November 22, 2009

Sustainability is the only issue.

‘Fear not those who argue but those who dodge’

Sustainability is the only issue. It’s up to governments and it’s up to the people to sort it out.

When the House of Commons was debating whether or not to sign up to the 10:10 agreement – i.e. to decrease their organisational carbon footprint by 10% - the debate descended into a party political point scoring exercise which led nowhere and certainly did not lead to a commitment to decrease consumption by 10%. This is arrogance we do not have time for.

Conventional political and economic policies are destroying the very foundations of the well-being of humans and other animals. Our culture is in the grip of a value system which is fundamentally flawed. Humanity has been lording it over the natural environment, blind to the fact that humanity is just another dependent upon it. Soon humanity will be at the mercy of it.

Government policies should see to it that all human activities are indefinitely sustainable and protect the interests of the powerless against the powerful.
The current alarming situation regarding biofuels as a replacement for fossil fuels is merely a symptom of the rot. The clearing of virgin forest for monoculture palm oil production is lunacy. Rain forest is being cleared, ancient wetlands drained and indigenous peoples are being dispossessed of their lands.

Biofuels contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions than is saved by burning slightly less fossil fuels, yet the European demand for biofuels (the EU target is 10% by 2020), coupled with sizable financial incentives to developers, is pushing up commodity prices and encouraging multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructure and refineries linked to large scale deforestation. The impact of this behaviour could be irreversible.

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February shows that the climate change we cause today “is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop”. Around 40% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans this century will remain in the atmosphere until at least the year 3000. Moreover, thanks to the peculiar ways in which the oceans absorb heat from the atmosphere, global average temperatures are likely to “remain approximately constant … until the end of the millennium despite zero further emissions”.

The Copenhagen summit is squaring up to be yet another talking shop. Government has failed us.

We do not have to add to the problem. Sign up at and reduce your own carbon emissions. Where were you when we reached the tipping point? Will you tell your children that you did everything in your power to stop climate change?

November 18, 2009

‘Forty acres and a mule’

The promise of forty acres and a mule was made to freed slaves after the American Civil War. It was a grand promise, but the supply of land was not infinite, and the promise was broken.

The land - the thing which by rights should not be owned, the thing which is integral to our existence. The land is our planet, our food, our home, and the greatest natural resource of all. In itself it is not wealth. It is a necessity.

The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to own property individually as well as in association with others." There is no ambiguity here. It says ‘everyone’. Yet not everyone has the means to exercise that right.

There's no free land. Does that mean the earth has run out of room? It would, if we could show that all the available land was being efficiently used, but that is certainly not the case. The most valuable land in this mad world offers no mineral riches and will yield no crops: the world's most valuable land (in monetary terms) is urban land. In the wealthiest cities, large areas of valuable land lie idle, as their owners wait for higher prices in the future. Meanwhile, millions go hungry. Huge farms grow feed for animals, or crops for export and fuel whilst their neighbours starve. Agribusiness receives payment to hold fields out of use to "stabilize" food prices. Investors discover that producing wealth is far less profitable than simply holding onto valuable real estate and, later, pocketing its increased value.

The supply of land is fixed. There will never be any more of it. And land is needed for all production. As an economy becomes more productive, as technology and trade allow greater yield for the same effort - the demand for land increases, yet the supply stays the same. We cannot create more land. This means that the share of wealth taken by landowners automatically gets bigger whenever the total economy grows. There is, therefore, a built-in incentive in our system to hold land for speculative purposes.

It is the community which gives value to land - the people who live nearby and who travel past it; the public infrastructure that is built to feed it and the huge demand for resources that lie beneath it. As the community grows, so does the value of the land.

Proximity to transportation is a prime determinant of land value. It's a gift to landowners. All public services and infrastructure and the resultant increased value to land is nothing short of a gift from taxpayers to landowners – a rip off, one might say.

Henry George looked at this problem and saw a solution. As society grows more complex, it develops a greater need for public goods and services and the bill is always shouldered by the hapless taxpayer. If the community has created this added value to the land, it makes sense that the value should somehow be returned back to the community.

He looked at the tortured logic of "broad-based taxation" (such as income tax, sales tax and vat, excise taxes, lotteries, import duties, death duties etc) which impacts more heavily on the poorer members of society than those who are wealthy, and found that there is only one fair and efficient source of public revenue: all taxes must be done away with, and the value of land must be taken for public revenue. Yes, tax the value of land.

A reform such as this would improve efficiencies – it would simplify the tax system, remove the burden of taxation from production and individuals and minimise the waste of unused land.

In this way, full use of existing properties would be encouraged, the practice of people speculating on the price of sites whilst keeping the properties empty or derelict thoroughly discouraged.

Such a reform would be fair – the infrastructure which increases the value of land would be paid for by the owners of the land itself and not through penalisation and taxation of the ordinary woman and man. It would not be taking anything away from landowners, but simply asking them to pay their share towards the infrastructure which is directly making them more wealthy. Profits would rightly come from using the land effectively.

The earth is not owned by anyone. It is precious and must be held in trust for all people, and all life, as a means for survival. Lindy Davis at

November 05, 2009

The White Poppy Campaign

The poppy commemorates those who have died in war. The tradition was started by American teacher Moina Bell Michael, who sold silk poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community. In 1920 the poppy was proclaimed the national emblem of remembrance in the US, and in the UK, the first poppy day was in 1921.

Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow famously refuses to wear a poppy on air, reportedly saying he does not want to bow to "poppy fascism''.

Purple poppies are worn in remembrance of the animals which died in war. In World War One alone, around 8 million horses, mules and donkeys died. Today, dolphins and sea lions are trained and employed by the US Government for minesweeping ‘duties’.

White poppies date from 1933, when the Women's Co-operative Guild wanted a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars. But the Royal British Legion refused to be associated with their manufacture, and so the Co-operative Wholesale Society took on production. The intention was not to offend the memory of those who died in the Great War, but feelings ran so high that some women lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies. The intention today is still supportive of our armed forces, but not of the wrong-minded politics which lead them to war.

White poppies today are a symbol of those who do not subscribe to the hypocrisy of praying for peace while preparing for war. They are worn in Peace and Remembrance and the wearers show an intention to move society beyond the scars of history to a positive future free from war.

They were young and went heavy to battle
They fell, unsure who was the foe
With compassion and love
We transcend the past
To the peace they desired
Our last heroes of war

Move beyond the scars of history with the White Poppy Campaign this weekend, and wear your poppy for Peace and Remembrance lest we forget the way forward.

Wear your white poppy with compassion and love.
White poppies can be purchased at

What you didn’t now about war