Over the past two years we have seen a near collapse of the global financial system, further evidence of global warming and severe resource and environmental crises. Local campaigner and charity worker, Mike Thomas (pictured with his grandson), warns that this may just the tip of the iceberg.
In 1972 a Norwegian, Erik Dammann, wrote a book The Future in Our Hands which explained in simple language the historical background to the development of today’s large banking institutions and multinational companies based on economic growth which appear to be driving an inexorable drift towards a global financial and environmental catastrophe. The book became a best seller in Norway and led to the formation of a movement named the Future in Our Hands which now has a membership of about 22,000 in Norway.
However, the book, having described some of the fundamental causes of the crisis facing the whole of humanity, went on to suggest that a reversal of the current trend would require a radical lifestyle change in the ‘affluent society’. He advocated a shift towards greater simplicity and away from the competition, greed and gambling that drove the present system based on economic growth. The foundation for a new form of sustainable development should be a movement of individuals striving for a way of life guided by human values including cooperation, sharing, fellowship, compassion and truth. Mike is hoping to identify a group of people from Swindon who might be willing to help him establish a branch of FIOH in the UK and support Transition Swindon which is aiming to promote practical initiatives within the town and the surrounding area to help Swindon contribute more effectively to a more sustainable form of development consistent with ensuring that future generations will be able to obtain their basic needs.
Anyone who watched the recent BBC programme ‘Britain’s Banks: Too Big to Save’ will appreciate how the financial crisis of 2008 came about and how support for the big banks who created it now seem set to create the same conditions for another crisis in the near future. The danger is related to the gambling by the banks in risky and complicated financial dealings called derivatives. Globally there is $600 trillion involved in this risky gambling (10 times more than the value of what the world produces). Would you entrust someone with £100 on the basis that he would gamble with £90 of it and give you less than 1% p.a. interest on the deposit?
However, the whole foundation of the global banking system is fundamentally flawed. Many people will think that the Bank of England issues all money into circulation, but this is not the case. Most money is created when an individual/enterprise goes to a bank to ask for a loan.
The origin of the 2008 financial crisis is said to have been initiated by the failure of sub-prime mortgage property owners (generally poor people who had been encouraged to buy homes with a low repayment interest of only 1% set by the Federal Reserve under the leadership of Alan Greenspan). However, within a short time after buying their homes, interest rates rose dramatically as did the price of oil and food. This meant that many people were unable to keep up with their mortgage repayments. Many of these debts were sold on as safe investments (collateralised debt obligations) and ended up half way round the world, thus separating the borrower from the lender in a way that was bound to have adverse repercussions. This may have been a trigger to the collapse, but it also hid the fundamental flaws in a financial system based on debt-based money.
There may also have been another reason for the rise in oil prices which aggravated the problem. At the present time and for the foreseeable future, economic growth will be linked to readily available supplies of oil. If these supplies diminish then economic contraction will result. Many experts believe that oil production may have already peaked and that supplies will now diminish. Demand from China and other rapidly industrialising countries will accelerate the decline. A peak in gas production may follow soon after the oil peak, as many oil reserves now depend heavily on natural gas to exploit. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has also highlighted the dangers of drilling deep beneath the ocean. Some recent oil extraction methods involve drilling to depths exceeding 3 miles and exploiting reserves in the Arctic will prove very challenging in both energy and financial terms. The ratio of energy input to energy output is down from 1:100 when oil was first found to around an average of 1:10 (If it falls to about 1:4 it probably won’t be worth extracting).
While most governments seem focused on energy security, the imperative to wean ourselves off fossil fuel-based energy because of the contribution this is making to global warming, is being neglected. This has dire consequences for the whole of humanity. If greenhouse gas emissions increase much more the amount in the atmosphere could cause a warming of the Arctic tundra and the deep ocean where huge quantities of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, is currently being held in place. Although this gas gradually breaks down in the atmosphere to a great extent, its warming potential is likely to carry on for many years. The danger is that a tipping point will be reached beyond which human activity will have no relevance – the feedback mechanisms set in motion will reinforce warming without any help from us. Temperatures could rise to a level that would destroy most of humanity.
What can we do? Are we helpless? Do we in fact believe that the future is not in our hands at all?
But surely to be human is to be hopeful. If as individuals we are not prepared to change then why should we expect the leaders of governments, banks and multinational companies to change?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Don’t place your money in any of the main high street banks (especially not the large American banks). Placing your money in a mutual building society is likely to contribute to a more sustainable future and your investment is more likely to be safe.
2. Avoid shopping at the large supermarkets (particularly Asda/Walmart and Tesco). Support your small local shops (if you don’t you will lose them!) and farmers markets and wholefood shops like SwindonPulse.
3. In the present financial situation, if you can spare the money and have your own property, installing photovoltaic panels on your roof appears to be a sound investment (You might first want to look at what a critic, George Monbiot, has to say about them). Installing 10 panels will cost about £10,000. You will receive a feed-in tariff of 41.3 p per unit at present guaranteed for 25 years and inflation linked. You will also receive an amount linked to an estimate of what energy is exported to the national grid. This will give you about £700 – £800 per annum and a reduction of about 900 Kg of CO2 per annum. You can expect to recoup your investment in about 10 years and obtain a return of about £11,000 at the end of the 25 years (that is if you are still in the property at the end of this period).
4. Insulate your property to the extent you can afford. Grants may be available for cavity wall insulation and loft insulation. If the there is a suspended ground floor then install insulation under the floor boards. Install double glazing in all widows and secondary glazing (giving triple glazing) if possible.
5. Recycle most of your household waste (the very least you should do) and compost uncooked kitchen waste if you have a garden.
6. Grow as much of your own food as you can.
7. Give up your car if you can and switch to public transport and cycling.
8. Avoid holidays involving long aircraft flights.
9. Join the Swindon LETS community currency scheme.
10. Join groups that will help you share your income with those who are poor and help you in your endeavour to live a more sustainable lifestyle
11. Join campaigns to urge local and national government to establish viable and ethical financial institutions and monetary systems both nationally and locally.
Mike is acting as International Network Coordinator for Future in Our Hands and is the founder of two affiliated charities, FIOH Education and Development Fund and Plant a Tree in Africa. Both are currently supporting womens empowerment, treatment of severely disabled children and tree planting in poor communities.
He is the author of a recently published book Countdown – responding to a global crisis which provides supporting arguments for the suggestions listed above. He is advocating the establishment of a new social science which he has named Philonomics as a framework for the ideas and actions supporting a new and ethically sustainable process of future development.
If you are interested in helping Mike to form an organising group for either Future in Our Hands and/or Transition Swindon please contact him on Swindon 532353 or email@example.com