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The Times They Are A Changin' … Part 2

April 9, 2020 8:30 AM
By Keith Melton

The Times They Are A Changin' … Part 2

From the ChairI revealed last week that the word "unprecedented" was in position 7753 in terms of frequency of use. In the last week it has moved up to occupy position 4450 in the "most frequently used words in English" list. An unprecedented shift!

We are now over a week further into our global pandemic as I write this and I now have a sense that the wheels are… , if not yet falling off the wagon, … they are wobbling a bit. In this country the Government`s continual reassurances about deliveries of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) have been challenged repeatedly by front line staff in hospitals and GP practices and social care services, who say they don`t have what they need. Also, the Government`s reasons for testing quantities being much lower than in Germany and South Korea (shortage of swabs and staff and chemical reagent availability) have been challenged publicly.

So, there is a building feeling of disbelief about the Government`s competence. But questions are also being asked which raise the problem "What if it is NOT bumbling incompetence?" Hence, there are increasingly wild tales of misinformation, disinformation and conspiratorial plans to cull the elderly. If any of these tales is even half true, then the `conspiring politicians`, if such exist, will never be forgiven. But also, if the incompetence is actually bumbling as much as is suggested, then they may also not be easily forgiven either! Since I am not privy to the information which would shed light on these questions, I shall have to leave them to whatever inquiries may happen after the event(s).

What should be the appropriate "Exit Strategy"

There is little doubt that this crisis is going to rumble on for a long time, so the question we need to look at carefully is "What will happen when the crisis starts to become resolved and how do we come out of it intact?" This may be referred to as the "Exit Strategy" and there is probably a team of civil servants who are asking those questions right now.

One interpretation of "exit strategy" is to do with how we measure and respond to immunity (or otherwise) and public health aspects of rebooting the economy. But, in our role as guardians of the environmental conscience of the Liberal Democrats, my thoughts turn to the wider economic and ecological implications of rebooting the economy.

I have just been watching a one hour long video conversation established by Andy Revkin, an American science and environmental journalist, https://www.pscp.tv/w/1nAJEdVLLmnGL?q=revkin with Doughnut Economics author Kate Raworth and the founding father of ecological economics, Herman Daly.

Never let a good crisis go to waste

Kate Raworth reminded us of an aphorism she has found valuable: "Never let a good crisis go to waste". And she warned, as I did last week, about those who will want to do everything possible to "go back to normal". They largely exist in businesses which will try to ensure they do not lose out economically on the success they were making of old-style, profit-creating corporate models that treated environmental damage as "externalities", the costs of which would be borne by the taxpayer - something I wrote about last week.

On the other hand, there are those of us who want NOT to go "back to business as usual", but believe the potential silver lining to this pandemic may be the opportunity to CHANGE the way we do things economically. Politically speaking, this is exactly where the Green Liberal Democrats have been carving out a political niche for ourselves for over forty years. This is something I would like to expand upon later in this article to try and give us all a sense of purpose as we while away the lockdown hours, days and (quite possibly) months. If we want to create a different world we will have to be ready to do things differently… Reminds me of a saying that I used to use frequently in my earlier life in my academic day-job - "If you always do what you always did; you will always get what you always got!"

In fact, however, there may be a third strand of people seeking to take advantage of a "good crisis". These are people who want, not a positive paradigm shift as we do, nor a simple "back to normal" strategy, but a loosened regulatory system designed to benefit large and unscrupulous businesses in a less-regulated world. Perhaps the worst example seen thus far has been the decision of Donald Trump`s Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, to flag up to businesses that they should not worry about any extra pollution they might cause by getting back to business as usual. It is a similar message to that recently heard in China, too.

It seems that, if a business can show (with a very low level of proof required) that additional water or air pollution happened due, in some way, as a result of changes in practice caused by the pandemic, then the EPA would not prosecute them. Carte blanche for wayward businesses to flout current rules. Also, the rules have been watered down from the Obama-era environmental protections that were put in place during the last presidency.

Greenpeace has already started a petition calling for this option to be stopped in its tracks. If you would like to see what they are suggesting in their petition, follow this link… https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/protect-people-and-our-future? - do sign and share. Greenpeace is saying "We're calling on the UK government to rebuild our society on fairer, safer, cleaner, more resilient foundations." - Nothing a good Liberal could disagree with there!

Auto Industry

Ursula van LeyenIt also seems that the Auto-industry in Europe is trying to take advantage of the pandemic to get the EU Commission to back down even from legislation that was originally put in place as far back as 2008. Although it was not specified exactly which laws were being referred to, a letter has been sent to the new President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, suggesting a softening of approach by the Commission.

It is revealed in a piece by the Greenpeace investigative journal "Unearthed", which tells us that "Eric-Mark Huitema, Director General of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which signed the letter to the Commission, told Unearthed: "In this emergency context, it has not yet been possible to undertake a detailed analysis of the implications of this crisis on legislation affecting our industry.

"Nonetheless, ACEA has already drawn the European Commission's attention to the fact that there will inevitably be consequences in this domain, given that no production, development, testing or homologation work is able to happen now or in the foreseeable future due to company shutdowns and other measures to contain the virus." For more details follow the link below:-

https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/03/27/eu-climate-target-coronavirus-car-industry/

A Green Liberal Democrat "exit strategy"

We need to spend some time thinking through just what we need to do, but we have spent a lot of time over many years talking about how we would like to see the world change, so we should not find it too difficult to begin prescribing the changes we would like to see. What is important is that we should be positive about the world we want. Over recent years political life has been seriously marred by politicians appealing to the lowest common denominator of what it is that electors do NOT want. It is time we stepped up to say exactly what we DO want.

Let me try to provide a modest list of at least some of the things we want. I will express them as relatively brief bullet points and you can get back to me and let me know what you think I have missed, or where you think our priorities should be focused. We can then, perhaps, tease these out to a longer list of goals we can share with wider groups, first of all within our Party and then to the wider audience of the electorate.

The Beginnings of a GLD manifesto (do remember that this is only a start and you may not even agree with my starting point!…)

I am also inclined to put "rethink decision on leaving the EU" on the list, but I am concerned that that boat may already have sailed. However, the general level of bumbling incompetence of the Government which has been revealed over the last three months may have the effect of placing the decision back on the table.

Updating our democracy

Not strictly part of an environmental theme, but something that has struck me quite markedly about the "social distancing" issue is how unfit for purpose the House of Commons is.

I have long thought it needed bringing up to date anyway - but there is a real scientific twist to the debate now - the debating chamber needs to be more akin to the Scottish Parliament chamber and voting needs to be brought into the 21st century. It can be done electronically, and much crowded lobby time "divisions" could be avoided.

Frankly I doubt it will happen - but I think it should.

Keith Melton (Keith Melton)Keith Melton

Chair, GLD

If you want to read the first article in this series of three "the Times they are a` changin` " click the link. and there is also a third article in the series

Postscripts

For various reasons this article was delayed in being published to the website and since then I have read a couple of interesting things you might like to see. Rather than edit the article to make it look as though they were instrumental in forming the article I though I would just add links here:-

Jeremy Lent`s blog suggests.. "We now know the world can respond as needed, once political will is engaged and societies enter emergency mode" & "In the face of disaster, many people are rediscovering that they are far stronger as a community than as isolated individuals. The phrase "social distancing" is helpfully being recast as "physical distancing" since Covid-19 is bringing people closer together in solidarity than ever before." Jeremy Lent

https://patternsofmeaning.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-spells-the-end-of-the-neoliberal-era-whats-next/

Excess Travel and Population growth

And if you want to see an alternative view of "What next?" which talks about excess travel and population growth needing to be curbed, you might like to read the following article from the Green stars Project... https://greenstarsproject.org/2020/04/08/coronavirus-save-the-planet-ethical-consumerism-climate-change/

Air Pollution a major factor in more deaths from Coronavirus

Recent study shows very significant and robust links between areas of high air pollution and heightened levels of fatal coronavirus cases - guardian article >>> https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/07/air-pollution-linked-to-far-higher-covid-19-death-rates-study-finds?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNDA4&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight