Sometimes, when we wish to protect those we love, and those who are less well off, we cling to old and outdated ideas.
One of these is the idea that only economic growth will save us all. But it is impossible to have infinite growth in a finite world.
The stresses and strains on the natural world are now becoming clear – alarming losses of our natural pollinators such as bees (which fertilize almost 90% of everything we eat) increases in the price of food, and greenhouse gas emissions – particularly CO2 – which has now reached levels not seen since the dawn of humanity.
In the face of melting sea ice, salination of river deltas and rising global temperatures, we have to question those old paradigms and open a new debate.
In our need to invest in the future, we must not be wedded to continual resource consumption, because sharing out the deckchairs on the Titanic more fairly will not stop the ship from sinking. You cannot rebuild biodiversity with economic growth.
Those of us concerned with social justice must look for ways of sharing a shrinking cake more fairly, and ensure that the poor are protected the most from the consequences.
We need to weaken the link between money and material consumption. We need to think less about the acquisition of more stuff, and more about properly valuing and rewarding a person’s time and skills. Money counts for little when there isn’t enough food around.
Austerity hasn’t worked, that is clear right now. The deficit is growing, less hours are being worked for less money, the welfare bill is rising. The scandal of zero hours contracts is growing. The less well of are being asked to pay more and more to line the pockets of the already wealthy.
There is a way out of this. The Citizens Income.
We cannot expect people stuck in the poverty trap to think of biodiversity as a priority. Creating a fairer society and leaving the planet in good shape for the next generation go hand-in-hand.
The Citizens income is an unconditional payment made to each individual as a right of citizenship – like a tax credit paid to everyone whether they’re working or not.
A Citizens Income would not leave people struggling on benefits in an unfair world. A Citizens Income would allow people to work part time, it would give jobseekers time to find the right job for their skills and locality, it would make sure that every man and woman would be better off taking paid work. Above all, a Citizens Income would be fair, and it wouldn’t cost one extra penny.
I meet many Labour activists on my travels. They are good people and many are very clued up on the environment. Yet, I ask myself, why do they pretend Ed Milliband is speaking for them? The two-Edded monster of the Labour leadership is now just a paler shade of Tory. No new ideas, nothing to promote fairness and equality, no recognition of the shrinking resources which will define the future world.
The left, the right and the centre are all equally in thrall to the Emperor of Growth, but he has no rational or moral clothes. His party is over.
Simplistic calls for no cuts, no recession and no austerity do not advance the real debate at all. We cannot risk sacrificing fair shares for the global poor, other species, and future generations on the altar of sorting out today’s mess - by going for the old idea of growth.
You can hang as many greenish bells and whistles on the old paradigms as you like, but the facts of life remain: To get from a greedy 3 planet economy to a workable 1 planet economy, we have to redistribute and re-direct what we already have.
I look around this room today, and see worried people. We are all sacred, we all deserve security and the opportunity for decent jobs. We all deserve a job you can build a life on.
Let’s open the real debate – the one about how we can all work together for survival and a redefined prosperity firmly rooted in the real world.
We all have a lot to learn, and a lot to teach. But we’re not going achieve anything lasting without working together. Let’s do it!