Manchester’s Electronic Billboards – Another Sidewalk for Jevons’ Paradox

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Manchester’s Electronic Billboards – Another Sidewalk for Jevons’ Paradox

By Richard A Shirres & James Scott Vandeventer

In perambulating Manchester’s city centre, now the latest chore is in side-stepping yet more clutter within your pedestrian domain: dozens of electronic

image of fake energy rating sticker

Stickers produced “for research purposes only” by Darren Cullen. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

billboards – and if they are not within your line of sight, they are not doing their job. Each of Manchester’s 86 new e-billboard contraptions hums with the energy to power three households per year (11,501 kWh per year) while visually enjoining us to consume. Yet modern consumption, fossil fuel enabled and propelled, is civilisation’s ‘carcinogen’ and is now driving humanity towards a dire future.

Most obviously, an emergency is serious. But our climate emergency now threatens us with catastrophe: globally, regionally and locally. So, Manchester City Council’s ambition for Net Zero Carbon by 2038 is commendable. Yet, in practice, latest trends already point to a shortfall in attaining essential targets1; bringing to mind a suspicion of: “make me virtuous but not just yet”. The e-billboards suggest high-flown words of ambition are trumped by the more pragmatic, short term, goal of the Council’s ‘get the money’ imperative despite this new infrastructure’s complicity in supporting and growing its citizenry’s consumption.

This animated, dynamic street advertising densifies the volume of consumer messaging, it distracts from enjoyment of any street design and tranquillity. It demands attention to the advertiser’s priorities, “. . . briefly one takes them in, and for a moment they stimulate the imagination by way of either memory or expectation. Each publicity image fills a moment . .” (Berger, 1972)2. These e-billboards go beyond the clutter of street signage, they are vibrant auto-purveyors of a consumer ethic.

The publicity environment that John Berger wrote about 50 years ago has only become more sophisticated and insidious since. Advertising has transformed consumer behaviour from one of buying based on needs to purchasing based on ‘perceived’ wants: transforming people’s concept of wants to need. Thereby, creating a mindset of wasteful consumption.

Manchester City Council’s defence of this street clutter is, partly, that the energy hunger is fed from renewable sources. Thus, Jevons’ Paradox3 is planted in your line of sight, illuminated with advert scrolling 24 hours a day. One must ask: what are the ethics here? Because we have that available energy efficiency, we can use it to promote consumption, the very sickness that promotes our emergency.

Not only do the Council’s particular departmental perpetrators not understand Jevons’ Paradox, it’s difficult to believe they even understand that under current GHG emissions’ trends the window to avoid a 1.5°C global temperature rise will actually be closed by 2030. And that scenario (now likely) would bring about the entire annihilation of all the world’s coral refugia, 25% of marine biodiversity, as well as likely help trigger the looming feedbacks from Siberian permafrost. Against that, hope only comes from actions consistent with a cultural transformation.

The Council’s perpetrators, if not yet instructed on that side of carbon literacy, should be on a mission to create tranquil, quality urban shared spaces to help promote health and well-being for city centre residents. Instead of e-billboards, we could have our sidewalks populated with ecologically productive assets that espouse the ethical mindset to help us actively engage with and steward what could be our precious environment.

Notes

1. Steady State Manchester Report: Greater Manchester is overspending its carbon budget and Places for Everyone will make it much worse.

2. John Berger 1972, Ways of Seeing, published by Penguin

3. The Jevons’ Paradox, see: https://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/sites/default/files/Hannis%20-%20Jevons%20review.pdf

FURTHER READING:

Fifield & Pidd (2022) Manchester electronic ad boards use electricity of three households, The Guardian, Sun 9 January 2022

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/09/electronic-advertising-boards-manchester-energy-use-consumption

See also a two page text prepared for Steady Sate Manchester: An abridged Extract from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972), Chapter 7, (Capitalism’s Synergy with Semiology and its Debilitation of Democracy – A View from 1970s)

 

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Community or Consumption: Social Ecology in Greater Manchester

A guest article, by AJB

Photo description: A brown-orange wall. There’s a Manchester bee painting on the left-hand side and MCR, written in black block letters, on the right.

Photograph by Chris Curry – Free to use under the Unsplash License

It’s an inevitability for anything written on the topic of Manchester to mention or make even the most minute reference to the city’s past as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. From the worker bee iconography stencilled through the streets to the cranes and scaffolding sprinkled liberally throughout the city centre, production and labour have been at the forefront of this hardworking city’s aesthetic and ethos.

A lot has changed since the days of cotton factories and mills. However, one unwavering consistency that remains is the outright disregard for the wishes of the Mancunian population itself. Whilst business elites and corporations pontificate pushing Manchester further into being a “second London“, many of us would simply like a long overdue improvement to Piccadilly Gardens.

Here lies a very unfortunate trap. There are two major city plans for Manchester that are often proposed. First is the plan to turn it into a bustling metropolis with further businesses and tourism. The second is the promise to make Manchester “eco-friendly“, with parks and green spaces alike. Whilst these initiatives may produce great campaign slogans – and a greener city is certainly not a bad thing- they fail to grasp at the root of our ecological crisis. Furthermore, neither plan places the people of Manchester in the driver’s seat of change.

What would Manchester look like if people had direct say? What would our communities be like if we weren’t beholden to a council, surveys or authorities, but rather we worked together directly and cooperatively to create a Manchester for the people, not just for businesses?

The answer lies within the philosophy of social ecology and communalism. Spearheaded by American philosopher Murray Bookchin in the early 1970s and continued on by several social theorists, most notably Modibo Kadalie, the crux of social ecology is the belief that our ecological crisis stems from a deep-rooted social one. It’s the belief that so long as our current society is organised through hierarchy and domination, the planet and our environment will continue to be dominated, commodified and at the bottom of the pecking order. This is largely due to the misconception of nature being seen as separate from humanity.

This line of thinking is very specific and in contrast to mainstream environmentalism. Whilst some writers and activists in the green movement see humans as parasitic to nature, social ecology asserts that we are in fact a part of nature itself. Modern technology may be seen as an inherent evil to some environmentalists, however social ecologists view technology as a neutral entity that can be used for liberatory means.

Lastly, social ecology is the belief in achieving what Bookchin described as “third nature”. First nature refers to the untouched organic wilderness; second nature as in what we are now (towns, cities, parks etc.). Third nature refers to a society in which humanity reestablishes harmony with the planet and environment, thus blurring the lines between urban and rural. This can manifest itself in community gardens, food distribution, clothing swaps, repair cafes, tool libraries etc.. Many of these elements are actually already being seen throughout Greater Manchester.

So, how do we transport ourselves from our current state to a reality without hierarchies and domination of the environment? The answer is found through the praxis of communalism.

It is my personal belief that there is no better place to practise the principles of social ecology than that of Greater Manchester. Communalism starts out small, by establishing blocks or streets of highly participatory, leaderless neighbourhood groups, and then combining them into larger confederations, so on and so forth until we have a Greater Manchester made up of decentralised, directly democratic communities ready to tackle whatever is thrown our way. As complicated and complex as some of these words may sound, it can be summarised as simply as talking to your neighbours and organising the community away from hierarchy and institutions.

Older Mancunians, often nostalgic for past decades, have attested that the sense of close-knit “village-like” solidarity achieved through social ecology used to be naturally prevalent in British life. Neighbours knew each other’s names, borrowed what they needed and asked for help when required. This is still the case on certain streets and in certain areas, but largely, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, we remain an incredibly isolated and lonely population, due in no small part to the direction in which we’ve been steered by a select few global companies. All of this persists, and yet our cynicism is pointed at each other as humans. In a way, elites of the industrial period achieved an incredible PR makeover by taking a city with a heavily overworked population, as well as a violently handled labour force, and flipping its narrative into an aesthetic of ‘busy worker bees’ all playing their part.

Through an individualist lens, changing Manchester may seem like an out of reach and idealistic task reserved only for the “decision makers” at the top. Through a collective lens, however, there’s a power within the Mancunian population outside of electoral politics that has yet to be fully realised. Corporations and politicians continue to advertise their promise of a “Northern powerhouse” with parks and greenery, but they can’t promise an organic community. They can’t provide a life outside rigid consumerism and the commodification of our natural world.

It’s not enough to have pockets of parks with flowers or private businesses with greenery in their aesthetic – not when our lives are otherwise stripped down to clocking in and out of work and having our city re-sold to us a commodity to use on the weekends or on days off.

The methodology used to further the philosophy of social ecology has undergone many different labels, from communalism to democratic confederalism to libertarian municipalism. Regardless of which “-ism” it is described as, I envision Manchester in particular as the perfect place for it to be practised. This is not because I think of the city as horrible and in desperate need of change – on the contrary, it’s because since immigrating from the US, I’ve seen the Mancunians’ grit, and determination to achieve goals and work together through whatever hardships arise. From wars, terrorism, Brexits and pandemics, in a city with such a historic industrial past, there lies potential for an amazing ecological future.

BIO:

Andrew J Boyer is a writer, musician, and community organiser.

Posted in analysis, cities, Greater Manchester, Manchester, social policy | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Greater Manchester is overspending its carbon budget and Places for Everyone will make it much worse.

by
Mark Burton (Steady State Manchester)
and
Matthew Broadbent (Save Greater Manchester Green Belt)

Download as a pdf file

This post is also available at Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt
and The Meteor

The Greater Manchester Environment Plan isn’t delivering.

minor edits, 12 April, 2022

Greater Manchester has the aim of “…our city region to be carbon neutral by 2038 and meet carbon budgets that comply with international commitments.” (Note 1) The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) commissioned the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester to propose a carbon budget consistent with that aim. This found that an arithmetic ‘fair’ share of global emissions for the conurbation was under 67 MTCO2 for the period 2018-2038 (Note 2) and 71 MT up to 2100.

The Tyndall report made a number of important comments about the pathway to net zero.

To provide a smooth transition in line with the above budgets, average annual mitigation rates of CO2 from energy need to be between 10% and 20% – beginning in 2018. ….. immediate near term action is essential and any reduction in the mitigation rate in the early years will require a significant increase in the rate in future years for the same budget to be met.”

It is therefore rather alarming to discover that the Environment Plan Performance Overview, released this month, using a traffic-light rating system, rates progress toward the 2038 carbon budget as RED, risking the failure of the Environment Plan to achieve a step change in carbon emissions. GMCA’s Chief Executive has acknowledged the problem. As the report candidly puts it,

Across 2015-19, GM’s emissions are 8.3MtCO2 above the Tyndall budget, i.e. an additional 8.3MtCO2 savings need to be made on top of the Tyndall budget. This gap has been increasing year on year. Key point is that significant cuts must happen now. Action to reduce emissions is already being taken but under our current level of activity we will have exhausted our carbon budget in 6 years.”

GM emissions trajectory from Mar 2022 performance report

Graph from the GM Environment Plan March 2022 Performance Report showing the failure to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Tyndall budget

A final point about the Tyndall budget concerns the separate category of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). This concerns both emissions and carbon capture by the natural environment (the carbon flux). As the Tyndall report states,

The carbon budgeting method for GM’s LULUCF sector has been developed to ensure that across the century any early emissions from the sector will be fully compensated by later carbon sequestration. Moreover, the method has been designed to enable LULUCF emissions to reach zero by 2038, so as to align with GM’s zero-emission commitment. Finally, post 2038, sequestration by LULUCF is set to compensate, at least in part, for GM’s unavoidable non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.”

Thereby,

1) LULUCF achieves absolute zero CO2 emissions, on an annual basis, by 2038 consistent with the year of carbon neutrality.

2) Post 2038 the rate of LULUCF emission reductions continues to increase, reaching a maximum rate by around 2045. Thereafter the sector continues to provide a stable level of annual sequestration across the century.

3) GM’s emissions from LULUCF achieves zero cumulative CO2 emissions for the period 2018 to 2100”

This is vitally important for Places for Everyone, the Region’s spatial plan. Tyndall assume that the cumulative emissions from 2018 to 2038 are compensated with carbon removals (by the land and the trees) from 2039 to 2100. Since Places for Everyone will involve a lot of building on green space, then the capacity to remove these unmitigated emissions will decrease, helping lock in continued carbon emissions after the supposed zero carbon date. Let’s look at the scale of green space loss, and the other carbon consequences of Places for Everyone.

Places for Everyone – a lot of building construction and a lot of carbon. By 2037, Places for Everyone plans to deliver “1,900,000 sqm of accessible new office floorspace” – but 3,352,371 has been earmarked. For Industry and warehousing, “at least 3,330,000 sqm of new, accessible, industrial and warehousing floorspace will be provided”, but 4,185,793 has been identified. For housing, “minimum of 164,880 net additional dwellings will be delivered over the period 2021-37, or an annual average of around 10,305.” (Note 3) Again, they have identified space for more, 190,752. Translated into hectares, the allocation of land is as follows (own calculations from P4E documentation and FOIA responses).

Category

“Existing supply” ha

Green belt
ha

Total
ha

Brownfield

Greenfield

Mixed

Offices

301.39

23.28

2.94

2.15

329.75

Industry & warehousing

117.17

59.14

14.46

215.99

406.76

Housing

1968.93

1007.32

392.80

2,211.26

5,646.12

Totals

2,379.5

1,089.7

410.2

2,429.4

6,477.0

So the total green space to be built on (not including the brownfield areas that have reverted to nature and the “mixed” category) will be approximately 3,600 ha, more than 13 square miles.

This is an enormous scale of development which will have several kinds of carbon impact.
Building on green space means,

  • the loss of the natural ability of the plants and soil to capture and lock away (sequester) carbon;

  • the loss of the opportunity to enhance the capacity of these spaces to capture and sequester carbon, for example by additional plantings and restoration of wetlands and other soils.

While building anywhere involves,

  • the carbon emissions that arise from construction of the new buildings, roads and other infrastructure, both on site and all along the supply chain;

  • the carbon emissions that will be generated by all these new buildings, their heating, lighting, and machinery in use;

  • the carbon emissions from the transport that these buildings require to reach and supply them, including workforce movements from residential to employment space every day;

  • the additional emissions that would be caused by any overall increase in the scale of the economy due to this new investment (a key objective for GMCA in doing al this construction is to stimulate economic growth, which inherently generates further carbon emissions).

The whole question of the carbon consequences of planning (i.e. construction of buildings and so on) is explored in more detail in Steady State Manchester’s Carbon and Planning Workbook (Note 5).

A new study, by a group of researchers expert in climate change, construction, finance and planning, finds that the government’s housing targets for England, if met, would exceed the country’s legislated 2050 carbon budget (Note 6). That budget is less stringent than the Greater Manchester one so if Greater Manchester is still committed to their 2038, 67 MT budget (and why declare a Climate emergency if not?), then it is highly likely that on housing alone, the Places for Everyone proposals will be disastrous for the region’s ambition to be carbon neutral. Since the region uses the government’s methodology for calculating the number of new housing units needed, then it does seem highly likely that here too, the housing plans will scupper carbon neutrality. We can’t let that happen. Our preliminary calculations indicate that this pattern found by the researchers, nationally, holds to some degree for the Greater Manchester case.

Happily, there are other ways of meeting housing need that do not rely so heavily on new construction. The research paper just referred to models these possibilities and concludes that it would be possible, but politically challenging, to “meet England’s unmet housing need without transgressing national sustainability objectives”.

Surely, the GMCA has already made their own assessment of the implications for carbon emissions, and humanity’s climate safety, of their Places for Everyone plan, a joint development strategy brought forward by nine of the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester (Note 7). Well possibly not. Places for Everyone does make mention of climate change and the problem of carbon emissions.

This Plan sets out proposals to support the Greater Manchester ambition to be a carbon neutral city-region by 2038. A key element of this is to require all new development to be net zero carbon by 2028 at the latest – we do not want to build homes and workplaces which require retrofitting in the future and we have set an ambitious target, backed up by our evidence to achieve this as soon possible. Our commitment to keep fossil fuels in the ground
remains, at this time therefore we will not support fracking.”
(Note 8)

However, when we looked for an assessment of the full impacts of the proposed developments we could not find the necessary detail, neither in the plan, nor in the voluminous supporting documentation. We have submitted two separate Freedom of Information Requests asking for the data and details of the methodology (Note 9). They have been refused on the grounds that the information is there in the documentation. We have checked and it isn’t. Maybe you can find it where we have failed (there is a vast amount of documentation!).

When a plan is prepared for the purposes of town and country planning or land use it is legally obliged to undertake an assessment of the environmental impact of the plan. The Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) is required to describe and evaluate the significant effects on the environment of implementing the plan and any reasonable alternatives, taking account of the plan’s primary objectives.

However, we fear that the apparent lack of such detail suggests that the SEA (which forms part of the Integrated Assessment of the plan and is an integral part of the plan itself) has not been conducted to the standard that is required by the legislation and guidance on climate change and planning.

In its analysis of the competing spatial strategies, the SEA arrives at the counter-intuitive conclusion that the plan makes a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gases. By way of contrast, the SEA argues that an alternative spatial option that proposes the integration of public transport with housing development could cause the public transport system to exceed capacity, potentially causing an increase in greenhouse gases. It is curious as to why a spatial strategy that proposes no building in the Green Belt and is proactive in promoting a reduction in the use of private transport is judged more harshly than a spatial option that bakes in dependency on private transport and takes out carbon sinks.

The methodology by which these conclusions were arrived at is not provided in the documentation, and neither are the underlying metrics of the assessment. The opaqueness of the SEA compares unfavourably with the transparency of environmental assessments undertaken elsewhere in other parts of the country. In Cambridge’s Local Plan, for example, the SEA calculates the projected carbon emissions for each spatial option, and arrived at conclusions that contradict those reached in Places for Everyone: they discover that coupling residential development and public transport leads to approximately 20% lower carbon emissions than a strategy that promotes car-dependent development in the Green Belt. (Note 10)

Cambridge SEA spatial options

Cambridge SEA: annual carbon emission per home (tonnes of CO2 per year) for 2030, medium growth, with zero carbon policies

Arguably, the most shocking omission from the SEA is the absence of Greater Manchester’s headline environmental objective, the 2038 target for carbon neutrality. Since the plan runs up to 2037 then this is the plan that must take us there.

In short, the assessment does not appear to have been conducted objectively and the conclusions seem to be biased by pre-determined outcomes. A BBC report recently surveyed 136 councils across England and found that a third support policies that are inconsistent with climate goals. (Note 11)
Given that all ten councils within Greater Manchester have declared a climate emergency, we suggest that it would be prudent for the GMCA to withdraw its Places for Everyone Plan, review these critical matters and re-submit it with climate and social safety uppermost. Maybe the Planning Inspector will reach the same conclusion.

Notes

  1. 5-Year Environment Plan For Greater Manchester 2019-2024, paragraph 2.2, page 17 https://greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/1986/5-year-plan-branded_3.pdf
  2. https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/83000155/Tyndall_Quantifying_Paris_for_Manchester_Report_FINAL_PUBLISHED_rev1.pdf Note that this is not actually a fair share since it makes no provision for redressing the historical and disproportionate emissions of this country and it assumes a continuing disproportionate rate of emissions for the time being.
  3. https://democracy.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/documents/s19936/05a%20Annex%205_Year_Environment_Plan_Performance_Overview_Mar_22.pdf
  4. The quotations are from Places for Everyone, 2021.
  5. https://steadystatemanchester.net/publications/the-carbon-and-planning-workbook/
  6. Ermgassen, S. zu, Drewniok, M., Bull, J. W., Walker, C. C., Mancini, M., Ryan-Collins, J., & Serrenho, A. C. (2022). A home for all within planetary boundaries: Pathways for meeting England’s housing needs without transgressing national climate and biodiversity goals. OSF Preprints. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/5kxce Note: this article is, at the time of writing, undergoing peer review.
  7. Stockport withdrew from the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (as the plan was known then) in December 2020.
  8. Places for Everyone paragraph 1.52.
  9. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/carbon_metrics_places_for_everyo#incoming-1875367
    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/the_methodology_for_how_the_inte
  10. Greater Cambridge Local Plan – Strategic spatial options appraisal: implications for carbon emissions (https://consultations.greatercambridgeplanning.org/sites/gcp/files/2021-08/gclp-strategic-spatial-options-assessment-implications-for-carbon-emissions-nov2020.pdf); Bioregional, on behalf of Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Authority, November 2020
  11. Shelley Phelps, “Council policies ‘inconsistent’ with climate goals” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-58102578); BBC, 13 August 2021

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Beyond a Green New Deal: book review

Beyond a Green New Deal

Essay review: Max Ajl, “A People’s Green New Deal”, Pluto Press, 2021. Paperback £14.99 or open access download.

Mark H Burton

If you’ve read our commentaries then you’ll know that we have major reservations about the various Green New Deals (GNDs) that vie for the attention of liberal and left governments. We have been critical of them as a Keynesian approach that seeks to use investment in green sectors to both control greenhouse gas emissions and restore, and actually expand, a working economy that provides for jobs and livelihoods. On first sight, it’s an attractive idea, a win-win deal, that is easy to understand and explain. While not all Green Deals are equal, they must all face a number of key issues, which we have summarised in terms of six problems, or questions, that have yet to be answered. In summary they are,

1) Material flows and extractivism.

Increases in economic activity are associated with increases in the throughput of energy and materials, and these increases have involved increased pollution, including, critically, the increased emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting primarily from the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. Those flows also start with extraction of fuels and minerals, and this has devastating impacts on ecosystems and communities, especially in the global South.

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

Other things being equal, there is no control over where the economic stimulation of the GND, its multiplier effects, have their impact. So the desired, clean, growth of the economy has undesirable implications in terms of additional resource and energy use. Clean begets dirty.

3) The inherent constraints of renewable energy.

So far the increased deployment of renewable energy has added to, rather replaced, fossil fuel burning, and anyway, it is doubtful whether renewables can provide the scale of concentrated energy used by the current global economy, especially if growth continues.

4) Diminishing return on investment due to resource scarcity.

As mineral resources become scarcer, the cost of their extraction increases. This causes systemic shocks to the economic system long before depletion. Yet GNDs rely on massive use of things like rare earth minerals and metals such as copper and cobalt, all of which are depleting.

5) The other planetary boundaries.

GNDs focus on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, but while central, that isn’t the only ecological system emergency confronting the world, and GNDs make little mention of or provision for resolving these other threats.

6) The GND and the capitalist growth imperative.

However financed, the GND requires a return on the investment and that requires the 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. We know that economic growth does not decouple (absolutely and sufficiently) from its material impacts – pollutions and increasing resource usage.

Enter Max Ajl, with his intervention “A People’s Green Deal”. The book is in two parts, “Capitalist Green Transitions” and “A People’s Green New Deal”. The first part of the book is a cogent analysis of the world ecological crisis and its roots. He examines in turn the various “solutions” on offer, firstly the Green Transitions of the global elite,

Amidst rising awareness of the capitalism-climate nexus, it is only natural that the ruling class would seek to avert a climate crisis which could imperil their power, to displace blame from fossil capitalism to a faceless and structureless humanity, and to make the poor pay the costs of transition……
“Green social control aims to preserve the essence of capitalism while shifting to a greener model in order to sidestep the worst consequences of the climate crisis”.

Such plans mean ramping up the security sector, itself a massive user of fossil fuels and other resources, drawing excluding boundaries around peoples (a “Fortress North”), matching up people’s assets such as pensions and public resources with new technology to harness natural energy flows and commodify them. Market mechanisms are never far away with prices set to commodify and trade pollutants and commons.

He next turns to the ‘ecomodernists’ and their vision of airliners running on biofuels, the circular economy recycling every last atom, digital agro-industry and the mirage of clean nuclear power. He provides trenchant critiques of the left versions of this (‘accelerationism’ and the foolish fantasies of ‘fully automated luxury communism’) that, like the ecomodernist mainstream, seek to grow forever, using that destructive expansion to avoid the hard choice of fair distribution. Such nonsense is scientifically illiterate as Ajl shows through an examination of the favourite shibboleth of these writers, the impossible decoupling of economic expansion from material and energy flows.

Those were perhaps easy targets, but what of the green social democrats, the New Green Dealers? Ajl also subjects their programmes to a withering critique. Ajl uses the left liberal icon, US Congress member Alexandria Ocasio Córtez’s proposals (co-authored with US Senator Edward Markey) as a case study. As he points out, this proposed “non-binding legislation” has served as an often unexamined reference point for swathes of a once radical, internationalist, green movement. He highlights two passages. In one, the national security of the United States is described as under threat, in language that could have come from the Pentagon. The other promotes “the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action”. This is all consistent with what Ajl diagnoses as the fundamental flaw in the social democracy of the global North. It has its good side, that which we can look back to with nostalgia for the post war years that brought free health and social care, relatively low levels of inequality, public housing and improved infrastructure, along with rising trade union membership. But that was all dependent on a,

…barely tamed capitalism which continued to hunt and feed on the periphery throughout its short lifespan. …. It is distinguished by four traits. One, it is a class compromise between capital and labour in the imperial core. Two, to compromise, social democracies require constant growth, in order to create a bigger pie – the larger piece for capital and the smaller for labour. Three, they survive vampirically off value extraction from the periphery. Four, European social democracies were a prophylactic against the Communist contagion then spreading amongst a devastated and war-weary European working class. Each trait is critical for understanding contemporary climate talk”.

Ajl knows the US context better than our own, so much of his critique is about the set of North American GNDs. However, the argument also applies to the UK and the rest of Europe, such as the Green Industrial Revolution of Rebecca Long-Bailey and the Corbyn period in UK Labour, the Transición Ecológica of the Spanish Labour Party, the PSOE, and its more radical but still social democratic critic and ally, Podemos. Those two are prominent but they are not the only proposals on (or off) the table. For all these, Ajl’s conclusion is devastating:

There are four problems with green social democracy. First, it is not achievable through current strategies. Two, even if it were possible, it would be imperialist and rest on devastating the South. Third, it is being marketed as something it is not, eco-socialism, or the conversion of the core of the world to non-commodified and non-hierarchical self managed social and economic relations, with convergence between the core and the periphery., and permanently sustainable scientific management of the environment. Four, it limits our political imaginations.”

Ajl concludes the first, diagnostic, part of the book with the question that sets the scene for the whole second part: what would an eco-socialist People’s GND look like?

Firstly, in the chapter before the one on green social democracy, he does cover the fundamental question of energy use and degrowth. With regard to the latter, Ajl is sympathetic, noting that degrowth is a political-ecological call for sufficiency, and that the critique of growth as such has been successful in shaking the faith in growth that has served as a kind of ideological glue, containing people within the consensus of “the Western capitalist pseudo-welfare states”. He goes further though, as I do, in noting that some degrowthers focus more on growth than accumulation and power, and that there is sometimes something of a silence about (actually existing) imperialism. He goes on to identify the way in which massive energy use has become embedded in the Western social and political systems. “From highways to the automobile industry to the current farming system, an entire world has been built in the core countries on economically ‘cheap’, physically dense, and easily storable forms of power.” That means a massive downsizing of current energy use, currently stated to be 12,00 kWh per person in the US, 7,150 in Japan, and 4,928 in France, compared to just 571 in Nicaragua, 268 in Sudan and 91 in Yemen. Like us, and campaigners like Larry Edwards and Stan Cox, he endorses the idea of a cap on energy use in the wealthier countries. As Edwards and Cox put it, that means a combined approach of an annually reducing cap and a policy framework to adapt to the reduction: Cap and Adapt. Work has been done, by, Millward-Hopkins, Steinberger, Rao and Oswald, in a study cited in the book, to show what a globally equitable and sustainable level of energy allocation would look like. If the critics of degrowth are right and we’d all be living in caves, then those caves would have “highly efficient facilities for cooking, storing food and washing clothes; low energy lighting throughout, 50l of clean water supplied per day per person, with 15l heated to a comfortable bathing temperature”. Each household could have one computer, connected globally, and warmth of 20°C year round, and so on.

In the second half of the book, then, Ajl sets out the main parameters of what he calls the People’s Green New Deal. In my view, this isn’t really a Green New Deal at all, and in a recent interview by Manchester based GND Pod, he explained that the term had such resonance and recognition that it seemed wise to use it and try thereby to recover a renewed, radical ecological meaning. I find this section harder to summarise because the visionary utopian dimension is so intertwined with considerations on political strategy – and that is a good thing. Along the way I re-encountered many of my favourite thinkers, and many new ones, a majority from the global South, or with strong connections there. Essentially the argument is that there can be no viable Green Deal without linking together the agendas of fair energy and material use, ecologically safe food production (agro-ecology) resting on land reform, financial transfers to those lands and peoples that have been pillaged by imperialism and the imperial mode of living of the global North, and the key role of national self-determination in the anti-colonial struggle, as exemplified in the Palestinian struggle and the Cuban revolution. Also noteworthy are such varied exemplars as Kerala, and the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, as well as islands of alternative development and ecological restoration, often led by indigenous or black heritage groups, in the global North.

Max Ajl’s book is perhaps the best I’ve read on the interconnected global ecological emergency, false solutions and possible alternatives. I have no problems with its overall thrust. Inevitably there are some reservations, which for the sake of completeness and in the spirit of constructive comradely criticism, I’ll state here.

There is little said specifically about women, half of all humanity, yet their labour, their organisation and their struggle must be central to any convincing account and to any political movement for change. Indeed the feminisation of politics is at the heart of the radical municipalism that can be seen as an allied movement in the movement of movements for eco-socialism. At times I thought that Ajl was uncritical of the Latin American pink tide governments, such as the Venezuelan, Bolivian and Ecuadorian, which usually talk a good talk on the rights of mother earth etc. but whose ecological record is at best equivocal, and in the Venezuelan case utterly destructive. Yet I agree with him that Cuba is probably the most ecologically advanced country in the world, as shown in a report by Jason Hickel and colleagues and elsewhere. In the book and elsewhere he has been, in my estimation, unfairly critical of the critics of extractivism in those countries (e.g. Svampa, Acosta, Solón, Gudynas, and Lander, in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela, respectively). These critics are writing from the eco-socialist position that he espouses and have been allied with degrowth and indigenous activists. Finally, the narrative doesn’t always quite convince – largely due to the huge ground covered and the inevitable gaps in what has to be in places, a rather schematic argument. These, though are relatively minor quibbles about a very impressive and broadly very sound piece of work.

Finally, what does the book mean for the prospect for Green New Deals here in Manchester and similar places? Ajl teaches us that a seriously ecological, liberatory and internationalist perspective is essential. This is a logical development of the oft-cited counsel to “think globally, act locally”. A Green New Deal that does not take seriously the geopolitical, physical and ecological realities that, thankfully, limit the greening of complacent reformism, is not worth the time of day. However, our proposal for sector-specific green deals within the local bioregion could be consistent with such an aware and committed orientation. Radical, yet selective, re-localisation is the other side of what Samir Amin, one of Ajl’s key references, called delinking, a concept that could do with rigorous further exploration in relation to a post-growth economy. By reforming the way our local economy works, through place-based, multi-sectoral projects, we can reduce reliance on exploitative global supply chains, building resilience, economic and social justice for us here, and indirectly, for those our economy exploits beyond our places.

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UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy – a critical review

a guest piece by Peter Somerville

In this devastating critique, Peter Somerville makes a detailed examination of the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy. Read his review in full here.

He begins by setting the strategy in context.

Cover of the UK Net Zero Strategy report

When the government published their Ten Point Plan a year ago they recognised that it did not go far enough to fulfil their international commitment to reducing carbon emissions. One year on, their Net Zero Strategy does go a little further, but still falls far short of what is required. The problems inherent in the original plan persist, namely:

  • A failure to recognise that the world is now experiencing a climate emergency, and therefore that more drastic action is required in the short term (before 2025) to reduce carbon emissions (see p18, Fig 1, or p77, Fig 13 – minimal reductions up to 2025)
  • A continuing (and increasing) reliance on problematic technologies that do not currently exist at scale, particularly in carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) – e.g. direct air carbon capture
  • A failure to explain clearly how expected future carbon savings have been calculated, particularly in industry, buildings and transport
  • A neglect of issues relating to agriculture, food, land use and energy storage
  • An emphasis on constructing new nuclear power plants, with a new (from 2022) Future Nuclear Enabling Fund of £120 million, but with no net increase in nuclear power capacity likely until after 2030 (Minus 45 – UK FIRES, p7); in the meantime construction work is adding significantly to carbon emissions (see, for example: Record-breaking concrete pour lays Hinkley Point base slab)
  • An emphasis on GDP growth, despite the strong correlation between such growth and increasing carbon emissions
  • A lack of clarity about how specific policies could achieve intended emission reductions, e.g. on hydrogen
  • A failure to curb the expansion of aviation to 2030 and beyond (an expansion that is encouraged rather than hindered by the latest spending review’s decision to cut air passenger duty)
  • A failure to take account of other government programmes that increase rather than reduce emissions, e.g. increased spending on roads (£27 billion) and defence (£24 billion) up to 2024.

Peter concludes:

In spite of progress in a number of areas, for example on the decarbonisation of electricity and industry, and possibly on restoring peatland, planting trees and reducing waste, this Strategy is little changed from the Ten Point Plan of a year ago. Progress on heat and buildings has stalled, due in part to the failure of the Green Homes Grant, and strategy on other sectors, such as transport and agriculture, remains confused and irrational, and inadequate to achieve the government’s goals. Overall, the Strategy lacks urgency, coherence or precision. Far from being the promised green industrial revolution, the Strategy seems focused on merely incremental change, such as from internal combustion engines to electric ones, from fossil-fuel boilers to low-carbon heating appliances, with continuing support for unsustainable aviation – no real modal shift from private to public transport or from unsustainable to sustainable farming.

This strategy fails to demonstrate that the UK can stay within its Sixth Carbon Budget, which is itself too loose to ensure that the UK makes its fair contribution to limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius (Calculating a fair carbon budget for the UK). The strategy takes no account of the UK’s historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions or for emissions embodied in imports or of the City of London’s key role in funding fossil fuels. It has nothing to say about divesting from fossil-fuel companies or about banks and pension funds divesting from those companies. It offers no forms of regulation or mandatory legislation that would be sufficient to bring about the necessary divestment. It exudes complacency by failing to comply with Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendations (as of June 2021, the CCC’s 2021 Progress Report to Parliament, p16 stated: ‘credible policies for delivery currently cover only around 20% of the required reduction in emissions to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget’), and by effectively postponing decisive mitigative action until after 2025. The only amendment it suggests to the Climate Change Act 2008 is one that would include negative emissions technologies in the carbon budget, which would have the effect of making the carbon budget even looser than it is already, thus reducing the need for immediate and effective action – yet another clear step backwards rather than forwards in the struggle to prevent catastrophic climate change. Above all it continues to promote alleged climate ‘solutions’ that exist, if at all, only in the longer term (e.g. nuclear power and carbon capture and storage), while failing to act decisively in the short term and indeed continuing to support and encourage the fossil fuel extraction and burning that is primarily responsible for causing the current global climate emergency.

Read Peter’s review of the Net Zero Strategy in full.

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The Carbon and Planning Workbook

Diagram showing the carbon transactions of interest in planning

This is a guide for local campaigners who want to estimate the carbon (greenhouse gas) consequences of proposed planning developments on local land.

It takes you through the various aspects to consider and data that you can use in your estimates. It also aims to forewarn you of potential problems and uncertainties in making such estimates. This first, test, edition is very much work in progress so feedback and suggestions will be very welcome.

The workbook provides information you can use for estimating the specific carbon consequences of a development. You do not have to be mathematicians or engineers to work this out, it is a high level estimate (not a finely crafted precision calculation) that can be used to evaluate and, where necessary, to challenge the development.

To access the files, CLICK HERE

There are two items:

The workbook, with discussion of the issues, information on sources of data and hints and tips. It is available in pdf and two word processor versions (.ods and .docx).

A spreadsheet that you can edit for your own calculations, available in .xlsx and ods versions.

The files can be downloaded and used by you. You can also share them. However, please don’t produce derivative versions without our permission and please do acknowledge us in your work.

For later versions check the permanent page: The Carbon and Planning Workbook

We are grateful to Friends of Carrington Moss for the stimulus to develop this workbook, and for comments on an earlier version.

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Can Cop26 lead to a viable future? The Meteor interviews us.

The Meteor is an increasingly indispensable source of news for Greater Manchester an beyond. It is a worker co-op “a not-for-profit, independent media co-operative – an alternative, radical, community-based publication for the people of Manchester.”

Conrad Bower, editor and co-founder, interviewed us on the occasion of both the COP26 Climate Conference and the publication of our book, A Viable Future?

In the interview we discussed the prospects for real success at COP (slim, we think), Manchester’s climate plans and the contradiction with the pursuit of continued economic growth, alternatives to degrowth, the decoupling myth, and low hanging policy options.

You can read the interview here.

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A Viable Future? Explorations in post-growth – free ebook

Our collection of writings is now available.


A Viable Future? Explorations in post-growth from Steady State Manchester is a collection of our work from the last decade.

This monster (it’s nearly 400 pages long) is available as a free ebook, in both epub and pdf formats. A paperback version is now available at little more than cost price – go to our shop page to order or click the button below.

Contents

Click here to see the book contents (opens in new tab/window)

Get the book!

Alternative link for pdf here.

Endorsements

This book is unusual in combining a practical local perspective, grounded in the Greater Manchester region, with a conceptual understanding of the dimensions of the existential ecological and social crisis that we are living through.  It will be a valuable resource for members of the degrowth movement and their allies, whether activists, scholars, or those working within existing systems such as government agencies.

Federico Demaria, University of Barcelona, co-editor of Degrowth and Pluriverse, co-author of The case for degrowth.

For the last 14 years Steady State Manchester has consistently produced critical and constructive writing that challenges not only the status quo extractive economy, but even some of the popular alternatives. They have done this from a real place and context, moving their work from purely theoretical, to deeply practical, even personal. The analysis is deep and clearly argued. Post Covid and in the midst of escalating climate disruption, we must rethink the very foundations of our economy, putting the wellbeing of people and place firmly in the centre of our designs. I recommend this collection of essays as invaluable reading for permaculture designers, degrowthers and climate activists, ecological and political economists, policy makers and indeed anyone serious about creating an economy that genuinely works for people and planet.

Andy Goldring, PermacultureAssociation CEO, trainer, activist / Our Future Leeds City Hub Coordinator.

Manchester has always played a central role in the world history. Manchester was at the heart of the growth of both industrial capitalism and the resulting strong and violently repressed social and emancipatory movements. So it is logical and fruitful to go back to Greater Manchester and explore the continuity of such movements questioning the pillars of our Western model of society based on capitalism, neoliberalism, productivism or consumerism. This book is an invitation to explore the rich experience of the Steady State Manchester collective fighting against our toxic addictions to economic growth and reflecting on their activism and intellectual and academic debates. This journey can provide meaningful thoughts but also feedback and examples on different levels and strategies to bring out the broad in-depth philosophy behind Post-Growth or degrowth in a practical and pragmatic ways.

Vincent Liegey, co-author of Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (Pluto Press, 2020).

For the past 14 years, a plucky and fearless group of citizen-scholars has been taking the ideas of post-growth to the heartland of the industrial revolution: the city of Manchester. This book covers the wide-ranging contributions of Steady State Manchester, from local campaigns on urban planning to universal considerations on alternative economics. Its stands as a testament to the fact that a small & dedicated group of people can achieve huge feats of civic creativity, and should serve as a basis of reflection and inspiration for many others around the world.

Professor Julia Steinberger, Institute of Geography & Sustainability, Faculty of Geosciences & Environment, University of Lausanne.

This collection of reports, articles and new commentary from Steady State Manchester is a vital resource for anyone living in Greater Manchester who wants to see system change.

This book is for you if you’ve heard of Positive Money but aren’t sure if their ideas map onto a de-growth agenda (they don’t), or have wondered if in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals we would be living within planetary limits (sadly not). The authors’ starting premise that the economy must be socially and ecologically viable provides a yardstick with which to judge a range of political economy, monetary and social policy approaches at different scales.

The book leaves you in no doubt about the enormity of the challenges but offers ways forward and highlights principles with which to align other work, proposing workable policies to inspire activists, academics and the Greater Manchester policy community as a whole. This anchoring of action at the Greater Manchester (‘bioregional’) level helps distract from paralysing gloom and creates a sense of potential to participate in the work of radical re-prioritisation.

Although they don’t flinch from hard truths, Steady State Manchester encourage us to think that we all can contribute to building resilience and helping prefigure the kind of change that’s needed at pace and at scale.

Hannah Berry, Greater Manchester Housing Action.

Steady State Manchester provide a welcome challenge to the continued drive for economic growth in the city.  Better still, they hold an important space for the people of the city to deliberate and to design a viable alternative; an economy that works for people, place and planet, not just the pockets of a few.  It is great to see the evolution of their collective thinking pulled together in one book.  I urge you to read, pull apart, scribble on as you wish.  Most importantly I urge you to join in the conversation, to help reimagine and to dig in as stewards of Manchester and earthlings of this planet, we are lucky to call home.

Eve Holt, Councillor, Manchester City Council; Director Happen Together CIC and Manchester resident.

This book is testament to the enduring influence, relevance and persistence of the ideas and energies of Steady State Manchester. ”A Viable Future” is grounded in experience and practical knowledge within a clear intellectual framework that pushes forward understanding and action about the options and limits for post-growth. Greater Manchester provides the bedrock for testing and exploring far-reaching propositions that extend across economy, welfare, environment, planning and politics. A must-read for anyone committed to researching and enacting systemic transformations.

Professor Beth Perry, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

An eye-opener that shows how the privatization of gains and socialization of pains – both social and environmental costs, can be reimagined, deliberated democratically and reversed! The most appealing aspect of this book is its engagement at the meso level. This is a book from the optimal ‘halfway down the stairs’ position, contrasting with the fool’s paradise of continuous economic growth, a bridge book that lays down the choices involved in our transitions to a sustainable and fair world. The bioregional conceptualization brings pragmatic social and economic opportunities and highlights the philosophical implications for science and policy, where the stocks, funds and flows of matter and energy as well as the information about multiple biophysical, social and economic interactions and exchanges are made visible, happy and fair.

Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina, Professor: School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, India. Co-editor, Post-growth thinking in India (2018).

In this book Steady State Manchester powerfully shows that to bring about a Viable Future, it is crucial to think and act both locally and globally. Place, they argue, is fundamental for imagining alternatives, whilst inseparable from worldwide efforts to tackle crises of planetary scale. Taking the reader through local struggles and activism in Greater Manchester, politics and policy proposals in the region, the UK and beyond, this book debunks false solutions and inspires thinking.

Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Lund University, co-editor of Towards a Political Economy of Degrowth and member of the editorial collective of ephemera journal.

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