We had better start where we left off in May – with the official government ONS (Office of National Statistics) weekly numbers of recorded deaths. For the last 4 weeks (up to 12 June) the ONS figures show there were 5,400 more deaths in total compared to the average of the last 5 years. This compares with the 27,000 additional deaths which were recorded in the 4 previous weeks – clearly a massive fall in mortality. In fact we can see the numbers of excess deaths declining rapidly over the last 4 weeks of recorded figures – 2,300 in week 21, 1700 in week 22, 700 in week 23 and just 500 in week 24. More interestingly perhaps, we find that the percentage of deaths for the over 70s has dropped (in week 24) from the “normal” 82.5 percent to the much lower figure of 77 percent. Clearly corona has caused a large number of old people to die a few weeks earlier than would have been expected. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in the next set of statistics.
The ONS figures show that we should now be in a “panic over” phase. We still don't seem to know how many people have had the virus. There is a suspicion that many people are actually already immune because of previous exposure to other corona viruses (but again we simply don't know). Despite all its bluster and spin, the government has invariably silenced expert opinion if it does not fit their own preferred story.
The Post-corona world?
It seems pretty clear now that, post corona, we can expect governments throughout the world to be taking a much more direct role in the management of social and economic affairs. The philosophies of the so called “neo-liberals”, which put so much faith in the workings of the “free” market, are probably destined for the rubbish bin. It is significant that some economists are now realising that the way money is created and managed is NOT just a neutral process (money seen just as a means of exchange). This has come to be called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). With this comes the new realisation that governments really can print their own money WITHOUT using the commercial banks as their agents and WITHOUT causing inflation (so long as the total money supply does not increase and this need not happen when the clearing banks are calling in loans and restricting credit).
As reported in previous blogs, the Bank of England’s recent Central Bank Digital currency initiative is strong evidence of this new understanding - it could have massive consequences. We could also see introduction of (or at least experimentation with) Universal Citizen’s Income (UCI) in some form as the number of unemployed becomes unmanageable – in any event unemployment must increase with automation. UCI could completely change the mindset of ordinary workers who would, at last, be given some measure of independence from wage slavery (as the yeomen of England once had before the land enclosures of the 18th century). People will do more “own work” and very likely begin to move out of cities using the internet for working from home and avoiding pollution, congestion and crime.
What does this mean for climate change?
There is a better chance now that governments may finally realise the significance of what Greta Thunberg has been saying, namely that we will never solve climate change while our present institutions remain dominant:
populist democracy always needs short-term popularity;
corporations must always exploit the Earth to make their profits;
the banks direct investment to serve their own interests rather than the common good;
the price mechanism will always give us wrong signals to make the necessary changes.
Right now we see the public in a confused state of values: plastic is bad, pollution is bad, electric cars are good, animals and oceans need saving…….but - and it is a BIG BUT- people are not yet ready to give up consumerism and the convenience of fossil fuels. I was very struck by the assumptions which seem to underly the deliberations of the Climate Change Citizen’s Assembly set up by the UK government. Basically they want to find ways to continue economic growth but without using fossil fuels. Does it never occur to people that we do not NEED to use so much energy either to heat our homes or rush about in our cars and planes? Sooner or later energy rationing must be introduced - as it would be in wartime. For example, we might each have a personal energy limit of, say, 2 Kilowatts. A 4-person car could easily be powered by 8 Kilowatts - equivalent to a coach being pulled by at least 10 horses - and achieve 70 mph when built of light-weight carbon fibre. Imagine if Formula 1 was turned on its head so racers could only use 2 Kilowatts - how great would be the development of light weight, streamline, regenerative braking vehicles - and they could go extremely fast. Frankly, it’s amazing how much power my 250-watt ebike can provide, taking me up any hill easily. (In comparison, a normal fit adult can produce about 150 watts of power over an hour while even a top racing cyclist is limited to about 400 watts and a manual labourer works to about 75 watts output over an 8 hour day.)
The Real Threat......
Climate change is one thing but I have no doubt that industrial agriculture is the real threat. It drives ordinary people off the land, depends entirely on fossil fuel inputs, destroys the soil, degrades the welfare of fine animals, pollutes our water with fertiliser run-off and, last but not least, it poisons our food. Its output per acre is much much less than labour-intensive organic production. Industrial agriculture aims to make quick profits whatever the longer term costs to the soil and the environment (particularly in causing massive flooding as grasslands and forests are cleared and cultivated to grow cash crops). Combine this with the pollution and waste caused by the flush toilet and you have a potent cocktail - transferring all the nutrients of what is left of our soil into the oceans and rivers with the resulting algal blooms (particularly in the seas off China).
Is there an answer?
We have had “Occupy” and we still have “Extinction Rebellion” but protest alone is an old-fashioned approach from those who clearly believe we must wait for our governments to find solutions. What we actually need is a real citizens' movement where the philosophies of self-sufficiency are paramount. It is not enough for concerned people just to block the streets. What we need is for people to actually change how they live - for example, by giving up cars, boycotting consumerism, growing their own food, making their own entertainment, composting their waste, not registering to vote, etc. etc. At the same time we need more innovative academic thinking (about how money is created and managed, how the corporations can be reformed, how governments can be chosen without populist elections, and how the freedoms of unrestrained private ownership might be limited to prevent irresponsible behaviour by those who are now the very rich…..and so on).
Promoting a more “magical” world!
There is no doubt that one of the main reasons the “establishment” is so unprepared to deal with climate change is because, deep down, there is an unstated belief that brilliant humans will ultimately be able to fix everything through science and technology. How can it be that public attitudes to science and technology are more than 200 years out of date? Relativity and quantum theory should make us all aware that our Earth is part of a Universe which works in truly magical ways. Our world is not the comfortably predictable and manageable place which was revealed by the 17th century science of Isaac Newton and Renee Descartes. I recommend you take some time out to read (and really digest) the excellent book by Professor Brian Cox – Why does E=mc2 (and why should we care!)
Humans,with all their big brains, consciousness and even “free will”, have an enormous responsibility to try and look after this world, accepting all its mysteries, and they had better be jolly careful they don’t think themselves too clever to apply wisdom and caution to the task.