Farming, Food and Nature

As the US Ambassador tells Britain that a post-Brexit trade deal would have to allow chlorinated chicken and hormone beef into the country, Alan Thornett reviews Farming, Food and Nature: Respecting Animals, People and the Environment, edited by Joyce D’Silva and Carol McKenna (Routledge 2018)

This book brings together 35 individual contributions that were made, or planned, at a conference entitled Extinction and Livestock organised by Compassion in World Farming (CWF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in London in 2017 in order to discuss farming and food production and its impact on the biodiversity on the planet.

It is a book that should be strongly welcomed. It looks not just at the problem of feeding the planet’s current 7.5 billion people but on the disastrous impact this is having on the biodiversity of the planet. It reflects an emerging wider debate on how to feed the population of the planet without destroying its biosphere in the process

Scale of problem

The scale of the problems we face is outlined in the Foreword:
‘Huge areas of habitat have already been devastated for growing soya and grain to feed billions of imprisoned farm animals. Vast quantities of water is wasted in transforming vegetable to animal protein and the methane gas produced during digestion is contributing to the green-house gases that have led to climate change. Massive amounts of fossil fuel are burned to transport the grain to the animals. At the same time forests are being cut down and pasture land desertified by the grazing and browsing of sheep cattle and goats…’[i]

The book has a very strong first chapter written by a naturalist who has made a major contribution to this subject in recent years – Philip Lymbery. He is the author of two game-changing books on this subject: Farmageddon (in 2014) and Dead Zone – where the wild things were (in 2017). He is also the Chief Executive of CWF and one of the most influential writers on the food industry and its environmental impacts.

Several processes

Lynbery starts with an important observation. This is that there is more than one ecological process taking place that represents an existential threat to life on the planet – and the issue of food production and consumption is one of them. He puts it this way: even if climate change were to be resolved there is another major challenge facing humanity ‘which is just as serious and with consequences that are far more permanent; and it’s on our plate’.[ii] In other words the industrialised production of and, current consumption patterns of, food. It is a situation, he argues, that is completely unsustainable.

He points out that industrialised agriculture ‘has swept the landscape in the UK, Europe, the US and beyond, leading to widespread declines in wildlife and the diversity of nature. It has also been exported across the world, not least to Asia and South America’.


The damage done, he argues, reflects two sides of factory farming. On the one hand farm animals are taken out of the fields and put into vast sheds and other forms of industrialised confinement. On the other hand feeding them is then hugely destructive. Vast tracts of land, often obtained by deforestation, along with chemical pesticides and fertilisers, are then necessary to grow the grain to feed them – grain that could be eaten directly by human beings. The green-house gasses produced by all this is one of the biggest sources of global emissions.

The most extreme consequence of this, Lynbery points out, is the creation of oceanic dead zones when these chemicals reach the oceans via the rivers – which is the subject of his book mentioned above: Dead Zone – where the wild things were.


Tony Juniper, in chapter 4, adds another dimension into the mix. This is the issue of growth – both economic growth and population growth – which he rightly agues, are both major drivers behind the ecological crisis. He points out that in the early 19th century the world population was about one billion. By the late 1920s it had doubled to two billion and then three billion by 1960. By April 2017 it went past seven and a half billion. At the same time, he adds, people on average became richer and their consumption expectations rose accordingly, including in Asia. He also points to the rapid urbanisation that is taking place across the globe often creating populations with more disposable incomes which leads to increasingly meat-based diets.

Juniper offers no solutions to either economic or population growth (on population I would argue for the empowerment of women to control their own lives and fertility) but argues (rightly in my view) that the industrialised model of food production is now ‘literally unsustainable’.[iii]

Fish farming

Nor is it just the land. Chapter 8 (by Krzyztof Wotjas and Natasha Boyland) takes up the growing demand for fish – both wild fish and farmed – which is no less devastating on the environment, although less obvious. Global fish consumption, they point out, has reached record levels.

Aquaculture, these writers point out, is currently growing faster than the meat production sector, with output increasing from 5 to 63 million tonnes in 30 years overtaking wild fisheries as the main source of fish for human consumption. The average consumption of fish reached 20 kg per person in 2014, which is double that of 1960 and is set to rise further. Consumption on this scale, they argue, is unsustainable and is having a heavy impact on oceanic eco-systems.

Fish farming, they point out is a very dubious alternative. Overcrowded fish are vulnerable to disease and stress. Fish are crammed into sea cages with no consideration for their need for natural behaviour. Atlantic salmon, for example is a species that travels long distances at sea and lives a solitary life as an adult.

Weak on solutions

The book is unsurprisingly strong on critique and weak on solutions, not least because it is addressing a vast problem: how to feed 7.5 billion people without destroying the planet in the process. It is clear that feeding vast quantities of grain unnecessarily to cattle when it could be eaten directly by human beings makes no sense – but what is the alternative with billions of people globally existing at starvation level or beyond? The book looks at the marketisation of food and the massive waste that is taking place as a result if it – and there is no doubt that big improvements could and must be made – but is that ultimately a solution?

Bruce Friedrich in chapter 35 on plant-based food argues that: ‘There is no reason for anyone to go to bed hungry or worry about their next meal. We can feed the whole world, but to do it we must replace the current inefficient and destructive means of producing meat. Plant-based clean meat can give everyone what they want, whilst improving our health, environment and future.’

Food sovereignty

This goes some way but is limited. There does indeed have to be a big reduction in meat consumption, without which a solution is probably not possible. And indeed, we do have to bring an end to destructive forms of food production – most importantly industrialised farming methods. But this needs a more radical approach than is taken in the book – which lacks a radical edge.

There is no mention for example of the struggle for food sovereignty or the struggles for it conducted by mass organisation such as La Via Campesina. There is no mention of land redistribution or the struggles in the global South for the right of small farmers, who still produce a half of the world’s foods, to control their own farms and be protected against the multinational companies that supply the seeds and seek to control them.

The book, however, remains a contribution to a long neglected debate and should be widely read for the contribution it makes.

[i] Page xxi.

[ii] Page 15.

[iii] Page 37.

Climate, class, and revolting children

Radical action on climate change should be the many versus the few, not the young versus the old, writes Chris Saltmarsh.

The global wave of student strikes for climate action has come to the UK. We should unequivocally support these young people to have their voices heard, especially as the clock ticks in the 12-year countdown to implement measures to avoid runaway climate breakdown.

Holly Gillibrand, 13, has already instigated protests in Scotland and there are plans for a nationwide day of action on 15 February 2019. These actions come as tens of thousands of students have held similar strikes in countries across the world.

Students from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, the UK and the United States have taken part, having been inspired by sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg’s protests outside the Swedish Parliament.

Strong words

Thunberg’s protests coincided with the World Economic Forum 2019 in Davos, where elites gather to discuss how to keep markets ‘free’. Days before, 35,000 teenagers marched in Brussels, while students in Basel and Berlin planned sit-ins.

The narrative of the student-led protests has straddled two compelling lines. Naturally, they convey a strong sense of intergenerational injustice. The protests also lay blame for climate injustice primarily at the feet of the rich and powerful.

At the demo after thousands of Australian students brought Melbourne traffic to a standstill, 11-year-old Lucie Atkin-Bolton told crowds, “When kids make a mess, adults tell us to clean it up and that’s fair. But when our leaders make a mess, they’re leaving it to us to clean up.”

Greta Thunberg challenged UN leaders telling them, “you say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.” These are strong words that leaders need to hear. They decisively expose the hypocrisy between their moral intuitions and the consequences of their political choices.

From Davos, Thunberg told the BBC: “My message was that most emissions are caused by a few people, the very rich people, who are here in Davos.” She goes on to assign them “huge responsibility” for safeguarding future living conditions.

Holly Gillibrand of the Scotland protests recently said: “I am striking because we are running out of time. Thousands of children around the world should not be having to miss classes because of our leaders’ inability to treat the climate crisis as a crisis.”

Holly’s right. It’s indicative of the scale of climate breakdown’s injustices that children are forced to become activists. It shows how severely they’ve been let down by our current decision makers and those that have come before.

Intergenerational activism

These messages show how successfully the analysis of climate change as injustice has become entrenched. It is most starkly understood by disenfranchised children that we are already enduring the impacts of climate breakdown distributed disproportionately along the lines of race and class, experienced by those who contributed least to the crisis.

When climate justice narratives focus on intergenerational injustice, we distract from some of the contemporary realities of the crisis.

When winters get colder and fuel remains expensive, its older people who die. Landgrabs driven by capital’s desire for more coal mines or the displacement of people by flooding, drought and food insecurity are all harms afflicting people disproportionately in the global South today.

As well as her more radical messaging, Thunberg says, “We need to hold the older generations accountable for the mess they have created, and expect us to live with. It is not fair that we have to pay for what they have caused.”

But “older generations” have not acted – or have failed to act – as a homogenous bloc. It is a generation of the wealthy and powerful that have inflicted climate harms on the poor and colonised of their own generation as well as the next.

The younger generation too is not homogenously righteous. Those of it who inherit capital and end up running our society are equally likely to continue the bad work of those who precede them.

We should embrace the energy brought by students taking radical action and use it to catalyse taking our wider organising to the next level. We also mustn’t lose sight of the primary antagonism in the climate crisis.

The rich are waging a class war on the poor and climate change is the symptom. It is not the older versus the young. Intergenerational solidarity is the way forward.

This Author
Chris Saltmarsh is co-director of Climate Change Campaigns at student activist network People & Planet. He tweets at @chris_saltmarsh.

Republished from The Ecologist

Derek Wall: internationalist ecosocialism of word and deed

Terry Conway for RedGreen Labour interviewed ecosocialist activist and writer Derek Wall in the first of our series of pieces for 2019

RGL: You have been involved in environmental politics in one form of another for a long time. What was the original trigger that got you involved?

DW: I first became interested in green politics in 1980, at the tender age of 14. The wave of environmental concern in the 1970s saw the creation of green parties and new environmental movements. This was often framed around arguments about economic growth. The Limits to Growth report and Blueprint for Survival were published, arguing that economic growth was ecologically unsustainable. This feed into popular culture, I think I picked up some of this from television, I was an avid watcher as a child and teenager. Animal rights campaign also influenced, me, for example, the emotive campaigns against whaling, the Orkney seal cull and the Japanese dolphin hunts.

A particular trigger was going along to an Ecology Party meeting, held next door to where I lived. The dramatic framing of ecological disaster by the speaker in the Old School House, at the Alms Houses, in Corsham in Wiltshire, got me interested.

So I joined the Ecology Party, which later became the Green Party. I have been active pretty much ever since, until recently in party politics, but in many other ways as well, including direct action.

RGL: You are both an activist and a prolific writer on themes around ecosocialism. How do you see the relationship between the two – both for you personally and for the movement more generally.

DW: There needs to be relationship between ideas and action. Even where people are aware of climate change and want to take action, this isn’t enough to be effective. Writing helps develop, hopefully, clearer ideas about how we can make change. One thing I am quite dogmatic about is that, given the urgent and potentially devastating nature of climate change and other ecological problems, we need to think carefully and strategically.

On a personal basis, I love writing and I am an obsessive reader. My basic concern is how to make environmental or green politics strategic and effective. This has taken me in diverse directions, some of which I have outlined in this piece:

An important task has been writing about Elinor Ostrom. She was the first and so far only woman to win a Nobel prize in economics. Her work was all about commons (collectively owned fields, forests, fisheries, etc), ecological problems and the promotion of a feminist, environmental and sharing economy.

Ecosocialism has been an area too of continuing interest. Capitalism is based on short term need and ever-increasing economic growth, so we need a practical alternative. In the past, much socialism has been unecological but the development of green forms of socialism, has continued to really inspire me. The discovery of ecological ideas at the heart of Marx and Engels work in books like Marx’s Ecology, along with the publication of ecosocialist manifestos like the late, great Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature, has been important to my activism.

RGL: You were for many years a leading member of the Green Party but left over a year ago. You have not joined the Labour Party though I believe you like a lot of what Jeremy Corbyn stands for – especially on international and environmental questions. How would you describe your politics today? How would you describe your attitude to Labour under Corbyn?

DW: I am not primarily focussed on party politics at present. I have not left the Greens because of any sharp disagreement but I do think the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015, has long term implications for Green politics. Put simply, Labour in the past, even as Old Labour, before Tony Blair, was very distant from the politics I am passionate about.

Britain is still a bit feudal, while Labour governments have done some brilliant things, where would be without the NHS, for example, they also been shaped by a politics that is bit top down and paternalistic. Labour was traditionally on far from environmentally focussed, this all seems to be changing.

Both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are keenly aware of ecosocialist politics. They really built links with the left outside Labour including the left of the Green Party when they were back benchers. Jeremy Corbyn was kind enough to be a guest speaker, along with Hugo Blanco the Peruvian ecosocialist, at the book launch for my book on ecosocialism ‘The Rise of the Green Left’. In turn, John has read and endorsed my most recent book on Elinor Ostrom. So I have a personal connection and bias.

Its not just me. Jeremy and John held Peoples Parliament meetings in Westminster, getting the likes of greens like Caroline Lucas and Molly Scott-Cato to debate economic growth and other themes. Both have been supporters of the trade union climate change campaign.
Labour has some way to go, and politics is always limited by circumstances. Moving the party in a more democratic and ecosocialist direction is an important task, however while I am strongly supportive of this, having been a member of another party for 38 years I am probably not best to help with this.

I hope the Green Party and the Labour Party can cooperate. Party politics makes this difficult but in the early 1980s SERA, the Labour Party’s environmental network, helped do excellent cross-party work. Incidentally their magazine New Ground and their publication of Ecosocialism in a Nutshell, were part of my political education.

RGL: One strand of your ecosocialism which is relatively unusual, especially on the British left, is your fierce internationalism. Can you tell us more about your support for the Kurdish struggle – but also for that of indigenous communities in the Andes and your relationship with Hugo Blanco?

DW: Well Hugo Blanco is perhaps the most inspiring and practical ecosocialist leader we have, he led an uprising of indigenous people back in the 1960s and was praised for doing so by Che Guevara. Remarkably at the age of 84 he is still very active. The ecological crisis will be won or lost in the Amazon, supporting the indigenous people fighting to preserve it should be an absolute priority for all of us who care about climate change. The election of Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil, an essentially fascist leader who has targeted the indigenous primarily because of their defence of the Amazon, shows the importance of Hugo’s work.

Ecological politics is about serious and focussed international campaigning. As an International Coordinator of the Green Party, I was very involved in this.

The story of the Kurds in Rojava, (the west), is remarkable and also extremely complex. They are attempting to build an ecological, democratic and feminist society in very difficult circumstances.

They are inspired by the historic leader of the revolutionary Kurds, Ocalan, who was kidnapped and is now in solidarity confinement in Turkey. Another key thinker for the revolutionary Kurds is the green anarchist social ecologist Murray Bookchin. I met, organised a speaking tour and like most others on the green left, fell out with Bookchin. Nonetheless his ideas are having a material and over strikingly positive effect. All serious red-greens should read and learn from him, his partner Janet Biehl wrote a useful biography of him, which incidentally I have reviewed {}.

Jeremy Corbyn is a long-term supporter of the Kurds, and a patron of Peace in Kurdistan. In contrast, Theresa May is their implacable enemy, working to sell more weapons to the increasingly dictatorial Turkish leader Erdogan, who has vowed to invade and destroy Kurdish Rojava. Like so many things, the British media, including the Guardian, largely ignore really essential debates on these and many other critical questions for ecosocialists.

Trade Unions and Climate Change: An Interview with Clara Paillard

Trade unions are an important (if not the most important) instrument of power for working people, write Stephanie McDonagh and Anthony Killick. As such, they have, since their inception, posed a threat to capital because when people organise collectively they have the power to negotiate working terms: better conditions, better pay, the weekend and holidays. Without union organisation we would have none of these things.

Yet the trade union movement is not without its internal debates and contradictions. Because different unions represent workers in different industries, there are various interests at play within this broadly left-wing movement. These differences often require careful and patient negotiation and can often lead to bitter disputes.

Climate change is an issue that has brought about much debate within the trade union movement. This interview takes fracking as a primary example. Here Clara Paillard, president of the cultural section of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and a member of RedGreen Labour, talks about how in 2014 the PCS passed a motion to ban fracking. This motion also supports grassroots campaigns against the fracking industry, including support for peaceful direct action such as that which has been taking place at Preston New Road over the past two years.

As Clara points out, a further anti-fracking motion was passed by another trade union, Unite, in 2014. The case of Unite, which represents workers in the energy sector, is particularly interesting because the executive committee’s attempt to change the union’s policy against fracking was halted by the efforts of grassroots unions activists. The national executive committee and the Energy sector proposed motions more supportive of supporting the industry that were rejected by the conference, in favour of a more radical policy against fracking including campaigning for it to be banned. which included a ban.

This switch in policy shows how union activists working “on the ground” can work to re-calibrate the organs of working-class power towards paying greater attention to environmental issues and forming the radical climate policies that are needed to lessen the effects of corporate-induced environmental catastrophe on working people.

The labour movement has a long history of fighting environmental struggles. Stefania Barca, for example, explains how these originate from union members concerns over health and safety in the workplace, as well as anxieties about the health of the local community. Since then, labour movements across the globe have mobilised against polluting industries.

According to Barca,

“the conflictual relationship between labour and the environmental movement only developed during the eighties and was a historical artefact due to the political turnover of the Regan era” which aimed to keep “the two most powerful social movements in the country separated, for their alliance holds a potential for radical reforms”.

Yet there remains a disparity of opinion within the trade union movement. The GMB, which represents workers across nearly all industrial sectors, recently passed a motion in support of fracking. The reasons given for this are: 1) because of advantages of extracting gas in the UK and the opportunity to use it as a “national strategic asset”, which would also cut the environmental cost of importation, and, 2) the chance to create skilled jobs in the UK, rather than importing gas from places where workers are more exploited.

Conversely, there is lots of support within the trade union movement for a “just transition” away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, as outlined in particular by the One Million Climate Jobs campaign. As Clara points out, it is possible to convert the economy away from fossil fuels and create more climate jobs, just as it was possible to build a National Health Service after the second world war. The National Climate Service proposed by the labour movement would create climate jobs in the UK (that is, jobs that contribute to a reduction of carbon in the atmosphere) while preventing job losses through offshoring. In this respect the idea of a just transition also addresses the issue of climate justice (the idea that climate change is not only an environmental issue, but also a social issue, since the countries and people who are least responsible for it are paying a much higher price) and of global wealth imbalances, since fossil fuel industries often extract labour (as well as oil and gas) from areas where it can be found cheaply.

Against the pro-fracking position of the GMB, there is much more to be said for employing people in a potentially massive renewable energy sector than there is for advancing myths about job creation in socially and environmentally unviable fossil fuel extraction.

You can watch the interview with Clara here.

Further reading:

Clara Paillard (2018) Fracking, climate change and the labour movement. RedGreen Labour. Available at:

GMB Debates not bribes needed on fracking []

Ruth Hayhurst (2015) GMB union votes on “moral duty” to frack for UK shale gas []

Stefania Barca (2012) On working-class environmentalism: a historical and transnational overview. Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Vol 4(2): 61-80. Available at:

In Landmark ‘Necessity Defense’ Trial, Valve Turners Will Argue Saving the Planet Justified Tar Sand Pipeline Shutdown

“If we really go out there and sit down in front of the machine, eventually they can no longer operate it. And at this point, that is our only option.”

Three activists whose landmark trial is set to begin in Minnesota state court on Monday for their 2016 multi-state #ShutItDown action—which temporarily disabled all tar sands pipelines crossing the U.S.-Canada border—will argue the action was necessary because of the threat that fossil fuels pose to the planet.

Rejecting a challenge from state prosecutors in April, an appeals court ruled that the “valve turners” can present a “necessity defense“—and bring in top climate experts to testify. In June, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied prosecutors’ petition to appeal that ruling.

The necessity defense “is a plea that, yes technically we committed a crime, but we did it to prevent a greater harm,” explained Annette Klapstein, a retired attorney from the Seattle area and one of the valve turners on trial.

“We cannot work through our political system, because its values are nothing but profit,” she told The Nation. “We live in an oligarchy, not a democracy.”

“It’s very much in the interest of the capitalist political system to make us feel powerless, to make us feel that we can’t do anything,” she added, but “ultimately, they cannot win if we do not consent. If we really withdraw our consent, if we really go out there and sit down in front of the machine, eventually they can no longer operate it. And at this point, that is our only option.”

Klapstein and Emily Nesbitt Johnston are facing felony charges under Minnesota law for shutting down Enbridge Energy’s Line 4 and Line 67. While Benjamin Joldersma, who assisted them, also faces charges in the case, the state has dropped trespassing charges against videographer Steve Liptay.

The Nation reports that Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens and Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Lessig are among the expert witnesses slated to testify. Dr. James Hansen, a former NASA scientist who has been called “the father of modern climate change awareness,” and co-founder Bill McKibben will also testify in case, according to the activist group Climate Direct Action.

“These people deserve our respect and support,” McKibben said on Twitter about the valve turners in Minnesota on Friday.

This will be the first of the valve turner cases where those on trial can present a necessity defense, as judges in three states have barred fellow activists from doing so. In Washington, Ken Ward was found guilty of second degree burglary after his first trial ended with a hung jury. The judge used a “first-time offender waiver” to sentence him to two days in jail, which was fulfilled by time in custody after he was arrested for the 2016 action.

In North Dakota, Michael Foster was convicted of two felonies and a misdemeanor, and sentenced to three years in prison, though he only served six months and was released in August. Sam Jessup, who livestreamed Foster’s action, was convicted of a felony and a misdemeanor, and received a two-year deferred sentence with supervised probation. In Montana, Leonard Higgins was found guilty of a felony and misdemeanor. He received a three-year deferred sentence.

Common Dreams

Going beyond ‘The Green Transformation’

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party has taken significant steps away from the soft-neoliberalism of Tony Blair, towards a more interventionist economic strategy, aiming to boost productivity, redistribute wealth and power from the rich to the poor and tackle the great problems of the 21st century, writes Andrea Grainger

Chief among those problems is climate change and other forms of ecological devastation. During this year’s Labour conference the party released a new paper; The Green Transformation [1], laying out labours solutions for these problems.

The plan focuses on three environmental problems; Climate Change, Air and Water Quality, and Biodiversity, and on six policy areas; Housing, Energy, Water, Transport, International policy, and Farming, Fishing and Wildlife.

The Good

Underlying Labour’s plans is their new industrial strategy, with £250 billion of spending over the next ten years. This pays for programmes to insulate Britain’s housing stock, electrify and expand our railways, plant millions of trees, build renewable power stations, and establish science and innovation funds to develop sustainable farming techniques. At conference, Jeremy Corbyn promised to create 400,000 new green jobs.’

Labour combines this green strategy with steps towards a more democratic and decentralised economy, particularly through the nationalisation of the railways and water services, and the creation of locally owned energy networks.

Labour is also supporting the young, and small businesses, with support for small-scale fishing and free bus passes for under 25s. This expands on their commitment in the last manifesto to reintroduce the agricultural wages board and to support small farmers against big supermarkets.

In terms of the party’s foreign policy they are promising to divest foreign aid from fossil fuel projects and to support a green transition in poorer countries.

Labour’s climate change plan commits them to aiming for not more than 1.5 degrees warming, and cutting carbon emissions by 2050 to zero, as strongly urged by the recent IPCC report.

The Bad

Labour industrial strategy, while a significant improvement, is still limited by a mistaken view of public finances which came from the right and has become mainstream. Since Milton Friedman developed his ‘monetarist’ economics in the 1970s, and former Labour Prime Minister Callaghan adopted it as Labour Party policy, Labour has never really challenged it.
Britain can afford to be spending much more than £25 billion a year, and creating many more jobs. The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group has developed proposals for one climate million jobs. [2]

And while Labour has plans for democratising energy, water and transport, they lack similar proposals for food. The ‘Peoples Food policy’ sets out how this might be done, through the creation and financing of local food councils, and the active participation of communities and farmers in DEFRA’s policy making. [3]

Labour’s policies for food and wildlife also lack any mention of land. Urban sprawl, land hoarding and intensive farming practices each cause significant pressure on Britain’s land, that need to be addressed with a powerful Land Value Tax.

The report mentions ‘Ending our reliance on finite resources’, but only considers fossil fuels, plastic and food waste. There is no mention of minerals and metals here, or in any other Labour report.

The party has not yet made any attempt to respond to the ‘peak minerals’ crisis that many environmentalists are trying to draw attention to. Responding to this would mean moving towards a ‘circular economy’ in resources, with large-scale investment in recycling, and eco-design regulations to force companies to develop products to last a long time, and be recyclable at the end of their life.

Beyond this, there is also no sign that Labour is taking the ecological limits to growth seriously. Many of their plans involve reducing the resource intensity of our economic activity. While this is necessary, it’s not sufficient to protect the planet. As William Jevons first pointed out one-hundred and fifty years ago [4], increasing the efficiency of resource use drives down the cost for consumers, leading to higher consumption, and faster resource depletion.

To ensure the protection of our planet, we must have hard caps on the use of certain resources. Caps on carbon emissions, caps on resource extraction, caps on deforestation and pollution levels. So far Labour has only agreed to caps on fishing, so huge space remains for our planet to continue being ruined.

On carbon emissions, Labour’s plans are relatively ambitious, but also very risky. The latest IPCC says that if all countries decarbonise at the same rate, and reach zero emissions by 2050, then we give ourselves a 50% chance of preventing 1.5 degrees temperature rise. A 50% chance of catastrophic climate change is still very high, so Britain under a Labour government should be aiming for more. And it is very likely that some countries will not meet this target, so if we are seriously committed to 1.5 degrees, britain will need to pick up the slack.

As well as a faster plan, Labour also needs a clearer long-term structure. What is going to be the enforcement mechanism moving forward? How will Labour incentivise a rapid transition, and penalise companies that fail to follow through? Labour could establish some kind of strict carbon budgeting, or introduce laws protecting the environment and punishing ecological damage. Both of these would let businesses plan ahead, and make long-term investments to decarbonise in the time allowed.


Labour’s plans are a good step forward, but are still limited to tackling the problems most known to the public, within the framework of the financial restrictions allowed by mainstream economic theory. There is need for much greater radical rethinking of economics to ensure protection of the planet.