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Letter from more than 200 academics: Our economic system is unfit to tackle the climate crisis

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Friday 12 November 2021 15:44
<p>‘We are hundreds of scholars from dozens of countries, who are grieving the situation but determined not to ignore it’ </p>

‘We are hundreds of scholars from dozens of countries, who are grieving the situation but determined not to ignore it’

Earlier this year, the official international summary of climate science announced we face increasing disasters and disruptions, with the most vulnerable suffering the most and soonest. A leaked report from the same UN process identified the need for a transformation in our economic systems for a meaningful attempt to limit loss and damage.

Yet at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, no plan for a justice-based economic transformation was launched. Worse, voluntary business commitments distracted from the economic policies necessary to reduce atmospheric carbon and prepare for worsening disruption. That is despite decades of voluntary initiatives not delivering significant impacts on the climate. It is unscientific and unethical to deny that our economic system is at fault, so must be transformed to reduce climate risk and adapt to the difficulties. To ignore that reality, plans are afoot to waste huge sums of money on energy-hungry yet atmospherically insignificant carbon capture machines.

Political leaders could instead level with their populations about necessary changes in industries and lifestyles. Respecting climate justice, they could take immediate steps to reduce inequality nationally and globally – key for any changes in livelihoods to be fair and lasting.

We are hundreds of scholars from dozens of countries, who are grieving the situation but determined not to ignore it. We believe that the corporate capture and failure of Cop26 clearly show that people in communities and organisations must now lead our own emergency response. That includes coordinated radical policy advocacy from outside of a corporate-driven system, for a real green revolution that will significantly reduce and drawdown emissions, regenerate nature and help us adapt. It also includes growing community-led deep adaptation efforts independently of governments and transnational corporations.

The hot air from Glasgow means it’s time for more honest and radical leadership. We must call out the fantasy that dangerous global heating will not get worse or that the largest corporations will come to our rescue. When we escape such delusion, we can contribute to a different way forward – one we hope governments will join when they escape the constraints of business-as-usual.

Dr Malika Virah-Sawmy, IASS-Potsdam, Germany and Mauritius

Professor Dr Jem Bendell, University of Cumbia and co-editor Deep Adaptation, UK

Dr Yves Cochet, Former Minister of the Environment, France, Institut Momentum, France

A full list of all 200+ signatories can be found here

The system is at fault

We have heard a lot recently about the parlous state of the UK’s affairs, with a focus on the incumbent government and the behaviour of the prime minister.

While I concur with much of the criticism, I can’t help thinking that in some perverse way, Boris Johnson is highlighting the terrible inadequacies of Britain’s brand of democracy. He behaves the way he does because the system allows him to.

From a blatantly unfair electoral system that effectively guarantees five years of rule to the winning party to the labyrinthine parliamentary practices and procedures, it is clear that a major reformation is needed. It is time to drag the country out of the cloying mists of questionable greatness and into a 21st century that is already presenting formidable challenges for future generations to confront.

So let’s introduce proportional representation at election time and get a much more balanced mix of people making the decisions around the top table, tighten up the rule book by creating a written constitution and have an elected head of state to replace the scandal-ridden monarchy that the public pays £340m for on an annual basis.

J. Wells


New health priorities

There has been a heavy price to pay in terms of acute diseases during Covid and this will continue long beyond it. Locking down completely and diverting medical staff from areas such as cardiovascular and cancer treatment has meant that many patients were not seen, diagnosed or treated. No doubt some with symptoms did not bother seeking help because they despaired the difficulty of accessing it, storing up trouble for their future. And we know only too well what problems there are with ambulances.

This is a personal issue for me. I have given thanks several times that my two cancers were diagnosed and treated in 2011 and 2015, and not in 2019-21. A friend with a serious heart condition was told her case was “urgent” in early summer 2021 but was kept waiting for a heart bypass operation. This she received when she was eventually rushed into hospital with a heart attack. Thankfully, she is making a good recovery.

But what about the people whose treatment was interrupted or put on long-term hold? With Covid receding and vaccinations now widespread, why is it not a priority to treat those with life-threatening conditions?

Jill Stephenson


Ah, the Brexit dividend!

Latest figures show the UK economy stagnating with a key reason being the government’s hard Brexit. If Tory MPs had done their homework – instead, in some cases, of doing second jobs – they would have realised the utter folly of leaving the EU’s single market.

It was accomplished by Lord Cockfield, a European Commissioner who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, and is ranked as one of the EU’s greatest achievements. In eliminating physical and fiscal non-tariff barriers, it fuelled economic growth by stimulating trade, improving efficiency and helping to cut prices. The opposite of what is happening to us now.

Roger Hinds


FW de Klerk

The passing of South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, marks the end of those from the leadership of South Africa during apartheid. He did start the process of transition to democracy, but he also worked for a long time in the apartheid system and didn’t seem to apologise for, recognise and refute apartheid as completely as he should have.

It is customary to praise those that pass, and he did start the process, but the full picture is more complex than that. Although apartheid is officially no more, are all people in South Africa offered the same opportunities? I think there is more to do.

Dennis Fitzgerald

Melbourne, Australia

Off my nut

I thought it might be helpful if I proffered some sage advice to the three MPs who allegedly imbibed too much alcohol on a flight to Gibraltar (all three MPs vehemently deny the claims).

Around the time of my late teens and early twenties, staggering home from a long night out, managing to find my door key and subsequently ending up on the hall carpet, I always found it propitious to tell my parents I had eaten a bag of peanuts that must have been “off”.

Don’t think they ever suspected. Those were the days.

Robert Boston


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