December 31, 2008

A New Year message from John Bunzl, founder of the Simultaneous Policy campaign

The power to create a better world is already ours

With the world in the grip of financial crisis and a deepening economic slump, those of us who've long been concerned about global warming, looming energy shortages and other global issues will no doubt be feeling even more despondent than before. To ordinary citizens all over the world, the ability to gain any traction on these issues seems inadequate and our efforts to get politicians to do anything substantive likewise seem somewhat futile. And yet the power to reverse this is, I contend, already in our hands if only we realise it. We - at least those of us in democratic countries - already have the necessary power to drive our politicians to implement substantive global solutions.

To fully realise our power, however, first requires that we take stock of the various misconceptions that prevent us from seeing it. We are limited not so much by corrupt or blind politicians, nor by greedy corporations, nor by the "money masters" - the private banks. We are limited only by the false walls of misconception we've constructed in our own hearts and minds.

The first of these is our assumption that politicians have the power to make the substantive changes needed to put the world on a just and sustainable path. There can be no doubt we believe politicians have this power because if we didn't, we'd hardly spend so much time lobbying them or taking direct action to persuade them to change their policies. We lobby them and protest because we think they have power - but they don't, at least not nearly as much as we think they do, and certainly far less than they'd need if they're to really solve global problems.

How can this be? Their lack of power stems from the fact that, today, capital and corporations can move fairly easily and instantaneously across national borders, so determining which country gains investment and employment and which loses it. Since politicians have no choice but to implement policies designed to attract or retain capital so as to maintain employment and competitiveness, it's not hard to see why they're constrained to implementing only market- and business-friendly policies which favour the rich, the corporations and the bankers and thus disfavour greater social justice and the environment. So, to lobby politicians in the way we do now is rather illogical. Because for any nation, implementing our demands unilaterally would risk making its economy uncompetitive, leading to capital flight, unemployment and so on. Implementing our demands, in short, would not be in the national interest. So, why do we persist in demanding substantive change from people - in this case our politicians - when they don't have the power to deliver? Clearly there must be something wrong with our thinking; with our conception.

Our second major misconception is that the above problem must be the fault of the rich or the corporations who move their capital around. While no one should condone poor or greedy corporate behaviour, we have to realise that on the whole corporations do what they do because not doing it would mean losing out to others. For corporations, acting ethically or refraining from taking advantage of countries with lower regulations and taxes would by and large mean losing out to their less scrupulous competitors, so it's not difficult to see why they so often fail to behave as we'd like. So while it's right we should highlight poor corporate behaviour when we see it, why do we persist in blaming corporations when it's clear that their behaviour is only the natural consequence of the lack of a level playing field of globally binding regulations? Again, there must be something wrong with our conception.

What's more, these misconceptions only lead us into contradictory thinking, such as identifying free trade as our enemy. At a recent Trade Justice strategy event, for example, delegates were disappointed that a survey carried out during the Make Poverty History campaign showed that supporters could not say what trade justice actually meant. Following that, a delegate from one major NGO gave his own answer, proclaiming that "We are against free trade and we're for protectionism, but only in certain circumstances". But he failed to see the inherent contradiction that if you are for protectionism only in certain exceptional circumstances, you must logically be for free trade in all other circumstances! What that delegate and most of his colleagues are missing, then, is that their real enemy is not free trade itself but the fact that free trade occurs without adequate global social and environmental regulations, without any redistribution of wealth across national borders, and without any adequate transnational enforcement. In short, it's not free trade that is our enemy; it is the lack of effective global regulations and governance. And if the leaders of our movement cannot accurately identify the real enemy, surely we shouldn't be surprised if the public cannot define trade justice.

But lying deep beneath these misconceptions are the false walls we build in our hearts. We build them on the above misconceptions and hold to them dearly because they allow us to blame, shame and complain about others and that makes us feel self-righteous; it makes us feel good - like campaigning warriors, boldly speaking out for the good of the world! But while raising public awareness of global abuses is certainly necessary, how can blaming people who are not really responsible possibly be good for the world? How can it be right to blame politicians or businessmen when it's not really their fault and when change is not in their power and when, moreover, if we were in their shoes, global economic forces would demand that we behaved pretty much as they do? This, perhaps, is why Gandhi asserted that "It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist or attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same b rush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world."[i]

If we want to help and heal the world, then, it is the largely unregulated global market system that we must recognise as our real enemy - that we must resist and attack - and not any person or corporation or mode of trade that operates within it. We must realise that we are all caught, at one level or another, in that system and are thus all "tarred with the same brush". And from that it follows that while none of us is really to blame, all of us must hold ourselves jointly responsible for changing the system itself - for doing something about it. When we stop blaming each other, then, we realise that we are all prisoners of the system and all in the same planetary boat. If we take down the false walls of misconception in our hearts, we open them to the truth that those who we fondly believed to be at fault are not, and so our hearts open to each other without discrimination or reserve and so to the whole world. For how else could we be permitted to do good for the world? How else could we possibly build a non-judgemental space that is open to all; the vital open and forgiving space that is needed to begin our joint search for a genuine global solution? None of this means we should stop our present campaigns, of course; it means only that we must recognise their limitations, and so realise that an additional, more global, thoroughly non-judgemental, more truthful, more inclusive approach is also needed.

Let us now go further to see what such an approach might actually look like. What might its design criteria be?

If the free movement of capital and corporations is a global phenomenon, our first deduction must be that only a truly global solution could possibly fit the bill. And since the nature of governments' failure to act is their fear of losing jobs and investment to other countries, it follows, secondly, that any solution must be implemented simultaneously by nations to avoid that fear. If all or sufficient nations act simultaneously, no nation, corporation or citizens need lose out to any other: global and simultaneous - everybody wins. But since dominant nations may not see global cooperation as in their interests and would seek to free-ride and undermine global cooperation, our solution must give citizens the power to compel their governments to cooperate. So our solution must not just be global and simultaneous but also be driven by citizens. And if citizens are to drive the process and be capable of compelling their politicians to cooperate globally, the solution must enable them to operate on politicians in a way that is democratic, legal and binding. It must, in short, operate through existing electoral systems but do so in a way that is completely new, has trans-national coverage and yet transcends party-politics.

For a few years, now, a relatively small number of citizens, primarily in the UK, have been test-running a global solution which meets all the above design criteria. Over the course of two general elections, in 2001 and 2005, they succeeded in getting 27 Members of the UK parliament and countless electoral candidates from all the main political parties to pledge to implement the campaign's global policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. In some UK electoral constituencies, more than one candidate signed the pledge, meaning the campaign gained a seat in parliament regardless which of those candidates won the seat. This showed that the campaign was capable of transcending party-political divides and was global in scope, leading one supporting MP, Lembit Opik, to recognise that, "We live together at once, on the same small planet. There are some things we should do together, at once, on this same small planet."

But how could a relatively small number of citizens achieve such big results in such a short time? The answer lies in their discovery of a new and powerful way to use their votes. They do this by making it clear to all politicians that they'll be voting in all future national elections for ANY politician or party - within reason - that pledges to implement the campaign's policy package simultaneously alongside other governments. Or, if they have a party preference, they encourage their favourite politician or party to sign that pledge. In that way, campaign supporters still retain the ultimate right to vote as they please but they also make it clear to all politicians that they'll be giving very strong preference to candidates that have signed the Pledge, to the exclusion of those who haven't. So politicians who sign the Pledge attract those votes and yet they risk nothing because the policy package only gets implemented if and when sufficient governments around the world hav e signed up to it too. But if politicians fail to sign the Pledge they risk losing votes to their political competitors who do, and so could risk losing their seats. With many parliamentary seats and even entire elections around the world often hanging on a relatively small number of votes, it's not difficult to see that only relatively few campaign supporters will be needed to make it in the vital survival interests of all politicians to sign up. And therein lies the power that citizens already have, even in dominant countries such as the USA, to ensure that their governments sign up and cooperate.

Thanks to this novel way of voting, not only have many UK MPs signed up, some Members of the European, Australian and other parliaments have too. The campaign has supporters in over 70 countries and they are self-organising to take the project forward and roll it out internationally. In 2005 they started a global process by which they - potentially with the help of chosen independent experts - gradually develop the global policies to be included in the campaign's overall policy package. This ensures that the policies to be implemented are democratically developed, globally inclusive, tailored to the needs of each country and yet that the process still remains open and flexible over time. Many non-governmental and campaigning organisations already have well thought out global policies to deal with climate change, oil depletion and other problems but what they don't have is a viable political means for getting them implemented in a globalised world. That's why they're increasin gly seeing this novel campaign as a vehicle for driving politicians and nations towards cooperatively implementing them. They're increasingly recognising that if politicians don't have the unilateral power to deal substantively with global problems, then citizens must logically take the lead both in designing the necessary policies, and in using their collective voting power to drive politicians to implement them simultaneously. So, the power to create a better world is already in our hands - we only have to use it; we only have to realise it.

The campaign we're talking about is called the Simultaneous Policy (or Simpol, for short). As Lembit Opik went on to say, "The compelling logic of Simultaneous Policy is really collective common sense - it's a campaign to find out how common sense really is!"

With global problems now mounting steeply around us, isn't it time more of us found out and played our parts? Isn't it time you let go your misconceptions and opened your heart to all the world? Isn't it time we all jointly discovered, as Gandhi said, that the "divine powers within us are infinite"?

Joining the Simpol campaign is free. Please go now to

Seasons greetings and happy New Year!

John Bunzl

Founder, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO)

December, 2008.


[i] M.K. Gandhi, An Autobiography, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1927, 1929.

December 12, 2008

Nuclear disarmament synergies

Once you’ve spent a bit of time browsing the proposals put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy, you see the synergies. This is brought out in some of the policy supplements to the newsletter too, such as that on ‘Turning weapons into windmills’ on the impact on climate change of redirecting weapons spending to renewable energy production.

Similar synergies occurred for me yesterday. The proposal for Nuclear Disarmament did well in the recently concluded voting on policy proposals, gaining 60% approval for its further development. Mark Horler has taken up the challenge and posted a ‘work in progress’ expanding on the initial proposal to reference a proposed Nuclear Weapons Convention. He is looking for seconders for this to go forward. You can add your name at:

At the same time, I saw a news report of a new international organisation called Global Zero, which launched a campaign this week on exactly the same issue.

According to the International Business Times:

Global Zero released a poll of 21 countries that found global public opinion overwhelmingly favors an international agreement for eliminating all nuclear weapons according to a timetable -- 76 percent of respondents across all countries polled favor such an agreement. The question specified that "all countries would be monitored to ensure they follow the agreement." In the five nations with large nuclear arsenals and advanced delivery systems, large majorities favor the plan -- Russia (69%), the United States (77%), China(83%), France (86%), and Great Britain (81%). In nations that do not have nuclear weapons, similarly large majorities favor it.

This week too I wrote of the financial crisis and how re-thinking how we calculate GDP would prompt very different policy action from that we are seeing from our leaders, who encouraging people to take on more debt and consume more to get the world out of recession. Putting arms money into factors that boost health, environmental and social issues would make the ‘Beyond GDP’ figure improve. I wasn’t initially sympathetic to the ‘Beyond GDP’ proposal – which gained 64% approval – but with the prominence given to GDP figures in policy making now see the point. Also highly relevant is the proposal that ‘weapons spending be excluded from GDP’ - which gained 60% approval (though the proposer has today insisted that this proposal be withdrawn - the Policy Committee shortly to be elected will need to face in the new year how to handle this situation given it received the backing of Adopters).

You can sign up in support of the Global Zero campaign on their website at:

But I would suggest also sending them a message to back the disarmament proposals within the context of the Simultaneous Policy and giving the Nuclear Weapons Convention your support at:

The Simultaneous Policy leads us to think of a coherent package of measures, addressing the major issues facing our planet, not each in isolation. If we can harness some of the Global Zero energy to the broader Simultaneous Policy campaign and vice versa it will be mutually beneficial.

December 9, 2008

Reforming the financial markets - part 2

In part one of this article I examined the credit crunch and how this has brought the world to the brink of financial collapse and began to look at proposals for recovering the situation.

Bad news continues to arrive. Today there are worrying figures for the UK economy, suggesting that industrial output has fallen by 5.2% compared to a year ago. The television news is tracking how many thousands of jobs are being lost every week. The country is officially in recession as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is falling. There is also the fear of deflation - that is goods becoming cheaper. This is bad news because if the new HD TV I've been planning to buy is likely to be cheaper in 3 months time, I'll wait to buy it. If people put off purchases, the economy will contract even more.

Nobel laureate for economics, Paul Krugman, puts the necessary action in simple terms: "Policy-makers around the world need to do two things: get credit flowing again and prop up spending."

This has seen governments take shares in banks to improve their financial position and to put pressure on them to lend. Central bank interest rates have been cut to make loans, and particularly mortgages, cheaper so people have more money to spend. Various governments are trying 'fiscal stimulus' packages - tax cuts, again to put more money in people's pockets in the hope they will spend it, so boosting the economy. In the UK, the government is trying to make homeowners feel more secure - and so able to spend - by promising help with paying mortgages if they become unemployed or suffer a drop in income.

At the same time governments are planning public works. Plans are not yet announced, but there is talk of investment in green infrastructure projects to reduce carbon emissions. In the US, car manufacturers who are all but bankrupt are being offered funds to re-tool to produce energy efficient green vehicles.

To fund the investment and the tax cuts, governments are having to borrow money. They do this by issuing bonds. These are offered to investors. They do not pay the highest interest, but are supposed to be attractive because they are safe : governments don't default on loans. There is a problem, however, with many governments trying to attract investment as they may have to offer higher returns to be sure to raise what they need. If these rates go up, it will feed through to the mortgage rates. There is an analysis of this situation in The Guardian at:

Now the Monetary Reform proposals put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy suggested that instead of borrowing money in this way, governments should simply receive the money from the central bank, which creates it out of nothing for spending into circulation. This has an attraction for governments and tax payers, but what would the wider implications be? I imagine that if a government was creating money in a way economist thought was diluting its value, then the currency would fall against others. That is already happening to the pound with the increased borrowing. Perhaps other policies put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy would prevent this, such as the Tobin Tax on currency exchanges (aimed to dampen speculation) or the International Clearing Union, as proposed by Keynes to ensure companies balanced their imports and exports. It would be great to hear from Monetary Reformers how their proposals would work in the current situation and why this would be better than the methods being followed.

The methods that are being followed are geared to getting people spending, to get the GDP figure up and to ensure there is sufficient demand for goods and services to stop prices deflating. The strategy is to get back to business as usual in the shortest possible time, which the most optimistic analysts seem to say will take a least a year.

But what if we look at the crisis as an opportunity for restructuring how the economy works? The Simultaneous Policy approach allows us to think radically about what we might do.

So here is a possible set of policies that could be implemented. They are offered not so much as a manifesto to be pursued, but more to show that if we remove the old boundaries set around policy making, we can address a wide range of apparently intractable problems. I hope others who are more knowledgeable than me will be inspired to put together something more sensible.

For me there is something terribly wrong that the response to the credit crunch is to try to get people to borrow more money and spend it to keep the GDP figures up. Isn't this what got us into the mess in the first place?

Let's question the basic assumption here that increasing GDP should be the aim of policy makers. The human race is already using more resources than the Earth can provide - a UN study suggests we need 1.2 Earths for current consumption patterns, and because we only have one Earth, it is suffering irrepairable damage and non-renewable resources are being exhausted.

The third most popular policy proposal in recent voting was 'Beyond GDP' - which calls for "health, social and environmental statistics" to complement wealth statistics in providing the measure of the economic well being of the country.

I didn't initially see the point of this proposal, because there is no explanation as to what difference it would make to policy making or why policy makers would look to this figure rather than the conventional GDP figure. But recent events have shown the great weight that is put on these numbers.

The calculation of such influential numbers is controversial. A thread in the discussion forum suggests that the US government has cooked the books to improve GDP figures and that on a proper measure, the US economy has been in recession since 2000. This chimes with an analysis of the US economy by journalist Larry Elliot, who describes how the US economy was been held up by cheap money coming from countries that had taken over much of the US manufacturing base and fuelling the credit boom. See:

Well, let's try cooking the number another way to include the 'Beyond GDP' factors. While the economic slow-down will reduce this number, less consumption and less travel will actually benefit the environment, so that will improve the number.

Policy makers can look at boosting the 'Beyond GDP' elements in addition or instead of the economic part. Investing in green infrastructure would be good for both - and the 'Beyond GDP' figure should perhaps be suffering a major reduction while the economy is based on unsustainable energy use and harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Anything to counter this will start to make things look much better.

All the same, the economy is slowing down and people are being made redundant. A war has been a way to turn this around in the past, so it is perhaps a sensible precaution to remove weapons spending from the GDP calculation, as has been proposed and supported by Simultaneous Policy Adopters in voting.

To ensure full employment, policy makers could take the step of cutting the working week to 30 hours or 4 days, as a permanent change. This would mean for every 4 employees, a business would take on an extra worker. If people were paid for the hours they worked, then the costs to business would be the same.

What about employees, forced to cut working hours and pay? Well, firstly in parallel to the restructuring of the working week, investment could be made in community projects to provide activities for the free day. For example, parents could easily form a rota for walking kids to school, cutting out the school run. Those that volunteer for say 6 months, could be eligible for coordinator roles, with payments attached.

Extra staff could be taken on at schools to provide adult education and sports for parents on their extra day off. With the olympics coming up in the UK in 2012, there could be a national programme for a people's games to take place after the international event, where amateurs winning local heats will compete on a national stage.

There could be a new national allotment scheme, with community workers helping people use their extra free day to grow food locally.

Indeed, local life will be promoted, to build up the sense of community and volunteering once more. Grants can be made available for communities that want to organize refurbishing or constructing local amenities. If more adults are around during the day, this will have a positive impact on anti-social behaviour and crime. This will all reflect well in the 'Beyond GDP' figures.

Some people would find it hard to manage with a 20% cut in income. But in some respects life will be cheaper. If polluter-pays taxes are included on transport, for example, people will switch from weekend mini-breaks in cities across Europe to local trips, so saving money and carbon emissions. That particular party has to come to an end.

But there are steps that could be taken for managing a transition. People who need to maintain income levels could work overtime on their 5th day. The cost to the business will be higher - time and a half, for example - which could be offset in the short term by tax cuts. But these would gradually be phased out, so in the longer term staff will adjust to the four-day week.

So we come through the recession with less consumption, more time with family and strengthened communities, progress towards sustainable energy use, full employment, populations eating and exercising more healthily and a measure of the economy that values more than money.

Investors will look to the rising 'Beyond GDP' figure for the UK and see it is a country with a bright future.

There are no doubt other implications of this approach and perhaps better action that could be taken. We need to talk about them.

The conventional approach of getting people to take on more debt to continue consuming more than they need and more than the planet can provide is surely not a better option.

December 8, 2008

Reforming the financial markets - part 1

Why is the financial system on the brink of collapse, what is being done about it and what better alternatives could be brought in through the Simultaneous Policy campaign? Those are three questions which I aim to answer over the course of these two articles.

There is an in-depth article on the credit crunch on The Guardian website from Paul Krugman, new Nobel laureate for economics, which provides valuable insight. I'm not going to attempt to reproduce his argument, but will put some of it in terms that I can understand and fill in some of the gaps. For his article see:

Those who have followed proposals put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy will be familiar that for Monetary Reform, originating from James Robertson. This claims that commercial banks create money out of nothing as interest-bearing loans and demands that this role be taken over by central banks. Commercial banks would then be "linking potential lenders to potential borrowers ­ as many people wrongly assume they are now." The proposals failed to gain large support in the recently-completed voting round and are on the way out. Why? I think because people thought it cannot be true that banks create money out of nothing, otherwise credit would not have dried up.

The fact is that commercial banks do need lenders. This is why banks and building societies offer interest to savers to have a capital base from which to lend. If you want a loan, they can give you some of this money, which you repay with interest. Some of the interest goes to the lender, some goes to the bank - as profits and to cover liabilities because some borrowers will default. Banks are required to keep a certain level of stocks of money to maintain confidence in case savers decide to withdraw their deposits - if the bank told savers their money was not available no-one would trust the bank, everyone would try to remove their money and it would collapse.

So banks are acting as brokers between lenders and borrowers. However, because most savers simply leave their money in the bank to earn the interest, the banks are allowed a trick. They are able to lend more money than they really have on deposit. If you sign a contract for a mortgage, the bank can create the money out of nothing, write the amount into your bank account and you can use it to buy the house. This system is regulated by the central bank. It sets a limit on how much money the commercial bank can create.

Part of the solution being followed by central banks in the current crisis is to change the rules so that banks have to have a better ratio of loans to savings - that is, more money on deposit. This is why in the UK people say the banks that have been bailed out by the government are in a bind. Publicly the government is saying the banks should start lending again. But at the same time, the banks are trying to build up their deposits. This also explains why commercial banks feel it hard to pass on the full cut in the bank base rate when the Bank of England makes cuts.

According to Krugman, this issue will resolve itself and is not too serious in isolation.

The bigger problem is the shadow banking system, which is not regulated to the same degree. This is where the sub-prime mortgage problem originates.

An important fact to realise is that the assets of a bank are not the money they have from its savers, it is the loans they have with borrowers. Loans provide income. So a mortgage contract is an asset. What has happened is these have been traded, en masse. Investors have bought them because they provide a return as people repay the mortgage with interest. They were thought to be low risk because if someone couldn't pay, the house would be sold and clear the debt, plus a profit on top for the owner of the debt in default fees. But it all went wrong because house prices stopped going up and people who should never have been given loans in the first place started to default. Even if the house could be sold, the investor would get less than they paid to buy the contract.

So investors with billions of pounds invested in these assets have had to write them off as losses, which, for some, has pushed them to the edge of bankruptcy, or even into bankruptcy, in the case of Lehman Brothers.

Because financial markets have become globalized, these losses have had a devastating effect.

The banks and hedge funds that have made huge losses are trying to recover their positions. So they are sacking people. They are also selling assets they own overseas. I was living in Brazil until recently and the stock market was falling drastically as investors cashed in their assets. The supply of dollars dried up as investors bought up supplies to repatriate the money. Brazilian companies needing dollars to pay for imported materials have found it difficult to obtain dollars and the value of the dollar has soared, making imports more expensive and adding to costs. At the same time, Americans are tightening their belts so there is less of an export market. Annual growth in Brazil, predicted to be above 5% is now likely to be below 3%. Other countries are being tipped into recession.

There is another factor at play identified by Krugman. It is that money lending is now global, where banks or shadow banks find money at cheap interest rates (such as Japanese Yen) and lend it in countries with high interest rates (such as Brazil). This is called carry trade.
Krugman simply states: "And one of the casualties of the latest round of panic was the carry trade. The conduit of funds from Japan and other low-interest nations was cut off."

Personally I need a few more dots joined up to understand why this happened and the implications. Funds have dried up because faith in the organisations that ran the carry trade has evaporated with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which was unable to honour its contracts.

Prior to this, people with Yen were keen to lend them even if the return was small. With lots of Yen on offer, Yen were cheap to convert into the currency of other countries where the money was to be leant. When the borrower in, say, Brazil, repaid the loan in Brazilian Reais, this was converted back to Yen and the payments made along the chain.

Now with no-one wanting to lend out Yen, for fear they won't be repaid, the exchange rate has gone up. A simple case of supply and demand. In Brazil people are still desperately trying to buy foreign exchange, so the value of the Real has fallen. The result? The conduit organisations receive the same amount of Reais, but they are worth less. At the other end, they get less Yen for them, because Yen are more expensive. So carry trade is not a profitable business.

Krugman says this is the real threat to the global system, because unfreeing this flow of financing is going to be far, far harder than persuading commercial banks to lend to would-be home owners and small businesses. The sums are many times greater, the business is international and regulation barely exists.

His solution is quick to say: "Policy-makers around the world need to do two things: get credit flowing again and prop up spending."

With major industrial nations posting a drop in GDP, the measure of economic growth, and emerging markets slowing, the fear is a global recession, which means job losses and people falling into poverty.

At least in the conventional model of economics that Krugman and others are following.

This is the scenario where it would be great to hear what the Monetary Reform proposals submitted for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy would contribute. There are other aspects to it, still. Such as what has happened to the insurance that investors have bought in case borrowers default. But this is as much complexity as we need for now, or at least, as much as I can cope with.

In the second article, I'll look again at the Monetary Reform proposal and put forward some others showing how the coherent, policy making approach enabled by the Simultaneous Policy could make a really radical transformation addressing many issues simultaneously.

November 27, 2008

When is a question not a question?

There is a discussion on Simpol's discussion boards about 'provably false GDP figures'. See:

I raised some questions about the analysis. Why was it wrong for certain assumptions to be made in calculating the figures, given there was a certain logic to them? What difference would it make if the figures were calculated differently? That kind of thing. The sort of probing that is needed when examining proposals that could be introduced simultaneously around the world.

My post was forwarded to a discussion group where the issues was first raised and provoked a surprising response, which someone posted back to Simpol's board.

You can read the correspondence there. The point of this blog is not an "I said, then he said" justification.

It is to ask: When is a question not a question?

In the minds of some beholders it seems questions are not questions, but rhetorical point-scoring constructions.

The question: What difference will this make? Is understood to mean: This will make no difference.

Then follows the attack of cynicism. But I would like suggest the cynicism lies with those who see an honest question in this way.

Is it a sign of the times and the paucity of our policy debate that enquiry provokes such a defensive reaction? This is a question we should seriously consider because the whole purpose of the Simultaneous Policy democratic space is to investigate ideas. For that we need to be able to question them and receive considered answers.

Considered answers appreciated.

November 22, 2008

Can we be sensible?

There is a succint analysis of why the world is facing a financial crisis from Larry Elliott in The Guardian today. You can read it here:

I posted the response below:

What is the sensible response to an economic crisis caused by people being up to their eyes in debt?

One would think it would be for people to spend less and to sort out the finances. Get used to the idea of putting money aside for a rainy day, or, novel idea, actually saving for things before buying them.

And isn't that actually what the masses are doing? Seeing troubled times ahead, people are spending less, thinking of having a more frugal Christmas and putting money by in case they lose their jobs. Getting used to living within our means and valuing what is closer to us, taking local holidays instead of weekend breaks in Prague, etc. will also have positive repurcussions when it comes to the depletion of resources and the carbon-overloaded atmosphere.

Sensible steps, which could mark a shift in how people consume.

Except these are exactly the opposite of what is needed to preserve the global financial system. Our leaders are worried that people aren't taking on yet more debt, so trying to make it as attractive as possible. They are toying with the idea of tax cuts, but worried people may save the money instead of blowing it. Deflation is feared because people may wait before buying in the expectation that prices may fall further.

It is sensible behaviour that our leaders fear.

The question is, can the global financial system be re-engineered so it not only allows for sustainable living, but promotes it?

Or is it our duty to spend and consume more because the system cannot even stand us being satisfied? The economy has to grow year after year after year.

Again, maybe we should trust the masses to answer this question, by putting forward their proposals to the Simultaneous Policy campaign. The recent policy supplement was on the theme of avoiding financial and climate meltdown, which may be a good starting point if you want to get involved in telling our leaders what they need to do. See:

You can add to the sensible, planet-saving action from people, the switch from gas-guzzling SUVs. Ford's sales fell by 53.9% GM is rushing to get out an electric car. See:

November 10, 2008

Gordon Brown's global vision

This is from Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister, speaking today:

"And I believe that in our international co-operation on finance, climate change, terrorism and ending conflict, there is evidence of this new multilateralism at work in the world – fairer, more stable and more prosperous because it is rooted in cooperation and justice.

"And if we learn from our experience of turning unity of purpose into unity of action, together we can seize this moment of profound change to create, for the first time, the age of the truly global society, one where progressive multilateralism, not narrow unilateralism, is the norm."

Well, governments acting simultaneously to address global problems is the aim of the Simultaneous Policy campaign, so if this multilateralism turns into reality that will be a significant step forward. Simultaneous action removes the fear of first-mover disadvantage and should enable more comprehensive responses to be introduced.

Prime Minister Brown also had this to say (see The Guardian report):

"We cannot afford to put climate change into the international pending tray because of the present economic difficulties," he said. "On the contrary, we must use the imperative to act for our future prosperity through the transition to a low carbon economy and reduced oil dependency as a route to creating jobs and economic opportunity for our peoples today."

Which is great. Though if you look at the Prime Ministers past action, then there is less cause for optimism. Critics point to his insitence on pushing ahead with high-carbon capital projects, such as a third runway at Heathrow Airport as a jump-start to the economy.

So the transparency and democratic involvement engendered by the Simultaneous Policy approach is still missing.

November 5, 2008

Congratulations President Obama

And so the 44th President of the United States will be President Barack Obama. A historic day indeed. But what are the lessons I draw for the Simultaneous Policy campaign.

Firstly, it was a tight result. Though the Electoral College result suggests a convincing Obama win, the actual vote, as currently declared is Obama 52.1%, McCain 44.5%. Less than 8 percentage points, which means only 4% of voters needed to switch sides for the opposite result. And less than 70% of electors voted. Hence the focus by both candidates on trying to persuade their supporters to vote.

So if the Simultaneous Policy campaign could mobilize sufficient numbers of those who have given up on conventional politics to support the candidate pledging to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments, it could swing elections, even in the US. People did send messages to the candidates to this effect, but not in sufficient numbers this time around to put the campaign on their radar amongst all the other issues.

How is it that the country should be so nearly split down the middle, election after election? Surely it is because both candidates now and historically, position themselves either side of the centre ground. Despite the rhetoric and some key policy differences (ostensibly on Iraq, for instance), there is a lot of common ground. Similarities became even more striking during the campaign. For example, in the last Presidential debate, speaking on energy policy, Obama said he would look at offshore drilling, which had been one of McCain's key points of difference. It was a clever construction, seemingly a concession to those sympathetic to the 'Drill, baby, drill' chanting at the Republican Convention, while being easily abandonded with the comment: "We looked and decided against it."

Or at least those who feared Obama was selling out his climate-change credential will hope.

Once in the White House with oil lobbyists on one side and a public concerned about fuel prices and reluctant to change lifestyles on the other, maybe that drilling will go ahead.

Because Obama finds himself in the same situation as every elected leader. He needs to satisfy his electorate, which has the primary concern of their own well-being. That boils down to their jobs and financial security above all else. So when US companies threaten disinvestment if their agenda is not followed, they have a powerful lever.

While we can be hopeful that President Obama will deliver the change the world needs, we would be wise to continue to build public pressure for it.

The AVAAZ campaign is already gathering signatures for key parts of its own 'global justice' agenda. You can sign on at:

This gives you the opportunity to add your own additional message and I added: "Please pledge to implement, alongside other governments, the Simultaneous Policy - the policies developed and approved by people around the world to address global problems."

What those policies will be will be clearer when the results of the latest annual voting round are released shortly. But the opportunity continues for entering the debate and shaping the policies. You can join the discussion at:

However hopeful we may be about President Obama and his leadership role, policy setting will still take place behind closed doors and international agreements will be reached on the basis of power rather than argument. The Simultaneous Policy makes the process democratic and transparent.

November 4, 2008

Votes being counted

The counting is taking place in the US Presidential election. Simultaneous Policy campaign supporters have been sending messages to the candidates asking them to pledge to implement alongside other governments the people's policies for dealing with global problems. Neither pledged to do so, but that does not stop whoever is elected doing so when in office. The prediction is, of course, that tomorrow we wake to President-elect Barack Obama and John McCain will still be a Senator.

At the same time, counting is taking place in the annual vote on policies for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. Anyone can vote - and even put forward their own proposals - by signing up as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter, which is free to do at:

Voting also takes place on issues, which may be addressed by one or more policies. Top issues and policies are given more space in campaign materials and public meetings. In last year's voting, climate change was the top issue. You can find the results in the 'policy' pages of the website and on the discussion board, where more details of policies are given and you have the chance to question those backing them. See:

These pages will be updated once the 2008 votes have been processed. Unfortunately the processing is not as well resourced as the Presidential race.

October 23, 2008

Action on climate change could help end recession, says Stern Report author

There is an article from Nicholas Stern in The Guardian today. He wrote the Stern Review for the UK government on the economics of climate change, arguing there is a financial case for taking necessary action.

His article today argues that a concerted programme of work to transform societies into sustainable, low-carbon ones would also be part of an effective response to the coming global recession which has been sparked by the credit crunch.

Given the UK government has put up £500 billion to save its banking system and has then convinced many other countries to do the same, there may be a chance our leaders will actually act in this visionary way. But don't hold your breath. And Nicholas Stern, being an economist of, I believe, a fairly conventional mindset, sees growth as fundamental to the world's economic system - some of the proposals put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy - on Monetary Reform and Beyond GDP for example, might spark his interest if his attention can be captured.

Anyway, here's the link to the article:

The type of approaches that Professor Stern proposes could perhaps flesh out the Contraction and Convergence proposal submitted for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy.

For more information on policy proposals and to participate in the 2008 annual vote (running to 1 November) go to:

October 22, 2008

Avoiding financial and climate meltdown

Here's an alert I sent out about the new policy supplement:

Ideas to change the world – Policy supplement to It’s Simpol ! Autumn 2008

Annual voting is currently taking place on policy suggestions put forward by Simultaneous Policy Adopters for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. Voting runs until 1 November 2008.

Space is given in the newsletter to the most popular policies and issues. If you have not already voted, you can do so at:

The latest policy supplement has the theme: “Avoiding financial and climate meltdown.” You can download it by clicking the following link, or pasting it in your internet browser:

For all newsletters go to Simpol’s website and click on ‘campaigns’ and ‘newsletters’ at:

Stopping financial meltdown

The policy supplement includes an article from Susan George on the International Clearing Union, first developed by Professor John Maynard Keynes and proposed for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy by Adopter David Smith. The proposal received 63% approval in the last voting round. Susan George said regarding its inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy that this is: “*one* base from which we can work to make new rules for international commerce.”

Stopping climate meltdown

The top issue in the last round of voting was climate change. Proposed policies such as ‘Contraction and Convergence’ (which received 80% approval) address this directly. Others may have an indirect impact, such as those dealing with disarmament (see the Spring 2008 policy supplement, which has the theme: “Turning Weapons into Windmills”).

A guest article from the ‘One Hundred Months’ campaign is included in the latest policy supplement. This campaign has been launched by a coalition of campaigning organisations and suggests that there are just 100 months (well, now 97 months) to act before the climate tips into cycles that will be far harder to tackle. The article contains various proposals that may be of interest to Adopters to flesh out the action to be included in the Simultaneous Policy.

Joined-up thinking

The great strength of the Simultaneous Policy approach is that it seeks to be a coherent package of policies where action in one area complements that in another. Too often the current approach our leaders take to global policy making means action in one area undermines action in another (consider, for example, recent calls for increased pumping of oil to lower energy prices, which some see as the last thing we should be doing if we are serious about addressing climate change).

Every vote means something – global democracy in action

Policies that do not receive good support in the 2008 voting round will drop out of the process, so take this opportunity to rally support for policies you wish to continue. Here is the voting page once again:

The policy supplement explains the voting process and lists the policies. It also flags up the forthcoming election of the Policy Committee. Nominations are being sought.

The Policy Committee protects the democratic interests of Adopters and facilitates the policy development process. As the campaign grows in strength it is also tasked with ensuring the process of developing policies keeps pace. You can complete the nomination form after voting or go direct to:

Feel free to pass this email and/or the policy supplement on to others. Once again, you can download the policy supplement at:

October 17, 2008

Gordon Brown: The global problems we face require global solutions

The following could be somebody arguing in favour of the Simultaneous Policy approach to addressing global problems, but it is actually UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, writing in the Washington Post today:

---extract begins

The global problems we face require global solutions. At the end of World War II, American and European visionaries built a new international economic order and formed the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and a world trade body. They acted because they knew that peace and prosperity were indivisible. They knew that for prosperity to be sustained, it had to be shared. Such was the impact of what they did for their day and age that Secretary of State Dean Acheson spoke of being "present at the creation."

Today, the same sort of visionary internationalism is needed to resolve the crises and challenges of a different age. And the greatest of global challenges demands of us the boldest of global cooperation.

The old postwar international financial institutions are out of date. They have to be rebuilt for a wholly new era in which there is global, not national, competition and open, not closed, economies. International flows of capital are so big they can overwhelm individual governments. And trust, the most precious asset of all, has been eroded.

---extract ends

Gordon Brown talks of reforming the Bretton Wood institutions.

This is also one of the themes of the latest policy supplement to the It's Simpol ! newsletter, now available on Simpol's website, which includes a reprint of an article by Susan George on the International Clearing Union, one of the policy suggestions that gained good support in the 2007 annual round of voting. Susan George told me that she sees this as one of the possibilities that should be considered for the Simultaneous Policy.

The policy supplement can be downloaded by clicking:

You can vote for in support of the International Clearing Union in the 2008 vote. Policies gaining more than 50% support remain in the process. Those with top votes are given greater space in the newsletter and at public meetings.

Also take a look at other policy suggestions and please give my proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority an 'A'. If you don't want to give it an 'A', please let me know why. For more on that and information on the voting process, see:

Gordon Brown concludes: "There are no Britain-only or Europe-only or America-only solutions to today's problems. We are all in this together, and we can only resolve this crisis together. Over the past week, we have shown that with political will it is possible to agree on a global multibillion-dollar package to recapitalize our banks across many continents. In the next few weeks, we need to show the same resolve and spirit of cooperation to create the rules for our new global economy."

And not just the global economy. The Simultaneous Policy seeks to be a coherent set of policies to address global problems. As I've noted previously a piece-meal approach to addressing problems, means perceived solutions in one area may exacerbate problems in another. But once you start to look for cross-cutting solutions the possibilities for synchronicity abound.

And not just Europe and America. People from every continent can sign up as Simultaneous Policy Adopters and have their say and their vote.

October 15, 2008

Promoting your proposal during the 2008 Simultaneous Policy voting round

It would be good to hear how people are encouraging friends, colleagues and members of networks etc. to support their policies in the current Simultaneous Policy voting round.

My personal proposal relates to holding corporations to account. I have written about the vote on my blog about this and posted links to that in groups on facebook etc. There are various newspaper websites and other discussion boards where I am posting information too. I’m a member of a Corporate Social Responsibility yahoo group that has nearly 500 members, most involved in organisations working on this issue. So I’ve sent the message included below.

I’d very much welcome suggestions from others about how to promote policies to increase the number of people voting and the number of Adopters.

---Message to campaign yahoo group

I would like to encourage readers of this list to consider supporting my proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory Authority, which is participating in the annual Simultaneous Policy vote. More details at:

My proposal arises from experience monitoring the baby food industry and seeing the difficulty of enforcing international marketing standards adopted by the World Health Assembly. Where national measures are not working to hold corporations to account, I believe there needs to be a safeguard at the international level. The UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are failing to provide this.

I propose an authority that would investigate complaints, including those generated by public petition, and, if it finds a case to answer, would bring this before a reformed International Criminal Court or other body. I also propose that the authority would require corporations above a certain size and global reach to register as 'globally incorporated companies' whereby they would be required to submit reports, not just on financial performance, but to a specified standard against existing human rights and environmental norms. A name director would be responsible for the reports, as with financial reports and legal action could be taken over false reporting and breaches of norms. I have explored this ideas in some detail in a chapter in the book: "Global obligations for the right to food" as a member of a task force of the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition (details with the above link).

To gain further publicity for these ideas and as a parallel route for implementation, I have submitted the proposal for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. This could be described as the people's plan for addressing global problems. Anyone can put forward proposals and vote by registering as a Simultaneous Policy Adopter - which is free and can be done at the time of voting. Adopters are asked to give a preference to candidates in elections who pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments, or to call on their preferred candidate to make this pledge. Simultaneous implementation removes the fear of first-mover disadvantage. Politicians around the world are signing the pledge as a way to move the world from destructive competition between nations to constructive cooperation. I see action on transnational corporations as a necessary part of the package as business leaders too often play countries off against other, by threatening to disinvest if their agenda is not followed. This is not an alternative to pursuing other strategies, but a parallel strategy that allows us to develop the policies in a transparent and democratic way and to implement what is needed, not just what will be tolerated by vested interests.

There are other policies in the voting round that are worth exploring. Those gaining sufficient support proceed in the policy development process. Those with top votes, gain space in the campaign newsletter and public meetings. If you don't want to give my proposal an 'A' vote, please let me know why!

You can vote at:

For further information on the campaign, see my personal blog at:

Feel free to pass this email on to others.

Best wishes,

Mike Brady

October 11, 2008

Welcome to the simultaneous age

It seems our leaders are learning the importance of simultaneous action to address global problems. As the Guardian reports today on an emergency meeting by leaders of the group of 7 leading industrialized nations, whose financial systems are collapsing with global implications:

---extract begins
With little sign that country-by-country plans have helped to kick-start lending, the G7 believes immediate action is vital to avoid a major slump. The past four weeks have seen the biggest cut in growth forecasts in living memory, and the IMF has warned that the world economy is "on the cusp" of recession.

The chancellor, Alistair Darling, said: "If international cooperation is to mean anything, it means governments have to move on from simply agreeing a general approach, and doing something to resolve the problems we are facing today."

---extract ends

It is interesting to see how the rescue plan has been summarised as neatly as policy suggestions put forward for discussion amongst Simultaneous Policy Adopters:

---quote from Guardian begins

The five-point plan

· Pledge to save key banks from collapse

· Action to free-up credit and money markets by providing ample amounts of liquidity from central banks

· Support for the part-nationalisation of banks and other institutions by the taxpayer purchase of shares

· Stronger deposit protection schemes to reassure savers their money is safe

· Force banks to disclose the true state of their losses

---quotes ends

The Simultaneous Policy aims to address problems that require a global approach, either because of their scale, or because governments feat that taking unilateral action will put them at a financial disadvantage.

Unlike the G7 meetings, policy discussions take place openly and transparently and everybody has the right to participate and put forward their own solutions. At the present state of development of the democratic process, annual voting rounds amongst those who have registered with the campaign - which is free to do and can be done when voting - are held to guage levels of support. Those without support drop out of the process (though they can be resubmitted in the same or revised form) and those with significant support are given space in Simpol's publications and policy fora for further development of the ideas.

Politicians are called on to pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments, which an increasing number are doing. As the number of government pledges nears the stage when implementation can be triggered, the package of policies will be finalised and put out to all citizens around the world.

Commenting yesterday on a coordinated move by central banks to cut interest rates simultaneously, John Bunzl, founder of the Simultaneous Policy campaign, noted in an email 'Welcome to the simultaneous age' to Simpol's email discussion group that, aside from the discussion of the value of this approach: "the Financial Times today reports, such action was "unprecedented" and a "historic piece of co-ordination". Interestingly, although they weren't in on the plan, the FT reports that The People's Bank of China "moved almost simultaneously" when it also cut its rate.... This kind of coordination is indeed unprecendented and I hope it marks the beginning of people and governments properly waking up to the fact that in a globalised world, global and simultaneous action is the way forward. So folks, welcome to the simultaneous age!"

Voting on policies submitted for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy is currently open and runs till the beginning of November. See:

October 7, 2008

Vote to hold transnational corporations to account

Vote for the world you want to see.

The annual vote on policies put forward for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy has just opened. This is a package of policies proposed, developed and approved by people around the world to address global problems. Politicians are called on by campaign supporters (known as Simultaneous Policy Adopters) to pledge to implement the policies alongside other governments.

You are invited to vote on the suggestions that have been put forward. Those gaining more than 50% approval remain in the process. If you are not an Adopter you can check a box to register as you do so. There is no cost. You are indicating that in future elections you will either give a preference to candidates who make the pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy or will call on your preferred candidate - should you have one - to make the pledge.

You can find the voting page at:

I have put forward the proposal for a World Transnational Corporation Regulatory (TNC) Authority, which has been discussed on this group before. There is a summary of the proposal on the voting page with a link to further information in the discussion forum. Please take a look and give this an 'A' vote to continue in the process. If you don't think it warrants an 'A' please let me know so I can explain more about why I think this proposal warrants inclusion!

The World TNC Authority is to provide protection when national regulatory systems do not work to protect citizens and the environment. Initially it will work to enforce the standards that have already been agreed in conventions by governments, which TNC's claim to respect (for example, through their undertakings to the United Nations Global Compact), but in practice many do not. The Authority will accept reports of breaches from appropriate authorities or public petition and, if it finds there is a case to answer, will bring a prosecution before a reformed International Criminal Court. The Court will be empowered to levy fines based on annual turnover on the corporation.

As governments are sometimes lax at enforcing standards on their own corporations to gain a competitive advantage over governments that do, the Court may allow other governments to levy punitive tariffs to recoup income lost due to the unfair competition.

As a third element, the proposal calls the bluff of corporations involved in the UN Global Compact, which produce thick reports boasting of their compliance. These reports will have to be produced to specified standards with a named director legally responsible for their accuracy, in the same way a Financial Director is responsible for accounts. Corporations above a certain turnover or geographical reach will be required to register as 'globally incorporated companies' requiring submission of these legally-binding reports.

Please do support this suggestion by giving it an 'A' vote at:

There are other great proposals to view and vote on, so please be prepared to spend a little time looking them over. This is global democracy in action. For more on the voting process see:

After voting there is the chance to stand for election to the Policy Committee that oversees the policy development process and to send a message to the candidates in the US Presidential election, calling on one or more of them to make the pledge to implement the Simultaneous Policy alongside other governments.

August 29, 2008

Former MI6 agent ran Nestlé spy operation

Swiss campaigners posted the following message on my Baby Milk Action blog and will be adding updates to the 'Nestlé's Actions' website. Nestlé's actions speak louder than its words. See:

For more on the spy story and how this impacted on Baby Milk Action see:

---Posted comment begins


On 12 June 2008, the very serious Swiss investigative reporters tv revealed that Nestlé paid Securitas,one of Switzerland's largest security firms, to plant a woman in a group of attac switzerland (my group) from the summer of 2003 until the summer of 2004. We were making conference and editing a book about Nestlé.

As a co-author she had complete access to the group's documentation and to all Attac's email contacts around the world, including information on union members in Colombia fighting for workers-rights in Nestle plants. Such information is potentially dangerous in the wrong hands; in the past people have been killed just for being active organizers especially in Colombia. Her regular reports and memos (physical descriptions, (political orientations, job.) about us and our activities, contacts were handed over to Nestlé, especially to the head of security of Nestle. The infiltrator met him at least one time. The name of the head of security of Nestlé is John Hedley, who in the past was working in the British secret services, the MI6.

We had a first audience in tribunal last week.

More of 150 newspapers (in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France) have been writing papers on the matter.

August 25, 2008

Too many people drawing on the Earth's resources

I wrote recently of how Brazil's population growth has fallen to the point that it will shortly stabilize at a level that is sustainable, even if the amount of land required to sustain each person increases to Swiss levels. See:

In a subsequent conversation on the George Monbiot email list, someone commented that such land-use calculations are based on using non-renewable resources such as petrochemicals (for fertilizers and transporting food). We can perhaps add to this the tapping of ancient ground water, so-called fossil aquifers, where the water is not replenished by fresh rainfall. An example is comes from the North China Plain as described here:

---extract begins
Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvests in some countries, including China, the world’s largest grain producer. A groundwater survey released in Beijing in August 2001 revealed that the water table under the North China Plain, which produces over half of that country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling faster than earlier reported. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, forcing well drillers to turn to the region’s deep fossil aquifer, which is not replenishable.
---extract ends

Which means the problem of increasing food production to meet the world's growing population has not been solved, it has been deferred.

In 1968 Paul Ehrlich, now Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, wrote the book 'The Population Bomb'. He was interviewed recently by Public Radio International, and reminded that forty years ago he wrote that the battle to feed all of humanity is already lost.

He responded: "Forty years ago and perfectly correct. We still have about a billion people who don't get enough food to function properly."

Asked about whether a population that is predicted to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050 can be sustained, he replied:

---extract begins
First of all, 2.5 billion is 500 million people more than were on the planet when I was born in 1932. So we're adding more than existed when I was born.

Second, the next two and a half billion are going to be a lot more expensive to take care of environmentally than the previous 2.5 billion because people are smart, they farm the best lands first. You know you can't get oil by sticking a pointed stick in the ground in Pennsylvania anymore. You got to drill down a couple of miles. And water has to be transported long distances.

And I think anybody who reads the newspapers and can count, can see that we're in deep trouble just from the numbers of people versus the resources that are available. Ask them in Atlanta, where they're running out of water. Ask them in Southern California, where climate change is helping huge fires to devastate areas. I was just in Brazil, and the Pantanal swamp area was burning and the Cerrado, the savannah areas south of the Amazon, were burning in record bouts. So, you know, you just have to look around to see what's happening.
---extract ends

He suggested the predicted population of 9.7 billion would overstretch the world's carrying capacity unless we drastically change the way we live:

"Certainly in anything like today's lifestyle. You know if you try to move to a battery—what my colleague calls a battery-chicken type of world, in which everyone has the absolute minimum to keep them alive—it might be possible."

However, we are certainly not moving in this rather bleak direction. A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, called Global Environmental Outlook, tries to be optimistic and praise some action that has been taken, but overall, it suggests, the indicators are all moving in the wrong direction.

The report suggests that the human population has needed more than one Earth to sustain it for more than twenty years.

The green line on the graph below represents living on the limit of what is available on the Earth. Unfortunately, the real demands of the population are the climbing pink line.

Click on the image to see it larger. The full report can be downloaded from:

As everyone knows, living beyond your means is storing up problems. Here's how the UN report puts it:

---extract begins
The unsustainability of the way the Earth’s natural resources are being used is increasingly evident.

As a result of the growing competition and demand for global resources, the world’s population has reached a stage where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available.

An example of ecological overshoot is seen in attempts to increase food production that result in increased levels of environmental degradation, such as deforestation of marginal lands, including wetlands, upper watersheds and protected areas that have been converted to farmlands.

According to the 2005 Footprint of Nations report, humanity’s footprint is 21.9 ha/person, while the Earth’s biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person, with the ultimate result
that there is net environmental degradation and loss.
---extract ends

Remember, this is with the Earth's current population and current consumption patterns.

Ehrlich suggests the crisis - or rather crises from which we do not recover - may not be far away:

"We're facing a crisis in which the way in which many of us live will not be possible for the vast majority of people—sometime in the relatively near future. Hopefully after I'm dead, but maybe not."

Some people, for example some posters on the Monbiot group, suggest that the best we can do as individuals and local communities, is to prepare for a coming collapse that will result in billions being wiped from the Earth's population.

I see pursuing the Simultaneous Policy approach - and doing whatever else we can to transform our relationship with the world - as being a worthwhile parallel strategy to even this survivalist view.

As Ehrlich concludes:

---extract begins
What other choice do we have but to try and change so that if we haven't reached the tipping point, we don't reach it, because the tipping point is going to be miserable and an awful lot of people will die and lifestyles will change very, very dramatically, and so we don't want to do that so you know, I can't be incredibly optimistic about what we're going to do.

What we can say is that societies can change very rapidly when the time is ripe. Look for instance how rapidly the Soviet Union disappeared when none of us expected it to. When I was a kid, lynchings were common in the south of the United States. They aren't any more. In other words, things can change very rapidly.

We don't fully understand why but when the time is ripe, they change and I think that your chore and mine is to try to ripen the time.
---extract ends

It seems to me the time could be not riper. If you haven't signed up in support of the Simultaneous Policy campaign, why not do so right now at:

Take a look at proposals others have put forward for the transformation to a sustainable, cooperative world in the discussion forum and feel free to put forward you own at:

It is a reality of life on this planet that any successful species fills its niche and its population overshoots before falling back to a sustainable level, perhaps with modified behaviour.

We can look on the overuse of the world's resources and the resulting degradation as a sign that we are heading for a very nasty end. Or we could take the view that we are in the amazingly fortunate position of being provided with an overdraft by the Earth which can see us through a short period of living beyond our means. Like any sensible family, instead of burning through the overdraft with no thought for the future, we should be using it as an investment to transform the way we live so no further loan is necessary and we can repay that we have taken.

Certainly not easy. Certainly urgent.

August 11, 2008

The Amazon Fund could be incorporated into an emissions taxation scheme

An idea I've floated here a few times in postings on climate change is that instead of putting faith in emissions trading schemes, which do not provide sufficient incentive for development of technologies such as carbon capture, emissions could simply be taxed. They are an external cost borne by the rest of the planet, when the cost should be borne by the polluter.

Taxes could be ring-fenced (or hypothecated, to use the jargon) for spending on measures to address climate change. One contender could be the Amazon fund created at the end of July by Brazil. See The Economist:

Countries can certainly gain kudos from contributing to the fund even now, as Norway is doing, but not as a way to excuse further pollution. That seems to be the motivation for a recent fund in support of the Congo Basin Forest. See:

As Aubrey Meyer, of the Global Commons Institute, explained at one of Simpol's policy fora, without action to contract greenhouse gas emissions pretty quickly, carbon sinks such as the Amazon could become carbon sources, as a drier forest experiences fires that release carbon. His proposal for a 'contraction and convergence' approach to emissions is on of the best supported in annual voting amongst Simultaneous Policy Adopters, so far. See:

August 7, 2008

Sustainable populations and joined-up thinking

What I like about the Simultaneous Policy approach is that it promotes up joined-up thinking, in a way that current global policy making does not, as evidenced by our leaders efforts to tackle climate change, while increasing oil production or refusing to listen to the concerns of farmers in developing countries at the World Trade Organisation, while there is evidence that forcing open developing country markets has impoverished farmers and increased food insecurity in some countries (see past blogs).

Since starting this blog and thinking in a little more depth of the possibilities of the Simultaneous policy, there seem to be a multiplicity of ways that different global problems can be tackled in a coherent way.

Sustainability, population growth and protecting the right to food came together for me this week, re-reading Michael Latham's chapter in Global Obligations for the Right to Food about tackling the curse of worms, measles and malaria. Professor Latham recommends governments to take a Resolution to the World Health Assembly calling for a strategic program for tackling these three illnesses. This could be worth proposing for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy.

Here's how some issues were joining up for me this week. I read that in Brazil, the birth rate has fallen to 1.8 children per woman, a level similar to that in industrialized countries. This level was not anticipated by the Brazilian National Institute of Geography and Statistics until 2043. The rapid drop is attributed to urbanization, where more children cost more money, in contrast to the countryside where historically more children have been seen as more hands to tend the land. But the rate has fallen in rural areas as quickly as in cities, attributed to the success in promoting family planning and the rising living standards experienced, or aspired to.

The expectation is that Brazilian's population will stabilise around 290 million inhabitants in 2050. The population if growth was at the rate of 1991, would be 377 million. With the rate of 1970, it would be 623 million.

If the average Brazilian was to increase their demand on the land to 4.1 hectares per person (the same as in Switzerland), then a population of 220 million could be supported. With present consumption levels, Brazil could support 384 millions. This is based on a study by the World Wide Fund for nature. All the above statistics are drawn from Brazil's news weekly, Veja, whose 30 July issue led with the cover story: "Where are all the babies?"

So achieving a sustainable population is within easy reach for Brazil, somewhere around the 220 - 290 million mark.

Sometimes in my work campaigning against the aggressive marketing of baby foods, practices which contribute to the unnecessary death and suffering of babies in conditions of poverty and compromises development elsewhere, I come across people who suggest that it is better that babies are dying in poor countries to limit population growth. Really. That's how some people think.

But the fact is that populations stabilise when parents have the expectation their babies will survive and outlive them. It is in conditions with high infant and young child mortality that birth rates tend to be higher. Rising standards of living also reduce birth rates as people are both more educated and raising children is more expensive. Parents choose to focus resources on a fewer number.

In the interests of sustainability for the global human population - and our lives on this planet are inextricably linked - reducing childhood mortality rates and raising standards of living benefits us all.

Michael Latham, like the rest of us who contributed chapters to Global Obligations for the Right to Food, makes the case that governments have obligations under existing human rights conventions to take collective action to deliver and protect the right to food. Promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding is part of the measures he highlights for improving child short and long-term health.

He also argues that relieving hunger encompasses relieving malnutrition and that is achieved not only by providing more food, but ending endemic parasites and illnesses that compromise nutrition.

I don't want to reiterate everything that is in his chapter - you really should buy the book - but the three principal concerns (worms, measles and malaria) are embarrassingly cheap to address. Embarrassing, because governments with the resources are failing to do so. They are not only failing in their human rights and moral obligations, they are, in some respects, costing themselves unnecessary expenditure.

Worms, parasites in the intestines that may affect organs such as the lungs, infect probably 2 billion people. Cambodia's de-worming programme cost US$ 0.06 per child.

There are about 50 million cases of measles every year, with about 1 million deaths. Immunization can have significant impact. "Six southern African countries that recorded 60,000 measles cases in 1996 reduced this to 117 cases in 2000". While national governments should be taking this action, where they cannot, the support of the international community is vital, argues Professor Latham, and will save them money if a concerted global campaign wipes out measles.

He writes: "It cost the United States US$ 124 million a year to keep itself free of smallpox for the twenty-five years prior to when smallpox was eradicated in 1978. Thus the US$32 million that the United States invested in the global Smallpox Eradication Program was recouped in about three months once smallpox vaccinations could be discontinued."

It is estimated that there are 1200 million cases of malaria every year, resulting in 1.5 million deaths annually. Impregnated bed nets are seen as an effective way to greatly reduce this toll. A net costs typically just US$ 3, but many people in poor countries cannot afford them. Malaria is so widespread that its impact is far greater than that counted in deaths. Lost schools days, days off work and unmet potential are also a blight.

Governments have signed up to the human rights instruments, that include the right to health as well as the right to food, and the Millenium Development Goals, but are failing to meet the obligations that arise from these.

A joined up approach would suggest serious and concerted effort to tackle worms, measles and malaria is a worthy candidate for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy as it will not only address the injustice of people on our planet suffering from preventable illness, but will help reduce costs for all people and lead to lower mortality rates and smaller families and towards sustainable populations.

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