Essentials of Life and Death – part 6 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 6th in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this part of the essay, I focus on some sensitive issues about life and death, which have become even more polarised due to pandemic policy responses.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right (or right at the bottom of this post). To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either visit the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Agricultural Transformation

The impacts of current levels of climate change on agriculture are already scary. The modelling of what could happen when we pass 1.5 degrees global ambient warming is much scarier. Our civilisation is based on grains, which feed us humans about 80 percent of our calories, either directly or via animal feed. With 1.5 degrees warming the risk becomes high for prolonged droughts or unseasonal frosts harming the production in multiple major grain exporting regions around the world in the same year. Therefore, our agricultural and food systems need urgent diversification in ways that do not increase, but reduce carbon emissions.

The starting point is problematic. The agriculture and food sectors around the world are characterised by the expansion of big business. Massive multinationals are involved in production of grains, in their shipping, and in the trading of contracts for their purchase and sale, either now or in future. Around the world commercial cropping has displaced diverse forms of agriculture, with the farms growing larger as the fields grow larger. Seeking the economies of scaled production, with the use of large amounts of agrochemicals and machines has been the direction for decades. Many countries had given up on having an agricultural policy, and many countries do not even have ownership of their own emergency stores of grains anymore. Everything about this system must change, and change fast.

Each country will be different, but certain key things are relevant for any context. Some of these ideas may seem contradictory, but they are necessary alongside each other in order to try to reduce the harm from a multi-breadbasket failure that would collapse the international trade in grains upon which nearly all of us depend at present.  

First, a change of direction towards agroecology is essential, where the soils of the land are restored, mixed cropping techniques are reintroduced and less chemicals are used. Connected to that, much more public funding for permaculture gardens in urban areas is important. Second, the urgent development of high calorie alternatives to rain-fed grains, and to high-protein alternatives to meats are needed, which will include greenhouse, hydroponics and novel foods. These two approaches are quite different, with the former approach appearing less industrial and the latter appearing more so. Ideological bias towards one or the other will be unhelpful in what is an emergency situation to try and keep humanity nourished during the coming disruptions. Like many analysts, I consider it unlikely we can feed the world with small permaculture gardens, and I do not want to risk mass starvation while trying that due to passionately held theory. Rather, for a swift change in agriculture, both government funding and credit guidance to banks will be necessary in ways that alter both the practices of big farms and agricultural businesses on the one hand, and multiplying small alternatives on the other.

An energy carbon tax would feed through supply chains to incentivize changes in agricultural practices and make some forms of meat more expensive, to reflect the carbon footprint involved (see part 2 of this series). However, given that societies need to reduce the meat proportion of diets rapidly for both carbon footprint and grain availability for human consumption, a tax on animal feed is probably necessary. Other taxes on food could be reduced, and the tax system brought into line with policy objectives of enabling nutrition through a climate disrupted era.

As disruptions to food supplies are increasingly likely, it is not appropriate to leave national reserves in private hands, or for multinational commodities firms to play a key role in prices and availability. Therefore, renationalisation of reserves and the break up of some of the large multinationals in this sector would help increase resilience and be a useful adaptation measure. Of course, these companies will fund and promote research reports that argue otherwise, and thus obfuscate the simple principle that in a crisis we do not want our ability to eat being determined by profit-maximising international companies.

What I am describing here is not an incremental agenda that might marginally change government budgets. This transformation of agriculture needs to begin immediately and involve budgets similar to what is currently spent on the military. Otherwise, we will not have made a serious attempt at saving lives. Therefore, measures for agricultural transformation could be candidates for financing through the new international mechanisms I described in Part 5 of this essay.

Health Sector Reform

Climate change effects on economics, society, and politics also has implications for how to promote public health. Research indicates that more diseases already – and will increasingly – spill over from wildlife into human populations because of the damage we have done to the environment. During the recent pandemic, we have witnessed how the policy response from governments has correlated closely with the interests of pharmaceutical companies. Novel vaccines have been prioritised above other measures, such as scientifically-proven benefits of nutritional supplements, medicinal herbs, generic drugs, and the empowerment of employees to self-isolate. The influence also appears in how vaccines from companies that generate profits in the west have been favoured by their governments over vaccines from elsewhere, like Russia and China. For decades, there has been scholarly critique of the commercial influence over the whole paradigm of medicine, favouring profit-making drugs over holistic and complementary approaches, on the methodologies for the authorisation of medicines, and the role of patents in making drugs unaffordable to many people or creating a large drain on public finances. In addition, the process of ‘professional closure’ which occurs in all areas of expertise to raise the status and income of professionals, has meant the corporate-shaped medical profession has maintained a negative attitude towards other approaches to health and wellbeing, and to community-based approaches to that. Therefore, the opportunities for those professionals to learn through engagement with wider forms of knowledge, as well as the ability of the general public to integrate different forms of knowledge on health and wellness has been compromised. In the face of increasing disruptions to societies around the world and the increasing demands on the medical sector, this situation will change. It is best that such a change is guided, rather than just occurs out of necessity, as the latter means more people might be sick and die than otherwise.

As part of how we adapt to climate change and the difficulties it will cause, governments should massively increase investment in, and incentives for, non-corporate and community-based approaches to health and wellness. A range of behaviours in society, relating to diet, commuting, working arrangements, opportunities for physical activities, availability of play and community engagement, all need assessing and supporting. In addition, a range of non-medical therapeutic support for mental and physical health and wellbeing should be supported. A paradigm shift that restores health and wellbeing as a community-supported goal, where cost is not a barrier to people exploring how best to look after themselves, is key. Given the psychological distress that is likely from increasing societal disruptions and worrying news, community-based emotional support will need to be a key part of that new agenda. Even the World Health Organisation has recognised this need, although its attention to it is only beginning.

Family Planning Access

The relationship between population growth and overconsumption of natural resources has been a controversial topic. Population growth is highest in countries with poverty, and when asked, a large proportion of women in low-income countries say that they would like to have more control over their family sizes. But the experts who write about problems from overpopulation are nearly always from the global North. They are accused of downplaying the fact that although low-income countries have higher rates of population growth, the carbon and ecological footprint per person in such countries is many times less than in high-income countries. Therefore, from an environmental perspective, whether it is about reducing impact on the environment or preparing for a world with more scarce resources, it is as important to focus on the power of women to make informed choices about pregnancy. That means ensuring that women and girls worldwide have access to sex education, support of their rights and dignity, more opportunities in life, as well as access to birth control. That does not mean encouraging potential parents to have less children, but to provide them with the options not to have children. For instance, in some situations high infant mortality rates mean that it has been customary to have many children – therefore improving health would help that concern. Just because some people have approached this topic in an inappropriate way, does not mean that helping reduce population growth in all societies in an empowering way is not a sensible environmental policy.

The importance of enabling adults to have fewer children means no real green revolutionary movement should accept without challenge those religious institutions and their leaders who seek to reduce access to family planning. It seems incoherent to me that some applaud the Catholic Pope for positive communications on the environment while not addressing the Catholic Church’s stance on population and voluntary birth control. But it is also important that the overpopulation discussion does not focus on low-income countries alone. A child born into a rich country is likely to have a carbon and environmental footprint well over a dozen times greater than someone born into an average situation in a low-income country. Some high-income countries have been encouraging their citizens to have more children, due to concerns about an aging population. That is not compatible with our environmental predicament. Instead, if a citizenry are deciding to have fewer children then the government of a nation should look at ways to respond to that without trying to increase the birth rate.

Reducing the birth-rate alone will not help with carbon cuts, drawdown, adaptation, or the rest of the ClimatePlus agenda that I outlined in Part 1 of this essay. Indeed, focusing on it could become a distraction. However, if it is complemented with a focus on reducing and equalising consumption levels around the world, then slowing the rate of population growth will be useful and have a widespread and long-lasting effect. Unfortunately, this nuanced approach is still often condemned as racist, in ways that make invisible the women across the global South who nearly always state their interest in more birth control and smaller family sizes. As such, the use of racial awareness to invite outrage against a fair discussion of this issue might itself reflect some self-involved white privilege.

Voluntary Assisted Dying

The topic of voluntary assisted suicide is very delicate and can evoke strong emotions. The idea that we might choose when to die is upsetting to some people, sometimes because of a deep sadness about people committing suicide and a real concern about how assisted dying could be abused. Yet part of the reason that most of us do not pay attention to this issue is because death is little discussed in modern cultures and is hidden away. The three grandparents I visited in nursing homes before they died all wanted to be able to leave this world earlier than they did. It was particularly painful for my parents to witness their suffering. My grandparents were being kept alive partly out of the habit of the medical system to keep people alive even when that was against the wishes of the people in their care. It appears that to be completely against compassionately letting the terminally ill or the elderly to pass away when they want to, is an escape from ethical complexity for a modern health profession. To change that stance would require more oversight than currently the medical profession has.

I would like to see voluntary assisted dying available more widely but more regulated than currently in Switzerland. Key is the process of permission. I prefer a system where a number of pre-registered friends or family would need to agree for the process to go ahead. For instance, well ahead of a situation where we would seek this form of assistance, we would nominate 5 people, of whom 3 would need to agree, including one person who is a registered medical doctor. That would mean the law would need to be completely different, as currently anyone knowing about someone making plans for assisted suicide might be investigated by the police. That I would mention this matter in relation to the environmental crisis might be shocking to some people. The implication is that because humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of our home, that we should stop keeping people alive if they don’t want to be due to terminal illnesses. Yes, it is the argument I am making. Does that mean I am suggesting the elderly have less right to life? No. I am arguing that in normal times we shouldn’t be torturing our elderly due to our cultural aversion to death, while in difficult situations, we should think even more about providing options for people who are suffering to seek voluntary assisted suicide. When I hear people state religious reasons against such alleviation of suffering, I find it difficult to recognize love in their sentiments, but rather I hear what Lao Tsu described as the situation where love and spirituality dies and is replaced by moral statements and performance. It is important that the environmental movement do not shy away from the most important matters of our lives, in order to seek favour with this or that group, or avoid shaming, which is one reason why I have raised these matters of life and death in this essay.

You can subscribe to my blog by using the box on the right, or at the bottom of this post. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either visit the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by follow the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. A list of previous parts of this essay is available.

Money Makes the World Go Down – part 3 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 3rd in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  Having looked at taxation and market reform in the last part, here I turn to that even sexier topic of monetary reform and currency innovation, and how to transform the operating codes of our economy that to alter behaviours in fair ways.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

Banking Transformation

Most people, including politicians, still do not understand that in advanced economies well over 90 percent of all our monetary transactions are not in government issued currency. Our electronic payments and the bank transfers use the private ledgers of private banks and the systems that they have established to transact between themselves. What we are paying and receiving are units of the bank’s commitment to us. The “money” that sits in our private bank accounts was not created by government but by the banks themselves when they issued loans, or (much less by comparison) took in physical cash deposits. The problem with our money supply being created by private banks is that they decide how much new credit money is created and what for. Therefore, in most countries they lend most of it for property, which warps the price of property and therefore creates a debt-enslaved ‘house owning’ group and others renting precariously month by month. In addition, because they charge interest, there is more debt in the world than money to pay it off, which means that the money must be earned, paid to service debts, then spent by the bank or its shareholders so to be earned again, in a cycle which is never perfect, especially when high levels of inequality mean that some people remove the money from circulation (by neither lending or spending it into the real economy). That means an expanding amount of loans are needed to keep the system running smoothly and avoid a scarcity of money leading to job losses, bankruptcies, loan foreclosures and house repossessions. Banks will only issue more loans for activities that they assess will generate the necessary profits to pay interest. Therefore, the economy must expand whether a government or population wishes it to, or chooses to focus on measures other than increasing GDP (gross domestic product). This compulsion to growth the money supply or risk economic instability is called a Monetary Growth Imperative.

That imperative to grow is especially problematic because a decoupling of natural resource consumption and carbon emissions on the one hand, and GDP on the other, has not occurred significantly at an international level, with some countries decoupling only by importing products from abroad. Overall efficiencies that lead to reduction of resources or pollution per item produced has not reduced overall consumption of natural resources and pollution. Therefore, the Monetary Growth Imperative that arises from the nature of our banking and monetary systems means that a society will be prevented from effective climate change mitigation and regeneration without monetary reform. The current monetary system does not allow a steady-state economy that stays the same size with the same level of transactions. That compulsion to grow the economy also compromises the ability for us to adapt to disruptions, as there is a requirement for GDP to keep increasing to avoid the negative effects of the money becoming scarce. Unfortunately, the ‘degrowth movement’ has largely ignored or downplayed this aspect of the monetary system, and instead preferred to argue that all societies need is for our leaders to deprioritise their attention to GDP and the problem will go away. That could be an easier position to take for scholars and activists who imagine themselves as the educators of people, rather than recognise how we are engaged in a struggle against anti-democratic forces. A realisation of the latter, implies very different tactics than more nice conferences and books – tactics more in the realm of organising counter-veiling power to the banks, and preparing for the backlash.  

Another problem from the current monetary system is the anti-democratic power of the bond markets. Currently the way governments create the money that they need additional to taxes is by selling bonds, which are bought by banks that actually create the money in the process. That provides a ridiculously powerful position to those banks, as their views on government policies affect whether the government can access the money. That creates a situation where a government is always concerned about a crisis in confidence in the bond markets. That is not democratic and restricts the degrees of freedom for a government to pursue a bold #ClimatePlus agenda (described in my first part of this essay). One answer to the two problems I have described is a dual approach of scaling back the amount of money being created by private banks, and increasing the amount of money being created by central banks and governments. Therefore, governments would no longer sell bonds, but create digital cash and sell or lend this to banks and other financial intermediaries, and businesses, that would in turn then lend it out further or spend it. Some of the money would be spent into circulation directly by the government. An independent group would oversee the amount of money created by the government to avoid election cycle manipulation. This approach has been dubbed “sovereign money”. Not liking the potential to reduce their power and profits, the public relations firms working for private banks have set out to demonise central bank digital currencies (CBDC) through conspiracy theories that it would curtail freedom. That is despite how CBDCs could be designed to provide complete privacy for daily transaction amounts within national borders, and at least more than the current systems of electronic payments that are monitored by multiple companies (a subject I return to below, when discussing Basic Services Vouchers). Without these monetary reforms, trying to mitigate, adapt, restore, regenerate and make reparations will be as impossible as swimming against a riptide. Therefore monetary reform has to be central to a #RealGreenRevolution.

In addition to monetary reform, another type of banking reform is necessary to harness the massive power of banks to support a ClimatePlus agenda. This is the role of credit guidance. Banks would be required to curtail lending to carbon intensive projects unless securing a specific exemption, and also to maintain a significant percentage of their lending to enterprises that register with the government as working on mitigation, drawdown, adaptation or regeneration activities. The individual loan decisions would be made by the banks, as well as the terms and costs of the loans, but a certain percentage of all lending would have to go to such activities, and so if the bank wanted to expand its lending for other activities, it would have to expand its lending to ClimatePlus related business activities by the same proportion. The ideas for useful business activities that relate to the necessary transition of economies would come from local entrepreneurs, based on their local knowledge, but suddenly those people and projects that respond to the needs to our predicament would have better access to credit than ever before. The use of credit guidance in this way has been a tool used around the world by governments that have sought to shape the trajectory of their economic development.

In addition to reprogramming the money system to make it help – not hinder – the ClimatePlus agenda, it is also important to pluralise the means of exchange in ways that help people cooperate. The main way to do that is a massive investment in the establishing and growth of community-owned and not-for-profit ‘collaborative credit’ networks. These networks use their own currency, which is merely a unit that measures transactions between participants, and can only be used within the network. Such networks can enable local collaboration and trade, in ways that are not dependent on people earning money from the market economy, or on the ongoing stability of national or international monetary systems. That is important for adapting communities to increased risk of global financial volatility, as well as encouraging re-localisation of production and consumption. Local governments should become key organisers and/or participants in such collaborative credit systems. Some of the systems could focus on small business, while others can focus on individuals, or both. Technological dependence would need to be avoided through the use of open source software systems and physical means of transaction as well as digital.

To benefit from major government support, for-profit business barter networks (also known as trade exchanges) would need to sign up to various standards for their professional performance. Then regulations could be upgraded to make it easier for them to operate in all countries. Digital tokens which derive their value from speculation (e.g. crypto currencies) are entirely different from collaborative credit networks and business barter networks. Such currencies should not be outlawed but require targeted regulations to reduce their carbon footprint. A global carbon energy tax should be set at a level that would mean certain crypto currencies would be less favourable. However, as that will take time to implement, and there are unprecedented energy demands from ‘proof-of-work’ cryptocurrencies, they should all be given a deadline to move to far more energy-efficient code, or be banned from interaction with the financial system or mention in legal contracts. (NB: as a libertarian socialist I do not agree with the counter-factual argument that Bitcoin is not a problem due to its carbon footprint, and notice that – despite years of critique and huge financial capacity – the crypto industry has done nothing significant on this issue voluntarily, just some PR; so it is sensible to recommend regulation of speculation and greed when it is particularly counterproductive).

Basic Services Vouchers

Very few of us live in ways where we produce the food, water, fuel and other items that we consume. Therefore, the current economic model requires all of us to either sell our time within the market or to a government agency for a wage, or if we have assets, lease access to them or successfully speculate with them, in order to generate an income to cover our costs of living. With the levels of automation displacing employment, the need for a full time job to cover costs of living has been recognised as problematic. A situation where countries consider creating more jobs of any kind to keep people earning to pay for their costs reflects both a peculiar approach to life and drives consumption. In response, some people have argued for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to be paid to every person, whether they are employed or not, or need it or not. I am against this idea for a number of reasons. I do not believe in public money being given to people (or companies) that are already relatively well off in society. Neither do I believe that governments can afford it if using the current monetary system, and therefore a UBI would involve major cuts to welfare that targets the most in need. If UBI existed, governments would argue there is no need for free provision of basic services of health and education, as everything could occur through the market. Then if inflation rose, suddenly the income poor could be a lot worse off if they were not able to find work to supplement their UBI.

Instead of the UBI, I believe that Basic Services Vouchers (BSV) should be provided to anyone who self-declares their personal assets to be below a certain threshold (assets including all kinds of savings, investments and properties). These vouchers could be in physical or digital form, and accepted by any person or organisation. However, only registered cooperatives (of any size), small-to-medium sized companies (SMEs) and government-owned companies (local or national) could open accounts to receive the vouchers, and have the facility to exchange them for national currency through a clearing house (owned either by a central bank or the financial ministry of the government). Individual users could also exchange them with each other but not have the facility to cash out into national fiat currency. The vouchers would be issued by an agency working with a central bank, which would provide the backing for the vouchers in the form of a proportion of central bank fiat currency (not necessarily a full 1-2-1 backing, as the backing also comes in the form of the legal requirement for the government to accept the vouchers as payment). Any payment services provider could provide voucher accounts to the end users (i.e. not just banks). Loans of vouchers would not be allowed and neither could these payment providers enable transfers of vouchers into national currency, unless by the registered organisations mentioned above. The users could spend their BSVs on whatever they wanted that was offered by those registered organisations as available for BSVs. The payment service providers would be required to operate in ways where information of transactions under a certain size would be private, either in the instance of transaction or very soon after (i.e. to mimic the anonymity of cash transactions). There would be no requirements on the users of BSVs apart from to register their identity and self-declare their assets being under a certain level in order to receive the regular BSV stipend. All users of the BSVs could use them to pay government taxes and/or fees, both national and local. It would be illegal for any company to require staff to accept the BSVs for payment, although people could accept them if they chose. Creating the system this way would mean that the new money in the vouchers would not quickly leak out of the economically-deprived areas where the BSVs would be required the most, and instead help encourage local trade amongst smaller and more locally owned organisations, as well as remunerated forms of cooperation between local people. The restrictions on transactions into the national fiat currency system would moderate any potential effect on inflation. The BSVs would not be at risk from financial collapse within the global banking system, as they would be using a parallel payment infrastructure. Once the BSVs grew in usage, so the sovereign money policy I described above could be increased and the share of monetary transactions done through private banking systems would gradually diminish. In addition, the fact that BSVs would be a parallel system to national fiat also means that governments would not face the same concerns over budget deficits for funding them, as they would not be created through bond sales of their national currency, and 1-2-1 backing of the vouchers with the national currency would not be necessary.

This BSV system would help with climate mitigation, regeneration and adaptation, by supporting the relocalisation of economies and providing alternatives to a monetary system that requires growth and systematises the extraction and centralisation of wealth. If you understand how current banking works then you may have guessed already that the current banking system would initially organise aggressively and comprehensively against such proposals. That is because it would break the monopolistic position of banks in providing the means of daily transactions. One tactic would be to fund the promotion of conspiracy theories that such a voucher system would involve surveillance, social control and affect the ability to work. Unfortunately, most people fall for such conspiracy lies for two reasons. First, they don’t realise how they are currently surveilled by multiple companies and governments with their current monetary transactions, that their ability to transact can be curtailed by those companies already, and that the control of the money supply by those banks means that the availability of money for someone to pay their wages is already not in their, or their governments power. Second, they don’t realise that a BSV can be designed to provide privacy, prevent government interference, and could provide new forms of liquidity so the job market would not be affected by downturns in the supply of credit to an economy by banks. Unfortunately, because of almost a decade of lobbying against digital cash innovation by governments in the west, the country that has moved ahead with such a system is China, which is introducing it in ways that do not uphold the basic principles of privacy and freedoms as I’ve outlined above. That is then fodder for the conspiracy theorists who do the bidding of the bankers by demonising new forms of government-issued digital currency and the provision of free forms of money to people in need.

Unfortunately, this BSV system also has a new major opponent in the form of Big Tech. They regard themselves as the next providers or partners in the provision of the future currencies. The crypto currencies are not used for everyday transactions and most are unlikely to be because of their technical features. Large platforms that have billions of users are highly suited to becoming transaction systems that use their own units of account, or digital currency. With the BSV system I have outlined, they would only be able to make transaction fees, rather than the larger incomes that come from either interest on loans or the right of seigniorage i.e. creating the units for themselves. Because both Big Tech and the banking systems would likely be so against a country leading on this BSV system, they could attempt disciplining a country through the bond markets and other nefarious approaches. Therefore, a BSV system would need to be developed at an international level, and with some backing from organisations that represent the real economy, rather than Big Tech and banking. Unfortunately, I have not seen that kind of principled and systemic thought, let alone leadership, anywhere in any part of the intergovernmental system in my decades working with it since 1997. Which brings us onto governance reform, the subject of the next part of this essay on a #RealGreenRevolution.  

To receive each part of this essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

Tax Carbon Not Income and Reform Markets – part 2 of a #RealGreenRevolution

This is the 2nd in a 7-part essay on the type of policy innovations that would respond to the truth of the environmental predicament and, also, why most environmental professionals ignore such ideas to promote limited and limiting ideas instead. These ideas on a #RealGreenRevolution provide a contrast to current agendas, with the aim of encouraging a global environmental movement as a rights-based political force.  In this essay I focus on that sexy topic of taxation, and how to transform it to provide the price signals and funds to radically alter behaviours in fair ways.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.

Global Carbon Energy Tax Treaty

In 1997 one of the key ideas being discussed for how to help the whole planet reduce its carbon emissions was a taxation on carbon emissions. Using taxes to influence behaviours through market systems was something most governments had experience of and could be trialled quite easily. However, under the then US Vice President Al Gore, the delegation from the United States stopped that initiative and instead advanced the idea of creating markets for carbon permits. The resultant Kyoto Protocol started that process whereby we have witnessed polluters being given permits which they could then sell. Many environmental experts regurgitated the arguments of corporate public relations, that a cap-and-trade system would be better for the climate by identifying specific limits. Such carbon pie in our overheating sky was gobbled up by financial elites. The cap-and-trade systems have done little to nothing on carbon emissions, which have continued to rise ever faster around the world. I mention this history, as it is an example of how the mundane everyday influence of people working for corporations and governments focused on corporate interests can produce results that are ‘omnicidal’. That word means the killing of all life, and I use it because 1997 was the last chance humanity had to create a framework that could have slowed climate change sufficiently to avoid a manmade catastrophe for life on Earth. I don’t blame you Al, but the fact you are quoted with respect and excitement by environmentalists today suggests how ill informed, uncritical, timid and sycophantic to power the green movement and sector has become.

A global carbon tax on energy still makes sense today, not only for emissions reductions. It will need to be applied at the point of fuel production or energy generation for commercial distribution, to keep the administration of the tax as efficient as possible and not oblige end users to have additional bureaucratic costs. Instead the fuel and energy producers would pass the costs through the value chain. Such a tax needs to be agreed at an intergovernmental level in order to apply globally. That is because such a tax must be set at a level that will affect organisational practices and profits to bring down carbon emissions. Unless it is applied everywhere then there would be unfair competition, and investment gravitating to jurisdictions that did not apply it. That means the best place to agree an intergovernmental global carbon tax on energy is at the World Trade Organisation. They have a system for adjudicating on noncompliance and enabling enforcement. Exports of either goods and services from non-compliant countries would be regarded as carbon dumping on the world market and countries could impose tariffs accordingly. The next question is what levels of carbon tax would be appropriate. There would need to be an agreed formula for different levels of carbon taxation in countries that would vary depending on the levels of poverty in countries. In addition, there would need to be agreements on what levels of direct or indirect subsidy of carbon emitting energy could be allowed before phase out. Such a tax would not cover non-energy sources of carbon emissions, but would be a major aid in decarbonising energy. There would need to be agreements on international standards for measuring carbon emissions and various other aspects of the operation of this tax.

For the tax not to lead to social backlash and countries subsequently dropping out of the system, there would need to be primary attention to the social implications. Whereas that could be decided at country level, a treaty will need to gain commitment from every country that their revenues from a carbon tax would be largely targeted at the low income in their countries in order for them to adjust successfully. There would also need to be an intergovernmental reporting and complaints system regarding performance on that. Without it being agreed globally, fairly, and without clear channelling of revenues to low-income people, then the backlashes to carbon taxes already experienced in some countries will prevent it from achieving the intended impact. To help with that, ideally this tax could be combined with wider tax reform which I explain below.

Before moving on, I want to make clear why this tax proposal is better than the ideas being floated by some environmental experts today. This proposal also avoids creating intrusive surveillance of individuals that would be required by a carbon quota system, and avoids the counter-productive idea that the source of the problem is the individual, rather than the systems which provide the options and price signals to them. In addition, it offers a meaningful alternative to the flaws of a campaign for divestment from fossil fuels. The campaign to get large pension funds, amongst other financial funds, to divest from fossil fuel companies has picked up in recent years and had some successes. As there is a lot of finance available around the world, that has nothing to do with countries where divestment campaigns occur, while there is also ongoing demand for the fossil fuels, any decline in share price of oil companies will simply lead to new sources of capital. If the share prices fall enough for firms like Shell and BP, then companies or investment funds from countries like China, India and Malaysia will take them over, and perhaps even take them private. The fossil fuels will continue to be extracted and years of western activist attention will have been wasted, while also propping up the story that ethical investment works to address major public issues beyond piecemeal changes in individual corporate practices – which decades of evidence now shows it doesn’t. Instead, a helpful move from coalitions of investors would be to call for – and fund work towards – a global carbon energy tax treaty. Whereas it would be difficult for individual nations to adopt carbon taxes at a level that would significantly change behaviours, various policies could be adopted to remove corporate pushbacks on other countries supporting the policy, which I explore in a subsequent section on investor regulation.

Not only is this policy relevant for cutting carbon emissions, it might also increase the incentives for shortening and simplifying supply chains, which will promote more localisation of production and consumption systems, which offers some resilience against future disruption to global trade networks.

Taxation Transformation

One argument for why carbon taxes have failed in some countries is because they have not been linked to a major new overhaul in the tax system in ways that reduce the overall tax burden for the working poor and small businesses. A transformation of the tax system is required that would remove any impediments for people being hired, while discouraging wastefulness of natural resources. This needs to be done in a bold way that can cut through to the general public, and avoid defeat by the public relations campaigns of negatively affected businesses. Therefore, I recommend a complete abolishing of income tax and replacing tax revenues by taxes on income from financial assets, financial speculation, natural resource extraction (not including recycled), the carbon energy tax described above, and other taxes on large-scale carbon-emitting land uses, such as livestock farming. Such a shift in taxation would help both mitigation and, by disincentivising natural resource depletion, could help ecological regeneration. In addition, to help communities become more self-reliant through better internal cooperation, all taxes could be abolished on used consumer goods (e.g. that have had a prior owner for at least a year), the hire of consumer goods, and on any items swapped or lent through any community owned exchange platform (so long as a fungible currency is not used i.e. not one that can be spent outside the exchanges).

While these measures can be done nationally, they would best be part of an international effort towards a global taxation treaty that explicitly notes our planetary predicament and the need to redirect markets accordingly. Such a treaty should set minimum tax rates for internet corporations and other providers of global services, including financial institutions, and end various tax management or avoidance practices, such as transfer pricing within multinational corporations. Such a treaty will help restore government finances to be able to afford bold policy measures on the whole #ClimatePlus agenda (described in Part 1 of this essay).

Trade Rules Reform

Currently international trade agreements mean that it is difficult for a government to pass a law restricting importation of something from another WTO-member country due to the way it was made. Instead, any regulation must focus on the qualities of the product itself. There are a few cases where a country manages to exclude imports that were made illegally, such as timber. However, the general approach is to remove any ‘barriers to trade’. This measure must be removed from the WTO agreements and countries encouraged to regulate imports on the basis of methods of production, so long as they reference relevant international standards when doing so. Doing so will reduce the pressure for companies to externalise their costs onto the workforce, supply chain, society and the environment as they seek to compete internationally. That will help companies to contribute to climate mitigation and ecological regeneration in particular. It also provides a context within which workers and small business owners may be able to seek better conditions, and this will help them adapt to increasing disruptions in future.

Corporate Reform

The laws governing the incorporation and operation of firms differs greatly around the world. However, a typical feature is limiting the liability of the directors and shareholders for any losses or damages associated with a company. The nature of that limited liability must be changed, so that if there is a certain level of harm caused to people or the environment, then the directors can be more easily prosecuted. That could help reduce the extremes of negative corporate practice and enable ecological regeneration. In addition, a new principle of ‘capital accountability’ should be introduced into the law, in ways that would make the accountability of corporations, and the management of private property generally, to any significantly affected community, a requirement in order to retain one’s property rights for that asset. That would mean that a landowner would need to demonstrate systems of accountability to significantly affected communities as part of maintaining their ongoing property right. Likewise, any shareholder in a corporation would have a requirement to ensure that the corporation has processes to enable its activities to be accountable to any significantly affected stakeholders. In practice, such a requirement would be incorporated into the auditing function of a corporation and become part of the fiduciary duty of fund managers. Each country would have its own methods for understanding credible and meaningful methods for promoting this accountability to significantly affected communities, and the courts would decide about breaches of this duty. In serious cases, where corrective actions are not taken, then a landowner or shareholder could lose the right to own their asset, with the affected communities being the beneficiary. More on this reworking of the concept of – and responsibilities associated with – property rights in the commercial sector is in the introduction to my 2014 book Healing Capitalism (pdf download).  

These changes in the concept of – and law on – property rights, and shareholding in corporations, would make consideration for affected persons a starting point rather than an afterthought. It would enable a systematic reduction of cost and risk externalisation onto others and nature. Therefore, it would structurally incentivise corporations to be more involved in their own ways with emissions reductions, carbon drawdown, adaptation, environmental regeneration and perhaps even climate restoration initiatives.

Investor and Insurance Reform

Investors of all kinds, including large institutional investors and hedge funds, need significant new regulations to make capital more patient, and be directed into what is needed for the #ClimatePlus agenda. The reform of corporate law will help to a degree. But specific practices within the financial sector need urgent attention, as we seek to send the right signals to the real economy, and prevent a syphoning of wealth into activities which provide no social value.

Therefore, one immediate policy would be to ban high frequency trading, due to its drain on useful economic activity. That should cover all stocks, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments. In addition, the ‘short selling’ of stocks should be regulated so as to make it simply a ‘hedge’ against risk rather than a profit-centre that, when widespread, provides incentives for volatility. All financial institutions should be required to audit their public policy influence of any kind, anywhere, and actively seek to align it with the foreign policy positions of the government they are headquartered in, or explain why not, in a public report.

The insurance industry also plays a key role in enabling business activities, and reducing the risks and costs of doing certain projects. The insurance industry could be given the requirement that they cannot offer cover for any corporation larger than an SME (small to medium sized business) without requiring them to have an environmental management plan that is publicly available (or the insurance policy would be invalidated), and which must include exclusions of certain activities that are particularly damaging.

Unless the corporate and financial worlds are retooled to support business activities that externalise less costs and risks onto society, the #ClimatePlus agenda will never be systematically engaged with. Instead, we will continue to be told to marvel at – and draw hope from – individual corporations and entrepreneurs doing better on some aspects of sustainability, while our collective situation gets worse. As I said at every conference I went to on corporate sustainability in the first decade of this century: it is going to be pointless to say “our company is the greenest” when the whole town is going underwater – changes have to become routine, through changing the incentives and requirements on people in all organisations. Tomorrow, in the next part of this essay I will explore the banking and monetary systems, and what transformations are needed there to complement these policy changes.

To receive each part of the essay, subscribe to my blog, using the box on the right. To engage with other people who are responding to these ideas, either engage on the Deep Adaptation Leadership group on LinkedIn (where I will check in) or the Deep Adaptation group on Facebook, or by following the hashtag #RealGreenRevolution on twitter. The introductory Part 1 provides context.