Local Government is in crisis

By political thought

Local democracy is in crisisLocal democracy is in deep crisis. Starved of funds by central government, but still with the same legal responsibilities, it is struggling to cope with the many problems laid at its door.  Disconnected with its electorate (only a third of people vote in local elections), it is failing to provide adequate leadership. Council services are failing across the country. How have we got in this mess?

The BBC asked people why they don’t vote: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-47666080. The responses they received should not be a surprise:

  • Many of the people we speak to feel there is a disconnect between politics and their everyday lives. Everyone has issues they care about, from local planning and leisure facilities to bin collections and schools, but it can be difficult to identify how local councils operate and affect these issues.
  • There is also little national attention paid to the role councils and councillors play in communities. While national politics continues to dominate headlines, it can appear that change can only happen via Westminster – and those making decisions at a local level are neglected of the due attention, and scrutiny, they deserve.
  • When you have one party dominating in an area it can be hugely off-putting, with many people feeling like their votes don’t count and it’s not worth turning out.

We desperately need to re-establish effective local government. The whole political process needs a complete rethink. Reform should be based on three criteria:

  1. Clear accountability- responsibility for many services is divided between central and local government. Local government should have clear areas of responsibility and the powers to raise money to manage them.
  2. A clear distinction between governance and representation- the leaders of those in government should be directly elected with powers to act. In an extension of the local mayor system, local responsibility of individuals should be emphasised. Those who represent should have the power to hold officials to account. The role of national political parties should be minimised.
  3. A need to engender a local community spirit and pride- local government services should be integrated with those of the charity and voluntary sectors to tackle local issues in an innovative, inclusive and cost-effective fashion.

Only when we reconfigure our local political system will we get the active and positive community governance that we need.

Optimism

By political thought

Optimism - the signpost to disasterBoris Johnson’s recipe for the future of the UK is clearly based on energy and optimism. The belief that if you think something will happen, put aside negative thoughts and stride forward with enthusiasm, you will succeed. However, if the direction is wrong and there is not sufficient analysis and forethought, it is also a recipe for disaster. A splendid piece by Tim Lott in the Guardian warns of the dangers ahead.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/24/boris-johnson-optimism-sales-pitch-only-disappoint.

He says that too often:

optimism leads to disappointment- attended by its henchmen, bitterness and resentment … If optimism does not produce the desired results, then optimism itself has been sabotaged – not by realists but by the pessimists, otherwise known as traitors.

Optimism and an appeal to national fervour are the building blocks of populism. The belief that if our nation/race/religion all band together we will overcome all obstacles and triumph over others. It is attractive to many because it appeals to deeply held tribal instincts.

However, if we are to seriously address the critical issues of our society such as climate change, an aging population, the gig economy and increasing wealth disparity, optimism alone will not succeed.  It will inevitably lead to further divisions within society, less and less rational action and diminishing international cooperation. We need a more thoughtful approach based on shared human values. Optimism and its cohort populism are dangerous.  They represent the antithesis of the principles of eco-humanity and will inevitably result in a poorer, more divided world that continues to destroy the planet.

Environmental Limits

By environmental transformation

environmental limitsAccording to evolutionary theory, every animal species increases in population until it reaches its environmental limit. It appears that the human species will reach its limit in the twenty first century. The negative effects of climate change and pollution on human activity are well known. The UN commissioned report on biodiversity, published this week, reminds us of the dangers due to the loss of wild nature. We humans are destroying the eco-systems that support us, both in the oceans and rivers, and in the forests and savannahs.  Despite the extra intelligence and ability of our human species, we are proving to be just another dumb animal pursuing our own self-interest irrespective of the long-term results.

There is only one way to escape evolution’s driving force and that is to co-ordinate action globally. If people around the world make the right changes to their lifestyle, we can escape the downsides of growth.  The scientists know what needs to be done. However, there is little sign of the public at large recognising the critical nature of the problem or placing much urgency on resolving the issues.  Indeed, joint action is becoming more difficult, for as resources diminish, competition to control them increases. Populism is on the rise.  Instead of co-operating with each other we are reverting to tribal instincts. Rational decisions for the common good are being undermined by nationalist self-interest.

Somehow, we need to put the importance of our children’s future ahead of short-term selfish actions. We need to adopt a new way of life that puts sustainability at the centre of its moral purpose.  Maybe Greta Thunburg has shown the way forward. Perhaps the cries of our children will prick our moral conscious and stop this generation from destroying the planet.

Conservation Agriculture

By environmental transformation

Good news! There is a way of preserving the soil and maintaining food supply;  it’s called conservation agriculture and it’s a growing movement that was developed by farmers themselves.  

 

 

 

Source https://wocatpedia.net/wiki/Conservation_agriculture

The most widely used method of crop production, using ploughing, pesticides and fertilisers, is unsustainable. It is depleting soil levels and destroying eco-systems.  According to the UN, if current rates of degradation continue, the world’s topsoil will disappear within 60 years.  Michael Gove, the UK’s Environmental Secretary has warned that the country is 30 to 40 years away from a ‘fundamental eradication of soil fertility’.

It sounds like another warning of an imminent man-made catastrophe that is being ignored. Just as with climate change, humans seem incapable of prioritising long-term benefit over short-term profits.  There is, however, hope. By abandoning the plough, keeping the ground covered with crops and growing a wide variety of plants, it is possible to preserve the soil. Moreover, costs decrease by reducing the use of chemicals, and improved soil fertility often increases yields. Conservation agriculture requires more active land management but has the additional benefit of improving resilience to floods and droughts. It also conserves nature; the numbers of insects, birds and other wildlife improve dramatically.

This new method of food production is having a worldwide impact; so far, an area five times the size of the UK is being sustainably managed. For once the US is in the lead. The system was developed to avoid a repeat of the notorious dust bowl conditions in the 1930s.

As with all environmental issues, there is a solution for sustainable food production. However, if we are to feed future generations, we need more urgency and effective leadership to make it happen before disaster occurs.

Intensive farming

By environmental transformation

Three new reports catalogue how intensive farming methods are destroying the natural world and threatening our future .

In the journal of Biological Conservation, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo reports a ‘catastrophic decline’ in insect species.

A UN report on the state of food biodiversity reports a growing reliance on a small number of crop species to supply our food; just 9 species account for 66% of crop production.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research identifies that topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replaced. Since the 1950’s, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion.

It all makes grim reading. However, there are small sprigs of hope.

The Union of concerned scientists https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/what-is-sustainable-agriculture claim that ‘there’s a transformation taking place on farms across the United States.’

For decades, we’ve produced the bulk of our food through industrial agriculture—a system dominated by large farms growing the same crops year after year, using enormous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage soils, water, air, and climate. This system is not built to last, because it squanders and degrades the resources that it depends on. 

But a growing number of innovative farmers and scientists are taking a different path, moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable—environmentally, economically, and socially. This system has room for farms of all sizes, producing a diverse range of foods, fibers, and fuels adapted to local conditions and regional markets. It uses state-of-the-art, science-based practices that maximize productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage.

Some proponents of intensive farming claim that its impacts are the price we must pay to “feed the world.” In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence has debunked this claim, showing that a more sustainable model can be just as profitable—and can meet our needs for the long haul.

The issue of immigration

By political thought

The issue of immigration brings into focus the developing confrontation between liberal humanist values and nationalist instincts.  Increasing levels of immigrants from different cultures have fuelled the rise in populism across the world. As a result, the international cooperation necessary to save the planet is becoming even more difficult to achieve.

The Turk Umut Ozkurmh has been pondering the rise of the far right in Sweden, where he lives. This paragraph from  his article in the Guardian is worth quoting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/23/cosmopolitan-sweden-far-right-refuge-europe

I had to understand that the central question is, as the Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh puts it, whether it is possible to resolve the fundamental tension between, on the one side, “universal moral rules founded in notions of human rights”, and on the other, “nationally bounded claims derived from the idea of citizenship in particular nation states”.

My answer is yes, and the formula is simple: emphasise the connection between rights and duties; speed up the process of integration of newcomers (refugees or migrants) without demanding that they fully assimilate into the dominant culture, but asking them to respect the existing social contract; foster a sense of common destiny that does not necessarily require myths of common ancestry; and engage with the demand for recognition in a fair and equal way, without privileging either minorities or majorities.

Governments of the world should listen to his views  and act accordingly to avert future strife.

How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children?

By Climate Change, political thought

How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children? The biological purpose of human existence is the preservation of our species, and yet somehow the threat of climate change doesn’t register as an overwhelming moral issue.  Religious authorities are supposed set moral standards, and yet Evangelical religions and the Catholic Church are much more concerned with today’s unborn children than worrying about the prospects for future generations. How can this be so?

We are suffering a crisis of moral leadership. Our religious and political leaders are overwhelmed by their own issues born of past events. No one is looking at the big picture or is statesman enough to  to lead us safely through the year’s ahead.

We have been told that we should cut back on flying and eating meat if we are to have a chance of reducing carbon emissions to zero. If we had leaders who exercised moral authority and showed their commitment by changing their own lifestyle, then perhaps the public at large would follow.  Right now, we seem to be stuck in a moral abyss and drifting towards ecological tragedy.

GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society

By economics

GDP growth isn’t the only objective for society, though sometimes it seems to be the only measure of success that all our politicians endorse. There are arguably other more relevant measures of a nation’s success. This week the UK’s Office of National Statistics published its figures on life expectancy for 2015 to 2017; it shows that life expectancy in the UK is 79 years for men and 83 years for women.

Surely most of us would like to live longer, but it is currently a post code lottery.  In some regions of Scotland and the North you are likely to live 10 years less than people living in the South East. The reasons are unclear. As Southerners are not physically different than Northerners, it must be due to lifestyle issues like diet, exercise and drug consumption or stress related issues like poverty, caring and unemployment. These are factors that are in the power of society to change by policy, education and example.

Wouldn’t everyone welcome an initiative to improve life expectancy.  Shouldn’t life expectancy be high on the list of success factors for our society. Let’s encourage politicians, economists and civil servants to make it a national imperative.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue

By political thought

Homo sapiens is a tribal species with a dangerous propensity to unite ‘us’ against ’the rest’.  Our history is marred with despicable acts of cruelty, as contact between different hunter-gatherer bands, tribes and states turned into inter-community hatred and violence. Since the Enlightenment the level of violent conflict has declined and the major powers of the world have learned to live in peace with each other. However, inter-community hatred is still present and can bubble up at any time. When combined with differences in physical characteristics this inter-community antagonism is known as racism.

Those in the Eugenics movement in the early twentieth century tried to show that this racial division had a scientific basis; that different races were essentially different species. This has since been disproved; we now know we are all one species that emerged some 200,000 years ago in Africa. The latest proof comes from David Reich in his book Who We are and How We got Here.  He has shown conclusively that the makeup of our DNA is a result of tens of thousands of years of intermixing of peoples from different geographical regions. Differences in skin colour and facial and physical characteristics between people from different countries account for only one sixth of the natural variation in DNA between humans.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue that has no scientific validity. This does not mean that it does not exist or is not important. It is part of our inherited tribal behaviour; it can only be overcome by changing cultural habits. Groups of humans always have a choice about the way they interact with other groups; they can compete or co-operate. In our globally integrated world competition that leads to hatred and violence is especially destructive. This is why developing a culture that can unite people of different cultures, religions and nations is so important for the future of mankind.

 

Our politicians are hopeless

By health and population

We need our politicians to plan our country’s future. We know that society is aging and that this will create huge problems for our health and social services. Surely the least we could ask of our politicians is to have a plan to deal with this challenge?

Two reports published recently (see Health and Population Articles page) underline the extent of the task ahead.

They show:

  • The number of people over 85 that require 24-hour care will double in the next 2 decades.
  • British women are amongst the least healthy in Europe; they are more likely to suffer diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s at an early age.
  • Whilst life expectancy is increasing for women, healthy life expectancy remains constant. Women are spending longer living with chronic health conditions

These are just a few of the issues. The NHS and Social Services stumble from crisis to crisis. There is no plan.  Our politicians have no clue what to do and there is no initiative to tackle the problem. We are all going to suffer in the years to come from our leaders’ lack of political foresight.