Michael Taft: Snatching Social Prosperity From Climate Crisis

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From top: Climate change strike in Dublin city centre last Friday: Michael Taft

Amidst all the commentary on the millions-across-the-globe Friday climate change strike, one remark was striking: we should be very afraid.  Certainly, failure to contain the rise in global heating will wreak devastation. And the United in Science report makes for unnerving reading.

However, fear may not be the best way to mobilise people into action. A better way is to show how climate repair will actually make life better and improve our living standards beyond just avoiding global meltdown.

In other words, the policies to address the climate emergency will actually result in a more prosperous society.

Take a carbon tax: if this were increased without a robust compensation mechanism, it will further degrade the living standards of low and average income households. However, if it is accompanied by a Carbon Dividend – or a ‘climate income’ – things change.

Low and average income groups are likely winners and income inequality is reduced. In that context, the carbon tax could then do what it is supposed to: reprice carbon to remove externalities (i.e. remove the massive subsidy fossil fuel extractors receive from a failed market) and provide environmentally-sound incentives to investors and innovators.

So what climate repair policies can actually make things better? Here is a small list – no doubt there are other and better examples.

Free Public Transport

Public transport is key to reducing emissions and congestion. So why not make it free? This could induce more people out of their vehicles, provided there is capacity and access. Looking at the experience of other European cities, free public transport can have a transformative impact on mobility and life quality. And it would especially benefit low and average income groups given that a month’s pass in Dublin costs €140.

Car-Free City Centres

Ban or limit private cars into city centres. Again, this could induce people to use public transport, while recapturing the city streets for people . Cities throughout Europe are taking initiatives, from outright bans to bans on weekends to extending pedestrian zones.

Free Retrofitting

Well, free up front. One of the problems with the current grant system is that only those with enough money can take advantage of the grant. So why not make the retrofit free upfront with repayments linked to income or ability to pay. The full cost can be recovered when the house is sold or disposed. This could be funded by a National Housing Bank (similar to the bank Fine Gael proposed under their NewEra proposals) and include solar panel installation and fuel pumps. Further steps would be to require retrofitting when a house is sold or transferred.

Electric Cars

Similar to retrofitting, grants and tax breaks for electric cars benefit higher income groups who can afford such vehicles. So why don’t we substantially subsidise the purchase of electric cars with repayments based on income and the balance cleared upon disposal of the car? In the first instance, we could initially target this programme at rural dwellers, since they will be disproportionately impacted by a carbon tax. This would have to be done alongside a rollout of a recharging infrastructure.

Green Our Cities

Greening urban areas has a multiple of beneficial effects – from health to climate change to improving the overall liveability of our neighbourhoods. This is where community democracy can play a driving role – neighbourhood councils established to draw up local plans for greening, design and planting. This should come with sufficient resources to realise these plans (e.g. Munich local government provides grants to households to dig up hard surfacing and replant their gardens).

Make Just Transition Truly Just

The Green Party has proposed a Just Transition Commission in their Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill. This would be a significant step forward. But we can go further.

There will be job losses across a range of sectors. A fund could be established to ensure that anyone who loses their job due to decarbonisation would be entitled to their full wage for a an extended period to facilitate re-training, new employment opportunities, or moving to a new job – a Green Guaranteed Income.

This would not only provide security for workers, it would maintain their spending power which would help protect employment in other sectors (e.g. retail).

Another new feature would be a Green Examinership – a process by which a failing company (due to decarbonisation) is given legal protection to allow its workforce to come up with proposals to convert production to renewable or sustainable goods and services.

Let a 1000 Ideas Bloom

When we think about climate repair we tend to think of either government policy or individual action. We have to bring the productive economy into this debate.

Every business with more than 50 employees (this threshold could be lower) should produce an annual joint environmental audit between management and employees, emphasising environmental innovation in new processes and / or products. The Strategic Investment Fund could be re-orientated towards green innovation to assist in this. Let people in and let a thousand ideas flourish.

* * * *

The advantage of these policies is that they would be good in and of themselves. That they can help in pursuing climate justice and repair makes them win-win. There are more policies that could be introduced to achieve this beneficial impact:

To shore up low incomes we could consider a partial Basic Income, the Living Wage and collective bargaining – all of which can boost living standards.

Considering that some things may get more expensive (e.g. food), we should be reducing costs in other areas such as housing with cost-rental and cost-purchase housing.

Reduction in working hours (the 30-hour working week) can contribute to climate repair through a reduction of our carbon footprint (the fewer hours worked, the better).
Of course, the first question in response is how much will it cost?

The problem is we have no baseline for the cost in the scenario where we do nothing or very little. Therefore, we can’t make comparisons. So let’s just work out costs based on where we are now.

Many of the above have few cost implications: guaranteeing people’s income in the case of climate-related job loss (a 0.2 percent increase in social insurance), car-free city centres, etc. Some of the proposals could actually raise revenue by driving productivity (the 1000 ideas, green examinershp), while subsidising retrofitting and electric cars would be debt-financed by households over the long-term.

Even so, a truly Just Transition will have significant costs. For instance, free public transport would cost over €600 million – and this doesn’t count the cost of increased demand and capacity (thanks to @Sean_Fearon for pointing out this PQ).

The Government should conduct a thorough analysis of what the CSO describes as ‘potentially environmentally damaging subsidies.’

In 2016, through direct spending subsidies and indirect tax reductions, we spent over €4 billion in 2016 on such subsidies. It should be noted that these are potentially damaging, and many of the subsidies are social supports (fuel and gas allowances, subsidies to disabled drivers, etc.).

This means that it is far from a simple matter of ending the subsidies and redirecting the money towards green investment. However, in the first instance, the Government should identify which subsidies are definitely damaging.

Warmer houses at lower cost, living city centres, retrofitting and electric cars accessible to everyone, green towns and cities, income guarantees and employee-driven innovation – the transition to the new energy, production and consumption regime needed to combat climate change will contain many challenges.

But in so many areas we can show that the transition can be Just, spreading real benefits to everyone.

This is a programme capable of mobilising society around a new and progressive consensus.

Michael Taft is a researcher for SIPTU and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front. His column appears here every Tuesday.

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62 thoughts on “Michael Taft: Snatching Social Prosperity From Climate Crisis

    1. Donal

      Wind farms, massive and offshore, Ireland currently seriously lagging UK and others on the development of these, to our shame

        1. Cian

          Otis isn’t far off:
          Rules
          You must own your home and be living in it. Your home must have been built and occupied before 2006.
          You must be getting one of the following payments:
          • Fuel Allowance as part of the National Fuel Scheme
          • Working Family Payment
          • Jobseeker’s Allowance for over 6 months and have a child aged under 7 years
          • Domiciliary Care Allowance
          • One Parent Family Payment
          • Carer’s Allowance and live with the person you care for

          https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/housing/housing_grants_and_schemes/warmer_homes_scheme.html

          1. Pfaf

            Go away. Wrong. It’s only one of several qualifying mechanisms. It’s a serious omission from the article which as it happens was the point of my post.

          2. millie vanilly strikes again

            By all means provide some of the other criteria then, if it is as glaring an omission as you say.

  1. Pip

    All very well, but will nobody speak up for greed, shareholder value, brown envelopes, skullduggery, fear, gravy trains, the military-industrial complex, opiods, meat & dairy….?

  2. Rob_G

    Mining the materials needed to produce electric cars is nothing short of an environmental disaster, I don’t think the government should be indirectly increasing the demand for their manufacture in any way, shape or form.

    Free public transport is an interesting one – Dublin’s public transport is currently at capacity, so I’m not sure it would be a good idea to increase demand again as things stand. Any expansion of the public transport network would probably need to be done in conjunction with restricting private vehicles access to parts of the city (which is a good idea in and of itself, anyway).

    1. Nigel

      It’s also a human rights and child labour disaster, but then so is every single laptop and phone we’re all using because we’re all made complicit in these crimes. It should be possible to mitigate and repair environmental damage through enforecement of stringent regulations and labour standards, though of course that would make everyone’s cheap disposable electronics less cheap, something that could itself bemitigated by making them less disposable.

      Anyway, a direct switchover to electric cars is unfeasible. Focus needs to be on public transport networks, walking and cycling infrstructure and that old favourite, sensible urban planning and sustainable development..

    2. some old queen

      Luas full- buses full- and as for the ‘quality’ services of Irish Rail- describing them as third world would be a compliment. Before any discussion on free public transport happens, it needs the mother of all upgrades and that in turn means a LOT of additional investment.

      1. Cian

        Perhaps Dublin Bus should order a 100 new busses.
        Anyone know where these could be built? Any bus building companies on the island of Ireland? perhaps Leo could make a deal with the DUP?…

      2. Janet, I ate my Avatar

        did you see Irish rail suggestion we just all stroll into work at ten since the earlier trains are full

      3. Pip

        Absent from the public transport bickering are the many thousands who enjoy affordable, efficient, clean and timely transport via the many private coach services.

          1. Cathal

            Oldest I’ve seen is 06 which would be Euro5 emmissions, wouldn’t the pissing rain not be a bigger problem?

  3. Mountain Talk

    Ideas : Ban drilling/search for fossil fuels in the Irish Sea.

    : Label things, regarding Environmental impact. Sliding points scale.
    PalmOil -8 (rainforest destruction) IrishDiary -4 (fertilizers, water contamination) etc

    : Build one tunnel a decade. Start a Dublin subway system. Must be the only European country w/out.

      1. Nigel

        By telling someone expressing her fears and asking for others to understand those fears to ‘fupp off,’ which is the correct way to treat someone when they try to tell you they’re scared of something.

        People are worried and scared and they’re asking for their fears to be acknowledged and taken seriously. Hand in hand with that, there’s nothing new about the positive benefits of the many things that can be done to save and protect the environment (which isn’t to say that they’re not worth repeating, over and over again, as long as it takes.) Somehow that hasn’t stopped those in positions of power and influence ignoring them completely for decades often by, oh yeah! Fearmongering that they’d lead to economic disaster and send us all back to the caves or lead to an eco-fascist dystopia!

        1. Clampers Outside

          That’s not what she asked. She asked for someone to feel *her* fear.

          There’s a difference in that, and that which you’ve just explained, in fairness.

          If you don’t know the difference, pity.

          1. Clampers Outside

            No, she wants you to feel what she feels, because it’s all about feels pet. Not practical solutions, just feels.

          2. some old queen

            Clamps- my cousin is downs- she’s older and I yap on about me but she cuts to the chase- she is ALWAYS right- I have been to Uni three times and still- SHE is my go to.

            Do not under estimate the intellectual power of those labeled as stupid.

          3. Clampers Outside

            WTAF? I too have family with learning disabilities but would never call them stupid as you have. And I never underestimate her…. Jesus you’re some biscuit sometimes.

        2. Clampers Outside

          Regarding your last bit… have u even read the GCStrike demands? Some of it is ridiculous and contradictory.

          1. Nigel

            Have you seen the global response to climate change over the last few decades? It’s been practically non-existent!

          2. Nigel

            Personally I think the people who did nothing and the people who accepted it and the same people who now attack those pointing out what a bad idea that was are the ridiculous ones.

        3. Clampers Outside

          I read this again… you sooooo don’t get the point of Mr Taft’s post. It’s persons like yourself who feed and promote the fear in these kids rather than encouraging a positive attitude to effective can-do change for the future. This fear produces nothing of practical use in getting the job done, as is demonstrated by the many impractical, and unworkable demands contained in the list of GCStrike demands.

          1. Nigel

            Lack of action on climate change feeds the fear. Why do you always blame the people trying to do something about these problems rather than the people responsible?

          2. Clampers Outside

            “Why do you….” questioning is a good thing pet, not mindlessly accepting ideas. Such like… for example your acceptance (and insistence) that women have a penis, in all fairness.

    1. Rob_G

      I don’t know about you, but I find the prospect of crop yields decreasing worldwide, with millions of people going hungry as a result, kind of scary. Not sure how one can touch upon this aspect of climate change without “stoking fear”.

      1. Clampers Outside

        They’ll certainly decrease if the demands of GCStrike are adhered to, in fairness. Have you read them at all?

        1. Rob_G

          Not familiar with this term, google is not throwing up anything that seems to be related to climate change – typo(?)

          1. Clampers Outside

            GCStrike or…
            GlobalClimateStrike.net
            … the website of last weekend’s strike.

            What I am referring to is their demands (found on their site/linked to via the site… can’t recall), one example being, their stance on food tech development, if were in place already, the rice that saved millions if not a billion lives in Asia would be prohibited from being developed. 

            That rice story…
            https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38156350

          2. Rob_G

            Thanks for the links – the second one mentions not converting arable land to grow fuel crops instead of food crops, but doesn’t appear to say anything about green revolution cultivation/GMOs, anything like that.

            I’m not sure how one could engage in a discussion about the effects of climate change without risking scaring people a little. And people need a bit of a fright – we’ve known about climate change for decades, and look how complacent we have been in dealing with the problem until now.

          3. Clampers Outside

            It comes under another demand, although, as I understand it, it also comes under “techofixes” more broadly speaking.

            I’ll have a look again… and get back

          4. Rob_G

            Agreed, @Posting. Which, I must say, surprises me.

            @Clampers – Even if there was a whole raft of unpleasant or irrational people taking part in the GCS, it would change the climate scientists’ fairly stark observations one bit.

  4. Cathal

    Climate change activists will likely use terrorist methods to further their fanatical cause, they are currently focusing on recruiting children and gullible adults to their cause, time to get worried.

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