Carbon budgets and footprints: a guide

World map showing transfers of emissions

Global emission transfers between countries in 2004 in millions of tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), taken from Figure 1 in Davis and Caldeira 2010*. (via Carbon Brief)

Greater Manchester Climate Network, with Green Drinks, organised a session called “Carbon Jargon Buster Workshop”. It was addressed by Joe Blakey from the University of Manchester. Joe has specialised in understanding the various methods and tools of carbon accounting, with particular reference to the assumptions behind them. He gave a very comprehensive, clear and stimulating talk to climate activists who had asked for input on the topic. SLIDES

Key take-away messages were:

  • Our carbon footprint is a way of taking stock of our (collective) responsibility for emissions.
  • As many people have a hand in the production of emissions across the planet
    there is no ‘correct’ way of measuring them.
  • Typically it is ‘direct’ emissions and those from energy use that are estimated and presented.
  • Carbon budgets are a tool for planning what carbon we use when, to limit
    the build-up of carbon in the atmosphere over multiple years. A carbon diet
    plan or ration.
  • Carbon budgets depend on estimates of the safe level of global warming (an arbitrary figure, 1.5 or 2 degrees, for example) and the likelihood of the quantity of emissions in the budget keeping us within that level. They also differ in the assumptions they make about the possibility of taking carbon back out of the atmosphere in the future.
  • We need to focus on year-on-year emissions rather than just target dates.
  • By focussing on emissions beyond direct, or territorial ones (consumption, investment, travel, trade) more levers can be found for reducing our contribution to global
    emissions.
  • By continuing to “claim” a carbon budget of (for the city of Manchester) 15 Megatonnes (of Carbon Dioxide equivalent), we are actually reducing the emission space available for poorer countries, which unlike us have not made significant contributions to the climate problem. While making radical cuts is difficult, we should really be thinking of even more stringent targets.

See the slides from Joe’s talk, click HERE

There is also a video of Joe’s talk (Manchester Climate Emergency, thanks to Marc Hudson and Amy Baron).

* Link for the graphic on global emission transfers: Davis, S.J. & Caldeira, K. (2010) PNAS (open access) at, https://www.pnas.org/content/107/12/5687.full

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The Future is 20 minutes away? 20-minute neighbourhoods

The Future is 20 minutes away? 20-minute neighbourhoods.

By Carolyn Kagan

pdf version

As we move towards a future in urban areas where people travel less, buy locally and live more convivial lives, we need vital and liveable neighbourhoods. This means we have to think carefully about neighbourhoods and how they can be either built or ‘retrofitted’ to work well.

It is always good to see what is happening elsewhere and to learn what we can use for our own, usually quite different contexts. One such innovation in neighbourhood thinking is the 20 minute neighbourhood. This is a very simple idea, a neighbourhood in which we can all get the goods and services we need within a twenty minute walk of our house. But it’s an idea that has come into its own –Sustrans, for example, has included a call for Twenty Minute Neighbourhoods in their 2019 general election Manifesto.

The idea originated in Portland, Oregon, and has been taken up by Melbourne in Australia.

The Portland Plan was developed by a wide coalition of public sector agencies, businesses, residents and the not for profit sector. They say the Plan is about ‘boosting prosperity and educational outcomes, and helping to advance health and equity’. Indeed, vibrant 20 minute neighbourhoods, in which 90% of Portland’s residents can easily walk or bicycle to meet all basic daily, non-work needs, forms part of the city’s Climate Action Plan, and could be an important component of our own local authority plans.

Melbourne’s 20 minute neighbourhoods

The idea was taken up and adopted in Melbourne, in their Plan Melbourne 2017-50, and a summary can be found here. So, as in a previous blog on this site, where we were discussing ‘Retrofitting Suburbia’ we turn to Melbourne for a greater understanding of the 20-minute neighbourhood. It is Melbourne that has led the way in thinking about, and researching, not only the advantages of a 20-minute neighbourhood, but also what it will take to move from where we are now, with housing developments and urban infrastructure designed around the car, to where we would like to be.

Research undertaken by the Heart Foundation (Victoria) for the Victorian Government identified the following hallmarks of a 20-minute neighbourhood:

  • be safe, accessible and well connected for pedestrians and cyclists to optimise active transport

  • offer high-quality public realm and open spaces

  • provide services and destinations that support local living

  • facilitate access to quality public transport that connects people to jobs and higher-order services

  • deliver housing/population at densities that make local services and transport viable

  • facilitate thriving local economies

The following diagram, taken from Plan Melbourne, summarises the components of a 20 minute neighbourhood.

Diagram: 20 minute neighbourhood concept

20-Minute neighbourhoods are one way to underpin strong and sustainable communities, where people enjoy good access to local jobs, services, amenities, social infrastructure, green space, diversity of housing, safe walking and cycling networks, good public transport and a rich social and cultural life.

Of course, the built form of individual neighbourhoods will vary. However, a planning system based on the 20-minute neighbourhood, is a place-based design approach that has the potential to lead to improvements in public health and well-being as well as social cohesion, and a part of this is an increase in the efficiency of the transport and active travel network (public transport, walking and cycling). Let’s look at some of the requirements of a 20-minute neighbourhood. For more information see the projects that Plan Melbourne 2017-50 have in progress.

Attributes of a 20-minute Neighbourhood

Getting about (and transport)

The core of a 20-minute neighbourhood is its walkability and priority given to pedestrians.800 metres (about half a mile) is the distance of a 20-minute neighbourhood or 20 minutes in time (based on average walking times of healthy adult and taking into account waiting at junctions and meandering routes). It can be a bit tricky working out the walkability of an area, but there is a methodology, based on work carried out in Australia, known as a PEDSHED analysis. Look here for information about how to conduct a PEDSHED analysis. Whilst of course public transport is to be supported, these kinds of distances within a neighbourhood are not usually covered by public transport: it is more helpful to think of public transport linking neighbourhoods. Cycling might do, if there were good cycling infrastructure, but the idea of the 20-minute Neighbourhood is to give priority consideration to pedestrians and walkability. Moving towards pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods would certainly create more attractive places, and it has been argued they create more economically productive places. Furthermore, walkable neighbourhoods promote healthy lifestyles, while ensuring community facilities are accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Get access right for the least mobile, and we get it right for everyone.

So, pedestrian infrastructure, connections and streetscape design should be considered during any local planning process with priority given to pedestrians in neighbourhoods, particularly in community hub spaces (what, in Melbourne are called activity centres) – not always so easy now the car is king. Even the walking infrastructure we do have (pavements) is often blocked by cars parking on them – an issue raised persistently by Living Streets.

Housing

Diversity of housing, near to local facilities, such as shops and public amenities are needed for a 20-Minute Neighbourhood. Research underpinning Plan Melbourne has identified a number of different metrics that can be used in the establishment of 20-minute neighbourhoods. In terms of housing density, this work reckons that a minimum housing target of 25 dwellings per hectare is needed to support built form features that align with the 20-minute neighbourhood hallmarks. Our estimates of density in Manchester was 40 people per hectare – which sounds about right.

Community hubs and activity centres

Community hubs, known in Melbourne as neighbourhood activity centres are at the heart of the 20-minute neighbourhood. These are more than the local high street, about which there is much attention and interest in the UK, as if high streets can be divorced from other public services and amenities. In contrast, a neighbourhood activity centre is defined as any place that attracts people for shopping, working, studying, recreation or socializing. An activity centre is a mixed use centre where people work, shop, relax, meet friends and family and also live: it is a mixture of commercial and other land use, including recreation, learning and living. As such activity centres, or community hubs have the potential to be an integral part of community life and are certainly fundamental to the creation of 20-minute neighbourhoods.

Public realm space is, then a part of 20-minute neighbourhoods. Gone are the patterns of zonal development, separating housing, workplaces, retail opportunities, services, education and leisure. Gone are the out-of-place shopping centres, the leisure centre that is located on a busy commuter road but away from other amenities, the work places to which people have to travel. In many parts of Greater Manchester, what could be considered neighbourhood activity centres are incomplete, with shops being central, but with less consideration of nearby housing, health, leisure and work facilities – and of course many fail the walkability test. However, there is the potential to create cohesive community hubs, or activity centres, which will also serve to afford neighbourhoods a clear identity and residents a strong sense of pride in place, by building on facilities that already exist, but carefully targeting conversion of and creation of space to be more comprehensive and cohesive.

There is some support for this kind of neighbourhood place-making.

The UK Government’s future of the High Street Fund recognises the need to move to more integrated neighbourhood centres (without adopting all of the attributes of the 20-minute neighbourhood). The Government says ‘We want to encourage vibrant town centres where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time’ . Although the Government is talking about Town Centres, rather than neighbourhoods, these initiatives could help us move towards neighbourhood activity centres, and this momentum is maybe something on which we can build.

Participation in planning

Local government has a role in supporting both the development and vibrancy of neighbourhood activity centres and also a network of neighbourhood activity centres within their jurisdiction, and ensuring that diverse housing and other facilities are all within 800m of the activity centres. 20-minute neighbourhoods may already exist in some places (see below for Melbourne’s approach to established and new neighbourhoods); in others they will have to be nurtured. They are unlikely to happen without a coordinated, collaborative community partnership approach, within which people living in those neighbourhoods play an important part. Both the Portland Plan and the Plan Melbourne, were developed through an extensive participatory planning approach.

Plan Melbourne’s Five-Year Implementation Plan argues that community participation is critical to the principle of living locally within 20-minute neighbourhoods. Action 52 of the Implementation Plan seeks to create resilient communities by increasing community participation early in the planning and development of urban renewal precincts. As it says, community participation and engagement can strengthen community resilience, increase knowledge and understanding of change, and empower local groups to be part of shaping the communities’ future. (Furthermore, Plan Melbourne points out in a way that we rarely see in the UK, that community participation in the planning process and creating a city of 20-minute neighbourhoods align with the Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 3 good health and wellbeing; and Goal 11 sustainable cities and communities)

A different approach for established and new ‘greenfield’ developments

The implementation of Plan Melbourne began with established neighbourhoods, and moved on to new ‘greenfield developments’

Established neighbourhoods

In some of Melbourne’s established neighbourhoods, the council collaborated with communities to identify strategies to create more healthy, vibrant and inclusive neighbourhoods. These strategies were discussed in a workshop with project partners, and informed the development of a Pedestrian report and Planning report for each neighbourhood.

The strategies in both reports reflected the Heart Foundation’s Healthy Active by Design (see above) guidelines and the relevant 20-minute neighbourhood attributes, and included:

  • Movement Network – Install safe school crossings

  • Housing Diversity – Review residential zoning

  • Destinations – Streetscape improvements

  • Public Open Space – Improve access to local parks

  • Community Infrastructure – Upgrade facilities

  • Sense of Place – Install public art with youth groups

  • Healthy Food – Investigate a community garden

Greenfield’ developments

The aim for Greenfield developments was to test, in 2018-19, 20-minute neighbourhoods in growth areas and showcase the benefits of community decision-making in these areas. The projects set out to deliver:

  •  An academic Literature Review of liveability outcomes in greenfield areas, based on the hallmarks (for example, general indicators and health and wellbeing indicators);

  •  Pedestrian Report assessing the pedestrian infrastructure in one area; and

  •  Social Infrastructure Report recommending stages for delivery of facilities in one area.

The sequencing of infrastructure development has been seen to be crucial in moving away from a car culture – for example if active travel and public transport infrastructure are not in place until after people have started to live in houses, then cars will predominate.

What is not to like about 20-minute neighbourhoods?

All the evidence, particularly from Melbourne and Portland, suggests that 20-minute neighbourhoods help us move towards more resilient, convivial and viable ways of living.

One commentator reminds us that young people increasingly choose to rent and live in 20-minute neighbourhoods. For all of us, they would be places that are inviting to walk or linger for a chat, indulge in people watching, and just ‘be’. Places where people can meet, become hives of creativity and the development of new ideas and industries – they are also enjoyable.

However…

Are 20 minute neighbourhoods really accessible? Does the walkability test discriminate against older, mobility impaired or pram pushers? Key to achieving 20 minute neighbourhoods is their walkability. There is a methodology for assessing the accessibility of 20-minute neighbourhoods, and others have proposed using GIS to help in the assessment, concluding that higher levels of walking are linked to dwelling density, street connectivity, land-use mix, and net retail area.

Carolyn Whitzman, an urban researcher has reported a number of challenges that Melbourne has not yet overcome (although she still considers the 20-minute neighbourhood idea a worthy goal). Perhaps most importantly is a failure to list the essential social infrastructure or distance measurement methods to be used to create the 20-minute radius for each neighbourhood. In contrast, she says, Portland’s strategic plan for a 20-minute city requires four key pieces of social infrastructure located close to affordable residential housing. These are: public primary schools, grocery stores, green parks, and public transport stops with minimum travel frequency standards. (Although note the point made above about walkability surpassing public transport for within-neighbourhood mobility.)

Clearly one of the tasks for planning 20-minute neighbourhoods is to identify the key infrastructure requirements within and between neighbourhoods. In addition, proposals are needed to improve infrastructure in under-serviced areas (in recognition that the City and even the neighbourhood centre is often well-served) and introduce affordable housing to well serviced areas, rather than confine it to the periphery.

What should we do?

The first step is to map what already is – to get together with residents, businesses, services, and all those with an interest in a particular neighbourhood and look at existing public life, use of spaces and quality of public space infrastructure in our neighbourhoods and to ask how is public space performing for people? We need to use the People for Places thinking promoted by Jan Ghel, former city architect of Copenhagen. His approach stresses first life, then space, then buildings, rather than the other way round, which is often the way our urban space is developed. From there we can plan, in the knowledge that the future should only be 20 minutes away.

Read this as a pdf

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Event: Green New Deals and Greater Manchester.

Green New Deals and Greater Manchester.
Monday 16 December: 6.30-8.30.

Whatever the result of the General Election, climate change and the actions needed to mitigate it will be major issues.  Both the Labour and Green parties, along with many civil society organisations and commentators are promoting the idea of a Green New Deal.  In this session we will look at what this could mean for Greater Manchester.  Maybe we will have a more supportive national government, maybe we won’t, but either way we need to look at what we want locally and how we can get it.  We have been constructively critical of some aspects of the Green New Deal approach, both from an ecological and an economic perspective, but we also recognise that a bold policy initiative of this sort will be absolutely crucial to staving off the worst of the climate and economic crisis.  The challenge is to make them happen and happen in a way that does not make matters worse.

The event will start with some short provocations and this will be followed by structured discussion to make the event as participative as possible.  So far we can confirm speakers from GM Labour for a Green New Deal, CLES, the Green Party and Steady State Manchester.

Friends Meeting House, Mount St: Please book HERE via eventbrite.

 


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Net Zero Government? A submission to the Environment Audit Committee Inquiry

Submission to Parliament Environment Audit Committee by Richard Shirres

EAC INQUIRY INTO NET ZERO GOVERNMENT

SUMMARY: This paper stresses why there is an urgency for Government Action; argues why the Government’s (June 2019) target is unambitious; the importance of Natural Resource Catchment Management, and, most emphatically, that Government needs to resource and facilitate formal nationwide public engagement amongst local communities in order to have the mandate for the extensive logistical and societal actions much needed to confront the climate emergency declared by Parliament in May, 2019.

Read the submission: HERE

Graph from the submission

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How Green is My City? A Response to Manchester City Council leader’s blog post.

Response to Manchester City Council leader’s blog post: How Green is My City

Mark Burton

(Submitted as a comment on Manchester City Council website and annotated here with links.  Comments appear to be disabled on the Leader’s blog, although the comment form is still there. Until fixed that is a source of frustration to citizens who want to enter into dialogue.)

photo of rally

Massive climate strike demonstration at the Great Ancoats former retail park that Manchester Council plans to make into a car park.

Manchester City Council declared a climate emergency earlier this year. I understand that there had been some resistance to this initially but in the end the back-bench motion, one of the most comprehensive, clear and action-focussed of its kind, was passed unanimously with Executive support. Although some steps have been taken to implement the motion, the appearance from outside the council is that this is going slowly and not very transparently, although the institution of an Overview and Scrutiny Climate Change Subgroup could help. It would be good to know just what the new (senior management level) Zero Carbon Coordination Group is proposing to do: so, for instance, regular public announcements and clarity re targets would be very welcome.

The leader [in his recent blog post] is obviously correct to say that the council is directly responsible for only a small part of emissions but it is disappointing to see a continuation of road widening schemes and the plan to create a car part on Great Ancoats Street [update: greed by a majority of councillors at the planning committee on Wednesday 16 Oct], a street that is to be renewed with no cycle provision.

Critically the council could do more as a shaper and influencer by adopting a total carbon approach: the recent C40 cities report on city consumption emissions gives a lot of clues for opportunities for reducing emissions radically. That means reducing the emissions that take place elsewhere but as a consequence of producing and distributing the things we use in the city.

Finally I must respond to the punch line about stationary cars not making emissions. Obviously this is true at trivial level but it ignores a) the embodied emissions in vehicle manufacture, b) the emissions caused when they are travelling to places such as … Great Ancoats Street, along roads such as Hyde Road and Princess Road, c) the continuing demand for private motor vehicles that is facilitated by provision of excessive levels of parking in the inner area. We could learn so much from other cities that restrict cars in the inner city via congestion charging and restriction of car-parking. It will take some time to reduce car use and yes parking will be needed still for those residual and necessary car journeys. However, that does not excuse plans to actually create parking spaces when as we all agree we are already in a climate (and air pollution) emergency.

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From Puddings to Pea Wet and Oatcakes to Lobby: Ctrl SHIFT and social change

 

Several members of the Steady State Manchester Collective attended the Ctrl SHIFT summit in Stoke back in May.  We didn’t get around to writing anything about the event which brought together a wide variety of campaigners and social innovators at Pot Bank , the former Spode pottery works.  However Nickala Torkington from Flourish Together CIC has written the following piece.  The title might puzzle you: Pea Wet is a traditional food served in chippys in Wigan (where the first Ctrl SHIFT took place) and Staffordshire Oatcakes are yeasted oatmeal pancakes, traditional fast food served to pottery and other workers in the Stoke on Trent area and beyond.  These are towns with their own particular challenges, but as local speakers made clear, they are much maligned and CTRLSHift logogreatly misunderstood with many local “endogenous” developments responding the real challenges of post-industrial and austerity-hit settlements.  Here, then, is Nickala’s piece.

From Puddings to Pea Wet and Oatcakes to Lobby – what can we learn from Ctrl SHIFT and the ingredients for consistent social change?……

A short summary of this year’s CTRL Shift Conference which took place in Stoke, including a focus on the Women as a Force for Social Change ‘Solutions Session’ and reflections on future links and considerations for Greater Manchester.

For the second year in a row, the CTRL Shift team brought together their unconference style 3 day event, where grass roots activism, meets public and private sector decision makers. The location moved from Wigan in 2018 to Stoke and built on core themes including: tackling the climate emergency, permaculture, building resilient, innovative and connected communities and sharing models from across the country of people who act – not just for one or two days, but constantly to seek to create a fairer, greener, inclusive and sustainable future which we all have a stake in and a part to play.

The team behind CTRL Shift believe ‘A better future already exists’, they seek to bring together individuals, organisations and networks across the UK who are already creating a future that’s more inclusive, collaborative, and aims to benefit everyone. The aim is to shift political, economic and cultural power away from the status quo and involve diverse communities in intelligent systems change that works.

Throughout the conference there were a mix of discussions, critical thinking and mapping sessions alongside ‘Solutions sessions’ highlighting good practice already happening which can catalyse solutions for change. Space and time was created to have wider thematic and co-working sessions where deeper collaboration and strategy development starts to turn into action through people finding their voice, common ground and creating increased co-ordination and connection to act.

Solutions sessions and themed conversations at Ctrl Shift 2019 combined an eclectic mix seeking to address a range of social and environmental challenges: Wellbeing, Citizen Action Networks, Citizen-led Economic Transition, Mutual Credit, Local Food, Students as change agents, Regional Networks, Women as a force for Social Change, Climate Conversations, Creativity, Participatory Budgeting, People Powered Money, Regenerative Business, Systems Thinking for Connected Action, Shared Governance, Transformative Economies or Community-led Housing. Something for everyone you might say – or a lot of issues to try and do something about!

As co-founder and director of Flourish Together CIC, which is based in Greater Manchester, but operating across the North, we’re a pay it forward consultancy which invest its surplus resources and profits in supporting more women to create the change they see needed in communities and society at large. I convened the

‘Women as a Force for Social Change’ session where we leveraged our time, networks, experience and brainpower to hold 4 conversations in our 50 minute slot.

The need for our session was clear, with evidence ranging from Caroline Criado Perez’s new book ‘Invisible Women’ highlighting the extent to which women’s voices, experience and intelligence is missing from so many elements of decision making from our research and technology industry, to local politics and business growth and development. Plus the fact that for every £1 of private investment only 1 pence (yes that’s right 1p) goes to women led businesses and organisations. This rises to 11p if you look at companies with a mixed board resulting in 89p per pound going to the remainder – the men, to lead and spend resources as they see fit. All of the women involved in leading the session would identify as social innovators and entrepreneurs and could bring strength from the knowledge that the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector is already creating a shift with over 40% of social ventures led by women. Plus the organisers of Ctrl SHIFT snapped our hand off when we said we’d run it.

A summary of our 4 action orientated discussions to build connections are below along with links on how to follow up for more information:

NICKALA TORKINGTON (www.flourishtogether.org.uk) mapped and discussed over 50 examples of women as a force for social change as well as networks/ activities supporting progress – we looked at everything from who is excelling, what sectors are they operating in, current energy and strength

PATSY CORCRAN (www.asist.org.uk) & MONICA CRU HALL (www.countercoin.network) discussed enabling inclusion and the role of advocacy for women influencing and leading change. They shared good practice examples and major gaps in enabling women to have a voice and be represented. Giving concise examples of how to support more women with disabilities and learning difficulties and also more women from from Black, Asian, Minority and wider Ethnic groups including Refugees to feel compelled to speak, be heard, get involved, take action and bring real and authentic diversity to influencing and decision making. Sharing learning from lived experience and the work of Asist.

INDRA ADNAM (www.thealternative.org.uk) looked at ‘What is the new politics for the future to enable women to act as a force for social change?’ Discussing how to create a new landscape, structures, language to enable politics and democracy to be fit for purpose and relevant for the future.

ALEX PHILLIPS (www.unltd.org.uk) held a conversation looking at the characteristics and behaviours of women innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders reflecting whether there are ways in which women bring something different when fostering, innovating, designing and implementing change? Especially given 40% of social enterprises are led by women and only 1-11p per pound of Venture Capitalist funds are invested in women how do we support more social ventures to be taken seriously and scale?

Our group and the diverse people who joined the discussions found this a great space to learn, debate, map what is happening and to help give a platform to new voices

as well as improve how we start to co-ordinate ourselves for impact– two of the key goals of Ctrl SHIFT.

In many ways the Ctrl SHIFT model isn’t that unlike any other conference, however the format and style, the mix of people, the venue they choose (towns with industrial hearts finding ways to keep beating and innovate social and environmental change) and the legacy they try to build in the places are they run – considering the conference themes through towns in need of regeneration and testing actions in these localities, has the potential to make these conferences and the network stand out and be a gamechanger in shifting control….. The proof of the pudding though, is always in the eating and making sure there is genuine, consistent and connected action. With 10-20 such towns across Greater Manchester and a track record of having run one in Wigan, there is certainly momentum to build on. We have many of the right ingredients, solutions working now in pockets and smart people across all walks of life across our communities taking action day in day out – whether we can agree on what pudding or cake stall to create in Greater Manchester in another matter, however the tools, networks and principles of Ctrl SHIFT make us natural allies of this work well into the future and discussions following the conference are warming up nicely.

For more information on elements of this blog email Nickala or organisations highlighted. For more information about Ctrl SHIFT 2020 see: https://www.ctrlshiftsummit.org.uk/

 

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Six problems for Green Deals

by Mark H Burton

A talk given as part of the panel session on The Economics of Climate Emergency, at Manchester Metropolitan University’s launch event for the Future Economies Research Centre.  Also available here at resilience.org:

Spanish translation here /Traducción a castellano-enlace

If nothing else, the last few months have heightened awareness of the desperately parlous predicament that now faces humanity, with an accelerating climate and ecological crisis. So attempts to design assertive policy proposals are very welcome. The Green New Deal is the one that currently is getting the most attention and perhaps traction. So I want to ask some critical questions that generally seem to be ignored in the infectious enthusiasm for the idea. In doing that I’ll also be rehearsing some insights from the degrowth perspective.

Preamble

All this is about the relationships among three spheres, exchange value, use value and (physical) materiality.

Diagram with three sphere, Exchange Value, Use Value and Materiality

  1. Our fundamental problem is a material crisis -of carbon pollution and its impacts on our ecosystem, and of resource extraction that is devastating ecosystems and livelihoods.

  2. Policy proposals are concerned, at root, with ensuring human populations can access use values, derived through human labour acting on the world’s material reality.

  3. But our economic system, which mediates the relationship between use values and matter, is based on exchange values, the monetisation of goods and services.

With this terrain in mind, let’s look at the 6 problems for Green Deals.

1) Material flows and extractivism

In one of the clearest statements on the theory that underpins the GND idea, the original UK GND team explained that:

… government intervention generates employment, income and saving, and associated tax revenues repay the exchequer. This is the multiplier process, attributed to Richard Kahn, Keynes’s closest follower.
Any public spending should be targeted so that domestic companies benefit, and then the wages generated create further spending on consumer goods and services. So combined heat-and-power initiatives generate income for construction and technological companies, and then workers’ salaries are spent on food, clothes, home entertainment, the theatre and so on, creating demand for those industries.” (New Economics Foundation 2008, p. 27)

For more on the Keynesian thinking that underpins Green New Deals see this article.

But here is the problem. Increases in the scale of economic activity (as conventionally measured in terms of GDP) are associated with increases in the throughput of energy and materials, and these increases have involved increased emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting primarily from the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. Green growth, requires that this association between GDP and GHG emissions must cease to exist: this is known as ‘decoupling’. It is doubtful whether any developed country has achieved this at the scale and permanence required (Burton and Somerville 2019, pp. 99–101), especially when international shipping and aviation plus embodied carbon in imports are taken into account (Anderson 2019).

Irrespective of the levels of GHG emissions, the material flows that underpin the current scale of the economy already involve problems with extractive industries (located largely in the global South) and land use change more generally. For these material flows, the overall evidence is that there is no decoupling from GDP growth, with the (international) material footprint increasing by some 6% for each 10% in GDP (Wiedmann et al. 2015).

For each increment in the scale of the economy, there is an increment in the extraction of minerals, the number of mines, the extent of cultivated land, the extraction of water, the number of ships, lorries and planes carrying goods and people, and in the amount of waste that has to be disposed of, whether by recycling or by dumping it in the earth’s land, sea and air, its ecological sinks.

2) The multiplier doesn’t care about the climate.

The multiplier effect, referred to above, creates a problem because it is non specific: other things being equal, there is no control over where the multiplier effects have impact. So the desired, clean, growth of the economy has undesirable implications in terms of additional resource and energy use. Clean begets dirty.
Read more about this problem.

3) The inherent constraints of renewable energy.

Graph showing growth of renewable energy sources versus bigger growth in other energy sources

GNDs emphasise switching to renewable energy. So far, increases in renewable energy deployment have not led to a reduction in fossil fuel usage globally. Overall their deployment has been to add to the global energy mix rather than replacing fossil fuels. Moreover, it is doubtful whether renewables can provide the scale of concentrated energy used by the current global economy: the constraints are less in the power that could theoretically be generated from natural flows than in the minerals needed to deploy them: minerals used in generators and motors, in batteries and in electronics, as well as copper for transmission of power (García-Olivares 2015). These are finite and with limited substitutability. The revolution will be low powered, so the Green Deal has to factor in a plan for energy descent.

4) Diminishing return on investment due to resource scarcity

The well validated, and landmark, Limits to Growth study modelled the impacts of resources becoming scarcer and their cost increasing. This undermines the stability of the production system well before the resources are near exhaustion: inexorably reducing returns on investment lead to an economic collapse (Meadows et al. 1974, 2005, Turner 2008, 2014, Homer-Dixon et al. 2015). Any expanding economic system has to grapple with this, even if it successfully exploits essentially free natural energy flows: you can’t create minerals from sunlight. These economic consequences of the increasing scarcity and inaccessibility of most minerals and metals need to be addressed in any credible Green Deal, yet there is almost no discussion of this crucial reality in any of the proposals, nor of the ‘hidden’ resource intensive demands of new technology.

Read more about the Limits to Growth and the EROI problem.

5) The other planetary boundaries.

Even if it were possible to mitigate the climate crisis through the kind of transformation proposed in the various Green Deals, there are other ecological crises to contend with. These can be understood in terms of the Planetary Boundaries framework proposed by Johan Rockström and colleagues (Rockström et al. 2009a, 2009b, Steffen et al. 2015). Climate change is just one of these boundaries. As of 2015, the evidence available to the Planetary Boundaries investigators indicated that

Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity:… …
Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call ‘core boundaries’. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”.
Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries…”
    Read more about this.

It is unclear whether and how the various Green Deals propose to address these additional threats, whether or not they rely explicitly on green growth.

I should note that the newest, and very comprehensive set of proposals, from the Green New Deal for Europe grouping, does acknowledge and attempt to address all these questions, although not necessarily altogether convincingly (Adler, Wargan, & Prakash, 2019).

But it is in the political economy of the GND where we have a fundamental contradiction that will not be easily resolved.

6) The GND and the capitalist growth imperative.

Paying for the GND has attracted a lot of debate and I don’t propose to go into the intricacies. Broadly, it is suggested that this be done by Government and private sector, raising credit from other sectors of the economy, i.e. individual and corporate investors, including public and private sector pension funds.

The problem is that this all assumes a return on the investment.

For the private sector, this is via interest or dividends, based on the profits from the new activity.

Some advocates suggest that the GND be funded through money created by government especially for this purpose – by electronically printing money.

In all these cases, the advance of money for investment ultimately requires ongoing expansion of capital, the modus operandi of the capitalist system, founded on the expropriation of surplus value in the labour process, which we know as economic growth. Without expansion, there is no, or insufficient, return on the outlay.

Despite the claims of some GND advocates, Green Deals are predicated on the expansion of GDP and as we saw, we can’t rely on that to decouple from material impacts.

read more about this

Mitigating the growth imperative

That is, unless another way can be found. There are some indications that this might be possible.

  1. Resource and energy caps.
  2. Review evidence that credit needn’t imply growth.
  3. Take production out of private ownership.
  4. Redirect unnecessary expenditure.
  5. Substitute material production with social & environmental stewardship / “dépense”.

Firstly, an ecologically feasible Green Deal would entail some way of capping resource and energy use at source, effectively the equitable rationing of commodities (goods and services). Doing this would also incentivise the transition to less ecologically and resource intensive offerings across the market, so long as emitting activities weren’t driven underground.

Secondly, a number of studies show that the creation of credit could, under certain conditions, fund necessary investments without creating an imperative for economic growth (Berg et al. 2015, Jackson and Victor 2015, Lee and Werner 2018).

Thirdly, if the industrial sectors of the new economy were taken out of private capitalist ownership, then the motor of capital self-expansion need not necessarily be required, though this would, I think imply a trajectory towards a steady state, at least for that part of the economy.

Fourthly, some of the expansion could conceivably be funded by the redirection and re-prioritisation of undesirable economic activity – though much of that still requires profitability.

Fifthly, as the latest of the GND papers suggests, aggregate energy demand must be reduced by scaling down material production and throughput. That would entail shifting income and welfare creation from industrial production to social and environmental reproduction: maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental and infrastructural resources, as well as education, culture and care for people and environment. But that, idea, close to the dépense favoured by some degrowth theorists (e.g. Kallis, 2015), besides sounding like pie in the sky under capitalism, ignores the massive, neocolonial, outsourcing of industrial production to other economies.

Done in a managed way, that would be a lot better than the unmanaged periodic destruction of value that is a feature of capitalist cycles, but how do we get it to happen?

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September Newsletter from Steady State Manchester

Click here for SSM’s September update newsletter.  It covers,

Fossil Free Pensions?    Local action on climate change

Revising the Viable Economy   Degrowth 2020

Future Economies launch event    Better Buses    Deansgate

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