(World Auditors of Sustainable Growth)


  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. Sceptics and Denial – Logic and Psychology
  4. Alternatives to WASG
  5. 1.5C Target
  6. Capitalism (the markets), Democracy, Foreign Policy and the Rich/Poor Divide, Morality and Human Rights

1 Introduction

I used to be a systems engineer with some knowledge of the disciplines and techniques needed to coordinate the activities of large groups of clever people (many much cleverer than myself, but often less experienced). In retirement, I formed the view that these characteristics could be much more widely used, including many instances where there was no physical end product.

I became aware of climate change only in 2005, and quickly reached the view that it was a major threat being inadequately countered. I wrote to a number of Editors, Politicians and Scientists, and was (and am still) impressed that it was only those to the Scientists (arguably the most senior in the UK) that gave rise to replies. I have found time and again that editors and politicians just don’t want to know.

Since 2012, when I presented a paper to a small group (Our Legacy in the Age of Man), I have tried to keep up with the basic science of global warming and with other global threats such as the decline of species; ocean and fresh water effects, and the development of dangerous bugs, especially bacteria resistant to antibiotics: but my own work has been to examine what organisational change may be needed to improve the global response. I believe I can show the world needs an additional group that should be kept small: and that WASG has some major advantages over alternatives.

The first paper above “Plan B to Save the World for our Children” is a revision, mostly written in 2012, of my presentation. I deliberately avoid updating it every time some new information comes out. My solution is for the long term and will hardly be good if the arguments don’t continue to stand up to the inevitable new evidence arising with the passage of time.

Paper A, with the next paper B – WASG, includes some indication of what I think WASG will do: but my own thinking is needed only to get WASG set up: I have tried to show how persuasive WASG could be and so how much it could achieve. I add a little more now to reinforce the case. My open letter to the Prime Minister (at C) observed the unifying pressure that climate change could create and the help WASG could bring to building bridges between the permanent members of the UN Security Council, who should have this need at the front of their minds at all times.(In practice these nations have built barriers not bridges during recent years: and the UK needs to change its attitude just as much as the others – indeed if the UK is to take the lead, the UK should move first).

My route to the Secretary General of the UN is preferably via the UK Prime Minister: so I tend to restrict myself to the UK when commenting on cultural matters. My further letter (at D) emphasised the need for the UK to take a lead in climate matters, which are vastly more important than Brexit. The actions needed to combat the UK’s own emissions include changes to almost all our buildings and transport as well as changes to our individual behaviour, which must be driven by governmental sticks and carrots. Much of this cultural provision will not be popular which brings into focus how we maintain democracy in today’s world of populist right wing national rebellion.

2 Background

The world is in improperly recognised climate crisis. Humanity is outgrowing our planet. GDP, a measure that has existed for only about 100 years, includes all activities that are bought and sold. It has no regard for value. Activities performed for free, such as family cooking, child rearing or care for the infirm in the home are not a part of GDP. Costed activities are included even if they are undesirable eg clearing up after a natural catastrophe such as a tsunami or drought: or dealing with criminal activity. Yet GDPs in the major countries of the world are quoted in the media daily, a plus being regarded as good. The market (capitalism) is pretty much a disaster. It seems to be a means of making the rich richer and not much else. The problem with the seriously rich is not only that they are rich, but that their collective standards are so appallingly low.

The unqualified pressure for growth and consumption has symptoms. These are climate change and the other attacks on the commons: and the grossly inequitable division of wealth both within and between nations. In what follows, I try to tackle these symptoms, and any other global symptoms that may arise in coming decades: but I mainly seek the organisational change that limits world growth and consumption to what is sustainable. The target of the Climate Convention has been amended to aim for temperature growth of well below 2C and, if possible, to 1.5C. It should be no surprise if action to achieve this causes world GDP as currently measured to drop to zero. The hopes of voters will be disappointed, but the evidence is that that it is relative performance that influences people’s feelings, and many will be relatively better off.

3 Sceptics and Denial – Logic and Psychology.

May I start with those who are so sceptical as to be “in denial”. These included the BBC until quite recently, when I understand they ceased what I thought their outrageous policy requiring any comment on climate change be balanced by a sceptical view. Those in denial are not going to be converted by expert argumentative logic, but I invite them to consider whether, for the sake of future generations, they are prepared to take the risk they may be wrong. They may like also to consider that getting the science over to a sceptic is not always easy. A well known Oceanographer observed “The distinction between what we know firmly, as scientists, and what we expect is happening, is so difficult to maintain in the presence of rhetorical excess”. Rhetoric is all very well in urging action, but is out of place when argument needs logic. So often, it is used by people lacking evidence and whom I think are plain wrong.

Probably a half or more of all people have some scepticism. My regional newspaper has had letters from several people suggesting most of our warming could be the result of natural forcing. Such writers don’t appear to realise their suggestion implies that climate scientists must be totally slipshod: nor that, if it were so, reducing our emissions would not necessarily compensate. Luckily, natural forcing at this time seems to be close to zero.

There are psychological reasons suggesting sceptics become bored or fatigued by repetition: certainly Editors of newspapers and television/radio exercise their power to ignore. I suggest sceptics should subscribe (at no cost) to a good media outlet, such as Carbon Brief, whose coverage is wide and references to other sources in the UK and abroad made available at the click of a mouse. They may well come to the view that if scientists make a mistake, it is a genuine error, whereas leading sceptics are less transparent.

I have been aware for many years of two ways in which top people’s approach to a range of problems is often inadequate, but have failed to get either view published by our blinkered media. On 30 January 2002 I wrote to the Telegraph to praise Sir Harry Kroto’s plea for top people to have greater appreciation of science and technology: and especially for him saying that the problem was at its worst when lack of appreciation of technical matters failed to cause any shame among otherwise intellectually cultivated leaders. I found this often led to slow progress with important issues, mentioning the Health Service, the railways, law and order and Europe. Elsewhere I had asked why prisons were filled with the wrong people (often illiterate or with mental problems): and I offered praise for an article giving one school’s success with their alternative to expulsion and exclusion, which otherwise caused as many problems as they solved. I think it very important that this lack of shame be corrected. So many problems would benefit from a more systematic approach. Those I mention above are all still problems waiting for someone to make a proper start on them.

(This is so important, I’ll risk saying it once more. People at the bottom may be illiterate or innumerate, and probably regret it. Those at the top who lack technical appreciation but feel no shame are a disaster, not to themselves, but to everybody else).

The second point came from Mr John Gray giving his “Point of View” one Sunday morning on BBC Radio 4. He complained action in one area was often proposed on the assumption that all the surrounding area stayed exactly the same. Climate change, either through major mitigation, or otherwise through resulting need for major adaption, will have enormous effect during coming years: Are we in the UK taking proper account of this? I don’t think so.

This may be a good moment to mention a point made by historian Yuval Noel Harari in Homo Deus. No one can foretell the future, but if several possible ways forward are identified, it may be possible for us to help progress towards those felt to be desirable and prevent all the others. You need to be much better organised than we appear to be to guide our progress in this way.

4 Alternatives to WASG

WASG’s aim is a bit more specific: to audit the future on the basis of existing agreements and to suggest/justify/audit such other arrangements as may more nearly meet international aims. The requirement for Audit puts down a strong marker that the balances (between fear and hope: between rich and poor: between this generation and the next: between developed and undeveloped) : these balances are to be the truth with judgement – not just opinion. WASG will be aware of all the thoughts mentioned in Paper B. It will be aware that succeeding rolling annual Audits need to be close to a steady progression if world peoples and the powerful, are to be persuaded that any early sacrifice is followed by rising hope.

It would be possible for the Climate Convention to produce a similar periodical report in plain language, but the fact it has not done so, and that it is currently operating on a national bottom-up basis, suggests potential well below expectations of WASG.

A more hopeful idea comes from a Mr Paddy Shannon in a letter in the New Scientist. He suggests a magazine, an impartial media outlet, could bring people together, educate and improve response in much the same way as I promote WASG. WASG would be ahead largely because it has to get the major nations to support WASG being brought into existence on the basis current national postures. I am all for Mr Shannon’s idea. So much money is badly employed in today’s world: this could only do good: inter alia, it could publicise the logic (or otherwise) behind growing numbers of movements and legal challenges. To the extent that it had any difficulty in engaging with the powerful at the top of nations it could help WASG come into being.

5 1.5C Target

Nations agreed at the Paris Conference in 2015 to try to limit global temperature rise to well below 2C, and if possible to 1.5C. The IPCC agreed to examine the impact of global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial level and related gas emission pathways in the context of strengthening global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The IPCC Report was accepted in South Korea on 6 October 2018.The report indicated some major advantage in achieving 1.5C rather than 2C (notably regarding coral, all of which would be destroyed above 2C): and that although very challenging, it could be done. Most of the additional cost would be incurred getting from where we are now (3C plus so far as I am aware) to 2C. In early October there were many headlines and summaries in the ordinary media, not a few of them being somewhat misleading in an optimistic way (making the decade just starting sound easily doable rather than extremely difficult and urgent): then, after a week, almost nothing. I find politicians and the media quite appalling yet again regarding these long term matters. Is it not very evident something is missing? Is there not a single member of the House of Commons thinking Brexit must stop slowing action on Climate. WASG is needed.

6 Capitalism (the markets), Democracy, Foreign Policy and the Rich/poor Divide Morality and Human Rights

Let me start this with a story that I have felt could help guide the young towards leading a good life. A Major General named Robertson joined the Army as a boy soldier aged 16, and when he attained Field Rank he was invited to to present the prizes at a boys’ school. He said (and this is his whole speech) – Boys, “Speak the truth always – Think of others – And don’t dawdle”.

This takes me straight to (technical) Audit which measures the truth about the activities of others. WASG seems to me now to be needed more by my generation so as to guide, nudge or drive them into much overdue action. The headings above set the desired long term agenda for world national leaders and and are starting to be the subject matter of many books. I shall just try to set down the important points I have at this stage: they give us hope for the future, provided,that is, we act now and vigorously

WASG activities are summarised at some length in Papers A and B. If brought into being now, they would quickly contact existing groups, but also set up some support and liaison of their own: tomorrow’s programmes will need something more than yesterday’s institutions.

WASG will likely set up a group with one representative for each large nation, smaller nations grouping together to keep numbers down. It will establish liaison with the IPCC on the science, impacts and economics of climate change. It will get in touch with the Central Banks regarding the development of Capitalism that adds value to the lives of people worldwide.

Probably the most important of all, it will form groups to begin building bridges between the permanent members of the Security Council (maybe also the larger G20 nations). All this is global: but as I write from the UK who should be my route to the UN, may I add that my expectations of promise would be greater from contact with Russia and China than from very backward governments in America and UK.

The effects of the 1C rise in temperature (above pre industrial) are beginning to be noticed: and among the balances WASG and nations will have to deal with are those between developed and developing nations. It is mostly the developed countries that have brought us to the present position, America being the largest contributor. USA’s cumulative emissions are almost twice those of China and UK’s (cumulatively) about a third of China’s, because we started first. It is clear we (the UK) have a moral responsibility to initiate action – to lead, (as, of course , does America). This moral imperative is very much the greater because our inaction passes on to future generations problems which may be beyond their ability to solve.

This brings us to a whole lot of problems of Democracy in today’s highly technical world. First, there is our duty to help with this global problem which we started (although unknowingly) about 250 years ago: but what if voters don’t see it as their duty to help those affected a great distance away? Then there is our failure to protect the next generations who will be passed problems that may prove catastrophic (and can certainly be more easily solved by us now by just cutting out some of our consumption). Then there are those separated by both time and distance (possible future immigrants)who are much affected by today’s voters but have no vote themselves. Are our voters given a relevant choice? In the UK we have recently had a referendum. Referendums are very different to elections partly because referendum results tend to be regarded as semi-permanent. This is allowed for in the rules for referenda published by the Venice Commission. The two sides were and are very opposed. One side disregarded the Venice rules and the other told lies. The result has been to divert UK Government from the much more important matter of climate change so as to deal with Brexit, a passionate matter for some, but petty in global terms.

Another problem with Democracy is reported this very day (TED April 22 2019). Facebook is accused of targetting swing voters in the referendum mentioned above with false information (on Turkish immigration and EU expenditure). This a major matter, fake news being directed in ways that cannot always be traced. I rather expect WASG would demand to Audit Facebook and the other social media.

Nothing whatsoever connected with the referendum impresses me as democratic

We may well find in time, we need to ensure that when we are lucky enough to have arrangements that have already been agreed, that we use them.

The subjects listed at the top of this Chapter 6 are discussed in many recent books and the little story in the first paragraph could form the basis of many sermons: but I have no desire to even try to preach. I’ve said almost all I need to on Capitalism, Democracy and Foreign Policy. Nor do I wish to define what early effect WASG might have on the inequitable distribution of wealth within or between nations: WASG will have to make allowance for how these things progress over time.

I do wish to add a little more on how the world might change over several decades or so. Please read this in the spirit that if possible futures are identified, we may be able to influence progress in favour of what we find desirable. Mr Harari has also said that we have no viable plan for running the world as a whole. But the whole purpose of WASG is to deal with the downside: and push, nudge or drive the whole world into a hopeful plan for the future. I know just how difficult it is to to do things to a tight timescale even when all the technicalities are well known and a good organisation has been set up bring everyone together. We start from a more difficult position and cannot afford all this delay.

A hundred years ago, those looking ahead to today’s date were wondering what we were going to do with all our spare time. Yet now, many are working harder than ever. There is little actual unemployment and in UK immigrants are needed among both skilled and unskilled categories. So what gives?

I just want to make a very few points before going on to say how nations, possibly helped by WASG, could progress over decades: and might reach what I think would become a desirable stable state. These thoughts won’t concern WASG in early years, so there is nothing to be gained by by examining them in detail now.

I have already shown in Papers A and B that top incomes will be held to about 20% above median: and that a slowly applied levy will be applied to the capital of the very rich.

There are two points to emphasise about the vast numbers in paid employment. Many of them say they are not happy in their work either because they are asked to do too much or are underpaid. Another large group say their work is unnecessary so no one would be harmed if they just stopped.

At the bottom of the scale there are all those earning about the minimum wage, or are unemployed and in debt. Many of these will attract the attention of the authorities, particularly if they also have responsibility for children in poverty. They are expensive because they have usually been thought to need education, advice and support: and also monitoring to prevent them spending what little they have on undesirable consumables like tobacco, alcohol and drugs. But there is a great deal of evidence that that such worries are misplaced: if the very poor are given money it is virtually always well spent. It is cheaper by far to give cash to those who need it.

Following this line of thinking leads (in the longer term) to the idea of introducing universal basic income as a human right (Article 25 probably wouldn’t even need changing). Such income would be sufficient to live on. No one would have to work. Income from work would be an extra. The relative income of those providing long term societal value, such as teachers, carers and nurses, would likely be a good deal better than it is today.

Let me finish by coming back to climate change. Failure here could cause war as many books have suggested. But proper action attracting the undivided attention of heads of government will start a unifying effect. All nations will have to make changes, particularly accepting materialism is not the only way to live. WASG will guide those changes. The UK and USA must get their act together.