On Aberdeen, oil and food banks

Pylon_dsUnusually, I made it all the way through Saturday’s Guardian, into the money section, where this headline caught my eye:

Aberdeen: once-rich oil city now relying on food banks

The story brings together two issues I’ve dealt with regularly on this blog, and seemed to illustrate the failure of government to make any attempt to address either.

I first wrote about the need to move money out of fossil fuels nearly two years ago. We invest in pensions to provide for a healthy and happy future. It is, therefore, pointless for pension funds to put money into businesses which are leading to detrimental and devastating climate change. Since then, investment in fossil fuels has come to be seen as more and more risky, as we have recognised that in order to secure our future, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Not a strong foundation for ongoing long-term business success.

The collapse of the oil industry in Aberdeen has come sooner than any collapse due divestment and the risks of climate change. In this case, the falling price of oil simply makes North Sea Oil too expensive, although doubts about the wisdom of burning all this oil have had a small part to play in all this. But, whatever the reason, now is surely the time for Aberdeen to diversify and invest in technology and industry which is better for the future, in particular the renewable energy sector. Recent moves by the government, however, have all been about reducing support for the renewable industry, binding ourselves to the Chinese for nuclear power and putting faith in fracking.

Meanwhile, people are losing their jobs, or having their pay cut, or having to work longer hours to make up the money. And we have created a society where those who suddenly find themselves out of work or out of pocket no longer have the security of a social safety net. State provided social security has dwindled to the extent that people are having to rely on food banks. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, I don’t recall the social consensus shifting so far that we have consented to abandon anyone who falls on hard times or who cannot support themselves or their families for whatever reason.

The state is no longer providing for the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Nor, it seems, is it providing for “hard-working families” who are suddenly unable to work. And at the same time as it continues to make cuts to payments to those in need, the government fails to acknowledge that it is no longer meeting basic needs.

How did we let this happen? Why did we let this happen? Are we ready to abandon the post-war consensus that all should contribute according to their means to support all according to their need? That’s what our taxes are for. For the most part, we are all trying to contribute according to our means, while the support for those in need is steadily cut back. At the same time, those with the biggest means to contribute are also most able to find the best way to reduce their contribution – both individuals and corporations. Why aren’t we angrier?

One final thought. 13 people are facing jail for demonstrating against a third runway at Heathrow. Their defence was that their actions were necessary in order to prevent deaths caused by pollution and climate change. But their defence was rejected and it looks like their civil disobedience will see them get custodial sentences. Their actions should be a wake-up call to us all. For as the New Internationalist blog pages observe, It’s not civil disobedience we need to worry about though, but our civil obedience. I’ll leave you with more of that quote from Howard Zinn, which I found here.

Civil disobedience…that is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.



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