothes for the family. On this basis the Conservative Party might also like to re-consider their ban on champagne when their conference comes back to Manchester in the autumn.
Below is another example I’m drawing on for my behaviour change work. I know this can be badged as ‘pay as you drive’. But, given how high young drivers’ premiums are, what must be going on here is young adults taking up the chance to demonstrate, though the use of GPS tracker in their car, that they are a responsible driver, in return for a premium that reflects this.
In which case, this is use of behaviour effects around Commitment and Consistency. Our brains work really hard to be consistent with commitments we’ve made.
So this is another one for the databank, to be inspired by when we’re considering how to help people adopt more self-sufficient or more sustainable behaviours.
Car insurance ‘smartbox’ that could lower young drivers’ premiums
Device assesses behaviour such as speed and braking, then calculates a premium accordingly
Are you aged between 17 and 25 and reckon you’re a good driver but are forced to pay hefty insurance premiums due to the antics of your peers? If so, new pay-how-you-drive insurance policies are aimed at drivers such as you.
Hi-tech computer telematics will track by satellite not just when you are driving, but how fast, how you take corners, how you brake and even the car’s G-force. It has been dubbed the “spy in the car” and now some of Britain’s biggest insurers are introducing it as a way to offer young drivers, especially 17- to 25-year-old males, an affordable level of insurance.
The system was pioneered by a company called Insure The Box, but now the Co-op is wheeling out its offering, while the AA is thought to be not far behind. Marmalade, an insurer specialising in young drivers, is also launching a similar product next month.
Pay-how-you-drive policies are aimed at under-25s, the age group most likely to be involved in a car crash. Recently 17-year-old Jake Redshaw hit the headlines when he was quoted £33,000 by the AA to insure a three-year-old Vauxhall Corsa. The AA claims the quote was a mistake but even then the cheapest fully comprehensive quote Jake was offered was £6,000, twice the value of the car.
So how do pay-how-you-drive policies work? A “smartbox” is installed in the car which monitors the driving habits and skills of the driver, with premiums based on driving behaviour.
Insure The Box measures drivers’ mileage, when they drive, and how they drive. Excessive G-forces, sudden braking or cornering and long periods of driving without a break are monitored.
Policyholders are charged by the mile and motorists initially pay for 6,000 miles. Once these are used up they can buy more miles as they need them. Policyholders are rewarded with “free” miles if they drive safely.
I’ve been thinking about the phenomenally successful Groupon and wondering what lessons it holds for UK local government and public services, as we start to use behavioural effects to improve services. This is particularly salient for me, as I’m currently … Continue reading →
I saw this post (h/t @bankfieldbecky) and thought it highlighted the dilemma faced by policy-makers working out how to ‘do’ low carbon. This blog presents one side of the story, I’ve chosen to put the other side, here and also in the comments below the original blog post.
James argues for a moral revolution on climate change, similar to that witnessed in the Arab Spring, but I don’t think the analogy works. It’s not as though Egyptians, etc had ever felt as though they were choosing to live with no voice. In contrast, the high-carbon behaviours that are putting our species at risk are ones that we, as people in the developed world, are choosing. Not in full knowledge of the throughput of natural resources or an understanding of natural limits or awareness, but choosing nonetheless. In these circumstances, the idea of an analagous moral breakthrough (“We’re not standing for this any more; and we’re going to put ourselves in mortal danger to say so”) doesn’t stack up.
I gave a talk on the ethics of climate change last night to the good people of 10:10, “a movement of people, schools, businesses and organisations, cutting their carbon 10% at a time”. They’re in a tiny, buzzing office down a back alley in London, and from that little spot a handful of exceptional people co-ordinate the carbon-cutting activities of more than one hundred thousand individuals, thousands of businesses, schools, colleges, universities and other organisations, including 155 local councils representing over 24 million people. They’re sometimes in the Skype Hut (a soundproofing measure) liaising with other 10:10 campaigns in 40 countries. The team involved are environmental X-Men, each one with a different superpower. If you let your guard down for a second, you’ll find them inspirational.
What do you say to a roomful of committed, bright, energetic people, who are actually doing something about climate change? I trotted out some moral arguments for action on climate change – trying to do something about the thought that morality is a turn off. I hear that a lot – the claim that we ought to find reasons other than moral ones for fighting climate change. Maybe we should talk about energy independence or saving money instead. You can read the talk here, but it is informal, not a careful piece for a journal.
It got me thinking about moral revolutions. There are moments in human history when the stars line up and people insist on something else entirely, largely or anyway partly because they think that it’s right. Think of the end of slavery in the US, campaigns against child labour or in favour of suffrage. Think of the Arab Spring and the part of that motivated by the thought that autonomy is right and despotism is wrong. I wonder what it is that shifts moral talk from irritating moralising that no one wants to hear, to a reason for standing in front of a tank. Any idea?
Anyone who has read Tim Jackson’s brilliant Prosperity Without Growth will be aware that there is plenty of evidence of industries and economies becoming more carbon efficient (per £ in the economy), but no examples of absolute decoupling: economic growth with falling throughput of natural resources / emissions.
So there is a massive question mark over the concept of ‘sustainable growth’ – not that you’d know this from listening to most mainstream politicians.
And so I occasionally find myself in conversations where we try to imagine what a decoupled economy would look like; I know good people who believe that economic growth is possible without breaching environmental limits. This economy would be much more localised than at present, less focused on goods and more on (largely virtual) services.
This came to mind when I came across this morning the launch of the new album by Leeds band the Kaiser Chiefs. Have a look yourself <actually, you can’t anymore – March 2012 edit>. I like it as a potential example of the sort of non-local thing we’d buy and sell in a busy, high-GDP economy that can’t afford much use of natural resources. Innovative, engaging, co-creating (with such a sense of ownership that even a CD addict might give in and start downloading): what’s not to like?