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Dear Baroness Bennett,

When I watched the wonderful sight of 100,000 people marching through the streets of Glasgow at COP26, I longed for the different denominations of Marxists sprinkled among them to remember the ecological wilderness left by the socialist regimes that have ruled from the East German border to the South China Seas.

Nowhere has the environment been trashed as thoroughly as by the committed Left. No one understood that more clearly than Margaret Thatcher. As, following the science, she rallied fellow leaders at Rio de Janeiro to begin the fight against climate change, she also warned them that the revolutionary Left would seek to capture the cause and subvert it for their own political ends.

So it is that, despite the stark reality of their record, the misery Marxists maintain their discredited solutions as necessary to combat global heating.

Capitalism has brought out both the best and the worst in men and women. Nevertheless its towering successes in science and medicine; in the arts and architecture; and in broadening the horizons of millions upon millions of people contrasts with the bleak emptiness of the legacy of the revolutionary Left.

Capitalism does need management – not the stifling of socialist control, but the rules and regulations that make sure that we do not reinforce occupancy or allow powerful companies to protect their position

Here, in the United Kingdom, the political tradition that produced William Wilberforce and the Earl of Shaftesbury also introduced almost every major improvement in environmental legislation. It was that same faction that framed the Climate Change Act, and now has set in statute the most ambitious course to net zero carbon emissions in the entire world.

Of course there is much more to be done and no one will be more determined to ensure that ministers deliver on their commitments than me. I know too, though, that however disappointing this Government can be in so many ways, only through the power of the market can we deliver the huge economic and societal changes necessary to combat climate change.

The conversion of the financial system to accepting environmental, social, and governance criteria and sustainable development as the essence of investing has been the dramatic change of the last two years. The only thing that would stop that green investment is the extremist state control policies of the Left.

That doesn’t mean that this Government has just to sit back and let it happen. Capitalism does need management – not the stifling of socialist control, but the rules and regulations that make sure that we do not reinforce occupancy or allow powerful companies to protect their position by using their power to restrict competition or inhibit innovation.

We need tough regulation to curb the excesses of monopolies – and that means Amazon, Apple, and Facebook, as well the homegrown variety. Government has to create the conditions for green investment and sustainable growth.

The market will deliver, and it is its power alone that has the strength to bring to about the greener, cleaner, kinder world that we want.

Yours,

Lord Deben

Dear Lord Deben,

As sledgehammer used to smash down a wall is no use in building it back up again; you need an entirely different set of tools.

The pursuit of profit at the expense of all else – climate and nature, human health and wellbeing – has delivered the world we have today, with its nature in collapse and society in ferment.

Those profits today are built on massive externalised costs, from the bill for local authorities to dispose of the huge mass of Amazon packaging, to the dried-up river and trashed soil that helped produce a ‘cheap’ cotton T-shirt on the high street.

It is possible to imagine – and we need to bring in one fast – a system that ensures the real cost of the product is reflected on the price tag, but in a system where companies are legally required to put the pursuit of profit above all else, that’s tackling the symptoms of the problem, rather than its causes.

At the centre of the capitalist system is inequality. In the period known to economists as the Great Levelling, post-Second World War, the Global North saw modest declines in inequality, but since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, that’s gone into screaming reverse. The offering to ‘the 99%’, who haven’t got funds stashed in tax havens and can’t suck dividends from companies while loading them with debt, is that if the pie keeps getting bigger, they’ll get more crumbs, but you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. That’s not a statement of politics or economics, it is physics.

The offering to ‘the 99%’, who haven’t got funds stashed in tax havens and can’t suck dividends from companies while loading them with debt, is that if the pie keeps getting bigger, they’ll get more crumbs

A system in a rich country like the UK that leaves millions dependent on food banks shows that crumbs are inadequate, even at our current planet-devouring levels of consumption. This when millions are trapped in the insecurity of zero-hours contracts, insecure employment, and wages that have to be topped up by the state to meet even the most basic level of subsistence.

To tackle these multiple issues, we need human creativity, knowledge, skills, time, and energy. That’s something capitalism has been squandering at a level of profligacy close to matching our treatment of the natural world.

From schools and universities designed to produce, first factory fodder, then office drones, people have been forced into hideous working conditions, from the inhuman horror of abattoirs processing the flood of misery from factory farms, to the misery of call centres, where people are treated like robots, with which we all dread having to deal.

That model relies on ‘the boss’ deciding how people spend their time, energy, and talents. It is profoundly undemocratic, and destroys human initiative, creativity, and capacities.We need a universal basic income, that frees individuals to choose how to direct their own efforts.

As we’re seeing with the increasing use of citizens’ assemblies – like the Climate Assembly, direct, deliberative democracy delivers good decision-making. As the foundation of our economic system, that can start to deliver the kind of world we need – one where the economy serves people and the planet, instead of people serving the economy

Yours,
Baroness Bennett

Baroness Bennett is former Leader of the Green Party. Lord Deben is Chair of the Climate Change Committee. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Favourable climate? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Derrick Brutel]