Author Archives: wellsharp

A final word …

wellsharp has covered a lot of ground since November 2007, summarising and reflecting upon the work of many insightful people. We’ve learned a lot from writing wellsharp; hopefully it provides some interesting food for thought for you too.

But it’s time for a break. We’d like to bring things to a close* in a suitable manner with a few appropriate words:

Ask the powerful five questions:

  1. What power have you got?
  2. Where did you get it from?
  3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. To whom are you accountable?
  5. How can we get rid of you?

Only democracy gives us that right. That is why no-one with power likes democracy. And that is why every generation must struggle to win it and keep it – including you and me, here and now.

Tony Benn (2005) quoted at http://www.bennites.com/

we find that the prime human obligation is to act fearlessly and publicly in accordance with one’s beliefs; that one should withdraw cooperation from destructive institutions; that this should be done without violence …; that means are more important than ends; that crimes shouldn’t be committed today for the sake of a better world tomorrow; that violence brutalizes the user as well as his victim; that the value of action lies in the direct benefit it brings society; that action is usually best aimed first at one’s immediate surroundings, and only later at more distant goals; that winning state power, if necessary at all, is a secondary goal; that freedom “begins with myself” … is oriented to love of truth, and only then discovers what it hates and must oppose; and that state power not only should but actually does depend on the consent of the governed.

Jonathan Schell (2003)The unconquerable world: Power, non-violence and the will of the people. New York: Metropolitan Books. p.201.

* Never say never, of course – if we have something burning to say, or if circumstances change, we may post again, but it isn’t in our plans for the foreseeable future.

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Filed under Barry, David

Questions for activists

I recently checked out the Thwink.org website again. Since David first wrote about their work, they have continued to develop their ideas. They have some good ones too. Sometimes I find the approach a bit too simplistically rationalist, but there’s no doubt they are thinking about social change, asking “why have we not achieved the changes we’ve been struggling for?”, and trying to come up with better methods.

Activists are usually busy people. The word itself is based on the root “action”. Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest non-violent activists, stressed the vital importance of action – even going so far as to argue that violent action is better than passivity. Yet Ghandi’s activism was never unthinking. It was based on serious efforts at self-understanding and self-control, and rooted in a deeply thought out theory of power, which lead logically to non-violent strategies for social change.
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Filed under Barry, capitalism, green politics

Preparing for the future: civil society, adult education, and Transition Towns

The massive upheavals and traumas that befell the nations of the former Soviet-bloc following the collapse of the Communist regimes provided a kind of ‘natural experiment’ for social scientists: their different experiences and outcomes can be compared, contrasted, and lessons drawn.

One of those lessons is about the value of civil society – that is, that sphere of voluntary collective interaction not organised by the institutions of government or markets. From this, I’d also like to draw a bow to what I see as the key value of adult education/ life-long learning and the Transition Towns movement.

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Filed under Barry, climate change, green politics, sustainability

What will National’s tax changes mean?

UPDATED Saturday 15 May 2010: Looks like I may have to eat my hat on this one, if this report suggesting compensatory income-tax cuts across the board “so no-one is worse off” is correct. I shall take it as a valuable lesson in the perils of speculative punditry!

ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS

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Filed under Aotearoa New Zealand, Barry, economic analysis, social justice

Some evidence in favour of our suggestions

Brief notes and (and links to) a few studies providing evidence in favour of some of our suggestions, and one looking at the case for a Financial Transactions Tax.

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Filed under Barry, climate change, economic analysis, sustainability

Poles Apart

Frustrated by the polarised debate on human-caused climate change Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal set out to evaluate the evidence for themselves. On the basis of this book, they apear to have been relentlessly open-minded in this quest…and in the end, they conclude that yes, we do need to be concerned. It is totally against the spirit of the book to point this out – but Gareth Morgan is noted for coming to his views independently and skeptically, plus he is an economist and – all other things being equal :) – reasonably fond of economic growth – so if he thinks human-caused climate change is an issue we need to take seriously, it really is most likely that we do. But read the book – it ought to be convincing for anyone with an open-mind.

Morgan and McCrystal also take some shots at greenies and environmentalists for taking an irresponsible role in this debate, muddying the science with their keen-ness to use it when it suits to butress attacks on consumerism and capitalism that are primarily ideological (don’t worry they also take aim at fossil-fuel industry-funded deniers).

I think this criticism raises some valuable points for the green/environmental movement.

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Filed under Barry, climate change, green politics

If not capitalism, then what?

We’ve done a fair bit of criticising contemporary capitalism in this blog. One of the follow-up questions we have been asking ourselves all along is: “if not capitalism, then what?’

Well yes. If not life as we know it, with all its enormous ‘reality’, complexity, and slow-turning, apparently unstoppable power and momentum – then what? And how do we get from here to there? It’s quite a topic for a couple of part-time bloggers to tackle. The hubris! But then we’re not tackling it on our own – human society is always and inescapably a collaborative venture – we’re hitching a ride with the thinkers whose work we’ve commented on, hopefully in return bringing it to some who would not otherwise have met it.

So where have we got to so far, in our hitching, in our answer to this big question?
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Filed under Barry, capitalism, green politics, sustainability

Investors – it’s time to put your mouth where your money is

The collective wisdom of capital markets is probably still ‘in some doubt’ in many peoples’ minds at the moment. Interestingly though, from a green perspective, capital markets appear to have been estimating the likely costs of climate change to be higher than those predicted by cost-benefit analyses (such as the Stern Report) that have been much maligned by some industry lobby groups. And, of course, this implies that – even from a purely economic point of view – there is a case for stronger climate change mitigation policies than have been suggested by the cost-benefit analyses.

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Filed under Barry, capitalism, climate change, economic analysis

Beyond the silver bullet: the case for diversity in responding to climate change

With all the buzz and anti-buzz about the climate change talks in Copenhagen, it’s easy to get caught up in the dis-empowering idea that a global Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), agreed upon top-down, at Copenhagen (or maybe at the next conference…) is the only hope for meaningful action on climate change. After all, climate change is a global problem, with huge free-rider risks, so it must require a global solution, right?

Nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom makes the case, in her working paper “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change” that a better response to the problems of climate change is ‘polycentric’ with a diversity of responses occurring simultaneously in different geographical locations and at different levels of government and society.

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Filed under Barry, climate change

Growth, inequality, and the environment – evidence from the UK

Measuring fossil resource inequality – A case study for the UK between 1968 and 2000 (Eleni Papathanasopoulou and Tim Jackson, Ecological Economics, 2009, 1213-1225)

In this paper the authors examine inequalities in fossil fuel use among different income groups in the United Kingdom between 1968 and 2000. They find that fossil fuel use inequalities have risen faster than expenditure inequalities, and conclude that policy to reduce fossil fuel use needs to pay careful attention to distributional differences. Further, I would argue, with a little unpacking evidence such as this calls into question the dominant mainstream narratives around the unquestionable desirability a) of ‘growth’ and b) of  decreasing the progressivity of income tax regimes.

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Filed under Barry, climate change, economic analysis, social justice