A radical idea to elect ‘guardians’ to protect future generations


12:40 pm - January 11th 2012

by Rupert Read    


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When recycling was first promoted by the Green Party in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept was ridiculed. Now it is taken for granted.

I’m proposing another radical idea: that future generations be formally represented within our existing parliamentary democracy.

The idea is presented in a report entitled ‘Guardians of the Future: A Constitutional Case for representing and protecting Future People‘, launched yesterday at the House of Commons.

I suggest the creation of strong ‘guardians’ to protect future generations’ basic needs.

Building upon a Burkean conception of democracy, of society as a partnership “not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – I propose the creation of a ‘super-jury’ to be placed above the upper house.

Members would be selected by chance (as juries are) from the population at large, in order to ensure independence from present-day party-political interests. The Guardians’ central powers would be a veto over new legislation that would damage/compromise the basic needs of future people, and a right to force a review of existing legislation that is already damaging their basic needs.

Society’s chronic short-termism, evidenced in the creation of legislation as virtually everywhere else, may have extreme consequences for future generations. My proposal would give future people a powerful proxy voice in such matters, and for that reason I believe that it should demand consideration and informed discussion.

It isn’t going to be implemented next week; but perhaps think-tanks too often focus only on what can be brought in next week, rather than what might change the agenda so that, next year or next decade, we can finally get the kind of change that we actually need, rather than mere technocratic tinkering.

The idea has already been welcomed on Guardian Environment, where a huge debate has been going on. I also wear with a badge of pride that Brendan O’Neill at the Torygraph is annoyed – I must be getting something right!


Rupert Read is the chair of the new think-tank Green House. The launch event was hosted by Green leader Caroline Lucas MP, and addressed by Labour MP Jon Cruddas MP and Libdem MP Norman Baker.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Rupert Read is a Green Party councillor and ran as a MEP candidate in Eastern region in 2009. He blogs at Rupert's Read and Comment is free
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Reader comments


1. I wanna be updated

Sortition’s still deeply harsh on the poor sods who get picked whether they like it or not, no matter how you spin it. If I got picked, I’d heartily tell you to fuck off, as would most people – so the people in the jury would ultimately be the people who would want to be there in the first place, happily skewing it in favour of the very political creeps who are presumably trying to be avoided.

It’s also inherently less representative, unless you plan this silly jury of yours to be made up of several thousand people, if not several tens/hundreds of thousands. But no, I assume you’d just want to be vaguely biasing it to the left anyway, cos all da yoof r cool n dey agree wid me yeh.

“Society’s chronic short-termism, evidenced in the creation of legislation as virtually everywhere else”

In this particular sentence, you made a claim, and the bit which is supposed to back it up doesn’t actually make any sense. Care to explain what you actually mean? The procedural element? The substantive element contained in legislation? Bad SIs? Come on, make some sense.

@1 Things like PFI, and other things that provide stuff right now, with bad consequences later. (Usually long after those responsible have long headed off into cozy retirement)

The only upside to this proposal I can see would be that such a jury could easily come up with things – e.g. don’t load future generations with public debt – which would really annoy Rupert “we had 7/7 coming” Read.

4. I wanna be updated

@2 K. So what does “evidenced in the creation of legislation as virtually everywhere else” actually mean? Seems like garbled nonsense to me.

Hmm. An unelected body with the power to veto legislation on nebulous, subjective grounds. Sadly, Rupert’s beard is nothing like as impressive as Ayatollah Khameni’s.

Sounds like a suitable replacement for the House of Lords to me. Fully representative of the people in all ways, with opinions to match. Far better than elected hacks from the party list or selected from a list of friends and “associates”.

There is a difference between the principle expressed here (that the political process needs to include consideration of the interests of future generations), and the detail of how to achieve this. I agree with the principle but think the ideas currently given to achieve this aren’t workable.

Who’ll make sure they make the right decision?

Sortition is one of the least worst ways of choosing legislators. Juries often show more sense than the combined interests of judges, prosecutors and police in criminal justice, so I think this idea is well worth considering. I see juries as representing the common good more than a “future” good though. But it would certainly involve longer term thinking than the 5 year cycle that politicians operate on.

I fine idea which sounds very much like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_for_the_Propagation_of_Virtue_and_the_Prevention_of_Vice_(Afghanistan) – we all need to work for the good and against the bad.

However, about that recycling thing: it wasn’t invented by Greens in 1970′s. I was born in 1960′s, and from my infancy, we recycled a lot. As did the generations before me as well, particularly at wartime when resources were scarce.

This proposal seems to be more about getting to a committee where you can tell other people what to do, and perhaps take the cream from the top, leaving milk (or whatever) to others.

11. Chaise Guevara

What Planeshift said. Taking the needs of future generations into account is something we should do more of, but the specific reccommendations here are shot full of holes.

12. Chaise Guevara

That O’Neill article is dreadful, though. It’s a giant straw man (basically making out that the Greens say that they should run the committee), and once again proves that “Orwellian” now means “anything I don’t like”.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Imperator Read and his praetoriani?

@7 & @11: Thanks; Fine. I am not wedded to any details. Do have a read of the full report if you haven’t yet done so. It is full of explicit invitations to debate the details / to consider different ‘options’ within the overall basic framework.

@10: I think you are talking about re-use (incl of empties, etc.). I am talking about recycling: talking used cans and melting them down and then getting new cans from that, etc. . I don’t think you had a lot of that going on at your house in the 60s.

@7 & @11: Thanks; Fine. I am not wedded to any details. Do have a read of the full report if you haven’t yet done so. It is full of explicit invitations to debate the details / to consider different ‘options’ within the overall basic framework.

@10: I think you are talking about re-use (incl of empties, etc.). I am talking about recycling: talking used cans and melting them down and then getting new cans from that, etc. . I don’t think you had a lot of that going on at your house in the 60s.

@13: The Supreme Court (and the ECHR) (and the police).

Good idea – for those opposed to election by ballot (a model used in classical Athens) it has the virtue of ensuring that the political classes don’t dominate.

I find the hostility to the proposal faintly amusing – it’s the same people who don’t like politicians now deciding they don’t like the population at large any better. Who does that leave? Oligarchs?

It seems simple enough – you hold up all legislation to scrutiny to determine its long term impact, so that politicians can’t simply legislate no further ahead than the next election (or conversely bring in zombie policies, like PFI schemes, that operate long after the elctorate has thrown them out) without being called out on the consequences.

Rather than appoint hacks or the usual establishment suspects we have a cross section of citizens, from DM readers, to Bufton Tuftons, to Arthur Scargills, to the ubiquitous lollipop person – I can see why hackdom doesn’t like it, but it”s a useful component to our democracy we’re missing, especially in an age where the more lobbying cash you have the more influence and power you can buy…

especially in an age where the more lobbying cash you have the more influence and power you can buy…

Because these unelected bodies, without previous legislative experience and (given it’s to be random selection) not particularly well off are likely to be entirely immuse to lobbying? Heh.

Certainly finding a way to encourage long-term planning within a democratic framework would be very valuable. This is not it.

“I’m proposing another radical idea: that future generations be formally represented within our existing parliamentary democracy.”

The interests of future generations are not in broad terms different from the interests of current generations [1]. I strongly suspect that if we had any democratic system that properly represented the people whose voices are not heard under our current system, the problem of future generations’ representation would largely vanish.

Giving 12 people some partisan training to make the decision you (generic you, not you personally) want them to make over which legislation gets vetoed is not going to fix things. (If you think you can make the training impartial, consider the BBC which gets criticised quite regularly for being partisan when it isn’t, but in the interests of balance is considered impartial when it’s being partisan; if you think scientists and academics can be trusted to be impartial, consider their historical record)

[1] Okay, okay, not quite, but we’ll deal with the issue of whether an artificial intelligence can enter into a binding contract with a genetically-enhanced marmoset when it comes up. I trust the courts of that day to make the right decision, or at least to make the wrong decision and then reverse it within a century or two. Meanwhile the Guardians of the Future can ban road maintenance because we won’t need it when we get our flying cars.

19. Frances_coppola

Since this “super-jury” is supposed to represent the interests of “future people”, can we assume either that children will be included in it, with full voting rights from birth, or that parents/guardians will be able to exercise proxy votes on their behalf? Otherwise, with our present demographics and exclusion of under-18s from juries (and voting), it will be heavily weighted towards the over-50s, who have a vested interest in promoting short-term measures that benefit them to the detriment of the unrepresented future generations. Which is exactly the problem we currently have.

@17 “Because these unelected bodies, without previous legislative experience and (given it’s to be random selection) not particularly well off are likely to be entirely immuse to lobbying? Heh.”
That’s a great argument for a hereditary house – after all if you have to start your legislative career with legislative experience and with enough money to not be prone to being bought off by lobbyists then presumably you’ve narrowed the pool of talent from which you’d select legislators to those who come from rich backgrounds where there’s a family history of legislating.
Now if you were trying to pitch a form of democracy to say Charles I or Henry VIII you might be on to something, but in the 21st century all you manage to be is patronising to the population at large, which you say is too dim, poor and inexperienced to be trusted with oversight of the democratic process, leave it to your betters.
I may not agree with everything Alan Johnson has done during his political career, but he stands testament to the fact that whatever your background you can equip yourself with the skills to play an important role in public life. You don’t need to go to Eton.

all you manage to be is patronising to the population at large, which you say is too dim, poor and inexperienced to be trusted with oversight of the democratic process, leave it to your betters.

I’m not saying anything of the sort. What I’m saying is that if you give the power of veto over all democratically introduced legislation to a panel of unelected randoms then you’re concentrating an awful lot of power in the hands of very few. If you don’t expect those few to be even more heavily lobbied than politicians are currently (because they would have no constituency pressure to act as a counter-balance) then you are being remarkably naive.

I’m afraid, Rupert, you had a new one torn over this on Comment is Free – a randomly selected jury that gets to veto legislation passed by the democratically-elected Parliament is a step forward in democracy? And apparently these (current) randomly chosen people would be a better representation of “future people” than (current) democratically-elected representatives.

You also refused on CiF to answer the question of what your opinion would be of the randomly selected “super jury” turned out to be a bunch of petrolheads who didn’t veto what you wanted.

Essentially, the Greens aren’t getting their way through the democratic process so there should be some imposed undemocratic veto with the bizarre twist of it being in the name of the unborn. LibCon has jumped the shark if it is backing this illiterate rubbish.

Of course the greatest favour we can do for future generations will be to ensure that they are as rich as possible and thus even better equipped to cope with whatever challenges might face them.

For example Nicholas Stern assumes for the purposes of his review that global growth will average 2-3% over the next hundred years.
So the world will be 7 – 19 times richer.
Not a bad legacy to leave future generations.
Similar to that we ourselves inherited.
Of course Mr Read and his pals would like to curb growth rates – all for the sake of future generations you understand.
Reducing growh to just 1% means that future generations will be less than 3 times richer.
That’s quite a hit from 7, let alone 19.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 18 cim

“The interests of future generations are not in broad terms different from the interests of current generations”

They might be, due to changes in circumstances rather than changes in people.

For example, imagine the interests involved in building fossil fuel stations at the time (when you get lots of power from them) and X years later when there’s no fuel left and the country’s covered in smog.

What I’m saying is that if you give the power of veto over all democratically introduced legislation to a panel of unelected randoms then you’re concentrating an awful lot of power in the hands of very few. If you don’t expect those few to be even more heavily lobbied than politicians are currently (because they would have no constituency pressure to act as a counter-balance) then you are being remarkably naive.

Quite. Hi Idealists, meet Reality.

Anyway, what kind of uniforms will the Guaaaaaaaaaaardians of the Futuuuuuuuuuuure! wear? Are we talking Golden Age or Modern Age?

There seem to be two assumptions that people are making that don’t necessarily hold – firstly that because Rupert has used the term ‘super jury’ that necessarily means 12 people – a super jury could equally easily be a chamber of 100 people- and secondly that it would have an unqualified veto, allowing it to reject legislation for any reason as opposed for instance to referring it back if it fell short of agreed criteria.

The principle still holds – that the idea of having a body, slected from amongst the citizenry, to hold the legislature accountable for the long term ramifications of its actions is an idea worth exploring.

16/Jonathan: Rather than appoint hacks or the usual establishment suspects we have a cross section of citizens, from DM readers, to Bufton Tuftons, to Arthur Scargills, to the ubiquitous lollipop person

No, you don’t. You can’t have (in the current proposal):
– anyone not on the electoral roll
– anyone whose health issues preclude a multi-year intensive commitment
– anyone who doesn’t want a job strongly in the public eye (which covers a variety of reasons)
– anyone with no interest in legislative politics
– anyone with dependents who they wish to care for (as opposed to pay someone else to care for most of the time)
(…and that’s just off the top of my head)

It might be more of a cross-section than the current Commons – not that that’s difficult – but it will still exclude large numbers of people who are not represented well by our current democracy.

24/Chaise Guevara: They might be, due to changes in circumstances rather than changes in people.

Sure, but then you’re in to “flying car” levels of futurology for all but the most obvious changes in circumstances, if you want to do anything about that now as opposed to when it actually starts being a problem.

And if it’s actually that obviously bad for future generations, that’s probably because it’s currently doing bad things to some people in current generations too, so the extrapolation is easy, but the case for not doing it doesn’t need “protection of future generations” to justify it – as is the case for fossil fuel generation now, but wasn’t when we first [1] started doing it and didn’t as a society know that.

[1] Of course, if we’d decided against doing it in the 1800s on environmental grounds, we wouldn’t have had the industrial revolution, and we wouldn’t now have all the major health and social benefits of living in an industrialised society. So it’s hard to say it was the wrong decision then even on “future generations” grounds.

Pretty sure there was some other professional philosopher who invented a non-democratic form of government in which the decision-makers were called ‘Guardians’. A rather peculiar choice of name.

In response to the chap above who thinks lobbyists buy people off, and people who can’t be bought off are immune: that’s not how lobbying works. Lobbying works because there’s an information deficit amongst decision-makers; MPs don’t have the same sort of access to the Civil Service as Government, and even the Civil Service (who’d have thought) doesn’t have all the answers about what’s happening in particular sectors of the economy. They rely on lobbyists to supply information in this regard, information which may of course be biased, but nonetheless is the only useful source of that type of information. Members of the public without any specific policy knowledge will require even more of this information, cementing the dominance of lobbyists over the Government’s decision-making process.

Rupert’s idea rests on the assumption that someone, somewhere, knows exactly what is going to happen, and so policy can be formulated around that. They don’t, but there’s a lot of people who have strong opinions on what might happen, and this idea will place power in the hands of whichever of those can shout the loudest.

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 27 cim

Fair points.

Jonathan @ 26:

“The principle still holds – that the idea of having a body, slected from amongst the citizenry, to hold the legislature accountable for the long term ramifications of its actions is an idea worth exploring.”

I believe it’s known as “the electorate”.

Cim, you say: ‘The interests of future generations are not in broad terms different from the interests of current generations’. This is just plain wrong. Take nuclear power, for instance. The current generation, if it is selfish, just doesn’t have to take the problem of nuclear waste seriously. But future generations won’t be able to avoid it.

@28 Yep: My proposal, as is evident if one reads the full report, gives a nod to Plato – but makes a case that my case can be democratic whereas his deliberately isnt (wasnt).

Your final point is wrong. The guardians might well lean heavily on the Precautionary Principle. But that of course precisely doesn’t require “someone somewhere knowing exactly what is going to happen”. To the contrary.

@19: Thanks Frances. You raise a really interesting question which I have thought about a lot. I’m not sure you are quite fair to the proposal: the ‘super-jury’ would contain far more young adults and very old people than currently tend to have any serious political power. But the question about children is fascinating. I think there MIGHT be a case for allowing children to be guardians… After all, if the criminal age of responsibility is 10, then are we really so certain that teenagers are not suitable to step up to the plate and look to safeguard future people?
I haven’t addressed this in the report. It is an area that requires further thinking and debate, I think.
Btw, one crucial point: I would count as future people EVERYONE who doesn’t die in the next instant. It is just that some (e.g. the very old) are not going to be future people for long… Whereas children are going to be future people for a long time (hopefully / in most cases). SO: existing children will (on my take on things) be included strongly among the guardians’ remit. (e.g. If the guardians are thinking about what condition our planetary home will be in in 2100, then some of the future people who they will be thinking are people who are already alive.)

Listening to the whole thing yesterday [including Caroline Lucas, Jon Cruddas, etc., as well as me] may interest some of you: http://rupertsread.blogspot.com/2012/01/podcast-of-my-parliament-talk-yesterday.html

Rupert,

Take nuclear power, for instance. The current generation, if it is selfish, just doesn’t have to take the problem of nuclear waste seriously. But future generations won’t be able to avoid it.

The problem with this is that the solutions to the problem with nuclear waste are currently limited by technology and limitations on space, both of which may change in future. So what currently appear to be selfish, is in fact only selfish in the particular set of circumstances that is the present, and may be regarded as not a problem or even a benefit in future circumstances.

Overall, this proposal is modernist thinking writ large – the assumption that we have all the knowledge and can understand everything reeks of an arrogance of belief that has no place in sensible planning. But what worries me most is your peculiar wrapping of all time subsequent from now into one phase, ‘the future’. If the guardians are to protect future generations, which ones are they meant to be protecting- their children, people two hundred years from now (assuming the two are not the same – we just don’t know where medical science is going to get to remember), people living after twenty half lives of the nuclear waste mentioned above (who will have less of a problem with it)? You seem to have envisaged a world with yesterday, today and tomorrow, and no further understanding of the nature of time (and change over time). Seems to be a recipe for argument to me…

31/Rupert Read: This is just plain wrong. Take nuclear power, for instance. The current generation, if it is selfish, just doesn’t have to take the problem of nuclear waste seriously. But future generations won’t be able to avoid it.

To avoid affecting the current generation, the waste will have to be stored really quite securely. Future generations can then be at least as safe as they will have better reprocessing and storage technologies, and can improve on the security of the existing waste deposits.

If we don’t have the present-day capability or will to do that, then the first serious waste leak is very likely to affect the current generation. (Just not the members of the current generation who make the decisions about where nuclear waste dumps are placed and to what standards of construction, who can certainly afford to be selfish; it’ll be the members of the current generation who are under-represented at the moment)

(And, okay, you’re using different definitions of “current” and “future” generations than I am, which make this example stronger for you than it is for me, but I think you need to show that we are doing – in multiple and ever-changing areas – things that we know will cause trouble in the future for people who are not us that are not also causing trouble in the present for people who are not us, for some legislative body specifically to stop that to be necessary)

@OP, Rupert Read: “When recycling was first promoted by the Green Party in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept was ridiculed.”

So nobody recycled anything before the Green Party suggested the idea… I thought one of the first rules on writing a blog post was to avoid an opening sentence that is complete cobblers.

Given that April 1st has come early this year, could I suggest a further committee that reviews past legislators and conducts prosecutions against any parliamentarian, dead or alive, who may have participated in an environmental crime.

@14. Rupert Read: “I think you are talking about re-use (incl of empties, etc.). I am talking about recycling: talking used cans and melting them down and then getting new cans from that, etc. . I don’t think you had a lot of that going on at your house in the 60s.”

I recommend a brief perusal of the history of “rag and bone men” (which includes women, of course) or the commercial use of urine.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ 38 Charlieman

While it’s obviously untrue to say that nothing was recycled before the Greens turned up, recycling did develop a new side of itself fairly recently, mainly in terms of people going out of their way to recycle their rubbish without getting paid for it because they believe it’s the right thing to do. The whole environmental angle is relatively new. Old-school recycling was more like “waste not, want not” or was paid for (like being given a penny for returning an empty glass bottle to the shop).

@39. Chaise Guevara: “While it’s obviously untrue to say that nothing was recycled before the Greens turned up, recycling did develop a new side of itself fairly recently, mainly in terms of people going out of their way to recycle their rubbish without getting paid for it because they believe it’s the right thing to do. The whole environmental angle is relatively new. Old-school recycling was more like “waste not, want not” or was paid for (like being given a penny for returning an empty glass bottle to the shop).”

New model recycling is a cost to me — in terms of time, not resources — to sort out rubbish. New model recycling is a benefit to me — burying stuff in landfill is expensive, so it makes sense to minimise what ends up there. I am assuming for the purposes of argument that everything that goes into the sorted recycling bag/box is usable in some way.

There is an economic benefit to me from some recycling — there is the obvious stuff (aluminium cans, PET bottles, paper) and there is stuff that should only be recycled occasionally (reuse beer bottles, don’t smash them into cullet*). However local authority directives on recycling require them to maximise recycling, regardless of economic/energy efficiency. So local authorities collect bottles, which by mass conveniently increase recycling throughput but have a small impact on energy use.

*cullet Cullet is broken glass. Cullet is useful in glass production because a modest amount mixed in with raw base materials reduces the energy consumed. The glass industry itself creates a lot of cullet. To reform a wine bottle from cullet uses 90% of the energy as to make it from raw materials.

Smashing up bottles to create cullet is stupid. I’ll sacrifice a bit of liberalism for standardised beer and wine bottles — sort out the branding on the label and advertising.

You know we could get long term interests of the country into the debate by simply reforming our electoral system and encouraging consosciation. We don’t need a third house for this to work.

Still i am not certain if this is a brilliant idea. What do future generations mean, or rather how do you protect them? I mean it just sounds like adding more legislative red tape to an already over burdened system that would only really ensure that the process has to go through another group of people as this wouldn’t give anything special beyond rhetoric of it being long term. The same policies can be defended both ways after all.

42. Chaise Guevara

@ 40 Charlieman

I’m honestly not sure I follow your point here. Are you saying that new model recycling is the same thing as old-school recycling because people are trying to save money either way? If so, I disagree. I don’t think people go to the bottle bank thinking “eventually this will add up to an extra pound in my pocket!” In fact, if you removed the moral/social imperative to recycle and just offered an up-front payment equal to the amount they would personally benefit from recycling, I doubt people would bother.

@14/15: “I think you are talking about re-use (incl of empties, etc.). I am talking about recycling: talking used cans and melting them down and then getting new cans from that, etc. . I don’t think you had a lot of that going on at your house in the 60s.”

Are you serious that recycling wasn’t done in Britain in 1960′s? I’m not British, but I don’t think the UK was so much wealthier and more wasteful that it wouldn’t have recycled lots of materials at that time.

We recycled glass bottles (buy beer for 1 mark, return the flask to the shop for 10 pennies), but also broken bottles and other glass material (for insulation wool). We recycled clothes, either as ready items (as in a flea market or used clothes shop) or material (collect the rags and make fiber out of it).

We recycled excess/unwanted/spoiled food (for fodder to pigs and chickens – nowadays unfortunately this is forbidden in the EU).

We recycled paper. I think most of the Boy Scouts funding came from paper recycling. Metals were collected as well. And so on.

@OP, Rupert Read: “Society’s chronic short-termism, evidenced in the creation of legislation as virtually everywhere else, may have extreme consequences for future generations.”

This statement is contradicted by social behaviour. Many young people desire to get on the house purchase/mortgage ladder. “Purchasing a house” (ie entering a long term finance agreement that requires long term payments) implies the opposite of short-termism.

The fact that many young people are unable to enter the property market does not deny the fact that “getting a mortgage” is an ideal.

45. So Much For Subtlety

I assume the first thing these Guardians of the not-yet-born will do is ban abortion. Because after all, if the not-yet-born have any rights, the right to life must be one.

31. Rupert Read

This is just plain wrong. Take nuclear power, for instance. The current generation, if it is selfish, just doesn’t have to take the problem of nuclear waste seriously. But future generations won’t be able to avoid it.

That does not mean that the current generation is behaving selfishly. We have technical solutions to deal with nuclear waste. It is only the Greens that are preventing us from using them. But those techniques will improve. We may discover new solutions – there is some, but dubious, evidence that cooling nuclear waste speeds up its decay for instance. We could burn most of it up in a nuclear reactor now if we wanted. As we do with a lot of the plutonium as it is. There really is no problem with nuclear waste – except what the Greens cause. If you were serious about future generations, you and the rest of the Greens would get out of the way of all the solutions we have.

@42. Chaise Guevara: “Are you saying that new model recycling is the same thing as old-school recycling because people are trying to save money either way?”

Apologies for being unclear. The motivation of local authorities for recycling is old-school — minimise what goes into a pit that costs them money under landfill legislation. If local authorities genuinely understood the energy/economic cost of what went into the pit (or recycling plant), we might have a different system of reuse (which is preferable to recycling). However the rules on recycling do not encourage local authorities to act rationally; local authorities cannot change their behaviour because it is defined from above. They have to recycle stuff (whether or not it is meaningful) or bury rubbish (for which there is an artificial cost).

I sort my rubbish on the basis that it will help to reduce landfill costs for the council. I don’t fool myself that I am saving the planet.

47. So Much For Subtlety

14. Rupert Read

I think you are talking about re-use (incl of empties, etc.). I am talking about recycling: talking used cans and melting them down and then getting new cans from that, etc. . I don’t think you had a lot of that going on at your house in the 60s.

I think it is ironic that in a article on long-term-ism the author cannot even remember the recent past. Even I can remember the rag-and-bone man who used to wheel his cart around collecting stuff for what we would now call recycling. Mainly metals in my day, but I assume at one time he really did collect rags (as he still did) and bones. But OK, you can’t expect many to remember that far back. How about Steptoe and Son? Steptoe Senior was, of course, a rag-and-bone man who mainly worked in recycling metals. Which ran pretty much all the way through the 1960s and into the 1970s. Referring to a dying industry that was even older.

I don’t think Rupert ever came across rag and bone men in his youth. He’s never name dropped any yet – and he really does like to drop a name or twenty. One post above described it best for me – ‘reeking of arrogance’. I’m sure the intended end result of his grand scheme is the implementation of everything he currently thinks is a ‘good idea’. And no one else could ever be right.

@16 Jonathan: “It seems simple enough – you hold up all legislation to scrutiny to determine its long term impact, so that politicians can’t simply legislate no further ahead than the next election (or conversely bring in zombie policies, like PFI schemes, that operate long after the elctorate has thrown them out) without being called out on the consequences.”

Except that there seems to be a general view that few economists – apart from Nouriel Roubini and perhaps a few others – predicted the asset-price bubble of the 2000s, despite the credit boom, and the ensuing financial crisis of 2008/09, which has been widely characterised as potentially the worst crisis for capitalism since the depression of the 1930s.

If so, how can we expect those appointed Guardians to wisely anticipate the consequences of current legislation? Besides, each Parliament is sovereign in Britain’s constitution, which means that no Parliament can bind its successors. Good intentions about the future don’t matter very much.

What do we say to the guy who asks that fundamental question: What have future generations ever done for us?

I remember the rag and bone man well! But y’all (except for Chaise) are wilfully ignoring my point: the rag and bone man did not (e.g.) melt down aluminium cans and reform them into new cans, nor do the same with bottles (it is far better to do this with bottles than to turn them into rubble for roads, btw, energy-wise; though it is of course better still, as Charlieman says, to use re-use.
‘Recycling’ is not the same as re-use.

51. So Much For Subtlety

50. Rupert Read

the rag and bone man did not (e.g.) melt down aluminium cans and reform them into new cans, nor do the same with bottles (it is far better to do this with bottles than to turn them into rubble for roads, btw, energy-wise; though it is of course better still, as Charlieman says, to use re-use.
‘Recycling’ is not the same as re-use.

What do you think he did with them? Of course he was paid for scrap metal. That is how he made his living.

After all, if the criminal age of responsibility is 10, then are we really so certain that teenagers are not suitable to step up to the plate and look to safeguard future people?

What relationship do you think “the criminal age of responsibility” has to the competence of a person in such a position as you describe?

Rupert,

I remember the rag and bone man well! But y’all (except for Chaise) are wilfully ignoring my point: the rag and bone man did not (e.g.) melt down aluminium cans and reform them into new cans, nor do the same with bottles (it is far better to do this with bottles than to turn them into rubble for roads, btw, energy-wise; though it is of course better still, as Charlieman says, to use re-use.
‘Recycling’ is not the same as re-use.

Recycling is the same as re-use. The particular narrow definition you are trying to give to the word (which seems to be state-sponsored schemes to take materials and use them to make other materials) is also re-use, as re-use only requires the material to be used, not the form. The very word recycling implies re-use, as it implies things come round again.

You may have an argument about state intervention in recycling being a green argument that was widely adopted, if you want to finesse things that way. Putting aside my normal question of whether or not this is the best or most effective way of doing things (I tend not to believe the state is the ideal provider…), I think that would be correct – that the Greens were ahead of the curve in claiming a role for the state in recycling. But this does not mean that any other idea that the Greens produce is visionary and likely to be adopted. After all, apparently the Facists ideas got trains running on time in Italy. Therefore, by your logic, all fascist ideas must be good, because that one was apparently successful (anyone know if that is actually true incidentally?). One idea being adopted or successful does not mean other ideas from the same source will be you know…

Watchman @ 53:

“Therefore, by your logic, all fascist ideas must be good, because that one was apparently successful (anyone know if that is actually true incidentally?).”

No; in fact, the train service under Mussolini was if anything less punctual than under his predecessors, not least because nobody dared complain when they failed to turn up.

55. Chaise Guevara

@ 53 Watchman

“But this does not mean that any other idea that the Greens produce is visionary and likely to be adopted. [...] One idea being adopted or successful does not mean other ideas from the same source will be you know…”

I think the OP was just trying to be encouraging, along the lines of “just because an idea is ridiculed at first, doesn’t mean it’s a certain failure”. I certainly don’t think he was trying to show that the success of recycling means that the Greens are always right. Principle of charity and all that.

I kind of like this idea… just think. Left wing politicians would no longer be able to borrow money wildly leaving future generations to pick up the bill… it could lead to a whole new era where governments spend what they have rather than what they can borrow.

In fact, the more I think about it, this idea is even better than establishing non-violent no fly zones in Libya.

@ 53.

After all, apparently the Facists ideas got trains running on time in Italy. Therefore, by your logic, all fascist ideas must be good, because that one was apparently successful (anyone know if that is actually true incidentally?).

Well, the truth is that this is a myth based on a joke made by Mussolini. The Italian railways of the early 20th C were heavily unionised with many of the workers being anarchists, and the system was plagued by wildcat strikes. The story goes that, after the march on Rome one of Mussolini’s henchmen came and informed him that everything had gone to plan, and that the Fascisti were in control. He apparently turned to his henchman and said “Wonderful, now even the trains will run on time”. This was intended as humour, as nobody in their right mind could envisage the problems of the Italian rail system being sorted out so quickly, but it seems to have gone down – in the English speaking world at any rate – as a truism. Maybe we lack a sense of humour, or maybe we should bother to learn other peoples’ languages properly.

Thanks for the clarifications on the Italian trains – another great historical misunderstanding.

Chaise,

The relevant bit of Rupert’s post was:

When recycling was first promoted by the Green Party in the 1970s and 1980s, the concept was ridiculed. Now it is taken for granted.

I’m proposing another radical idea: that future generations be formally represented within our existing parliamentary democracy.

It is quite possible that Rupert was as you say trying to be encouragiing about the prospects of his own idea. But this does not really come across – it rather reads very much like a statement that Green radical ideas are ridiculed at first, but widely accepted thereafter. Lets be charitable though and say this is the result of editing (by Rupert or another) rather than deliberate arrogance.

Reading the comments there looks to be a lot of sensible critique of the idea. I hope Rupert will not just dismiss what he reads but think it over carefully.

For a start there is a risk of playing to the flaky discourse of “the unborn”.

However, the idea obviously has very good intentions, though in fact it would be all the time trying to second guess the future. But who has any idea what the world will be like in ten years, let alone a hundred, or a thousand?

In addition, for someone calling himself “Green” Dr Read seems to have all too anthropocentric assumptions built in, as far as I can tell from this page. The term “future generations” here appears to equate largely to “future generations of humans” and their perceived interests. Suppose then that the Guardians of the Future decided that the best thing to protect “future generations” would be to cut our losses and go out looking for other planets to invade, colonise and exploit? How desirable would that be in its author’s view?

60. Chaise Guevara

@ 58 Watchman

You may well be right – I just don’t think we should assume the worst.

What is entertaining is that what Rupert Reed appears to object to is the inadequacy, from his perspective, of the elected legislature and the consequent perception that there ‘needs’ to be a revising and blocking chamber … which he proposes to create by appointing a jury …

Not substantially different, it seems to me, to an accidental creation of a revising chamber that is created by heredity … the House of Lords as it was.

The problem for Rupert Reed is that he wants to create his super jury by a different lottery than the accident of birth – and we’ver been there before in our constitutional history.

As to his assertion that Parliament has failed to consider the interests of the future generations – I believe that this is simply nonsense. Whether it is the Royal Commissions that led to, for example, the creation of the sewers in our great cities or the reports and evolution of laws that led to the welfare state, the NHS and other innovations that we avail ourselves of today – the truth is that politicians of all parties have considered and consider the needs of future generations – we can argue about the extent of their success – and it is in growth, in development, in education and in evolutionary ideas of what we do and what we can do, that we see the future considered by polticians of today.

As to his claims about recycling in comments above – surely it is very ‘green’ to re-use – and less ‘green’ to recycle everything that can be re-used.

62. Chaise Guevara

@ 61

“As to his claims about recycling in comments above – surely it is very ‘green’ to re-use – and less ‘green’ to recycle everything that can be re-used.”

Re-use is ideal (along with not generating excess waste in the first place), but realistically most people don’t have a practical use for their old Coke cans.

@62: Thanks, Chaise. Exactly so…

@58: Indeed, my opening remarks “rather read very much like a statement that Green radical ideas are ridiculed at first, but widely accepted thereafter” – because that is exactly what I intended by them.

Finally: I would urge those still interested at this stage in the debate to go and read the report, which does contain answers to quite a number of issues that have emerged in the string.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    A radical idea to elect 'guardians' to protect future generations http://t.co/FAsuL27C

  2. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : A radical idea to elect ‘guardians ’ to protect future generations http://t.co/A1zanA6q

  3. RupertRead

    @ProfAFinlayson @AnthonyBarnett @libcon @chrishanretty And then for another variant, there's my idea…: http://t.co/A13wxB3e





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