Burners and preservers: most Greater Manchester MPs voted for more climate change

You’ll no doubt have seen the parliament vote on Heathrow. It indicates the appalling disregard by a majority of politicians for the threat of climate change and for sensible economic policies more broadly. Only 5 out of 26 Greater Manchester MPs voted against expansion. Click here to see who voted how. Credit to those who did the right thing.  As for the others, even disregarding climate change, what were they thinking, voting more billions to infrastructure in the South East?

Friends of the Earth said it very well in this short statement:

“MPs who backed this climate-wrecking new runway will be harshly judged by history.

“The evidence on the accelerating climate crisis, which is already hitting the world’s most vulnerable people, is overwhelming – and expanding Heathrow will only intensify the misery.

“The aviation industry has been promising cleaner planes forever and a day, with little progress or investment.

“With no government plan to mitigate Heathrow’s carbon emissions, or to address its already illegal levels of local air pollution, it’s astounding that this scheme has been given the go-ahead.

“The only credible vote was to reject the third runway.”

As most Greater Manchester MPs are from the Labour party, SERA’s statement is relevant, though the “cakeist” punch line saying you can have economic growth and environmental protection is fantasy, as followers of SSM will surely know.   SERA lobbied Labour members to vote against the third runway which was also the position of the Labour leadership which inexplicably did not whip their members, so that more Labour MPs nationally voted for rather than against – and this included some front benchers.

Greater Manchester also has an aviation problem.  Councils rely on a contribution from Manchester Airport’s profits which they part own.  While the Metro Mayor and Combined Authority want us to be a Green City, the airport plans further expansion, and markets frivolous short haul flights: yet degrowing aviation seems to be something that can’t be mentioned in “polite company”, or at least when you do you will be ignored.

Think of that as you watch our moorlands burning in the driest June after the hottest May, releasing yet more stored Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere: I can smell the smoke as I write this.

I may be a member of the Labour Party, but I will neither campaign nor vote for people whose actions contribute to runaway ecological and climate collapse.

A personal view from Mark H Burton



Posted in Climate Change, environment, transport | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Economics is for everyone

“In Manchester, groundbreaking economics courses are giving locals the means to challenge some of society’s received wisdom – for free.”

Another article in  Aditya Chakrabortty’s Guardian series “The Alternatives”.  This time we can’t claim any involvement (though one of SSM’s members is named as a participant in the workshop).  But this is an excellent initiative.  One thing we did once was run a workshop specifically on the steady state economy / degrowth.  Maybe people would like more of this kind of thing.

More broadly, the initiative Aditya describes recalls Manchester’s rich history of working class self-education.  We wrote about this in relation to the broader need for cultural alternatives in our pamphlet In Place of Growth and this seems like a good moment to reproduce that section.

From In Place of Growth, 2012:-

Reducing consumption and strengthening community

Our culture today is a strange one. In many ways we have been de-culturised. Even by comparison with Celtic Britain the lived culture of Manchester (like most of England) is weak, dependent on passive consumption. Some of this is a consequence of waves of the successive destruction and re-making of communities due to the enclosures and migration to the cities over the last 200 years. Comparing the cultural life of Manchester at the start of the 20th Century with that now is instructive. For example, a popular progressive movement organised around both political action and cultural events and practices, with choirs, walking and cycling groups, working people’s institutes and educational resources, even secular churches. There were parallel participative cultures linked to other sectors too. That cultural life will not be re-created in the same form, but a re-discovery of those lived forms of culture and community would help both reduce our dependency on the consumption of consumer goods and services, and help build stronger and more resilient communities where mutual aid is the norm. In a context of welfare austerity too, such a transformation is a real necessity.

Box: Historical memory and lived culture

Manchester has an impressive history of participative people’s culture that was an integral part of the struggles for social justice of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Taken together these examples suggest how a new people’s culture could emerge again to replace the current culture of passive cultural consumption. That movement was much more than its trade unions and political parties, instead it was an all embracing social movement with a whole way of life, of social relations that embedded social solidarity, learning, healthy living and cultural enrichment.

These are some of the main structures and initiatives in the working class history of Manchester.

Mechanics Institutes

Working Men’s Associations

Co-operatives – retail and producer




Socialist faith groups and socialist churches

International solidarity (Spain, 19th Century independence
struggles, anti-slavery)

Clarion clubs – cycling, walking and music, and a newspaper

Access struggles culminating in the Kinder Trespass

Manchester and Salford Labour Halls

Socialist choirs


The Hall of Science.

Beyond Manchester there were also intentional communities and housing schemes linked with the Chartist, Owenite and later movements.

In the 1970s there was also another resurgence of radical lived culture in Manchester, centred on two small groupings, Community Research and Action group and the Manchester Non Violent Action Group. Some initiatives variously linked to these groupings included

The Community Levy for Alternative Projects

On the 8th Day

Grass Roots Books (later Frontline)

Several alternative newspapers including Manchester Free Press

North West Spanner Theatre Company

Community Arts Movement

If we are to reduce reliance on energy intensive passive entertainment and at the same time build a new social movement for ecological living that lives its values and principles then these traditions need rediscovering, renewing and reinventing. And this must be done in a way that includes everyone, not just a section of those centred on districts like Hulme and Chorlton. Moston Miners’ Community Centrei and Moston Small Cinemaii is an excellent example of what we have in mind, but such examples are scarce.

We need to radically reduce unnecessary consumption, that is to say any consumption that does not meet a social or personal neediii. Sadly, we are at a point where people’s identities are tied up in consumption and without finding some way of addressing this it is difficult to see how there can be success in building a steady state economy. This means that it is not just about replacing one ‘type’ of economy with another but it is about how together we shift values, perceptions and what people aspire to. There is a potential debate here – is consumerism a side effect of the underlying dynamics of growth and accumulation, or is it a key support for those processes, or again, do they mutually reinforce each other? But that does not matter too much so long as we attack both ends of the problem. As we feel loss more strongly than gain there is a need to find ways to highlight that this would be a gain (in terms of better quality of life, environment, community, etc.), rather than a loss (you can’t buy mangoes from wherever). This is clearly very challenging, particularly at the local level but maybe there are some practical things that can be proposed.

iii We acknowledge that the definition of ‘real needs’ requires debate and discussion: that discussion and consideration of what we actually need, individually and collectively for well-being and fulfilment, is a pressing need. Up to now a model of mindless consumption has been promoted and imposed without democratic debate or decision making.



Posted in community, economics, education | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

We need a A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework

A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework for a Viable Greater Manchester.

update: 3 July, 2018:  Indeed, as anticipated, the new draft has been delayed again to accommodate the new population projections from the Office of National Statistics.  These project 9.37% population growth by 2035 rather than GMSF’s former 10.22%.  Applying this on a simple pro-rata basis to the projection for new homes, we find that at 170,994, it is now just under the number GMSF now thinks can be built on brownfield sites, 175,000. Will that mean the pressure now comes off the Green Belt?  Read on to understand what that might mean for the overall model and the opposition to it.

read the following text as a pdf

 “Rewriting the spatial framework is our opportunity to plan for sustainable development and shape a Greater Manchester that best meets the needs of local people and our environment, and is not just driven by the needs of developers and a market-led free for all but is an opportunity to secure mutually supportive economic, social and environmental outcomes that benefit people now and long into the future.”  Paul Dennett, Greater Manchester’s lead for housing, planning and homelessness, and City Mayor for Salford1

The rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will soon be out (unless the rumours about its delay until the autumn prove to be true). But will the new version address the real problems that the previous version would have merely compounded?

We said this about the GM Spatial Framework, 2016 draft:

The model of urban development that emerges from the GMSF draft is problematic. It envisages a “regional centre” consisting of flats, offices and shops, dormitory suburbs and warehousing and industrial sites on the periphery, in addition to “Gateway” areas with high concentrations of goods in transit. People will often have to travel long distances to work (for example in the city centre). The plans for renewing local towns (or rather their centres) seem like an afterthought, and there is little on the ecological, social and economic renewal of Greater Manchester’s vast swathes of suburbia. Had the Framework started by asking the question, “What makes for a Viable Community2 – socially, environmentally and economically?”, then a very different Framework might have been the result.

We weren’t the only ones offering a critique of the underlying model: a group of scholars from the University of Manchester said:

When Greater Manchester has been formatted for exclusive growth by the mono-culture of flat building in the centre, the city region needs a policy reset. Instead it has a draft GM Spatial Framework for the next twenty years to 2035 which envisages a near doubling in the number of flats in the new town in the centre, plus more than 175,000 homes on new edge city estates for houses and warehouses often on green field sites off the orbital M60 and other major roads(p. 30).

This reflects the close relation in Greater Manchester between political and (property) business elites who ignore the risks of overbuilding and property price crash in flats which would probably panic buy to let investors dependent on increasing property values. The need for more than 150,000 extra edge city homes is based on the implausible assumption that the regional growth rate will accelerate to a sustained 2.8% and on a supposed “land supply gap” which reflects the developers’ preference for green field sites (pp 33-4). 3

Both ourselves and the University of Manchester group make the connections between the assault on the green belt, the failed “jobs and growth” model, the devastating city-centre building frenzy, and the housing crisis. The driving forces and outcomes of the city centre boom were explored in another piece of research by Jonathan Silver of the University of Sheffield in a piece commissioned by Greater Manchester Housing Action4. In an invited commentary we drew attention to the neglect of human scale liveability and the ecological impacts of the building boom, not least through its material and energy use5. We will return to these issues below.

The 2016 draft Spatial Framework hit two unanticipated blocks.

Firstly, there was an unprecedented response to the consultation, 27,000 separate submissions. A variety of community groups organised demonstrations, culminating in a large one brought together by the newly formed umbrella organisation Save Greater Manchester’s Green Belt in Albert Square, outside Manchester Town Hall, seat of the council most associated with the agglomeration, boosterist, developer-friendly approach to planning6 (or more truly the lack of it7). The latter group also ran a well attended day conference Breathing Space: Building our Greater Manchester this March which went well beyond the defence of the Green Belt to consider key issues in urban planning, including transport, housing, and the future of the High Street, giving the lie to the suspicion that the Green Belt campaigners are merely a bunch of NIMBY’s.

Secondly, the incoming Metropolitan Mayor, the former government minister Andy Burnham, called for a radical rewrite of the Framework. More recently he has said:

There’s a feeling that cities get all the policy attention and towns are left to struggle and this is an issue for Greater Manchester if we don’t wake up to it…… people ….are proud and passionate about Bolton, about Rochdale, Leigh, you know, Stalybridge, wherever it might be. They care about those places and they want to see them on the up. We’ve got to start there. Start with what they care about and think about the housing that we truly need rather than the housing that developers want to build. ….. And that’s where you start to tell a more coherent story for how we’re going to develop a planning and spatial framework that is actually about rejuvenating the whole of Greater Manchester in the right way.8

There is some overlap here with the emerging critique of the previous Greater Manchester development model [maybe headline this concept earlier]. But the public statement on the GMSF rewrite frames it in terms that hardly suggest the kind of “radical rewrite” of which Andy Burnham spoke during his election campaign.

The framework is a joint plan for Greater Manchester that will provide the land for jobs and new homes across the city region, setting out ambitious plans as we seek to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world.

The framework is a huge part of securing the future success of Greater Manchester as we build a powerhouse of the North which reaches its full potential.

.The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which is being produced by all 10 councils working together in partnership, will ensure that we have the right land available in the right places to deliver the homes and jobs we need up to 2035, and will identify the new infrastructure such as transport, schools, health centres and utility networks required to achieve this. By working in a coordinated way, we can ensure the right decisions can be taken on both locally and at a Greater Manchester level.9

We can make the following observations about this statement:

    1. It still adheres to the agglomeration-boosterism that has characterised what has passed for policy up to now.

    2. There is no mention of heritage, amenity (other than formal services), biodiversity, or natural resource conservation and management. And there is no mention of liveable spaces that help the population to construct, reconstruct and maintain communities of conviviality and well-being.

    3. It is clear that the massive interest from the citizens of Greater Manchester is not being utilised in any kind of a collaborative way to jointly construct a new plan. Instead we have the familiar model of put out a document, invite responses, and then publish a revised version: the antithesis of living, participatory democracy.

  1. A crystal ball: the Next Draft of the Spatial Framework.

    Here’s what we think might happen now:

    1) To recap, the 2016 draft GMSF wasn’t bad just because of building on the green belt but because of the whole developer-led speculative model. That means an unliveable region with swathes of neglect, and concrete hell in centre, vast material flows via “logistics hubs”, cars and lorries /

    2) Given brexit, growth projections will be downscaled10. That will reduce pressure on Greenbelt, placating some opposition, weakening the loose social coalition for change.

    3) So the speculative, oligarchic, developer- captured, neoliberal, boosterist, growthist model will continue, despite tweaks to give some thought to the smaller town centres.

    4) Which means those of us who see the need for a totally different future for our city and region need to
    stick together (don’t let the developer lobby divide and rule),
    clarify our understanding of the driving forces, and
    agree design principles for a liveable, inclusive, post-growth region, a Social-Ecological Spatial Framework.

    In the next section we set out the key dimensions of this alternative approach to spatial planning.

The Alternative: A Social-Ecological Spatial Framework.

Workshop events we have run on the spatial question in our region always lead to the conclusion that social life or liveability, together with the natural world are two aspects people find most important and which are most typically eclipsed in economy-framed discussions on spatial planning. With this in mind we set out a two level approach to planning within the region.

    1. Places to live, work and be

The core of a regional spatial strategy must be two-fold: a focus on local places and local assets; and on region-wide places and regional assets. Two key questions to ask of every plan and every development are,

      1. Exactly how does this plan or development make this place a better place for everyone, across the lifespan, to live, work and be – in the short term and for ever?

      2. Exactly how does this plan or development increase, preserve and enhance green and blue space to grab greenhouse gas emissions, manage heat and flooding under conditions of climate change, protect biodiversity and nature, while offering amenity to the population.

In what follows, we argue for a return to an earlier stated purpose of a regional spatial framework

Planning shapes the places where people live and work and the country we live in. It plays a key role in supporting the [Region’s] wider social, environmental and economic objectives and for sustainable communities. …spatial planning goes beyond traditional land use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function”11

This is the orientation supported by Paul Dennett’s acknowledgement in the quote at the top of this article; there can be no spatial planning that does not consider at its heart the lived experience of our communities and the things that are needed to sustain them in the broadest sense.

    1. Local places and local assets

Greater Manchester is made up of different places, each with different strengths, cultures, histories, traditions and aspirations to be great places to live, work and be. The ambition should be to plan to make all of these places great, not just in terms of the built environment but in terms of what buildings are there for. The starting point is to make good use of what is there already in terms of the existing population in all its complexity, knowledge and talents; homes and a diversity of kinds of living spaces; local workspaces and places of employment; shops; cultural facilities (including community centres, pubs, cafés, faith centres, schools and colleges, health centres, libraries and places for meeting and for entertainment); transport facilities, green and blue spaces.

      • Community engagement and participation – all developments done participatively with a focus on built-in safety and increasing space for growing

      • Homes fit to live in.

      • Retrofitting housing to reduce energy demand and hence costs and emissions while improving comfort and health.

      • Mixed communities with citizens of different ages, socio-economic circumstances, ethnicity and faith, abilities, life-stages living side by side.

      • Local places of employment including workspaces for entrepreneurship and development of community good employment as well as for support for growing, maintenance and repair (as both employment and as non-employed activity).

      • Shops for everyday, fresh vegetables and fruit; affordable staples, convenience, accessibility (within walking distance of homes) and all age friendly – for example with places to sit (without spending) if necessary.

      • Walking routes, whether by pedestrianised areas or via pavements accessible for all and in good repair. Crossings that give pedestrians the priority over cars.

      • Cultural facilities for all within walking distance of homes. Divers kinds of affordable venues and support for home-grown entertainment (film cubs, drama groups, choirs etc).

      • Public spaces with art installations and importantly places to sit and rest or to talk.

      • Health centres, service centres offering a range of health and well-being services with public rooms open in the evenings and at weekends for community groups

      • Schools and colleges with facilities made available out of hours on a community-good basis.

      • Transport, affordable and taking people where they want to go. To other towns, to hospitals, to the countryside (so not just radial routes).

      • Green spaces available to everyone for growing and for recreation but also just to be, within easy reach of homes. New developments to have gardens and if flats to have both private and public green and blue spaces. This might mean an increase in ponds and wetlands around housing developments (with seating!)

liveability walkability breathability just being conviviality (true) prosperity resilience safety

    1. Regional spaces and assets

There are some aspects of space and place that can and should be addressed at a regional level. Connectivity between community places; transport within and between community places and beyond; access to the countryside; large areas of green and blue spaces; larger developments for employment, education, health care, etc.

But starting from this latter level, imposing developments that serve a discredited theory of agglomeration economics and speculator-developer financial interests, will lead to a devastating impact on life in the city region and a missed “opportunity to secure mutually supportive economic, social and environmental outcomes that benefit people now and long into the future”.

Instead the GMCA and its constituent authorities have to consider “how are we going to work with local communities, to support and strengthen them”. It then needs to look at the in-between spaces and understand how these contribute to and impede community life, and agree ways to enhance them while protecting nature. Planned region-scale developments need to be designed organically on the basis of the mapping of need that can be derived from these two strands of work, while taking account of the bigger picture of macro-social-economic trends and eco-system threats.

Building on this way of thinking and working we can draw attention to the following frameworks:

1) The elements of sustainable communities, for example in the 2004 Egan Review12.

Illustration 1: Elements of sustainable communities. From the Egan Review, 2004.

2) The Garden City principles13 – not as a recipe for new housing estates, but in a way closer to Howard’s vision of integrated home, work and amenity with the benefits of both urban and rural environments close by. We suggest these ideas could be used (retrofitted) to turn the Greater Manchester City Region into something like an Extended Garden City14.

Illustration 2: Ebenezer Howard’s idealised Garden City design

3) Allied to this, the idea of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes15 that, as trialled in other cities, brings food production and greenways into the urban environment.

The configuration of the towns and districts in Greater Manchester, with the ample green and blue spaces between, would lend itself well to the extended garden city and CPUL concepts as has been illustrated in relation to Leeds.16

For this to happen, GMCA needs to construct ways in which developers and planners can be educated by local communities – possible approaches include community-designed and hosted local tours, local participative planning workshops (for example to produce the neighbourhood plans that current legislation provides for but which seem to be discouraged by some of our local authorities). These approaches are a long way from the typical “This is what we are going to do: do you agree?” style of “consultation”.

Mark H Burton and Carolyn Kagan

Steady State Manchester


2   The Viable Economy. Manchester: Steady State Manchester, (2014) https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/the-viable-economy-master-document-v4-final.pdf

3 A point also made by colleagues at University of Manchester Business School: Folkman, P., Froud, J., Johal, S., Tomaney, J., & Williams, K. (2016). Manchester Transformed: Why we need a reset of  city region policy (CRESC  Public Interest  Report) (p. 61). Manchester: Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester. Retrieved from https://foundationaleconomycom.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/manchestertransformed.pdf

4 Silver, J. (2018). From  Homes  to  Assets  Housing  financialisation  in  Greater  Manchester. Manchester: Greater Manchester Housing Action. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/45uj6plrnl4hwrb/FROM-HOMES-TO-ASSETS.pdf?dl=0

5 Vandeventer, J. S. (2018, May 6). Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy for Greater Manchester? – [Greater Manchester Housing Action]. Retrieved May 22, 2018, from http://www.gmhousingaction.com/housing-financialisation-deliver-viable-economy-greater-manchester/

6 Haughton, G., Deas, I., & Hincks, S. (2014). Making an impact: when agglomeration boosterism meets antiplanning rhetoric. Environment and Planning A, 46(2), 265–270. https://doi.org/10.1068/a130335c

7  The observation that the last 20 years of development in Manchester manifests a lack of strategic planning comes from colleagues leading the University of Manchester’s “Doing Devolution Better” research project.

8 Making policy Q and A, Andy Burnham. Metropolis, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2017 (2) 22-27 (p. 25). https://app.box.com/s/1p01sodnnq92pgymy1dlahc5c1thlx9h

10 This is already happening: the new homes projection has been quietly reduced by 27,200 units. See new housing estimates and land identification from GMCA: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/news/article/288/greater_manchester_publishes_land_available_for_jobs_and_homes
The number of new homes needed has been revised downwards to 200,000 – close to the CPRE estimate. The estimated number of homes that can be built on brownfield sites is now up to 175,000, an increase of 12,000. There is still some way to go but the closing of the gap is to be welcomed. However, it remains unclear where the revised housing estimates come from and there is no discussion of the other factors that we, and those commenting on our earlier post, have raised.

15Viljoen, A., Bohn, K., & Howe, J. (Eds.). (2005). Continuous productive urban landscapes: designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities. Amsterdam: Architectural Press. Available online: http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Food/Continuous_Productive_Urban_Landscapes.pdf

16 Tom Bliss’s film series, The Urbal Fix, apply these ideas to Leeds City region. http://turnstone.tv/NEW_UTV/the-urbal-fix.html

Posted in environment, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester City Region, land use | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Calling out BP at their AGM in Manchester

Steady State Manchester campaigners joined yesterday with Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Frack-Free Greater Manchester, Friends of the Earth, Platform London, Global Justice Now, Fossil Free UK, Justice for Colombia and Argentina Solidarity Campaign to share experiences in the opposition to BP, Shell and other fossil fuel companies’ continued drive to extract as much fossil fuel as possible, whether conventional oil and gas or unconventional, fracked, shale oil and gas.

We heard about environmental and social destruction in Argentina from Fernando Cabrera of Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur) and in Colombia from Fabian Laverde of COSPACC.  Their presentations were complemented by Helena Coates of Frack Free Greater Manchester and Maggie Walker of Fossil Free Greater Manchester both of whom drew out the connections between what happens here in the North West and in the global South.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester’s Maggie Walker explains how Greater Manchester pensions are funding the frackers.

Steady State Manchester participants also pointed out (to broad agreement) that the fossil fuel industry itself sits as an integral part of an economic system that seeks continual expansion, reliant on the concentrated energy provided by fossil fuels.  We do want to see renewable energy replacing fossil fuels but this is far from happening and nor is it likely that it would “fuel” the continuation of material growth production and consumption.   The implications are profound for our way of life.

Video interviews with speakers will be available later.

Meanwhile here is the press release from Fossil Free Greater Manchester drawing attention to the involvement of Greater Manchester Pension Fund whose two biggest holding just turn out to be in Shell and BP.

_________________________________Fossil Free Greater Manchester news release

Immediate release

On Monday 21st May, campaigners from Fossil Free Greater Manchester and pension fund members will be joining campaigners from Latin America at a vigil outside BP’s Annual General meeting in Manchester, calling on BP to stop fracking in Argentina and worldwide. [1]

In 2017, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s second largest investment holding was in BP.

Greater Manchester residents overwhelming oppose fracking. The Manchester Evening News conducted a poll in 2014 and found that 73% of respondents opposed fracking.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called for a presumption against fracking [2]  and Manchester, Bury, Salford, Trafford concils, and Westhoughton town council in Bolton have also come out strongly against fracking.

In a Manchester Friends of the Earth survey of local election candidates across Greater Manchester, 87% of the 342 candidates who responded agreed that “the Greater Manchester Pension Fund should fully divest from fossil fuels in the next five years.” [3]

In 2017, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) invested over £820 million in companies that are involved in fracking in the UK and worldwide. And BP was the GMPF’s second largest investment holding. [4]

BP, does not frack in the UK because of concerns for its reputation here (it would attract the wrong kind of attention).  However, BP is a key backer of the Vaca Muerta mega fracking project which, according to local community organisations in Argentina, is being forced through by the Macri government and major fossil fuel corporations at the expense of the indigenous peoples living in Patagonia. The project is also reported as being associated with countless environmental and human rights abuses, including the deaths and disappearances of known local activists and community members. [5]

Ali Abbas from Fossil Free Greater Manchester said:

“The consensus in Greater Manchester is against fracking, and yet the Greater Manchester Pension Fund continues to invest huge sums into the fracking industry and dirty fossil fuels. We need the Pension Fund to show leadership on climate change and divest from all fossil fuel companies”.

Research, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe, and undertaken by researchers at the Tyndall Centre (University of Manchester) and Teeside University has shown that fracking will add more greenhouse gas emissions to an already overburdened atmosphere, amplifying the already accelerating process of global warming and climate change. [6] As well as having more immediate impacts on air, water and land in the fracked places and on the communities who live there.


Contact for comments

Ali Abbas, Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Mobile: 07786 090520

Notes for editors

[1]  See: Call out BP’s Human Rights Abuses in Latin America – AGM Vigil, 10am, Monday 21st May.

Join us on 21 May outside BP’s Annual General Meeting to call out the social and environmental devastation they are bringing to Argentina and remember those who’ve been affected by BP’s operations in Colombia.

Meeting outside Manchester Central Library at 10am, we will hear from a speaker from Argentina on the damage BP’s fracking pursuits are causing to communities and the environment in Patagonia. We’ll also be joined by Fabian Laverde, from Colombia, who will be challenging BP about its impacts on communities and their lands, and demanding justice for those abuses. We’ll then stage a vigil outside the BP AGM (at the Manchester Central Convention Centre) for those affected by BP’s current and historic abuses.

Join us to demonstrate to the shareholders that BP is a toxic company to invest in for people and climate.  https://www.facebook.com/event s/357912441366813/

[2] See http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/14524044.Greater_Manchester_mayor_hopeful_Andy_Burnham _will_oppose_fracking_in_regio n_if_elected/

[3] Manchester Friends of the Earth local election survey.  See Question 2 – Divestment from Fossil Fuels.  299 (87%) of 342 local election candidates agreed.  http://www.manchesterfoe.org.uk/election-survey-2018-parties /

[4] Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) holdings at the end of year 2016-7 can be found here: https://www.gmpf.org.uk/documents/investments/holdings/2017/ mar/mainstream.pdf

Shell and BP: As of 31 March, 2017 (the most recent report from the Fund on its investments), the Fund’s two biggest investments were in Shell at £318 Million BP at £275 Million. BP does not try to frack in the UK because it “would attract the wrong kind of attention”. But both BP and Shell are involved in Vaca Muerta (which, appropriately enough, means “Dead Cow”) a fracking mega-project in Argentina. The extraction of this, the world’s second largest reserve of gas, threatens indigenous land rights, safe drinkable water and clean air for people in Patagonia.

Barclays: At £119 Million, Barclays was the fourth biggest holding of the Fund. Barclays has been heavily involved in the financing of fracking. Under considerable pressure from campaigners it has announced that it is to sell off its stake in Third Energy, but as yet it has not, and indeed it has increased its loan to the company. It seems from statements made at the AGM that they may be waiting for fracking to begin before selling. Barclays still has a statement in favour of fracking from 2015 on its website.

Centrica: The Fund had £78 Million in Centrica, which owns British Gas. Centrica is one of the backers of Cuadrilla, the UK fracking company that has been drilling in Lancashire.

Chevron, Exxon, Conoco Philips: The Fund has investments (totalling £20 Million in 2017) in all these major oil companies, heavily involved in fracking in North America.

Other companies: The Fund invests in Duke and Schlumberger (£16.4M in 2017), both companies heavily involved in fracking.

[5] See Vaca Muerta Megaproject: A fracking carbon bomb in Patagonia.  http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2 018/02/05/vaca-muerta-megaproject-a-fracking-carbon-bomb-in- patagonia/

[6] See Natural gas and climate change (2017) http://www.foeeurope.org/sites/default/files/extractive_industries/2017/natural_gas_and_ climate_change_anderson_broder ick_october2017.pdf

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Does housing financialisation deliver a Viable Economy for Greater Manchester?

Does housing financialisation deliver a Viable Economy for Greater Manchester?

By James Scott Vandeventer, Steady State Manchester
originally published by Greater Manchester Housing Action, 6 May, 2018.

Manchester’s skyline is changing. Fast. While the dominant narrative is that dozens of the 2 contrasting pictures of housingbuildings transforming this skyline aim to provide more housing in the city centre, the recent report From Homes to Assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester by Dr Jonathan Silver makes clear that these housing developments are overwhelmingly driven by financial institutions and actors who have identified Greater Manchester’s urban core as an attractive site for investment. Indeed, the primary function of these developments is financial speculation. We are witnessing the process of housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For those concerned about the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in Greater Manchester, as we are at Steady State Manchester, this poses the question: Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy?

What is a viable economy?

As we describe in our 2014 report The Viable Economy and in other publications, a viable economy is predicated on a shift in political decisions and societal actions away from the growth-driven instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, a viable economy demonstrates greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without growth. Further, a viable economy subordinates the economic system to the control of society, and organises around cultural attitudes favouring equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.

So, how does housing financialisation in Greater Manchester measure up against a viable economy? This commentary applies a viable economy perspective on housing to Dr Silver’s report: it analyses the motivation driving housing financialisation, the evidence of it in Greater Manchester, and the social and ecological impacts of housing financialisation, and – importantly – concludes by proposing ways this trend could be reversed.

Housing financialisation for profit

Housing financialisation treats housing as an asset that can, should, and must, generate profit. So, housing assets are expected to provide a steady return to the financial actors developing or investing in these assets. This overarching motive remains firmly stuck in the growth-driving circular reasoning of capitalism whereby profit is necessary to accumulate wealth, and accumulating wealth is necessary to secure further profit. Perhaps due to its remit, Dr Silver’s report does not really explore housing financialisation as part of the desperate search for profit that characterises a stagnating capitalism.

Still, housing financialisation is a clear case of the constant search for profitable new frontiers inherent in growth-oriented capitalism. How can this continuous accumulation through profit to enable further growth treat anything other than profit as the goal? Indeed, any goal aimed at bettering the lives of Greater Manchester’s residents will be placed secondary to the goal of profit for the financial actors behind this housing financialisation. It fails, then, to utilise the economy for delivering societal well being if this profit is ever at risk. Any housing financialisation for the sole purpose of profit has no place within a viable economy.

Analysing the evidence of housing financialisation

To document housing financialisation in Greater Manchester, Dr Silver presents two types of evidence: one relates to government policies, and the other to the changing characteristics of the housing market.

Considering first the latter – evidence of which includes the expanding Private Rented Sector (PRS), involvement of financial actors, and the international origins of capital – it is clear that housing financialisation is not unique to Greater Manchester and occurs in many housing markets around the world. Two common explanations are, first, that the Internet and information technology have enabled financial actors to invest at a global scale, and second, that consumers lead increasingly mobile lives and careers and therefore demand more short-term rental accommodation. However, in both cases the role of producers in shaping housing markets is underappreciated or ignored altogether.

There is little doubt that technology has increased global capital mobility. But this has in turn allowed the concentration of capital into fewer and fewer – corporate or individual, and domestic or international – hands, thereby increasing the power of these few to set market conditions for pursuing profitable endeavours. So, the rise of the PRS reflects less the unified voice of a homogeneous consumer group demanding rental accommodation, and more the power of those that control international financial capital to maintain ownership of housing developments from which to extract revenue. Not only is this ownership model inherently undemocratic, but claiming that individuals can make their demands known through market choices misses the reality that financial actors increasingly dictate – and limit – the choices available to consumers. In other words, this is an oligopoly. The mechanism for reigning in this unequal power arrangement is through government policy.

Before examining government policies enabling housing financialisation, an elaboration on the outcome of the above ownership model is necessary. There are several ways international financial actors obtain ownership of housing. Large institutions can develop a site and maintain ownership, sell the entire building, or investors can purchase individual property – so-called ‘buy-to-let’ schemes. In each of these cases, owners have no meaningful stake in the local community. What sense of community emerges from thirty floors of identical, rented flats where one-year contracts ensure few neighbours get to know each other?

A viable economy approach would, for example, demand supporting local community infrastructure like green spaces, walkability, civic engagement and mass transit. It would recognise the persistent – and increasing – homelessness issue in Greater Manchester, and developers would proudly meet and perhaps even exceed affordable housing requirements. A viable economy approach may even find common cause with environmental groups over issues such as air pollution affecting health and wellbeing and contribute toward taking action. Of course, these proactive stances extend far beyond the concern of the financial actors involved in housing financialisation. So, how is government responding?

There is evidence of both local and national government policies supporting housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For large development projects, legal obligations are waived, including affordable housing requirements and other Section 106 obligations, which mitigate the impact of a development on the local community. The ‘viability assessments’ – procedures that examine the financial viability for developers – should provide a transparent view of why affordable housing and Section 106 requirements are not being met. But these assessments are withheld from public scrutiny. Finally, Dr Silver’s report identifies government loans amounting to £265 million to developers by the locally-controlled Greater Manchester Housing Fund, which must be allocated to market-orientated developments, and a further £50 million from the national government.

All of these actions reveal that both local and national policies are helping to shape the housing market in favour of the housing financialisation model. This comes at the expense of other models, such as co-operatives or mutual ownership schemes, that align with a more viable economy. Further, the skirting of affordable housing requirements for developments in Greater Manchester’s urban core risks segregating society based on income. Other Section 106 obligations would require that developers address relevant social concerns, including the above mentioned investment in local infrastructure, alleviating homelessness, and air pollution, as well as others that would emerge through dialogue with local stakeholders. By waiving these obligations, local government – with backing at the national level – advances the housing market of Greater Manchester toward further financialisation.

Housing financialisation’s social impacts, but also ecological concerns

Dr Silver’s report identifies a range of impacts housing financialisation is having on Greater Manchester. With the local economy starved of funding, there is insufficient investment in the local community. Housing in the urban core is increasingly unaffordable for the working class. The threat of future boom and bust cycles in the housing market looms. Spatial implications include areas surrounding the city centre becoming targets for housing financialisation, the privatisation of public space, and destruction of the historic built environments. Finally, there are transparency concerns about the international financial actors involved in housing development.

These impacts reflect how changes to the housing market can be inherently unequal. A viable economy approach would respond to the increase in people living in the city centre by providing opportunity to all kinds of people. A mix of people living and rooted in a community leads to fundamentally different social solidarity than segregated, isolated and transient residents. Further, the population of Greater Manchester is expected to increase in the years to come. From the perspective of a viable economy, the solution is not a focus on densification in the city centre, but rather on encouraging medium-rise developments beyond the inner urban core that are accountable to Section 106 and are affordable to the working class. This should be complemented by renovation of the existing housing stock and continued investment in local infrastructure. This spatial distribution should occur across Greater Manchester and prioritise replacing existing stock or developing brownfield sites, not expanding to the green belt or other green spaces, which all provide significant amenity, biodiversity or carbon or floodwater capture services to Greater Manchester and must be protected.

A spatially distributed and diversified model is also more resilient: in the face of a potential housing bubble, hundreds of units with nearly identical offer do not flood the market at once. Instead, differentiated units are gradually developed.

Dr Silver’s report names many of the financial actors currently involved in housing financialisation, from pension funds and private equity firms to banks and wealthy individuals, providing a clear picture of the international nature of the current model. Instead of international financial actors, a viable economy approach would depend on local financing for housing projects, ensuring investors have a stake in working toward the betterment of Greater Manchester.

This would be a radical change from the current situation, where the citizens of Greater Manchester typically have little way of knowing who is behind the changes to Manchester’s skyline. Dr Silver’s report provides the beginnings of transparency regarding this housing financialisation, a standard that should be adopted by local government for all future developments. As the report indicates, transparency extends to information about the existing investments of international actors involved in financing these housing developments. At present, these actors profit from, among other activities, petroleum and palm oil extraction. If the attitude toward these investments is any indicator, these actors will ignore the impacts of their profit-seeking behaviour on individuals, communities, or the environment.

One area the report does not address, which may sit outside its remit, is the direct ecological outcomes of this housing financialisation. The energy footprint of high-rise buildings is enormous, including petrol engines running construction equipment, the transport of construction materials, and the production of those materials themselves. Concrete and steel are two of the most energy and carbon intensive products of industrial manufacturing, and thousands of tons of both are required for any high-rise development. Further, the international sourcing of the materials and fuels to produce them means these developments support extractive industries, which often exploit workers and ruin livelihoods and landscapes. Of course, the above critiques could be made of most new construction sites. What is worth noting is the role of housing financialisation in catalysing these projects at such a scale, volume and concentration in the urban core of Greater Manchester.

A related case of the way that ecological considerations are not addressed is how energy efficiency and the size of flats are dictated by housing financialisation. The extent to which energy efficiency is deemed a key feature of these new developments, and whether their design embraces alternative spatial norms favouring sufficiency – less square footage – deserves further scrutiny.

If consumer resistance due to the above social and ecological concerns leads to refusal to inhabit these new housing developments, there is a potential for oversupply in the housing market. Thus, echoing the call in Dr Silver’s report, new policies and standards should be applied to all future developments, and not only address social impacts but also adopt higher ecological standards.

The recent Green Summit, organised by the office of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, considered discussing the large scale retrofitting of the existing housing stock to improve energy efficiency, with the potential for creating 55,000 jobs. Thus far, there is little indication this is moving forward. A policy subsidising the retrofitting of all housing to meet the highest energy efficiency standards would create many more thousands of jobs and would entail moving housing in Greater Manchester toward a more viable economy.

What can be done?

To the debate about the future of housing in Greater Manchester, Dr Silver’s report makes an important contribution. Recent media coverage on affordable housing, the council’s swift retaliation and subsequent withdrawal, and a recent motion by backbench Councillors to make viability assessments more transparent, all respond to the key messages in the report. So, what further specific actions can be taken for Greater Manchester to deliver a more viable economy?

The prior analysis points to some positive actions. Reigning in the lust for profit inherent to housing financialisation would involve holding financial actors accountable to affordable housing requirements and Section 106 obligations, making investment in the local community a prerequisite to future developments. Encouraging innovative ownership schemes and medium-rise redevelopments, spatially distributed across Greater Manchester, would diversify the housing market and improve its resilience. Demanding transparency about financial arrangements and social and ecological impacts of developments would honour the local government’s commitment to represent the interests of its constituents.

Still, these recommended actions entail a more proactive stance by the local government toward new developments. It is important to note that this certainly occurs within the constraints imposed by the national government and the concentrated power of international financial actors. Still, local government can be an agent of change. Proposing to retrofit the existing housing stock is an indication that these issues are at least being considered by Mayor Burnham.

Greater Manchester should utilise its clear appeal to set a new benchmark for housing developments in urban centres not only in the U.K., but across the globe. By acting as a facilitator toward a viable economy approach to housing, local government can reverse the detrimental trend toward further housing financialisation.

The upcoming release of the rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework is an opportunity to articulate a new approach to housing development that places the interests of residents in Greater Manchester above financial actors. The Spatial Framework should articulate how mechanisms to decelerate housing financialisation in Greater Manchester will be implemented. But this is not a foregone conclusion and, at Steady State Manchester, our work in the coming months will focus on communicating a new vision for the spatial framework away from housing financialisation and more in line with a viable economy. This is an opportunity to position Greater Manchester at the forefront of innovative approaches to housing. Let’s not miss it.


Posted in Greater Manchester, housing, investments and finance, Viable Economy | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Viable Economy … and Viable Finance

The Viable Economy – and Viable Finance

Mark H Burton and Mike Riddell.

pdf version (not updated)

updated, 10 May.

money and hands

via openclipart.org

It is all too clear that our economy is precarious, economically, socially and ecologically. Steady State Manchester promotes the Viable Economy1, which means greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without continual “growth”. The Viable Economy aims to bring the economic system under the control of society, building a culture that favours equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.2

Any economy requires a sound financial system to facilitate its necessary transactions. Here we take a look at some current and recent financial innovations, asking whether they might help us move in the Viable direction.

Types of financial innovation

We will organise what follows in terms of the following categories, even though they do overlap somewhat.

Financial institutions that serve the interests of the community.

  1. Community investment

  2. Community-based currencies

  3. Non-monetary community exchange schemes and credit.

We will not be discussing monetary reform, popular among some parts of the alternative economics and degrowth movements: we have critically discussed one set of proposals in this area previously.

  1. Financial institutions: Community banking

A movement is now gathering pace to fill a gap in the UK’s banking system, that of mutual or co-operative, regionally-based banks, orientated to the local economy, and specialising in offering financial services to smaller enterprises, as well as local citizens. As Greenham and Prieg (2015) noted,

The UK lacks … a local stakeholder banking sector, particularly in certain key markets. We use the term ‘stakeholder banks’ to include any ownership or governance structure that has a broader remit than simply to maximise returns to shareholders. The primary forms are co-operatives (including mutuals and credit unions), public interest banks, and socially orientated loan funds such as Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) .3

At present there are initiatives at various stages of development and realisation to establish such institutions in a number of regions, including Hampshire, Avon and the South West, Greater London, Warrington and Preston. SSM members recently attended a workshop (What works in community banking?) looking at the possibility of establishing something similar in the Greater Manchester region4.

Could a regional or community stakeholder bank, or similar, help facilitate the move to a Viable Economy? Advocates of stakeholder regional and community banks emphasise similar aims.

At his presentation to the Manchester seminar, Tony Greenham of the RSA (and formerly NEF) identified

  • Redressing regional inequalities

  • Commitment to financial inclusion

  • Higher proportion of SME lending

  • Credit allocation to real economy

  • Economic resilience

James Moore of the Community Savings Bank Association said these banks aim to be

  • Trustworthy

  • Sustainable

  • Independent

  • Transactional

  • Recycling local savings into local loans

  • Inclusive

Broadly, the idea is to establish a bank with local knowledge and local governance, using a social ownership framework, with support from key local anchor institutions. It would be funded partly from interest on loans made to small and medium sized businesses and from transaction fees. James Moore said that more important than offering loans would be the provision of transactional banking services that provided short term credit to enable businesses to make payments while waiting to get paid – this would cover around 60% of the bank’s running costs.

So do these stakeholder and community banking initiatives represent a pathway to the Viable Economy? In these models there is no automatic preference for the environment: “sustainable” here refers to financial sustainability – important of course but not the same thing. The dual emphasis on accessible credit for local business and supportive transactional banking could help local businesses in the green and social solidarity economies. It could also help businesses that have no interests in creating social and environmental benefit. These banks could play an important role in plugging the leaks of the local economy, providing another home for local savings, for example, slowing the outflow of money into London and international financial institutions, speculative lending, derivatives and other aspects of “financialisation”. Could they aspire to achieving a game-changing scale? We do not know, but based on the example of Germany, it is possible5. And Germany gives us a clue as to how fundamental such a change could be: small scale local business is stronger there, and there are many environmental initiatives – but we could hardly say that Germany represents an ecological and socially desirable end point. It means that stakeholder community banks would be consistent with the Viable Economy but only a part of it– a necessary if not sufficient condition for it.

We said as much in last year’s report, Policies for the City Region6:

It is not enough simply to establish local/regional banks and funds though. They would need to focus on the kinds of investments that a resilient, viable city region requires, not on sectors that by expanding will increase carbon emissions, traffic congestion, biosphere erosion and inequality.

We therefore propose the establishment of a council sponsored investment fund, or better, since less constrained in terms of money supply, a bank, supporting mostly SMEs and social enterprises working in broadly foundational areas, emphasising environmentally and socially friendly sectors. The form could be a public, municipal or community banking institution. Proceeds from fossil fuel divestment could be used to help establish the bank, which would also be somewhere for local investment and re-investment.

  1. Community investment

There are already a number of ways in which savers and small investors can put their money into community and environmentally oriented business. These fall into a number of different categories with differing risk profiles, rates of return and scale of investment. Some co-operatives and social businesses issue their own loan stock, typically seeking local investors. Other schemes work through one of the platforms now available for ethical investment and savings (e.g. Ethex and Abundance), which offer a variety of equity investments, bonds, debentures and so on, including tax free options using the ISA provisions, SITR (Social Investment Tax Relief) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS).

In the immediate future, one pressing need is to establish bundled investment options, like Unit Trusts / OEICs in the mainstream equities sector. This is because by investing in a single offer, savers and investors risk their capital: combining investments within a collective package would allow smoothing of the risks across companies (and also of the returns of course)7.

Similarly, some councils are issuing municipal bonds to reduce their borrowing costs. It is something we have previously advocated but the pace of development of this option is painfully slow.

By using their local assets in local, community and/or environmentally orientated, citizens and local organisations can directly promote a more viable economy rather than their money acting as feedstock for financialised and remote investments elsewhere. The returns they obtain will, at least to some extent, be spent locally, so the “bioregional multiplier8” operates. Potentially, closing the investment loop on a regional basis can help reduce the extent to which investment in the local economy fuels profit and rent extraction by remote shareholders. It is a strong argument against the frenetic search for external and unaccountable sources of investment. Again there is no guarantee that the investments will be the right ones for the Viable Economy: another necessary but not sufficient condition for it.

  1. Currencies and near currencies.

The idea of a local currency that keeps spending local while easing transactions in the local economy has become popular in environmentalist and solidarity economy circles9. A number of variants are possible.

    1. Convertible community currency.

Here the local currency is issued and can be exchanged for the national currency. Examples are the Bristol, Brixton and Totnes pounds. They depend upon there being a matching holding in the national currency, so limiting issuance. There is typically a cost to their use, via a transaction fee on each payment.

    1. Non-convertible community currency.

An alternative approach is to issue a currency that cannot be exchanged for the national currency. This is the approach taken by Hullcoin. In principle, there is no limit to issuance, making the idea attractive for money-limited local economies. In practice though, the model is even more dependent than the convertible currencies on attaining a sufficient scale so that a significant proportion of transactions are made in that currency. Except under conditions where the national currency is radically devalued (for example in a financial crash and depression), it seems unlikely that such a currency could aspire to the kind of scale where it became a viable alternative. What it can offer though, is a potential augmentation to people’s resources for certain classes of local expenditure, particularly in exchange for assets that would otherwise be wasted (e.g. surplus food, unused cinema seats): the currency itself can be linked to a requirement for voluntary labour, and becomes a way of recognising (or is that regarding) voluntary action. That in itself is a principle requiring debate, given the dilemma between facilitating more voluntary action and undermining its non-conditional moral basis.

    1. Business to business credit and barter schemes

Here businesses use what is essentially a complementary currency to trade among each other. Two well established examples are the Swiss WIR and The UK’s Bartercard. In both cases, businesses reduce their transaction costs and reliance on bank credit through a mutual system of credit and exchange. Nether work on a regional basis, although no doubt much trade is between neighbouring businesses. WIR has been shown to be countercyclical (i.e. it contributes to economic and financial resilience) and Bartercard reduces the exposure of businesses to lost income and credit charges. According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association, in 2011 over 400,000 companies worldwide used bartering to earn an estimated $12 billion on unwanted or underused assets.

The people working to establish the Brum (Birmingham) Pound have decided that the idea is not feasible and instead are working up a business to business credit scheme.

There are also less well documented levels of organisational peer to peer lending, for example from well established co-ops to new ones: the new co-op gets access to start up capital while the established one gets a better return than they would from leaving their spare money in the bank.

  1. Non-monetary community exchange and credit

Work by one of us (Mike Riddell) is exploring a rather different approach, called CounterCoin, with an initial base in the Potteries. This is part of an integrated approach to socially and economically renewing a shopping centre that has suffered like many from the flight to out of town centres and the internet shopping: it is covered in a recent Guardian feature in Aditya Chakrabortty’s series “The Alternatives”. CounterCoins are plastic tokens that are awarded in return for voluntary activity. They are redeemable by a number of retail and recreational outlets, either in whole exchange for access to a facility, or in order to obtain a cash discount. CounterCoin is different in the sense that its credit is issued by the community to individuals who contribute to the community’s upkeep and well being. In other words it’s earned into existence rather than gifted into existence. For someone outside of the jobs market, but with time to give, this sense of earning the right to discount, might help them feel like a valued member of the community. And that has value for all sorts of reasons – self worth, self esteem, self confidence, and the gaining of experience towards a c.v. and employment. Democracy comes into play when the community decides for itself what is and what isn’t a contribution. So it becomes “defined contribution” from the perspective of the community in that it can be issued (by non-profits/social enterprises) for all sorts of activities that contribute to community health and well being.

Each issuer has the responsibly to ensure that (a) the contribution is valid and can be verified as being done properly (to certain standards maybe) and (b) that they issue CounterCoins at the same rate for different activities. This to avoid counterfeiting. In a sense – they are giving cross-guarantees to the other issuers in the network, that they are issuing “by the book”. Trust is crucial.

The more diverse and inclusive the community using CounterCoin, the more legitimacy can be built up. Standardising the issuance of CounterCoin in exchange for defined contribution, is when it becomes ‘equitable’. As in timebanking, it doesn’t matter who you are – everyone earns at exactly the same rate. Once it is issued, and redeemed by businesses – it turns into a ‘trade credit’ rather like the Bartercard model. But the difference between this model and Bartercard’s is that the CounterCoin marketplace is ethical – it’s underpinned by the shared values of inclusivity, diversity and equality.

There are also the better established schemes that allow the matching of people’s spare time and skills (LETS, timebanking, Hours currencies) or (in the case of freecycle/greencycle) unwanted goods with those that need them. These schemes all do useful work but are probably, at this stage anyway, relatively marginal, at least in terms of the kind of economic transformation that is required for a move to the Viable Economy. Where they do come in is establishing models for resilience that will be vital once our unviable economy and society hits the inevitable buffers of planetary limits and/or the next crisis of global capitalism.


Community currencies and near currencies are probably the best researched of these areas in terms of their contribution to transition to what we’d recognise as the Viable Economy10. From his review of LETS, Timebanking and convertible local currencies as tools for the degrowth transition, Dittmer11 concludes,

… there are no clear success stories of local currencies as drivers of degrowth. LETS can facilitate informal resale, repair, and sharing of commercially produced goods, but their burdensome management and confinement to small memberships, dictated by their reliance on informal social pressure, limit their usefulness in this regard. LETS have also been found to support alternative livelihoods, but under quite uncommon conditions. Time banks help people expand their social networks, and are better than LETS at reaching the socially excluded. However, they are confined to unskilled personal services, bureaucratic, and dependent on grant funding. …. Convertible local currencies (CLCs) are best at attracting local businesses, but no significant evidence of their said capacity to localize supply chains has surfaced as yet, and their business-friendly design works to the detriment of other criteria. The Wörgl experiment [in 1930s Austria] suggests that a council-tax-endorsed CLC aimed at eco-localization may require the local state to increase geographical discrimination in public procurement, shifting the actual locus of change from the local business-oriented currency system to the broader struggle for sustainable public procurement.

However, a study of the Bristol pound (Marshall and O’Neill, 2018) does not seem to support this view: a study of the Bristol Pound as a tool for eco-localisation concluded it had little impact (although this was no more than a limited exploratory study with a small sample of participating businesses). My understanding (from talking with participants) of the Brixton Pound, which can also be used to pay council fees and taxes, is that it is a good propaganda tool for raising awareness of the local economy, and seems to help increase the sense of collective place-based identity, but it has limited economic impact as an exchange medium.

Dittmer goes on:

In sum, local currencies do not appear to have more than a marginal role in driving purposive degrowth. …. In the context of fossil fuel scarcities, the pursuit of alternative livelihoods supported by part-time employment is a frail political strategy. Eco-localization by means of friction in monetary space is an inferior option to a tax on transport fuels.12

        1. Institutional relations: a case study from Brazil.

      A favela in Fortaleza

      A favela in Fortaleza, North East Brazil (photo {CK/MB})

    1. It is probably wrong to look at any of the above types of financial innovation in isolation from their potential institutional context. To illustrate, it is worth considering one of the more successful complementary currencies, the Palma, in the context of its parent organisation, the Banco Palmas13. Conjunto Palmeiras is a favela (usually translated as “shanty town” – at any rate a marginal settlement) in the city of Fortaleza in Ceará state, North East Brazil. The settlement was established after its people were expelled from another area 45 years ago and their history of mutual support in struggle is a key ingredient of their model and its success. A second wave of displacement was a result of the gentrification of parts of the favela, a consequence of the expansion of the city. People were asking, through a series of discussions, debates, assemblies, focus groups and conversation, “why are we poor” and concluded that, part and parcel of the economic exclusion and exploitation of the population was firstly the unequal distribution of the aggregate income of the favela, and secondly that only 20 percent of the money coming into the area circulated within the community – the other 80 per cent was spent on purchases outside the favela.

      We discovered one of the main factors of the impoverishment of the territory, the lack of local consumption caused the loss of our savings and, consequently, of our capacity to generate income and work. Without such savings it becomes impossible to create a strong market under the control of the community and makes us dependent on a system that sees us only as a cheap source of labour.”14

      The Banco Palmas community bank was set up in 1998, setting up a model of development in the area via local production and consumption. A number of different financial services were established to establish a network of producers and consumers in the neighbourhood, with the aim of promoting an “economic citizenship” with the potential of generating prosperity at the local level under the conrol of the inhabitants of the area. These services include, the “social currency” the Palma, circulating in the area (for years this was paper-based but now is also in digital form), but also credit in national currency (the Real) for producers and interest-free credit in Palmas for consumers. The bank also became a “corresponding bank” with mainstream banks, making banking services available to those in the favela: like many areas of the UK, Brazil’s favelas have lacked access to basic financial services15.

      Initially the National Bank opposed the development with a legal challenge, but the Banco Palmas won the case in 2003. After this (and with the installation of the Workers’ Party in power in Brazil), support from beyond Fortaleza, notably from the National Secretary of the Solidarity Economy in the Ministry of Labour, made possible a network of community banks in Brazil on the Banco Palmas model. One consequence has been the establishment of a “certain dependency” on the constraining rules of the commercial banks, “antagonistic and incompatible with the system of financial solidarity of the community banks that promote different financial services, strengthened by local power and guaranteeing an investment in the capacity of the most poor.”

      Following an initial (very) small grant from an NGO, the bank’s operations are funded by a) interest from microcredit loans (up to 3.5% monthly but also as low as 1% depending on size of and purpose of loan) b) fees from the corresponding bank (i.e. Banco Palmas acts as local agent for regional bank to widen access to banking services), and c) commission for changing Palmas to Reais16.

      The scale of operations is significant:

      According to the Banco Palmas (2010), in the previous three years (2007-9), the Instituto Palmas realised 3,139 credit agreements, with a volume of landing of 4,126,712 Reais (approx US$ 2,947,651). 2,500 families benefited, there having been 8,000 jobs maintained and 2,000 generated. Corresponding banking realised 28 million transactions and managed approximately 80 Million Reais17.

      The Banco Palmas is clearly a model of success, and this seems to be due to its combination of multiple services (rather than just a community currency) with a strong local institutional base and partnership with other institutions in the city, region and country.

      The complementary currency itself has declined in importance over the period while levels of overall consumption of goods and services have increased (although it is unclear whether the recent digitisation is to change this) A detailed study18 of the usage and circulation of the Palma found that around half of its usage was accounted for by just 6 economic actors in addition to the Banco Palmas itself: four local stores selling basic consumer items, the neighbourhood petrol station, and a party and décor shop. Previously two sweet shops had also been important in the circulation but no longer accepted the Palma. Only an estimated 13,457 Palmas were in circulation (compare this to the figures above, bearing in mind that the Palma and Real are 1:1 convertible).

      One factor was that there was, at the time of the study, greater prosperity, in part due to the anti-poverty governmental policies and benefits, so less need for the consumer credit offered by the Palma. The bank had also stopped paying part of the salaries of its workers in Palmas. What the study found, however, was that the minority of people that used the Palma did so, not for primarily economic reasons but because of its symbolic and political meaning.

      …there is a sensitive symbolic and political role played by the use of
      currency in the territory, but not translated in terms of volume and frequency of use. For these actors, it is enough to know that the currency exists, which was created by them and that can be accessed when needed.”

      The ensuing minimal but persistent use of the Palma appears to be also a kind of “vote of confidence” in both the favela and the role of Banco Palmas in securing better economic conditions.

      Conclusion: no easy answers.

      It is not easy to transform an economy, locally or nationally so we should beware of supposed magic solutions.

      Community financial institutions such as community banks, could have an important part to play in helping us move towards a regional Viable Economy, but they won’t on their own get us there. Critically, as part and parcel of the capitalist system (albeit a more benign capitalist sub-system) they do not have any kind of automatic bias towards radical/eco-localisation, to reduction of economic material flows, or to the construction of social justice at scale.

      Community currencies and near currencies can act as helpful propaganda aids in increasing awareness and loyalty to the local economy but it seems they generally do little more, except in exceptional circumstances where they could provide a safety net as mainstream systems collapse or fail to deliver, as in the examples of pre Workers party and commodities boom Brazilian favelas and post-dollarisation crisis Argentina.

      Instead we need serious analysis of how the different elements of a transition to a Viable Economy could work together, supporting one another, correcting systemic gaps, and achieving scale, while discriminating against globalised capital and unsustainable levels of material and energy use. That also implies using a variety of economic, social and political frameworks for understanding, underpinned by a sound ecological economic understanding. If you can help with that, do get in touch.

          1. Key take-away messages:

      • Financial innovations are necessary but not sufficient for making a transition to a Viable Economy.

      • Complementary currencies and near currencies need to be part of a system of interlocking initiatives and institutions, all working towards eco-localisation and social justice.

      • Outside crisis situations, complementary currencies and near currencies have a primary role in promoting symbolic identification with a community and its local economy.

      Some rights reserved: Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

      Steady State Manchester, May 2018.


      1Steady State Manchester (2014). The Viable Economy. Available for download at https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/the-viable-economy-master-document-v4-final.pdf

      2For this summary of the Viable Economy we are grateful to SSM collective member, James Vandeventer.

      4As outlined in this report from the University of Manchester’ IGAU: http://hummedia.manchester.ac.uk/institutes/mui/igau/briefings/IGAU-briefing-Banks-FINAL.pdf

      7The Triodos Bank Innovative Finance ISA goes some way towards this but is not very diversified: https://www.triodos.co.uk/en/personal/ethical-investments/innovative-finance-isa-ifisa/ Mainstream “ethical investment OEICs (whetehr or not ISA-wrapped) typically invest in larger companies.

      8This revision of the Keynesian multiplier is a concept that we use in our Viable Economy pamphlet. It was originally used by Desai and Riddlestone: Desai, P., & Riddlestone, S. (2007). Bioregional solutions for living on one planet. Totnes, Devon: Green Books for the Schumacher Society.

      9Seyfang, G., & Longhurst, N. (2013). Growing green money? Mapping community currencies for sustainable development. Ecological Economics, 86, 65–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.11.003

      10Dittmer, K. (2013). Local currencies for purposive degrowth? A quality check of some proposals for changing money-as-usual. Journal of Cleaner Production, 54, 3–13. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248381463_Local_currencies_for_purposive_degrowth_A_quality_check_of_some_proposals_for_changing_money-as-usual

      Dittmer, K. (2012). Two challenges for creating democratically accountable local currencies to cope  with unvoluntary degrowth: Lessons from Argentina. Presented at the International Degrowth Conference, Venice. Retrieved from https://degrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WS_21_FP_DITTMER.pdf

      Seyfang, G., & Longhurst, N. (2013). Growing green money? Mapping community currencies for sustainable development. Ecological Economics, 86, 65–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.11.003

      Marshall, A. P., & O’Neill, D. W. (2018). The Bristol Pound: A Tool for Localisation? Ecological Economics, 146, 273–281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.11.002

      Rigo, A. S., & França Filho, G. C. de. (2017). O paradoxo das Palmas: análise do (des)uso da moeda social no “bairro da economia solidária.” Cadernos EBAPE.BR, 15(1), 169–193. https://doi.org/10.1590/1679-395141258

      11See note 10

      12See note 10

      13Banco Palmas: Local currency in Brazil’s favelas http://imaginationforpeople.org/en/project/banco-palmas/

      14Manifesto 20 Anos Banco Palmas http://www.institutobancopalmas.org/manifesto-20-anos-banco-palmas/ Our translation.

      15This was illustrated by a mapping process at the Manchester Community Banking seminar see https://www.dropbox.com/s/2lzxa9dr85rqfaa/SensierTischerWWGMBank200318.pdf?dl=0

      16The plural of Real.

      17Taumaturgo de Sousa, T. (2011). A Economia Solidária Como Meio Para O Desenvolvimento Sustentável- Caso Do Banco Palmas (Tese de Mestrado em Economia e Gestão do Ambiente). Porto, Porto. Retrieved from http://base.socioeco.org/docs/a_economia_solid_ria_como_meio_para_o_desenvolvimento_sustent_vel-_caso_do_banco_palmas-1.pdf

      18Rigo, A. S., & França Filho, G. C. de. (2017). O paradoxo das Palmas: análise do (des)uso da moeda social no “bairro da economia solidária.” Cadernos EBAPE.BR, 15(1), 169–193. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1679-395141258 (Open Access).

      19See note 18: our translation.

Posted in Banking, community, investments and finance, re-localisation, Viable Economy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Mayor’s Green Summit: a balance sheet.

updated: 28 March, 2018
Also published, 7/4/18 by The Meteor: http://www.themeteor.org/2018/04/07/2245/

I attended the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Green City Summit on 21 March: here is a quick review.   The event was, as you’d expect, a mixed bag, with good and bad aspects. It is too soon to make an assessment but here, from a Viable Economy perspective, are the important points.

The key question: can Greater Manchester keep within the carbon budget?

During his campaign for mayor last year, Andy Burnham had pledged to hold this high profile event, bringing together stakeholders and experts to see how the city region’s ambition to tackle climate change and other environmental issues could be improved. This was him keeping that promise.

Our city is fortunate to have leading climate scientists working here at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre, and their input had been commissioned prior to the event. The result was the SCATTER framework, developed with Anthesis Group, the BEIS and the Core Cities network. Anthesis describes the tool:

Today sees the launch of a UK city-focused low carbon pathway model, SCATTER (Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction). It provides a tool to support cities across the UK to set emission reduction targets and define appropriate pathways to achieve them. The implementation of the model has been piloted by Greater Manchester and will support their vision to develop an ambitious science-based carbon reduction target as part of becoming a leading green city.

I took away a leaflet to take a closer look but on getting home I was disappointed to find there was no weblink to explore the data further. The Anthesis site, at least as yet, lacks any link to the tool itself, and the data from it.

Will this tool be made available to Greater Manchester citizens and organisations?

Kevin Anderson, from the Tyndall centre gave a keynote which pulled no punches. He explained the concept of carbon budgets – the amount of greenhouse gases (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent) that it is possible to emit. He reminded us that we have no more than 4 or 5 years (globally) of emissions left for a better than evens chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees (see the data HERE). As yet (when taking imports, shipping and aviation into account) there has been no significant reduction in the UK’s emissions. It is the cumulative emissions that count, and I will return to this point.

See the Tyndall Centre’s Report: Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement for Greater Manchester.

Kevin also identified a number of radical actions that need to be taken, with the emphasis on the those who emit most: In addition to leaving most fossil fuels in the ground (and hence no fracking and the need for our organisations to divest from fossil fuel companies) these emphasised what Greater Manchester institutions and people need to do, including,

  • Massive programme of insulation retrofit for our leaky homes.

  • All new buildings to meet the passivhaus standard for carbon neutrality (or better).
    (Something that should have been in legislation from 2016, but was dumped by George Osborne).

  • Reduced flying, and no business or first class (on trains too) – per person emissions are so much higher.

  • Virtual communication rather than travel.

  • Establishment of healthy air zones.

  • Charging points for electric vehicles and cycles.

  • Building renewable energy generation (solar, wind).

These are eminently do-able actions.

Kevin was followed by Alex Ganotis, leader of Stockport council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority lead on climate change and environment. Alex introduced the SCATTER scenarios. Various interventions and scenarios have been modelled but none of them get us to zero emissions in time (that is by 2040 – the accelerated time scale that was adopted at the event). But it’s worse than that because they all reduce emissions too slowly: the cumulative emissions in the early years will blow the city region’s share of the carbon budget. As Kevin made clear (quoting fellow scientist, Alex Steffen), in the case of climate change, “winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright”.

It’s the area under the curve that counts, and as you can see, all the scenarios (the thin lines on the graph) bound a bigger area than the (mauve/grey) carbon budget.

I am far from confident that this issue was recognised by more than a few of the people at the event: it means that early emissions reduction must be considerably ramped up, and Andy and Alex (Ganotis), you can’t do that while you are growing the economy. If you want to expand certain sectors (for example clean energy) then you also have to specify which sectors you will freeze and which you will contract: it’s a finite world and we’ve hit the walls.

Yet, used properly, and critically, in coming months, the SCATTER methodology could help sort out the harsh reality from the self congratulation. An example of how to ramp up the emissions reductions, noted by one of the speakers, was rather than replacing domestic boilers with more efficient gas ones, to go to lower carbon options such as heat pumps or combined heat and power units – one example where technological innovation can really help. Another option would be what some of us called for nine years ago, to first cap airport expansion and then to implement a managed reduction in aviation: certainly challenging given the local authorities dependence on dividend from the airport which they partly own – but you just can’t fudge these issues.

Some good news

It is worth quoting in full the proposals “on the table” at the summit:

  • Ambition for Greater Manchester to become carbon neutral at least a decade earlier than 2050 – using science-based targets to set our ambition and pathway.

  • Public sector agencies to consider vacating premises that do not meet minimum energy performance standards.

  • Move to an emissions-free bus fleet and, if possible, speed up the process using new bus powers available to Mayors.

  • Establish a new public-sector-led commercial model for the Greater Manchester electric vehicle charging network this year, and double the size of the present system.

  • Transform cycling and walking in the city-region by investing up to £50m per year for three years from 2019/20, supporting Chris Boardman’s groundbreaking ‘Made to Move’ report.

  • Use the rewritten Greater Manchester Spatial Framework to specify a date by which all new homes built across Greater Manchester should be net zero carbon.

  • Explore the creation of a Greater Manchester Environment Fund, funded by public and private investment, to support our environment strategy and carbon-neutral ambitions.

  • Develop, this year, a Greater Manchester Infrastructure Strategy to include energy, digital, transport, waste, waste water and natural environment infrastructure.

  • Work with central government to deliver those things that require national action – for example decarbonising the national grid and transport infrastructure.

  • Consider how we develop a Greater Manchester energy company that is able to invest in energy generation and storage to generate revenue for investing in the Greater Manchester Environment Fund.

  • Examine the affordability of retrofitting existing homes to make them more energy efficient, leading to the creation of a potential 55,000 jobs.

Andy Burnham also gave a welcome nod in the direction of the Fossil Free Greater Manchester campaign for the GM Pension Fund (still the dirtiest in the country) to divest from its fossil fuel holdings: “We need to look at the Pension Fund” he said.  (We might note that Sadiq Khan has now made a strong commitment to fossil fuel divestment on the part of the London Assembly and promised to campaign for the other London authorities to follow suit).

At the end of the summit it remained unclear to me which had been adopted and what the process for their development and implementation will be from now. The Mayor and Combined Authority can only do so much, being dependent on central government and other actors in this city and beyond, but the intention to quicken the pace of change and to facilitate the actions of others is very much to be welcomed.

Plastic straws and green space destruction

A further initiative announced was to be the “first UK city-region to ditch single-use plastics”. This may be a little exaggerated: what has been launched is a pledge from the hotel and catering industry:

Greater Manchester’s tourism and hospitality sector will aim to eradicate the use of single use plastics by 2020.  Within the next 6 months, local businesses will set out a plan to achieve this and, as a first step, have begun to replace plastic straws with more sustainable alternatives. This is part of a wider scheme to make our industry more sustainable.”

As of 24 March, 24 businesses had signed up. This is good, and could help bring about a wider change. Plastic not only pollutes but is overwhelmingly based on the pertochemical industry: when burnt, plastic contributes to carbon emissions, while exerting a demand pull on fossil fuel exploitation. Other campaigns are focusing on non-returnable bottles (in the 1970s, as a student, the first environment campaigns I was involved in, against Schweppes and Tesco, were on this question, when single trip containers were a new thing) and on the use of plastics by fast food outlets.

Unfortunately, the initiative was fronted by Gary Neville, a property developer responsible for the St Michaels and Turn Moss plans. The former is an out of scale, city centre development that threatens liveability and heritage resources (even with the revisions following the first wave of objections) and like other city centre developments, has evaded the affordable housing requirement. The latter will fence off and build on green fields in the Mersey Valley. Neville’s invitation to the all male closing platform (where he winged about costs of sustainable initiatives) was a monumental misjudgement that undermined Burnham’s otherwise commendable initiative.

The question of Green Space also raises the question of how the Green City initiative links with other GMCA and Mayoral initiatives and plans, including the Spatial Framework (to be relaunched in July, after Burnham’s demand for a “radical rewrite”, with a three month consultation), the Town Centres Challenge, and the overall GM Strategy.

Large organisations

In the context of commercial interests often undermining environmental and climate initiatives, it was refreshing to learn about some good work by large organisations. There was a lot on display, and I did not get around everything. Inevitably there was some greenwashing: the airport was there showing how incredibly sustainable their operation is (sic). To illustrate the better work, here are two. The GM Fire and Rescue Service is getting on with some really worthwhile things: with reductions in carbon footprint, water use, pollution and resource (fuel and materials) inputs. United Utilities has a number of initiatives from covering clean energy, water catchment and flood management, and water conservation and resilience building.

What now?

Andy Burnham announced a follow up event at which more concrete plans will be shared and feedback given. It would be worth making every effort to make the event truly participative: last week’s summit was far too passive, with the audience sitting for hours being lectured. While there is room for some scene setting and presentation of options and proposals to a large audience, much more can be done to engage the interested and committed audience, using a host of large group facilitation and deliberative methods.  There had been a lot of participative events prior to the day – it is a shame that this approach was not consolidated at the summit itself: there was no attempt even to get audience feedback on the proposals on the table!

There are also plans for a People’s Green Summit, probably in June, to bring the “movement” together with a shared understanding of what we should be campaigning for, to “encourage” the GMCA and other stakeholders to confront the really burning (literally) issues. Watch our events calendar for an announcement.

You can read the official announcements from the Summit here.

Phil Korbel from the Carbon Literacy Project has written a personal reflection on the summit.  It is worth a look, not least because of its insight into some of the political barriers faced in getting commitment to ambitious targets.

Mark H Burton

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One cheer for Greater Manchester Pension Fund

The right direction but too vague and too slow.

Fossil Free Greater Manchester today responds to the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s formal response to its campaign for full divestment of the Fund from the fossil fuel industry.  While the Fund has acknowledged the risks, financial and environmental, from climate change and indicated that it will eventually move to a “net zero carbon” portfolio of investments, the campaign says that it’s proposals for “partial divestment”, though welcome, are too vague and too slow.

You can read the statement from Fossil Free Greater Manchester, and see how you can add your voice to their call, by clicking this link.

As Fossil Free Greater Manchester point out, it must be a bit embarrassing for the GM Mayor to have the country’s dirtiest pension fund in his patch when he is hosting a Green Summit (next Tuesday) to “achieve carbon neutrality for the city region as early as possible”.  This is hardly credible if our pension investments continue to fund yet more fossil fuel exploration and extraction when we all know that more than 80% of known reserves cannot be burnt, if even greater climate chaos than we witness already is to be prevented.

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