Greens are moving forward on science


12:50 am - September 21st 2009

by Jim Jepps    


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As regular readers of Liberal Conspiracy will be aware there has been an ongoing discussion over the Green Party’s attitude to science. While the Greens may have been ahead of the curve on climate change, writers like Martin Robbins have highlighted the fact that “in spite of their sparkling climate and environmental credentials” in many areas “their policies are far out of step with the scientific community”.

He’s right. Whether it’s the pledge, stem cells or alternative therapies there’s plenty of gut churningly embarrassing policy to choose from. What’s been interesting, as a Green Party member, is that the majority of those I’ve spoken to have been equally shocked at these revelations.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the key task ahead is not to persuade party members of the need for evidence based policy, most of them are there already, but to actually crack on with the work of a serious review of our science, technology and health policies.

I thought readers here might appreciate an update on what’s happened as a result of these extremely helpful criticisms. First of all we’ve launched a lively science and technology working group, convened by Cathryn Simmons, which has already been getting to grips with animal testing, the pledge and a number of energy topics. Likewise the health group, led by our able health spokesperson Stuart Jeffrey is engaged in an identical process in their area.

At the Hove conference earlier this month two fringes (one on ‘what treatments should be available on the NHS’, the other launching the science and technology group which Martin was brave enough to attend) both demonstrated that there was a clear mood in the party for a fundamental overhaul of these policy areas. There were no serious attempts to defend current policy.

In February the Party conference will see a range of motions put to it on these subjects and I feel confident that we’ll see a big step forwards towards evidence based, science friendly policy.

I’d love to be able to challenge the mainstream parties to join in and begin a similar review.

There’s a democratic process involved so I’m not in a position to guarantee what party members will do, but I can guarentee that if by the end of the February conference we can’t convincingly point to a sea change in the way our policy documents present scientific subjects I’ll be far more disappointed than anyone reading this will be.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Environment ,Green party ,Science ,Westminster

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Reader comments


The very many greens I have met (not just party members, but the wider community who like to label themselves as green) are a diverse group and share very few traits in common.

However one of them is a religious devotion to the faith. Science rarely plays a part in their understanding of or infroming of their own views. Whather it is the debatable efficacy of paper recycling or the place of nuclear power or any other topic. Any attempt to debate them is met with the ‘good vs bad’ mentality of the pulpit, not a hypothesis/experiment/observe mentality of the scientist.

Good Luck in your quest. you’ll need it

When a party that focuses on the environment has to actively decide whether they should work closer with the scientific community, you know they are a bunch of jokers.

“in many areas “their policies are far out of step with the scientific community”.”

Completely out of step with the scientific community on climate change as well.

The Green answer is of course to call for more local and regional economies, to slow down globalisation, even reverse it.

Sadly for this idea, when you actually go and look at what the scientific community is saying about the interaction of the economy and climate change you find them recommending exactly the opposite. And yes, I really do mean the scientific community. The IPCC models (what we are all admonished to call the scientific consensus) are all based upon a series of economic models laid out in the SRES.

Those models in turn insist that for any given standard of living you get fewer emissions (and thus less warming), and for any given level of emissions a higher standard of living (and thus less warming per standard of living) by having more globalisation rather than localisation or regionalisation.

This is the scientific consensus, the view of the scientific community. The Green Party is thus advocating, as its solution to climate change, something which will make it worse.

Somehow it is difficult to regard that as “being ahead of the curve”.

2. I know quite a few Greens, some do have a ‘religious devotion to faith’ but the idea that’s a common trait… I’m sorry that doesn’t fit with my experience (and I bet I know more Green Party members than you!) particularly as our policy is to abolish faith schools.

3. Well, some parts of our policy are much stronger than others. I’m one of those Greens that choose to recognise that fact and do something about the weakest parts.

4. I’d like to see those papers. Please link to them.

Special Report on Emissions Scenarios is here:

http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_sr/?src=/climate/ipcc/emission/

Chapter 4 is the scenario overview.

As a very rough and ready description, there are four families. A and B, 1 and 2. A means capitalism, B means a more caring, concerned with equity set up.

1 means globalised, 2, means localised (do remember this is very much shorthand descriptions).

A1 is thus globalised capitalism, A2 regionalised and localised capitalism. B1 caring and sharing with globalisation, B2 caring and sharing without.

A or B is essentially an ethical question: there are huge differences after a century given the different growth rates but giving up wealth for equity is indeed an ethical matter (wqhich we can and probably do disagree about).

However, it’s very clear that A1 gives a better outcome than A2, and that B1 a better one than B2.

If you then go and look at the cumulative emissions from the various scenarios (there are 40 which all fit into one or other of these four families) you will also see that the 2 results are markedly worse than the 1 results.

The importance of these economic models are that the entire edifice of climate change, the whole IPCC process, everything, Kyoto, Copenhagen and Uncle Tom Cobleigh, are all based upon these models. There are *no other* economic models in the system.

You can reject the assumptions that went into them but in doing so you need to reject everything built upon them.

It really is true that the scientific consensus on climate change, the IPCC process, is built on the assumption that globalisation is better for emissions than not globalisation.

Thanks Tim, I’ll have a read (will have to be a bit later though), will let you know what I think.

Good luck – seriously. I don’t take any pleasure that the major challenge to the way pariament currently works comes from a party overly influenced by crackpots.

– apologies – post deleted

When a party that focuses on the environment has to actively decide whether they should work closer with the scientific community, you know they are a bunch of jokers.

LFAT – though, it’s worse that the incoming Tory administration is not even going to bother listening to scientists, and is over-populated with climate-change deniers.

That is rather more worrying.

Big deep breath:

“though, it’s worse that the incoming Tory administration is not even going to bother listening to scientists, and is over-populated with climate-change deniers.

That is rather more worrying.”

I actually manage to agree with Sunny on something.

There are all sorts of entirely sensible (even productive) things that can be said about climate change and what we ought to do about it without swallowing the entirety of the Lucas/Monbiot Kool-Aid.

Denying that it’s happening isn’t one of them.

Tim Worstall: “Those models in turn insist that for any given standard of living you get fewer emissions (and thus less warming), and for any given level of emissions a higher standard of living (and thus less warming per standard of living) by having more globalisation rather than localisation or regionalisation.”

This seems very muddled.

The models clearly cannot be assessing the reactions of society to political or economic ideas; that’s just not something a computer model can do. If computer models could tell us how to run both economy and society for optimum economic and environmental outputs, someone might have pointed this out previously and given it a try.

They are merely using these assumptions to generate a series of sets of ‘business as usual’ emissions scenarios – they need some rough projections of what economy and society will do over the next few decades or they would have no inputs (in terms of likely future emissions) to put into the physical model. The models clearly cannot be testing those assumptions; they are physical models of the planet, not models of human society. The idea that they have ‘proved’ localised economies are bad for the environment is simply false. They are simply taking that (very questionable) assumption as a starting point.

It’s also false to claim that if we disagree with their clearly subjective assessment of the efficiency of a particular type of economy (something which isn’t part of the model, but just used to estimate likely future emissions), we must reject the whole point of running the model: that the levels of emissions seen in any ‘business-as-usual’ scenario are likely to have fairly terrible results.

The Green Party, I think, is justifiably focused on not following any of the IPCC’s business-as-usual scenarios…

(subscribing to thread)

Here’s a Green party policy:

PL414. The Green Party deplores the intransigent attitude of the United Kingdom government to the damaging biological effects to those living in close proximity to high voltage power cables, caused by the associated electromagnetic field. This constitutes an electrical pollution. Immediate action should be taken to ensure that no high voltage cables are sited near habitation and that those that are should be re-sited as soon as possible, recognising considerable urgency.

Um, have they thought this through?

You could start by explaining the evidence which says that putting our rubbish on a slow boat to China is somehow “greener” than throwing it down an old mine shaft.

14. We’re reviewing policy as I said
15. The Greens don’t say it is.

Tim. Hope you don’t mind but I only have time to read ch.4 (which you recommended) so I’ve done that. Answering this fully is going to be monstrously complex so I think I’ll confine myself to core, basic points and we might go into more detail in discussion if you like – but I don’t want to write an essay in the comments box.

The first point is one that is not really acknowledged by Greens explicitly but I think I can show is the case.

Green Party economic policy is actually for a mix of local, regional, national and international solutions. Whilst many policies emphasise the need to cut food miles, local production, etc the Green New Deal – our response (with others) to the recession is actually an environmentally friendly Keynesianism which relies heavily on national government big spend plans and international regulation of the financial sector.for example.

So to start with our economic policy is not just localism (as the opposite of globalisation) but is more about democratising and regulating the economy and, where appropriate, bringing that decision making as close to ground level as possible,

Second. I think the assumption underlying the report you link to insists on an unchanging economic paradigm. Where growth and standard of living are interchangable. Green Party policy challenges the growth model and points to ways (like having a fully funded, easy to use nationalised transport network) where GDP and quality of life are quite different from each other.

I also don’t think the scientific community has a consensus on this question as it happens, although I’m sure there are a whole number of very interesting, quality studies on these matters.

OK. Well I’ll leave my answer there I think. GP economic policy isn’t quite as you’ve characterised it and the study you point to does not address (and why should it as it’s not about us) different economic models but assumes everything will take place within our current paradigm so does not take on broader questions of how we do things, confining itself to what looks to me to be a fairly specific remit.

JJ

That’s an elegant tap dance away from the point: If we accept the models used and their assumptions, then in order to combat climate change (not for any other possibly aesthitic reason, but to combat climate change) then we should be pushing globalisation as the solution….part of it at aleast. Sure, externalites need to be incorporated into hte price system but a carbon tax or cap and trade does that.

It may well be traditional economics, but it’s one of those areas where traditional economics is indeed correct.

“different economic models but assumes everything will take place within our current paradigm”

There are different paradigms we can use: equity v. wealth for example as the models do indeed discuss.

But globalisation v not globalisation as a means of reducing emissions isn’t one of those up for discussion: for the not globalisation as a method of reducing them doesn’t work.

“Green New Deal – our response (with others) ”

I’ve written about this elsewhere. Sorry, but some of the ideas in there are also not possible. Not just “I don’t agree with them” but as in, no, they won’t work, they’re counter-productive even by the goals they themselves set. For example, reducing long term interest rates and imposing capital controls will reduce the amount of capital available for investment in green projects, not increase it. In a country that has been importing capital for decades like the UK has at least.

“where GDP and quality of life are quite different from each other.”

At least we agree on one thing. The two are indeed very different. GDP is a measure of the value added in an economy. Yes, there are lots of well known problems with it as a measure. One way of thinking about it is as the potential of an economy to satiate human desires: the more value that is being added the more value there is available to increase human utility: the posh phrase economists use to mean the quality of life.

Perhaps my reading of GP economic policy is rather coloured by having listened to a Caroline Lucas speech once. She said that she wanted global cooperation rather than global competition. Well, since markets are the way that human beings cooperate that should indicate a desire for a global market. But that isn’t what she meant meaning one of two things: either she is ignorant of what she is talking about or whe doesn’t realise that markets are about cooperation.

She then went on to say that we need barriers, trade restrictions, so as to protect local production. That is, global cooperation but we’ll not cooperate with Johnny Foreigner. Which is kinda weird really.

“and, where appropriate, bringing that decision making as close to ground level as possible,”

That always sets alarm bells ringing for me. Decision making as close to ground level as possible, sure: at the level of the individual where it belongs. That’s the free market case, as long as you’re not harming someone else or their similar rights then get on with it as you wish. The alarm bells are around the word “appropriate”: who decides what is “appropriate”?

Who decides that you may trade with the next village over, the next county, the next country? Whether it’s the local green Gauleiter or the will of the majority as expressed through elections, that’s still a massive reduction in liberty and freedom.

jim jay,

14. We’re reviewing policy as I said

Sure, but how are such things in there in the first place? As well as reviewing policy are you reviewing how policy is created?

18. yes
17. Tim (sorry for the length of this)

“That’s an elegant tap dance away from the point”
– thanks I am a lovely mover.

“we should be pushing globalisation as the solution”
– We do need a global response. The Greens do say that. But globalisation is not just about the fact their is a global economy but refers specifically (at least within the anti-globalisation movement) to neo-liberalism and the growing hegemonic control of multi-nationals – which is why sometimes you’ll see people referring to their globalisation vs ours.

“There are different paradigms we can use: equity v. wealth for example as the models do indeed discuss.”
– That’s actually different metrics or measures – I’m talking about paradigms as in moving away from capitalism as we know it. Different ways of ‘doing the economy’ if that’s not too clumsy a way of putting it.

“I’ve written about this elsewhere. Sorry, but some of the ideas in there are also not possible. Not just “I don’t agree with them” but as in, no, they won’t work,”

– Well, you don’t agree they’ll work. I think it’s a very useful approach that would be a great benefit. I might be wrong although, to be slightly self critical for a moment, I don’t actually think the GND is anything more than the first proper step towards a fleshed out progressive approach. Certainly not the final answer that some people seem to think it is.

“For example, reducing long term interest rates and imposing capital controls will reduce the amount of capital available for investment in green projects, not increase it.”

– You see here’s where we differ because I’m for a democratically controlled economy and direct investment by the state anyway which is not a model that would reduce investment in “green projects”. Anyway, where’s there’s profit to be made there’s investment to be had and the next twenty years are likely to see green industry become a far better investment than it has been whether or not the Greens have any influence over that or not.

“Perhaps my reading of GP economic policy is rather coloured by having listened to a Caroline Lucas speech once. She said that she wanted global cooperation rather than global competition. Well, since markets are the way that human beings cooperate that should indicate a desire for a global market.”

Markets are not the only way the humans cooperate by any means and, like some of the other methods, are often methods of division not unity. The Greens reject the market obsessed economic model. But that phrase actually does not mean she’d do away with capitalism, just that she wants the emphasis to shift away from the red in tooth and claw and towards fulfilling human need – sometimes business can fulfill that role often not.

“She then went on to say that we need barriers, trade restrictions, so as to protect local production. That is, global cooperation but we’ll not cooperate with Johnny Foreigner. Which is kinda weird really.”

Increased regulation on trade and financial institutions requires international cooperation, but it’s also not the entire story of our interaction with those outside of the UK. We’re for big style international cooperation on climate change targets, fair trade, human rights and the rest.

“who decides what is “appropriate”?”

Democractic, collective decision making – which will be wrong sometimes sadly, but has many advantages, in my view, to letting the market decide and the biggest businesses gradually subsume the rest.

I’m beginning to see where (to my mind, of course) your error lies. You are conflating capitalism and markets to a great extent. The two are very different things. Capitalism is a method of ownership of productive assets. By no means the only one and by no means the best in every situation. Worker owned coops, partnerships, family units working together, hey, whatever floats people’s boat as far as I’m concerned. And I certainly argue that there are times and places (even industries) where some of those will work better than shareholder owned companies.

Markets are both a method of distribution and a price finding mechanism. With very rare exceptions I know of no alternative at all (at least, not one that is anywhere near as useful).

You also seem to be very keen indeed on this “democratically controlled” thing. What about those in the minority? What about their freedom and liberty to differ from the consensus or majority decision?

Don’t you think the absence of that is rather a retreat from a liberal world?

Tim Worstall @20: “Markets are both a method of distribution and a price finding mechanism. With very rare exceptions I know of no alternative at all (at least, not one that is anywhere near as useful).”

There are auctions too, mate.

Market: there are a bunch of stalls offering identical or functionally equivalent goods at different prices. You can buy at the proferred price or you can barter.

Auction: goods are offered up, and you can bid according to your personal assessment of worth. The sellers may impose a minimum price at which they are willing to exchange. There’s no bartering until the auction closes.

“There are auctions too, mate. ”

Aha, most cute. A market is where voluntary exchanges take place. Auctions are therefore markets, for auctions are voluntary exchanges.

Yes, it’s most fun to point out that many words in the English language have more than one meaning.

Perhaps I shouldn’t add to comments when I’ve just come back from the pub…..


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  20. Jim Jepps

    I’m discussing Green economics in the comments of LibCon not sure if I’m doing it justice tbh http://bit.ly/1bFyVA





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