News Analysis - A matter of priorities
WORKERS, JULY 2008 ISSUE
Workers must focus on what we need to do in the here and now. What should be our practical priorities? What should we be deciding to do in our own country for our maximum benefit? We should plan rationally what we need to produce, and how to produce it, to meet our needs, heedless of fashion or advice from outsiders.
The Copenhagen Consensus, a panel of eight economists including five Nobel laureates, recently said reducing malnutrition should be the world's top priority for aid. The countries affected by mass hunger will make their own assessments of the panel's suggestions. But is providing aid to other nations the top priority for workers here in Britain? We should start with growing far more of our own food: we grow only 58 per cent of our food now; 15 years ago we grew 80 per cent, instead of importing food from countries short of it, as we do now.
Some say that our top priority should be stopping climate change. But directly targeting CO2 emissions would be hugely expensive and would harm our industries. Note that the 2007 International Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea-levels would rise by 29 centimetres (the same as the rise since 1860), as against the 20 feet that Al Gore publicises. We could cope with this by better use of floodplains, more wetlands, stricter building policies and fewer floodplain subsidies.
We are not in a post-industrial world, nor is such a world remotely desirable. Industry is the material base of civilised life. Our environment includes our cities, our workplaces, homes, hospitals and schools. The great majority of us live in an urbanised, industrialised economy, not in some idealised countryside. We need our industries, to produce the goods we need, to give us light, electricity, heat and food and to keep our cities alive. A world without industry would be a world gone back to the Middle Ages: life would be nasty, brutish and short.
To maintain our industries we need massive public investment in nuclear power, in restoring our coal industry and expanding our oil and gas production. We need research into new low-carbon technologies (like nuclear fusion power), into energy conservation and renewable energy. Private companies are not doing it, and will not do it. We would maximise our welfare not by rolling back our civilisation's industrial advance, but by using our industrial know-how to meet our needs.