Wednesday, 30 September 2009

September 2009 - 10% …but what kind? The Disconnection between Private and Public Action.

10% is the figure of the moment in UK Politics. First of all Fanny Armstrong’s 10:10 campaign, which calls on individuals and organisations to cut 10% of their carbon in 2010, has caught on with the political community - On september the 3rd the Guardian reported that the cabinet, the Conservative front bench and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had all signed up

Also while the Baby-kissers pledge to cut their personal carbon, that 10% figure is also the one circulating (from the mouths of MP's and the pages of leaked treasury memos) for the probable amount of public spending cuts needed in 2010 - when (as all the 3 main parties appear to see it) the current, recession-busting financial stimulus ends and the belt tightening begins.

It is fair to say both these 10 % agendas have gathered a snowball like momentum over the last few months. Back in June Tory Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, was first to admit (as he saw it) the necessity of 10% cuts in public spending and at the time it was reported as a big gaffe;jsessionid=D3B77BCC42206E3E72FFA19E4A9FCBBB.

Now at the end of september 10% cuts are promoted routinely by the Conservative front bench and if leaked treasury documents are to be believed Labour have also adopted the 10% agenda. This journey for deep (or “savage” as the Nick Clegg describes them) spending cuts from “nasty” to “necessary” Seumas Milne for one has described as a “a brilliant political manoeuvre” by the Conservative opposition. So despite Brown being elusive on his figures and public polls showing as unconvinced on the necessity of cuts the notion of 10% is still in forward motion through government westminster and local authorities.

10:10’s growth started with an idea from Fanny Armstrong the director of the Film Age of Stupid, which also has a run away momentum of its own kicking off with the UK premier back in March building to the Global Premier this month. Evidently 10:10 has penetrated the “politico-media sphere” supported as it is by the guardian and endorsed even by telegraph journalists.

However importantly what has not been evident are clear links between these two “runaway’ 10% agendas. There have not been clear political and media narratives saying saving public cash can also save public carbon. For example the spectrum of views on cuts in public spending in a Five Live radio talk show this month ran across conventional right to left lines with some advocating cuts and some arguing for continued public spending - with all arguments geared to the best way to re-stimulate growth. There was no carbon aware contribution to the discussion.

We know that carbon smart policies could have been linked more fundamentally to spending policy the global fiscal stimulus while it still lasts could and should already have prioritised investment to bring about the so called “Green New Deal” (discussed many times on this blog). A Green New Deal would prepare the ground for doing the belt tightening (that our party politicians tell us is is inevitable) while making the argument for carbon sustainable economic futures.

Green New Deal or not it still appears to be an anomaly that we now accept fairly readily the notion of saving money and cutting carbon at the same time in the private sphere but not so in the public sphere. The media narratives about cutting carbon so often appear to be about spending more cash (on renewables etc). Of course this spending is essential but it can be done by diverting public money away from carbon heavy public spending items and cost saving cuts (or efficiencies as Brown and co like to call them) such as reducing carbon heavy travel and food waste. Ultimately didn’t government economist Nicholas Stern tell us that in the long term cutting carbon is a saver - he said the cost of our inaction will be more than the cost of the action.

The 10:10 campaign asks for sign ups from individuals but also business’s and organisations, and one great big sign up for them is Royal Mail. On that theme also a positive move in September was the Lib Dems passing a conference motion for Lib Dem run local councils to sign up to 10:10. The same party conference also endorsed an end to taxpayer support for investments in high-polluting fuels like tar sands extraction

Many individuals experience the sense of disconnection between the action they take at home and the carbon usage of their places of work but people at the top, middle and bottom of organisations need to start to “own” the carbon spend in their daily shared enterprise whether its an airline or a school. It follows from all of this that politicians need to account for the carbon in there departments/offices/realms of influence to always be stepping beyond personal commitments, like signing up as an individual to 10:10, which have a useful symbolic significance but are at best misleading if those politicians are not taking the required 10% action in their public roles.


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