Northern Advocate Column

Brexit, a blow to the bankers

25 June, 2016

The Guardian website has been coDaily-Sun-29-02-04-07-2016mpulsive reading these last few weeks. I’ve been following the referendum the Brits have had on whether to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit.

I’ve enjoyed in particular the panicked tone of some contributors when polls showed the “leave vote” surging upwards. They were incredulous so many were going to vote contrary to what both the Conservative and Labour Party leaderships were telling them.

Those wanting to leave, we’ve been told, were the racist working class who didn’t want refugees and immigrants coming to Britain. This narrative is far too simplistic, however. Yes, there was a right wing nationalistic current in the leave vote, hence the split in the ruling Conservative Party, and there are, I’m sure, plenty of haters in Britain. But for many working class people the EU vote was a chance to express their disapproval to the political establishment. It was an opportunity to vote against globalisation.

The kind of globalisation which in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis meant it was bankers who got bailed out at the expense of health, education and other infrastructure needs across Britain. The kind of globalisation that has seen speculation in house prices drive home ownership beyond the reach of most people, while rents likewise skyrocket. The kind of globalisation that sees immigration policy used to increase competition for jobs and hold down wages.

Lisa McKensie, writing one of the more insightful columns for The Guardian, argued that the Brexit vote had sparked intense political discussions in working class pubs across Britain, but it wasn’t all about immigration. “In East London,” she wrote, “it is about housing, schools and low wages. The women worry for their children and their elderly parents – what happens to them if the rent goes up again? The lack of affordable housing is terrifying.”

The concern many Brits have over immigration is a product of fear, a fear of losing status and security in an already precarious economic environment. The blanket labeling of working class Brits as racist, however, is both wrong and insulting, particularly coming from middle class and well-to-do types divorced from the harsher realities of life in Britain’s poor communities.

The reason financial markets have been so nervous about the Brexit vote are its wider implications for Europe, and indeed the rest of the world. And this was where my interest was really peeked. The size of the “leave vote” will have given impetus to those in Greece who also wish to leave. For ordinary Greeks the only path that offers them a chance to rebuild their economy and social services is to default on the billions owed to German and French banks, exit the EU and return to their own currency.

If Greece goes, then the people of Italy and Spain will be asking the same question. A domino effect could be set off that sees the global banking class, for once, come out as losers. That’s something I’d like to see.

Northern Advocate Column

It’s hard not to be hypocrite

11 June 2016

I’m a hypocrite. Perhaps for many things, but in this case for flying to Sydney on a working holiday with my partner. God knows how much carbon our plane jettisoned into the skies above the Tasman Sea.

As much as I know we have to collectively reduce carbon emissions, I’m also an individual with personal desires and wishes. I like to have new experiences and catchup with friends who live far away. Travel is one of the modern world’s great pleasures. Unfortunately one that’s in contradiction with a more localised and simpler way of life that my rational brain knows we have to move towards.

The grim mathematics of energy use and dissipation in the earth’s atmosphere is frightening. If we burn all remaining reserves of fossil fuels, or even most of them, the earth will be uninhabitable for humans. This is our version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

I’m not convinced, however, that scary tales of the apocalypse or eternal damnation in hell were ever a big influence on behaviour. Fear of being shunned and shamed by friends, families and your community is far more powerful. That and internalised guilt, when you know you’ve strayed from the dominant morality of the culture you live in. Is it guilt I feel at taking a trip in a plane to another country? There’s an uneasiness to my holiday fun. Living in a global community facing a global problem of excess energy use by a minority seeps into my sense of self.

Is our morality changing then? A shifting morality is going to create anxiety and resentment, plus disbelief and a refusal to budge. There will be leaders of change and there will be laggers, and most of us somewhere in between.

Simplifying my life and renouncing excessive materialism is something I can aim for, but the political path of change is, for me, still concealed in a dense smog. Never-the-less, some good things are happening. Coal-fired power stations are being destroyed in China. Solar power is growing in use. And I keep coming back to one thing I know must happen, from which I think so much more about our lives will change, which is the transformation of the way we produce food. A local and organic small-scale agriculture that integrates tree crops with animal husbandry will mean less fossil fuels are burnt, and crucially, carbon will be taken out of the air and sequestered in organic material. It has to be the future, and soon. 

Tomorrow I’m going to buy some fruit and nut trees and offer them to anyone in Hikurangi who wants them. This will be my version of the carbon credits scheme, currently failing. I’m prepared to offset my air travel, but I want to see real trees for my money. Will this absolve my sense of guilt? Probably not. Is it a small step in the right direction? I think so. I’m still a hypocrite, but I’d rather be a hypocrite than a cynic. British environmentalist George Monbiot recently wrote that hypocrisy “is the gap between your aspirations and your actions… the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.”