Macmillan’s spokesperson acknowledges that cancer survivors are usually weakened in some way by the treatment.
This is likely to make them more vulnerable to the other kinds of disease which will eventually carry them off. But not before yet more medical services and long-term support. And most of the half of us who don’t acquire cancer, nevertheless require medical services of some sort fairly regularly.
If we were cattle, our breeders would probably send us all to the abattoir and start again with new stock!
We cannot afford to be so fatalistic about trends like this. Something much more radical is called for. We know what, and have done for most of the past century.
We need to clean up our world, and therefore our food. It’s that simple. Yes, simple. It can be done, given lashings of wartime spirit.
Drastic reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels. Urgent development of hydrogen fuel cells, environmental electricity generation. Banning motor vehicles in built-up centres. Children and their parents walking or cycling to and from school. Zero carbon homes, zero carbon transport.
Urgent development of organic agriculture and horticulture. Many more people working the land by small-scale technologies – in return for benefits if need be. Mainly local distribution of crops in season. Outright bans on junk food manufacture and – probably – tobacco products. Run down large scale and chemical-based agriculture and all associated subsidies.
And what would result?
- Youngsters would grow up strong, capable, disease-free and motivated. Some already do – it would be nice to know just how many. Then we could plot the rate of rise of that statistic in the next decade.
- Air and water would be cleaner and electronegative, and food would be hugely more sustaining.
- Activity would be human-scale, physical and down-to-earth. Even the chattering classes would save their breath to harvest their next meal.
- The NHS and social services would scale down over the next 20 years, to a fraction of its present size.
- They would be replaced by genuine communities based on residence, workplace and land, providing extended families to include everyone.
- Free benefits would be history – and so would profitable illness.
We would have a health service – with huge vitality to match! And we would still have industry, leisure and full employment.
And a future.
In one section of Lean Logic, the late David Fleming focussed on “call and response”, the principle by which localities can call on their local authorities for assistance to develop projects, without themselves losing the initiative.
He cites the example of Portland, Oregon:
“Portland is now widely recognised for its neighbourhood associations and the extent of their initiative-taking in decisions affecting the city: local government responds to citizens’ requests for action, providing an incentive for participation to deepen over several decades.
An example of initiative-taking in Oregon
Some years ago the writer met Portland’s Dilafruz Williams, one of a group of local people who set up a state school for teenagers – an Environmental Middle School – in Portland. The state education department’s benchmarks for eighth graders were taken into consideration, to ensure that the EMS graduates would be ready for high school.
In fact, despite spending two days a week outside the classroom, their test results have been above average. Pressure to admit the hundred on their waiting list has been resisted, because it is considered vital that each child should have the sense of security that comes from knowing all the other students and teachers in the school.
The site requirements were that the school should be in a central location on a local public bus route, so that students from all neighbourhoods could participate and there should be land around the buildings.
They come from diverse urban backgrounds and this diversity, lack of supervision, absence of a caring adult at home, lure of gangs and peer pressure can lead to inappropriate behaviour. By addressing each student as a unique person, the EMS community finds ways to deal with the problems consistently exhibited by a handful of students.
“Call and response” would not come easily: the discussions would often be acrimonious, and maintaining the dialogue is recognised as the specific responsibility of the citizens, who have to “educate” new officials (with the help, if need be, of introducing them to committed residents in the shape of a room-full of “100 people screaming mad”).
“But the process has flow, pull and feedback; it has the focused intention of local people with the confidence to know what they want and believe that there is a chance they may be able to accomplish it.
“So it is not that the government has no role here; rather, it rediscovers its role as public servant, working for people that have recovered their confidence.
“An initiative within this framework has been launched in the United Kingdom with the Sustainable Communities Act (2007). This has been organised at a higher level than the Portland scheme: it is about local authorities calling on assistance from central government rather than local communities calling on local authorities, but the principle is there, and it may well extend downwards.
“A less formal approach which is likely to have a better chance of recovering local presence is the Transition Movement”.
Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex Business School sends the news that the Twitter age is about to chalk up its first success in the grey world of corporate accounting.
In an article in The Conversation, he records that – for the first time – activists have demanded and secured a standard against the wishes of the accountancy establishment.
Bloomberg has reported that the European Union will adopt country by country (CbC) reporting to enable citizens to scrutinise corporate practices and ask critical questions. The aim is to make large companies disclose the taxes they pay and profits they make on a country-by-country basis.
Going through the usual channels
Meetings were sought with the more traditional accounting standard setters, such as the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), but they showed no interest.
Sikka records that considerable opposition came from the professional accountancy bodies, major accounting firms and corporations. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales was vehemently opposed to it. Deloitte said “we do not believe that imposing incremental country by country disclosure in financial statements prepared under IFRSs is warranted”.
A survey in 2010 did not show enthusiasm for CbC among FTSE 100 directors. The usual arguments were that disclosure would be costly, even though companies should already have the information about the performance of their subsidiaries in each country of their operation. The cost of publishing this internally held information is negligible.
The ‘civil society’ process
In 2003, Professor Sikka – as director of the Association for Accountancy and Business Affairs (AABA) – encouraged Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK, a chartered accountant, to make the first draft of a proposal that could highlight flight of capital, profits and the mismatch between profits, employees, assets and tax. The draft was published in later 2003 and has continued to be refined.
The main turning point was the support given by NGOs, such as Christian Aid, Publish What You Pay (PWYP), War on Want, Tax Justice Network, Oxfam and many others, in the UK, the EU, developing countries and the US. The credit for this must go to Richard Murphy. This campaign was joined by some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and also Labour MPs. Sikka adds:
“Much to the dismay of the accounting establishment, their pressure persuaded the EU to launch a consultation exercise in 2010 and has now resulted in partial implementation of CbC. No doubt, there is more to come”.
CbC is the culmination of a decade-long campaign by civil society organisations in the social media age. When fully enacted, it will be the first accounting standard formulated and developed by civil society rather than the traditional accounting standard setters.
He concludes that in the digital era it may well be possible to mobilise alternative centres of power . . .
Today we received news from America’s New Economics Institute – a partner of Britain’s nef – about the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World series. Their comment:
Every day, we are presented with a range of “sustainable” products and activities – from “green” cleaning supplies to carbon offsets – but with so much labeled as “sustainable,” the term has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative.
In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible, scientists, policy experts, and thought leaders attempt to restore meaning to sustainability as more than just a marketing tool.
They define clear sustainability metrics and examine various policies and perspectives, including geoengineering, corporate transformation, and changes in agricultural policy, that could put us on the path to prosperity without diminishing the well-being of future generations.
If these approaches fall short, the final chapters explore ways to prepare for drastic environmental change and resource depletion, such as strengthening democracy and societal resilience, protecting cultural heritage, and dealing with increased conflict and migration flows.
State of the World 2013 cuts through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, offering a broad and realistic look at how close we are to fulfilling it today and which practices and policies will steer us in the right direction.
In the FT today, James Skinner, chairman emeritus of the New Economics Foundation, asks fundamentally important questions about a stance often adopted by politicians with an interest in supporting multinational business.
He was prompted to do so by a recent FT editorial “A better plan for London airports”, which cited the fact that Schiphol offers more flights to China than Heathrow as an example of “Britain falling behind in the global race”. He asks:
- But what exactly is this “global race”?
- Where is the finishing line?
- What is the prize we are competing for?
- Are we really so desperately anxious that more and more people should come to London to change aeroplanes?
- What do we get in exchange for the noise and air pollution from increasing air traffic?
- What compensation is there for further loss of land to the hideous sprawl of airports?
- Are we sure that extrapolations of growth in air travel are realistic anyway, given that oil prices will rise and alternative fuels are not yet in sight?
He concludes that there are many more beneficial ways to invest the vast sums needed to build a mega-airport.
We summarise the thoughts of Martin Wolf, the FT’s chief economics commentator here, because Localise West Midlands’ aims and policies are designed with his ‘politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy’ in mind. He wrote, yesterday:
“Last week the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was reported to have passed 400 parts per million for the first time in 4.5m years. It is also continuing to rise at a rate of about 2 parts per million every year. On the present course, it could be 800 parts per million by the end of the century. Thus, all the discussions of mitigating the risks of catastrophic climate change have turned out to be empty words.
“Collectively, humanity has yawned and decided to let the dangers mount . . . clutching at straws “
“(H)umanity is conducting a huge, uncontrolled and almost certainly irreversible climate experiment with the only home it is likely to have. Moreover, if one judges by the basic science and the opinions of the vast majority of qualified scientists, risk of calamitous change is large . . . ”
Meanwhile, Wolf notes, ‘deniers’ clutch at straws: “It is noted, for example, that average global temperatures have not risen recently, though they are far higher than a century ago. Yet periods of falling temperature within a rising trend have occurred before”.
Bequeathing a planet in climatic chaos is a rather bigger concern than leaving a burden of public debt
“What makes the inaction more remarkable is that we have been hearing so much hysteria about the dire consequences of piling up a big burden of public debt on our children and grandchildren. But all that is being bequeathed is financial claims of some people on other people. If the worst comes to the worst, a default will occur. Some people will be unhappy. But life will go on. Bequeathing a planet in climatic chaos is a rather bigger concern. There is nowhere else for people to go and no way to reset the planet’s climate system”
So why are we behaving like this?
- The first reason is that, as the civilisation of ancient Rome was built on slaves, ours is built on fossil fuels.
- A second reason is opposition to any interventions in the free market. . . to admit that a free economy generates a vast global external cost is to admit that the large-scale government regulation so often proposed by hated environmentalists is justified. For many libertarians or classical liberals, the very idea is unsupportable. It is far easier to deny the relevance of the science.
- A third reason may be the pressure of responding to immediate crises that has consumed almost all the attention of policy makers in the high-income countries since 2007.
- A fourth is a touching confidence that, should the worst comes to the worst, human ingenuity will find some clever ways of managing the worst results of climate change.
- A fifth is the complexity of reaching effective and enforceable global agreements on the control of emissions among so many countries.
- A sixth is indifference to the interests of people to be born in a relatively distant future. As the old line goes: “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?”
- A final (and related) reason is the need to strike a just balance between poor countries and rich ones and between those who emitted most of the greenhouse gases in the past and those who will emit in the future.
What might shift such a course?
Wolf: “My view is, increasingly, that there is no point in making moral demands. People will not do something on this scale because they care about others, even including their own more remote descendants. They mostly care rather too much about themselves for that . . .
“A necessary, albeit not sufficient condition, then, is a politically sellable vision of a prosperous low-carbon economy. That is not what people now see. Substantial resources must be invested in the technologies that would credibly deliver such a future . . .
Institutions must also be developed that can deliver it
Neither the technological nor the institutional conditions exist at present. In their absence, there is no political will to do anything real about the process driving our experiment with the climate.
Yes, there is talk and wringing of hands. But there is, predictably, no effective action. If that is to change, we must start by offering humanity a far better future. Fear of distant horror is not enough.
Read the whole article here (free registration):
Note also news of the sea-levels forecast submitted to the IPCC from ICE2Sea, a four-year programme of study by scientists from 24 leading EU institutions.
Natasha Sabin from Tirebuck Recruitment, based in Solihull, talks about the benefits working locally can have on the individual.
West Midlanders are commuting more since the recession hit.
In November 2012 the Trades Union Congress reported that the average West Midlands employee spends 48.8 minutes per day commuting to and from work. This is an increase on the amount of time 2006’s workers spent commuting.
You’d be forgiven for predicting that the ever-rising cost of petrol, along with the hordes of traffic and poor weather would have triggered a return to the local community. In fact, most other UK regions have seen a decline in minutes spent commuting – the average is a 0.4 minute decline.
It has been suggested that the increase in the West Midlands’ commuting time is due to the recession – quite simply because people have to travel further to find work.
Ironically, in times of economic strain, it can be beneficial for the individual and the community if workers stay in their local area.
Fewer commuting costs
We’ve all noticed (and been vocally dissatisfied) that the costs of petrol, rail tickets and bus passes are steadily climbing. By spending less money on transport, you could make a considerable saving each year, giving you the flexibility to accept a lower wage.
Aid the environment
If his/her job is within cycling distance, a commuter could switch the commute from car to bike, reducing air pollution by saving around half a tonne of carbon dioxide a year.
It’s pretty obvious that spending less time commuting to work will increase the amount of free time you have. During the working week, evenings can be spent preparing meals, washing dishes and cleaning clothes. Before you know it, you’re ready for bed and have spent little time resting. Getting home just 30 minutes earlier can feel like a massive increase in down-time.
Be happier and healthier
If you spend more time commuting to work, it’s harder to achieve a healthy work to life balance, which can severely impact your happiness and health. A survey conducted by Kent University found that commuting is one of the largest sources of stress there is. Time spent waiting for traffic to shift, or waiting for trains to arrive severely decrease happiness levels. Also, commuting in congested areas has been linked to breathing difficulties.
Contribute to your local economy
Working locally will help to keep cash in your area. If you are working locally, you’ll most likely be spending locally, which supports local business. If you are working in a different city, you are contributing to that city’s economy instead.
Working locally and supporting local smaller enterprise is incredibly important at a time when small businesses are unable to compete with global conglomerates and large chains.