Keeping It In The Ground
PublishedMarch 15, 2015 CategoryArts Social Action

Keeping It In The Ground

Climate activist Bill Mckibben gives a welcome, relatively upbeat, status report (“Keep it in the groundThe Guardian, 10 March 2015) as we get closer to this year’s UN Climate Summit in Paris in December.

“The good news is that pressure is growing. In fact, that relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories that are quickly reshaping the consensus view – including among investors – about how fast a clean energy future could come … and its thinking can be easily summarised in a mantra : Fossil freeze. Solar thaw. Keep it in the ground.”

Read it, and take heart from some better climate news – but not too much yet, if we are to keep our feet on the ground of political realism too!

…the vast majority of carbon reserves still in the earth are unburnable if we were to stay within the UN agreed limit of 2C of global warming…

You’ll remember that Arts Social Action was quick to pick up the significance of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s surprise revelation, last October, that the ‘vast majority’ of carbon reserves still in the earth were ‘unburnable’ if we were to stay within the UN agreed limit of 2C of global warming. Since that limit implies no more than a further 565 gigatons of allowable fossil fuel burning, it was a chilling piece of arithmetic to learn that 2,795 GT (5 times that limit) were already located, ready to burn, but still on the asset books of leading global energy corporations.

Notwithstanding the dire implications of use, there is little evidence yet of their spokesmen, lobbyists (and powerful political friends in the UK and USA) giving up on such rich assets. (Governor Mark Carney’s warning, in the House of Lords, that climate change was one of the biggest risks facing the insurance industry, was attacked by former conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson on the grounds that global warming was ‘green claptrap’).

…growing Inequality and the still unresolved outcomes of the 2008 Financial and Banking crises are inexorably linked with Climate Change…

So this is the point at which the vibrant, voluntary action movements achieving great things around the earth, will inevitably collide with the realities of our more ‘formal’ political systems and processes – and the ultra-sophisticated corporate constituencies which have become expert in manipulating them. This is the sense in which we in ASA have seen growing Inequality and the still unresolved outcomes of the 2008 Financial and Banking crises, as inexorably linked with Climate Change as the defining issues in the way of fairer and happier societies; the very issues which were largely triggered and sustained by a myopic, neo-market fundamentalism, which has held us all hostage for far too long.

And this is why, on the way to the December Climate-Change Summit, eyes must be not only on the exhilarations of continued voluntary action, but also the critical imminence of elections in the UK, US and elsewhere. We need elected leaders over these next critical years who are not in the pockets of the Koch brothers in the US or, nearer home, at least better able to distinguish the tax avoider / bonus-happy banker from the ever-welcome party donor and potential cabinet-colleague.

The recurring HSBC tax-haven frauds and well-oiled ‘revolving door’ phenomena by which our Lords Green and others glide smoothly between dubious boardroom, High State Office and House of Peers remain astonishingly robust, a defining feature of our dismal times.

Latest, and remarkably little noticed outside the financial press, is the quiet elevation of Sir Howard Davies to the Chairmanship of the Royal Bank of Scotland, still massively beholden to the UK taxpayers who were obliged to bail them out – largely as a result of Sir Howard’s own infamous ‘light regulatory touch’ pioneered by him when first Chairman of the Financial Services Authority; thus encouraging the more widespread, ineffectual management regimes which have blighted so much of the UK’s banking sector.

In so far as ‘good judgement’ might be a useful attribute for such a role, it seems the appointment also overlooked the notorious incident which required his resignation as Director of the London School of Economics following some shady institutional deals with Libyan dictator Gaddafi and his regime – hardly a ringing reassurance. He has, as far as I know, not yet enlightened us on his views on bonus policy.

…we should engage, rather than ignore, our faltering electoral processes…

And so it remains difficult to see where, on current evidence, we are to find those more open leadership minds to help us forward on these more exacting issues of Climate Change, Inequality and Sustainable Economies. Yet that is the very reason why we should engage, rather than ignore, our faltering electoral processes; insist that candidates give us responses on these issues; and make our votes count, at least in our necessary search for some fresher-faced leaders, less tainted by the deep cynicisms which brought us here.

RW 11/03/2015