Friday 1 February 2008

Two extracts from The RAM Plan

(a) Ecology Charter 1. Our ecology revolves around biological diversity and ecosystem integration, both under siege as the world market trashes nature for profit. 2. Being loyal to the sanctity of nature, we must keep genetic engineering inside the lab so living things are protected from the virus of unexpected catastrophes. 3. We can escape the ecological Armageddon of global warming by embracing the inter-dependency of humans and nature, but collective action must be taken now. 4. We are called upon to harmonise the economy with nature, not set up pollution markets where the rich grow richer by trading in life-threatening greenhouse gases. 5. Ending motorway construction and shifting the money into free & frequent public transport will reduce harmful carbon emissions and weaken harmful market forces. 6. Our society has a moral duty to replace grossly polluting sources of energy generation with solar, wave, geothermal and wind power, and to do so quickly. 7. It is simple justice that workers laid off for ecological reasons should receive full pay with no loss of benefits while retraining and transitioning to green jobs. 8. A vast ecological debt is owed by the industrialised countries, including New Zealand, to the rest of the world who are paying for accumulated emissions not of their making. 9. Our future lies in building an international movement for climate security and social justice whose aim is the accumulation of solidarity, not the accumulation of wealth. 10. Saving life on Earth will require a social conversion that dethrones the Kings of Capital in favour of democratic control over the direction of the economy. (b) A very different path to save life on Earth "Clean and green." That's the picture of New Zealand painted by Fonterra executives, tourism marketers and other propagandists of profit. Their self-serving spin is, however, far from factual. In addition to many other environmental crimes, this country has a shocking record as an emitter of greenhouse gases, the main driver of life-threatening global warming. For the year 2000, carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per person in New Zealand were 19 tonnes, not far behind the 26 tonnes of the world's worst polluter, the United States. Compare that to four tonnes per person in China despite breakneck industrialisation there. Over recent years of market liberal government, New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions have not fallen. Just the opposite. Emissions increased significantly, as did Labour's "green" chatter. Many deceptions, little or no action, that's the story here on climate change. Worldwide we see similar happenings. At Kyoto, Bali and other UN climate conferences, dignitaries spout lots of hot air in a ghostly symmetry with the warming planet. Meanwhile global emissions keep on rising. And rising. "We're toast if we don't get on a very different path," warned Jim Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, who is widely regarded as the world's most eminent climate change forecaster. "There still is time to stop the worst, but not much time. We see a tipping point occurring right before our eyes." Rather than states taking a very different path, their rhetorical ballyhoo is covering up a lack of effective action to avert climate chaos. This is a sin of cosmic proportions. But why are seemingly diverse countries committing the same sin? The answer lies in what they have in common: the market. Environmental destruction is hard-wired into the market. A few years ago the World Resources Institute studied how natural resources are used in the industrialised economies. They found that between half and three-quarters of resource inputs are, within a year, returned to the environment as waste. The market trashes natural resources, turning them into landfill and pollution and greenhouse gases. The explosion of waste and pollution has been sparked by the market's profit fixation. To undercut competitors in the struggle for profits, firms offload costs onto the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions. And if any corporate freeloaders are billed for the pollution cleanup, they threaten hellfire and damnation. How dare anyone challenge their Holy Crusade to become more profitable than rival firms simply because the planet is being crucified. Yet the Crusaders of Capitalism are now facing a potentially superior theology: the ecological evangelism of the People of the Planet. So the God of Greed has decreed a fall-back strategy. Set up a pollution market which allows corporates to profit from trading in greenhouse gases while giving the appearance of tackling climate change. Call it something seemingly inoffensive like an Emissions Trading Scheme. Allow the market to pass on the economic costs of global warming to the grassroots. Hallelujah! That's exactly what Labour wants to do in New Zealand. And so does National. Despite ferocious fisticuffs over minor matters, both factions of the Church of Market Miracles promote a pollution market called the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). And the Green Party has become a partner of the pollution market despite the misgivings of many of its members. Listen to Tom Burk, former director of Friends of the Earth: "To believe that market forces can be used to fix climate change is to believe in magic." Greenpeace describes the ETS as "fatally flawed". A Greenpeace report published in March 2008 concludes: "The current proposal for the structure of the ETS will deliver no significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, will act as an impediment to the rapid implementation of less carbon intensive production technologies in the manufacturing industry and will do nothing to slow the destruction of forests to make way for increasingly greenhouse gas intensive forms of dairy farming." Even the Business Council for Sustainable Development, an establishment body not noted for radicalism, says the ETS would deliver "corporate welfare" of at least $1.4 billion over the next decade to just eight of New Zealand's largest industrial emitters. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, is proposing a very different path. He told the United Nations in September 2007: "It is important to organise an international movement to deal with the environment, a movement that will be above institutions, businesses and countries that just talk about commerce, that only think about accumulating capital. We have to organise a movement that will defend life." Such an international movement is in the process of formation, driven by the grassroots rather than by governments. A broad climate action coalition called 350 was launched across industrialised countries in June 2008. Its name comes from the need to return our atmosphere to 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million. That figure is now 10% higher at 386 parts a million. The famed US climate scientist Jim Hansen is a 350 spokesperson. Their website is at The launch of 350 intersects with an older movement across the Global South, driven by indigenous activists in countries like Ecuador and Bolivia, for payment of the ecological debt owed to them by industrialised countries. Today's dangerously high concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the result of two centuries of accumulated emissions which have mostly come from the industrialised countries. These states owe a vast ecological debt to the rest of the world. America, the European Union, Japan, Russia, Canada and other industrialised countries (including New Zealand) must pay off their ecological debt. They must offer funding and expertise to help newly industrialising countries switch to renewable energy. Building an international movement requires local initiatives to marginalise the market so that we can take a very different path to save life on Earth. RAM's approach to public transport, emission reduction targets and public assemblies on climate change shows how we combine action on the climate with challenges to the market. Transport accounts for 19% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007 the sector's emissions had soared by 64% over 1990 levels. Beginning in 2004, RAM has been campaigning for free & frequent public transport in our main cities. Success in this campaign would do three important things: 1. Getting cars off the road would deliver a huge reduction in carbon emissions. 2. The grassroots would benefit from the elimination or reduction of their transport costs. 3. The market would be weakened by making public transport free of charge. RAM is calling on the New Zealand parliament to legislate mandatory emissions reduction targets in line with recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPPC wants emission reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 50-85% by 2050. While many climate scientists say the IPPC targets are too low, they would be at least a UN-endorsed start towards mandatory requirements which will undermine the pollution market. RAM has begun raising the idea of public assemblies on climate change. The participants might include religious faiths, trade unions, professionals and scientists, community groups, tangata whenua, environmental associations, farming and business lobbyists, educational institutes and political parties. The battle of ideas among these diverse sectors could isolate the corporate voices promoting a pollution market and open up democratic spaces for grassroots-inspired action. Localised solutions to climate change, such as micro energy systems, could be explored. So too could centralised solutions, such as free & frequent public transport. RAM's first steps towards a significant reduction of greenhouse gases would include:
  • Nationwide public assemblies on climate change to foster real action.
  • Free & frequent public transport in our main cities.
  • End motorway expansion and switch funds to trains, buses & cycleways.
  • After expanding public transport options, levy vehicle congestion charges.
  • Expand the goods haulage roles of electric rail and coastal shipping.
  • Promote urban redesign to localise work, schools and shops.
  • Resource strong communities as an antidote to wasteful consumerism.
  • Education campaigns on the reduction, re-use and recycling of waste.
  • Carbon-offset charges on airport arrivals and hotel beds.
  • Prioritise the development of solar, wave and wind power generation.
  • Offer cheap solar panels to homeowners.
  • Return power generators and distributors to unified public ownership.
  • Cease all electricity subsidies to big business.
  • Workers laid off for ecological reasons to receive full pay while transitioning and retraining.
  • Low-income families hit hard by climate change policies that raise living costs to receive state compensation.
  • Export state coal only to countries which are moving to renewable energy.
  • Adopt the UN-endorsed IPPC targets for emission reductions.
  • Government-mandated emission settings for all industries.
  • Zero-emission bonuses to assist smaller firms spend to end pollution.
  • Escalating pollution charges on bad offenders in each industry.
  • Bring out-of-control corporate polluters under state control.
  • Government-mandated regional maximums for farm animal numbers.
  • Farmer-friendly incentives to promote a switch to low-emission agriculture.
  • Stepped-up research into farm inputs and processes that reduce methane.
  • Foster organic farming in cities to localise sustainable food production.

Over the medium term, RAM believes climate security requires an international shift within societies towards co-operation, equity and democracy. Such a shift would:

  • Move economic activity towards equitable and ecological production, rather than a sole fixation on profit.
  • Include all human and environmental costs in efficiency measurements.
  • Embrace whole-of-society governance over economic strategy.
  • Reshape the state into a social custodian of humanity and our habitat.
  • Repay the ecological debt that industrialised countries owe to the rest of the world.
  • Adopt whole-of-world actions that mobilise humankind against climate chaos.

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