Home > Uncategorized > Tackle climate crisis and poverty with zeal of Covid-19 fight, scientists urge

Tackle climate crisis and poverty with zeal of Covid-19 fight, scientists urge

from today’s Guardian

The Covid-19 crisis has revealed what governments are capable of doing and shone a new light on the motivation for past policies and their outcomes, said Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, and chair of the commission of the social determinants of health at the World Health Organisation.

“The overriding objective [of governments for the last decade] has been austerity, and life expectancy for the worst-off has declined,” he told journalists at a virtual meeting organised by Plan B and Extinction Rebellion. “Health tells us something fundamental about the nature of our society. What the government was pursuing was a worse society – that may not have been the objective, but it was what came out.”

But what had happened in response to coronavirus revealed a new way of operating for governments. “With Covid-19, everything [on austerity] went out of the window. It turns out austerity was a choice,” he said. “The government can spend anything [in the context of the coronavirus crisis], and they have socialised the economy.”

The urgency with which the government had acted showed that the response to an emergency could be swift and decisive, he said. But the climate crisis has been viewed as a “slow-burn” issue and had not elicited such a response. “Coronavirus exposes that we can do things differently,” Marmot said. “We must not go back to the status quo ante.”

  1. Patrick Newman
    March 28, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    UK Chancellor Sunak giving dark hints about paying for this ‘largesse’ but at the same time handing the banks £200bn QE. No talk of the peoples’ QE and the monetary helicopter is grounded. Trump proving more radical or is he just buying November’s election? Austerity over? – not so fast!

  2. Ikonoclast
    March 29, 2020 at 3:17 am

    Command economies work best. This is certainly a contentious statement. It begs the question. Command economies work best for what? Clearly they work best for crises. This is evidenced by the adoption of command economies, even by capitalist democracies, for total war as in WW2. It is also evidenced by the adoption of more and more command economy measures during the current pandemic crisis and even during the previous financial crisis. The running of the economy and society’s resource allocation decisions can no longer be left to the operations of the free market so-called and its most powerful plutocratic players who control most of the game under neoliberalism.

    Once a crisis occurs, a relatively free market and relatively constrained and limited commands from the government are no longer a viable pairing with which to confront the crisis. We are already seeing in Australia what happens when a crisis impacts on a relatively free market system where private money, property and influence confer the most control of the political economy to those with the most private wealth. In essence we begin to see somewhat anarchic outcomes. We are seeing hoarding, profiteering, unacceptable people movements and sporadic “crisis rage” incidents. This is misbehavior of individual persons, poor and rich, relative to the standards of personal self-control, mass consensus and national coordination needed to confront the crisis. We see corporate profiteering and “fortressing” with mass sackings, withdrawal of workers rights and entitlements (QANTAS), wealth hoarding or wealth strikes (unwillingness to share wealth) and rent strikes which in Australia have so far have broken out as brawls between commercial tenant billionaires and landlord billionaires rather than between ordinary residential tenants and petty bourgeois landlords.

    From our Prime Minister and Treasurer we have proposals for “hibernating” businesses which are closed by the force majeure of the COVID-19 virus . This force majeure is in part at one remove as the command to close businesses in some cases comes from the government to prevent even worse human and economic damage from the virus in the near future. This essentially equates to a suspension of bills for debtors (renters, mortgagors etc.) and a suspension of income for creditors. This is all well and good and it may work or there may be a better way yet to be found and explored. However, the crucial theory/praxis point it proves empirically is that the money and finance circuits of the standard relatively free market operations (currently neoliberalism) have limited operability and have to be abandoned as soon as there is any significant crisis. The financial crisis demonstrated the same thing with a different set of problems. Theory and praxis must conform with the empirical evidence.

    Might not these considerations already begin to induce us to suspect that neoliberalism is an improperly functioning system? As soon as it is put to a stern test it fails. It has manifestly failed in many other ways also, even in benign times. It has led to rising inequality. This is first an ethical failure and second an economic efficiency failure. It is clear from empirical studies that high inequality economic systems are inefficient overall. IIRC correctly, Joseph Stiglitz among others has published empirical research on this issue. Neoliberalism has led to the weakening of government in general and various government instrumentalities, departments and operations. Our public health, research, welfare, care and even education systems have been degraded and now fail to meet this stern test. Emergency corrective measures are now put in train but these systems would have been better kept a little gold-plated for the next inevitable exogenous shock (these always come sooner or later) rather than run them down and then frantically re-constitute them when a crisis is already upon us. The latter course is much more costly in resources and human lives in the long run.

    We also see that unfettered capitalism (neoliberalism) has failed to deal with the climate and ecological crisis, let alone the accelerating emergence of zoonotic diseases which are mainly due to the industrial food system and endless encroachment on the wilds. The precautionary principle, the opportunity cost principle and the option value principle all indicate that we need better command and control over our political economy to prevent these kind of disasters progressing and even accelerating further.

    This all gets back to the contention that more of a command economy and one of a particular kind will work best in the long run and help to save us all; humans, other animals and plants. This is not to suggest a total command economy. Absolute command economies would be as unworkable as absolute free market economies. It is a matter of degree AND legitimacy. China is more of a command economy than those of the West albeit it is a state capitalist command economy with an absolutist government. Clearly, there are egregious aspects of the Chinese system which we do not want to emulate. Nevertheless, China plus (Sth Korea and Japan) have coped better so so far.The West rather than being a true free market or American libertarian style economy (which would also be disastrous conformations) is actually a kind plutocratic-corporate command economy with semi-anarchic players. They are semi-anarchic in the sense that the government does not properly regulate them and they struggle destructively with each other and the government to the detriment of coordinated national action. Relatively little of this struggle is creative in the Schumpeterian sense. Often it is sabotage in the Veblenian sense.

    What this boils down to is that the answer we need a mixed economy, public and private, with a large, vigorous public sector and strong controls and checks on corporations and plutocrats. It needs to be genuinely democratic rather than mere representative democracy. It might appear as Democratic Socialism compared to the current system but it would not be pure socialism by any stretch. Certainly we need an MMT / Chartalism style monetary and fiscal policy, a UBI (Universal Basic Income) and a JG (Job Guarantee). We need higher taxes on wealth, strong curbs on tax avoidance and tax havens, strong laws to protect workers and the poor, strong laws to regulate finance and lending and strong laws, regulations and costs to mandate action on climate change, pollution, food safety, zoonotic disease genesis and other systemic problems.

    The government and its instrumentalities must to be conferred with a strong level of command and control to do this. Neoliberalism has manifestly failed all empirical tests. Legitimacy, with a partial move to a more command driven economy must come from a compact where the democratic system is made genuinely democratic and it provides the people with final and complete control over the government system. Checks and balances against tyrannical government including an independent judiciary and a free press would be paramount for this objective and must be enhanced. It is not good enough that the only permitted check against tyranny is great wealth. There is no justice for the middle class or the poor in that. And soon there will be no survival for humankind and civilization if the plutocracy is permitted to continue running the political and economic system.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    April 9, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    According to the UN (and many others) the world was a mess before anyone ever uttered the word coronavirus. These problems remain waiting for us after the current crisis fades.

    1. We have a decade to significantly curb carbon emissions and avoid catastrophe. Because of years of delayed action, we face an even more pressing mandate. We need to halve global emissions by 2030 but the emissions gap between what is needed and our current commitments is significant. Starting this year [2020], we need to cut emissions by 7.6% every year for the next 10 years to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

    2. The start of 2020 ushers in the ten-year countdown to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [particularly elimination of poverty and extreme poverty] and is a crucial year for ensuring our policies, financing, and ambition align to reach the Goals by 2030. The first four years since the Goals’ launch witnessed new commitments, coalitions, and approaches among national governments from the developed and developing world, local actors and leaders, the investment community and private sector, and other non-state actors. For its part, the United Nations embarked on a major reform effort to better deliver on the SDGs. The relationship between climate, the SDGs, and peace has also come into greater focus.

    3. Inequality is at the heart of many of the gravest issues facing the global community, including development, climate, and peace. It affects people and structures across societies and borders and threatens to stymie hard-fought development gains.

    What does this mean? A recent United Nations report shows that 20% of development progress was lost in recent years due to the unequal distribution of education, health, and living standards. The World Economic Forum has calculated that it will take women almost 100 years to reach gender equality. Exclusionary practices in security, justice, and politics are at the heart of many violent conflicts today. And it is seen as a key factor in the rise of protests around the globe, which shows no signs of abating in 2020.

    Toppling barriers to opportunity is key to making the transformative progress needed in 2020.

    4. The year 2020 marks the ninth anniversary of the war in Syria, and the fifth in Yemen. Venezuela may very well become the source of the world’s largest and most underfunded refugee crisis. Lethal violence and violent crime is on the rise, affecting growing cities in an urbanizing world. And the risk of interstate conflicts and geopolitical strife has taken center stage.

    These factors build on worrying trends from 2019, where more people required assistance than initially forecast due to conflicts and extreme weather-related disasters. Women and children are being disproportionately affected and are at higher risks of sexual and gender-based violence. Over 60% of the world’s chronically food insecure people live in countries affected by conflict.

    According to the 2020 Global Humanitarian Report, one out of every 45 people on this planet will need help and protection next year. In 2020, almost 170 million people in crises will need help and protection across more than 50 countries, the highest figure in decades.

    These figures put into stark relief the challenges of achieving the SDGs in such daunting contexts. At current rates, 80% of the world’s population living in extreme poverty in 2030 will be in fragile or conflict-affected settings.

    The world refugee crisis continues to expand.

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