Blog 12: Airshow, ULEZ and other ramblings

Joe Salmon, 10 September 2023, Tags:

This blog post is just my own personal thoughts on a sleeping Sunday morning after a rubbish nights sleep. It shouldn't be taken as anything more than my own personal opinions and isn't necesarily representative of the views of the Green Group or any other Green councillors or indeed people on the planet.

So the airshow has been talked about a lot recently given there is a lot of buzz about this year potentially being the last one. As ever I’d like to stress these are very much my own views on the topic and not those of the wider Green Group, and to be fair me and Kate haven’t sat down and particularly talked the whole thing through.

One thing me and Kate have had the chance to talk about is feminism, and one thing she said has really stuck with me in terms of how to tell if something girls are expected to do is sexist, and that’s the simple mantra “Are they making the boys do this?” If the answer is no, then it’s fairly likely at the core the explanation for the behaviour is sexism. Like all generalisations it’s not perfect, after all they’re not asking the boys to have smear tests and the reason for this isn’t sexism, however it works surprisingly well.

When it comes to action on climate change I think a useful mantra may well be “Is this going to impact the super rich?” If the answer is no, then it’s fairly likely that whatever is being proposed isn’t actually doing anything useful to prevent climate change. It is the super rich who primarily benefit from the idiotic collective behaviour which drives climate change, and it is the super rich who predominately undertake the individual behaviour which drives climate change. It’s only the super rich who fly on private planes, it’s only the super rich who benefit when the economy grows and it’s only the super rich who believe they’ll be unaffected by climate change. 

 Billionaires responsible for million times more emissions than average person, Oxfam report finds | Euronews

 How the rich are driving climate change - BBC Future

 A billionaire emits a million times more greenhouse gases than the average person | Oxfam International

 It’s time for a new climate populism, to show how the super rich got us – and the planet – into this mess | Andy Beckett | The Guardian

 When people argue about the air show from an environmental point of view, or discuss if the ULEZ is a good idea I always come back to the fact that the outcome of these debates has almost no impact on the super rich responsible for climate change. In the wake of the Uxbridge result where the ULEZ was blamed for Labour failing to take what should have been an easy win. However I would caution on this analysis, and think Open Democracy does a far better job of looking into why Labour weren’t successful

 ULEZ: What Uxbridge by-election result does and doesn’t tell us about air pollution strategy | openDemocracy 

When it comes to the ULEZ in a nutshell I would likely support the implementation of such a scheme in the BCP area. However this support would depend on other steps also being taken to drastically improve our cycling infrastructure and public transport so a viable alternative to using the car exists. Without these steps also being taken it is hard to see how such a scheme would be practically or politically viable.

In my opinion radically reducing the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere, and rapidly taking steps to prepare for the upcoming extreme weather events we face should be the absolute priority for the council, country, society and civilisation as a whole. In principle I agree with and would support economic policies that incentivise changes in that direction and disincentivise environmentally irresponsible behaviour. Another example of this kind of policy would be what I think was called Ecological Tax Reform, where you shift the tax burden away from earnings (profits, wages) and onto things like the extraction of raw materials, and the expulsion of waste (oil / gas production, discharge of waste). These reforms make the highly profitable but unsustainable industries which generate wealth for the super rich unviable, and instead the shift towards sustainable energy would have to begin in earnest.

All these types of policy however disproportionately have a negative impact on the poorest in society. This isn’t however in my opinion so much an argument against them, but highlights an existing problem in our economic system. Almost all sensible steps we can take disproportionately impact the poorest in society, because our society is set up to disproportionately impact the poorest in society. I was broadly supportive of lockdowns during covid (however there are other steps I would have taken before shutting the schools, the fact we still had non-essential travel into this country while children were unable to attend school in my mind was totally unacceptable). Lockdowns unquestionably negatively impacted the poorest in society, but were still at the time the right course of action overall despite this compared to total inaction.

As a minimum in the immediate term we need to take additional steps to not only mitigate the disproportionate impact any changes in society have on the poorest, but really in practical terms reduce the gap between rich and poor. I would say that I am a firm believer that more equal society do better, and would highly recommend “the Spirit Level” by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson on the topic which carries out some fantastic hard quantitative research on the topic and demonstrates that more equal (economically) societies do far better than less equal ones, including for those at the top of the pile, even if this increased equality comes at the expense of their own absolute wealth.

Coming back to the topic of something like ULEZ this will obviously disproportionately impact the poorest in society. I think to have any meaningful impact on behaviour the pricing for any such scheme outside of London (which has a relatively good public transport system compared to the rest of the UK) would push many people into very difficult financial situations. However given the urgent practical need to radically reduce our CO2 emissions it is hard to object to any such scheme on those grounds if the only alternative was to do nothing. Quite simply we would have to do something about our public transport system at the same time. In my mind nationalisation of public transport lies is key to getting this working again.

From here I think it’s hard not to end up at the realisation that our market lead society where even our most powerful leaders are beholden to the ‘free market’ simply isn’t fit for purpose and we need radical systematic change to the whole thing. While this whole topic is certainly far too complex to whack into a single blog post, a practical discussion on what a post capitalist society would look like is one we need to have. This is not a philosophical discussion about what a utopian society would look like, but a practical one about what reforms we need to make to be able to deal with the problems we face.

I think ultimately the problem of climate change and many of the other challenges we face are problems of cybernetics, decision making systems. I think there is a book by Simon Dresner called ‘Principles of sustainability’ which puts this more elegantly than I can in its conclusions, although I might be getting the author wrong there.

This is part of the reason aside from putting a lot of time and energy into my involvement in politics I work in ‘business intelligence’, a field in my mind which should be primarily concerned with decision making, although in practical terms working in the NHS we’re fairly bogged down in what sometimes feels like irrelevant mandatory reporting and putting together pretty dashboards that get ignored by those in positions to make the most impactful decisions.

 Aside from discussing what our urgently required post capitalist society would look like, there is also the practical reality of how we bring such a society about. We cannot ignore the fact that there are forces within society that push against any such change due to their own ignorance and short-term interests.

 There is a lot of political capital to made from highlighting the shortcomings of schemes like ULEZ, their disproportionate impact on the poor and fact they do not change the behaviour of the most polluting group in society, the super-rich. It is hard to understand why we would be taking action to dissuade people from driving their cars for practical purposes when others are able to charter private flights for leisure activity. Cynical, ignorant and morally repugnant politicians are currently building entire careers on just such a platform often coupled with other reprehensible opinions rooted in prejudice and hatred. They highlight the contradictions of market lead neoliberal solutions, but instead of calling for action to limit the actions of the super-rich as well as those which punish the poor they insist nothing is done whatsoever, to the benefit of their financiers and potentially dooming intelligent life itself to destruction. We have to account for these people when advocating for action on climate change, and recognise that the change advocated for by organisations like the Labour and Liberal Democratic Party in our own country and other ‘left’ parties in other democracies is incredibly vulnerable to these criticisms and likely doomed to fail as a result.

Only radical change which tackles both climate change and the oncoming climate disaster while also reforming the system that prevents any cost being born by the super-rich and instead places those costs on the poorest will succeed. Quite what that radical change will look like I’m not sure, but I’m putting all the effort I can into figuring that out, and would welcome anybody else’s thoughts on the topic.

When it comes to the airshow I really see no use in a puritanical environmental movement that seeks to ban particular activities through legislation on the grounds they are environmentally destructive. If nothing else it seems like this movement would be far more concerned with ‘culture war’ token environmental gestures than systematic change. Frankly I imagine far more environmental harm is caused by the production and disposal of the single use vapes purchased over the airshow weekend than by the planes flying in the sky, yet I don't think such an environmental movement would be as fussed about this as it isn’t as visible.

To prevent climate change we need systematic changes to the root causes of the problem, nothing else will do, or is worth us putting our energy into either as individuals or as collectives. Indeed I’d caution against looking to engage reactionary forces on ‘hot topic’ environmental issues that they look to drag into the culture war that has replaced any kind of vision they used to have for society.

As such I would vote against any attempts to prevent the airshow taking place on environmental grounds. I simply don’t see the point. That said, given the state of the council's finances I’m also deeply uncomfortable with the council subsidising any event which supposedly creates millions in profits for private businesses in Bournemouth. If the event is so beneficial it should be self sustaining, and not a drain on the public purse. As such I would be very happy to support steps for the council to end funding it, and instead steps taken for the private sector to take charge instead.

Anyhow, that’s my philosophical musings, and my views on all those topics might well be moot given after 4 months as a councillor I feel like I’ve enacted very little real change. I’ve attend at least one meeting now of the various bodies I sit on:

  • Full Council

  • Adult Health & Social Care Overview and Scrutiny

  • Audit & Governance Committee

  • Bournemouth Development Company

  • Planning committee (although I’m not on this one anymore, Kate has taken my seat)

And I feel like my contributions have been minimal and insubstantial, and the bodies themselves operate almost ‘on rails’. At the risk of making this blog too full of video game references given I spoke about the game widelands not to long ago I think the council bodies are more like the call of duty games where you make no real choices, and the plot progresses in the same way regardless, instead of something like the skyrim games where you can choose multiple different paths and outcomes. You could argue this simile doesn’t work as there is a chance in the call of duty games you can play so badly you die, and the game doesn’t continue. However this does seem to be how the game was played by the previous administration, who following my first meeting of the audit and governance committee did appear to play the game so badly no progress was made at all and they kept dying in the tutorial levels. Frankly they seem to have been stuck trying to configure the graphics, as it’s hard to see how they even knew what was going on with the council given the data collection and analysis frameworks that have been inheritied.

One example of this is the report presented to audit and governance committee. I was surprised to see a real lack of hard statistical data in there, or just nice plain straight forward references to a primary source. I’ve emailed the chair of audit and governance committee asking that when we next commission this kind of work that is done as standard, although I’ll doubtless find out in a few weeks there is some byzantine reason this can’t be done. Link to details on the audit and governance committee below

BCP Council – Democracy

On the subject of getting nothing done I’ve updated my Public To Do - Google Sheets. I think we’re going to have to do Tuesday night as survey night and start speaking to residents in the evenings then as it’s the only night that doesn’t regularly get eaten up by a recurring commitment. Still need to finish survey on 20mph on certain streets, and Moordown Bowls club suggested turning the disused tennis courts into a carpark, an idea I’m not opposed to in principle, but I’d like to examine all the options and establish support for the idea and alternatives in the local area. The latest newsleeter has gone out across the ward (me and the girls finished it yesteday, ready for today's litter pick), so I'll get a date sorted for a meeting on the neighbourhood plan pronto.

Biggest thing I’m aware of is that I’m not getting all the reading and actions I’d like done at the moment, and that’s while the council isn’t providing anywhere near the level of detail I’d like. Once we’ve got that I can only imagine I’ll want to spend more time on my councillor duties, so I’m going to look at reducing my paid hours at work to fit things in.

Anyhow I’m still not sleeping with this heat, so that’s all I can knock out today, hopefully once I’ve got my hours reduced I can get a bit more done, although I think I’ll mainly just find I’ve got more time to do things that don’t result in any change or chance for a better future, but a man can dream.


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