Mental sickness and the welfare state

It’s interesting the way British public policy is beginning to bring together unemployment policy with mental health policy. The British government today brought out a 10-year strategy for dealing with depression, which includes the key strategy of doing more to get the mentally ill back into work. For example, under the new strategy, job centres will now have mental health advisors.

The same day the government released its report, the Young Foundation – one of the main think-tanks behind the British ‘politics of wellbeing’, released its own report, suggesting that the welfare state needed to transform to be more focused on well-being, including helping the out of work cope with the emotional problems that often go with unemployment.

The head of the think-tank, Geoff Mulgan, says: “The welfare state that was built up after the great economic crisis of the 1930s was designed to address Britain’s material needs – for jobs, homes, health care and pensions. It was assumed that people’s emotional needs would be met by close-knit families and communities. Sixty years later psychological needs have become as pressing as material ones – the risk of loneliness and isolation, the risk of mental illness, the risk of being left behind.”

We already saw the beginning of the merger of unemployment policy with mental health policy in 2005, when Lord Layard, the government advisor, justified the government spending £173 million on training 3,000 new cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) professionals by arguing it would pay for itself by getting many of the 1 million people claiming incapacity benefits because of mental illness in the UK off the couch and back into work.

You can criticise this shift in policy thinking from the Left or the Right. From a Leftist perspective, this is Thatcherism masquerading as therapy. The reason the government supported the Layard report’s 2005 report on depression, a Leftist sceptic could argue, is that the government hoped by spending a bit more on CBT, it could spend a lot less on incapacity benefits. You get people off the sofa, off Prozac, off the dole, and back into work. It’s Sigmund Freud meets Norman Tebbit.

This fusion of therapy with ‘on your bike’ Thatcherism reduces therapy to a mere band-aid for capitalism, argue Left-leaning therapists like Oliver James: you patch people up, give them a pep talk, and send them off into mindless low-paid jobs. It’s somewhat comparable to the First World War psychologist W.H Rivers complaining that he was treating people for shell-shock only to send them right back to the front line to die, one could argue.

Alternatively, you can criticize the new well-being state from the Right as the nanny state gone mad: it’s crazy to think the government can take the place of the family or the church, and can whisper sweet nothings into our ear until we feel happier. At best, it’s a huge waste of money. At worst, it’s Brave New World. Continue reading

Posted in UK

Why are environmental NGOs pushing for a later peak emissions year than the IPCC?

As we’ve been arguing here since March, the year that policymakers select as the deadline for global emissions must peak is the key short-term variable to watch at Copenhagen. So what is the deadline, assuming we want to limit global average warming to 2 degrees C?

Well, David and I would like to see policymakers agree that emissions should peak right now, given that emissions have fallen so much as a result of the credit crunch. The development NGOs who are most active on climate change – Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tearfund, as well as Avaaz – are a little more cautious than that, arguing that emissions should peak by 2015; but they’re still basically on the same page as the IPCC, which said in its last Assessment Report (pdf – see table at the foot of page 15) that to limit global average warming between 2.0 and 2.4 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak between 2000 and 2015.  Chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri has also said that 2015 is the deadline.

Astonishingly, though, the main federation of environmental NGOs – the Climate Action Network – says that any time up to 2017 is fine. WWF International agree. TckTckTck used to say 2017 too (as I noted when they published their policy position); they’ve subsequently revised their target to 2015, but still have documents on their website using the old date. (Nothing like a consistent message, eh?)

Be very clear: this isn’t just hair-splitting. Once the peak date for emissions slides beyond 2015 and towards 2020, according to the IPCC, we’re heading for a world that’s not 2.0-2.4 degrees C warmer, but 2.4-2.8 degrees C. That is what the environmental NGOs are arguing for. Shortly before they spend a fortnight calling everyone else at the Copenhagen summit “fossil of the day“. It’s breathtaking.

So, if you can’t make it to the summit but still want a way to take action and make your voice heard ahead of Copenhagen, how about this. First thing on Monday, get in touch with any environmental NGOs you support.  Ask them their position on the global peak emissions date. And if it’s any later than 2015, then cancel your subscription.

I’m not kidding. Policymakers aren’t the only ones at Copenhagen who need to be held to account. If the green NGOs can’t get their figures right on something this fundamental, this basic (even as the development NGOs manage it just fine) then they need to – what’s that phrase from the Bali summit? – “leave it to the rest of us; please, get out of the way“.

Welcome to Gropenhagen

Newsflash just in from Der Spiegel:

Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards to city hotels warning summit guests not to patronize Danish sex workers during the upcoming conference. Now, the prostitutes have struck back, offering free sex to anyone who produces one of the warnings.

Copenhagen’s city council in conjunction with Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards out to 160 Copenhagen hotels urging COP15 guests and delegates to ‘Be sustainable – don’t buy sex’. “Dear hotel owner, we would like to urge you not to arrange contacts between hotel guests and prostitutes,” the approach to hotels says.

Now, Copenhagen prostitutes are up in arms, saying that the council has no business meddling in their affairs. They have now offered free sex to anyone who can produce one of the offending postcards and their COP15 identity card, according to the Web site

Full marks for feistiness, tactical judgement and PR aplomb there, then. If this is any indication of the kind of screw-you approach the Danes will be taking to chairing the summit, then we’re in good hands. So to speak.

Space-based solar plant gets go-ahead

From the NYT’s Green Inc blog: 

California regulators on Thursday went where no regulators have gone before — approving a utility contract for the nation’s first space-based solar power plant.

The 200-megawatt orbiting solar farm would convert solar energy collected in space into radio frequency waves, which would be beamed to a ground station near Fresno, Calif. The radio waves would then be transformed back into electricity and fed into the power grid.

A Southern California start-up called Solaren will loft components for the solar power plant into orbit and sell the electricity it generates to Pacific Gas and Electric, the major utility in Northern California, under a 15-year contract. The project is supposed to be turned on in 2016.

A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 2)

Yesterday I published a post looking at how the Copenhagen climate summit might fail. Today: why it might fail.  David and I have identified seven main drivers that could potentially lead to breakdown at Copenhagen – either alone or in combination with each other – as follows:

The US runs out of timeSuppose that other countries judge that Healthcare looks set to pass early in the new year, leaving the Senate clear to agree a climate bill not long afterwards. In this scenario, while a deal isn’t doable at Copenhagen, countries could still leave the summit believing prospects are good for a follow-up (a ‘bis’ in the jargon) – with no need for significant changes of approach or tactics. (Conversely, if countries think that healthcare is far from being settled, they might judge that with mid-terms looming during 2010, US assurances of domestic climate legislation are not credible – leaving Obama looking weakened.)

There isn’t enough shared awareness. In this scenario, the problem is simply that Parties weren’t frank enough with each other ahead of Copenhagen. While an ambitious deal does remain feasible, much more robust engagement is needed to bash out the fundamentals – especially between the US and China. (An alternative variant of this scenario would be that Parties’ willingness to deal becomes drowned by the sheer level of detail, so that the summit concludes with little clarity on who supports each element of an eventual deal.)

The fundamentals unravel. The US does its best to kill Kyoto. China won’t budge on targets (however fuzzy). The EU is incoherent, weak or simply unable to impose clarity. The G77 continues to slow the pace of negotiations, staging boycotts or walking out. Every time one outstanding issue seems solved, another pops up elsewhere in the text. Delegates leave Denmark unable to see even the outline of a deal.

China yet to come of age. China acts true to type as “a big power with a medium power mindset, and a small power chip on its shoulder” (the phrase is the Economist‘s). It plays to the G77 gallery, while failing either to make the UNFCCC process work for it or to take on a leadership role that could prod the US towards a deal.  Or, on a similar note…

The G77 turns toxic. The G77, which came close to an eleventh hour split at Bali, has a turbulent time at Copenhagen, with the ‘national survival’ faction and ‘economic growth’ factions at each others’ throats. Unity is maintained by lashing out at Annex 1 countries.

Blockers prevail. Saudi Arabia flies in under the radar to stop the talks reaching an endgame (the general suspicion in the climate process is that instructions from Riyadh tel negotiators to do as much as they can to undermine a deal without going so far as to be identified publicly as the cause of a failure). Or Russia plays its customary volatile role. Or Canada responds to the logic of its terrible domestic position on emissions.

But here’s the one that’s arguably most likely, and maybe most worrying:

Neither the US nor China are ready to deal seriously. The US and China could agree between themselves to settle for a low-ambition deal, maybe based on national ‘pledge-and-review’ rather than on binding targets and timetables – in the process leaving Europe and other proponents of a serious deal outflanked and on the sidelines.

More on that in the next post. But for now, here’s something to reflect on: 

According to the last IPCC report, stabilising global average warming at 2.0 – 2.4 degrees C means that CO2 concentrations must be limited to 350-400 ppm, and concentrations for all greenhouse gases at 445-490 ppm.

In fact, though, as an analysis out this morning from Climate Analytics and Ecofys shows, the emission commitments and pledges put forward by countries in the run-up to the summit put the world on track for CO2 concentrations of 650 ppm; total greenhouse gas concentrations of 800 ppm; and global warming of well over 3 degrees C.

Climate injustice

Here’s what the world looks like if country sizes were proportional to their emissions (world map scaled to fossil-fuel carbon-dioxide emissions in 2002):


And here’s what the world looks like if countries were sized commensurately with the burden of climate change impacts (world map scaled by the World Health Organization’s regional estimates of per capita mortality from late 20th century climate change):


These maps were drawn from the recently released UN Population Fund (UNFPA) ‘State of World Population 2009’ report, which focuses on the theme of women, population and climate change. While the developed countries have contributed the most to human-induced climate change up to now, people in poor countries—most dramatically in Africa—already are much more likely to die as a result of the climate change that occurred up to 2000.

The picture is significantly more skewed if we were to take account of (i) historical emissions; (ii) the unequal burden of future climate impacts.

A rough guide to Copenfailure (part 1)

With three days to go until Copenhagen begins, there’s increasing awareness that the likeliest scenario is that Copenhagen will fail to produce a robust deal on climate change.  So here at Global Dashboard, we thought we’d run a series of  posts that start us out on thinking about what comes next. If Copenhagen isn’t destined to succeed, then what are the ways in which it could fail?  Which failure scenarios leave us in better shape for success at a later date? What does success actually look like? And how can we get there from where we are now?

So let’s start with how it could go wrong.  We think there are three ways that the summit itself could fail – and two additional ways in which it could fail over the longer term. Start with what could go wrong in Copenhagen:

– First, we could see a Bali #2­in other words, talks conclude with a high level political declaration that’s spun as a breakthrough, but that actually has little more content than the Bali Action Plan that negotiators agreed in 2007. All the tough issues would be deferred to a COP15 bis follow-up conference, or indeed to COP16 in December 2010 – or for that matter to an ongoing process like the Marrakech talks that followed Kyoto to hammer out the technical ‘rule book’.

– Second, we could find ourselves facing a Bad Deal – a situation in which a headline deal (with actual numbers) is agreed, but ambition is far below what’s needed to put the world on track for average warming to stay below two degrees C.

– Third, we could end up in a Car Crash – a scenario in which the talks end in outright collapse, with or without a commitment to keep talking.

As important as how the summit itself could fail, though, is the question of what happens next. One possibility is that failure at Copenhagen leads to a breakthrough, which is then followed by smooth and successful implementation (Good Deal). But two rather less attractive scenarios are also possible:

– First, the process could become the Multilateral Zombie that we talked about in our paper (pdf) on climate institutions earlier in the year: so despite efforts to resurrect the process at a COP15 bis (or later in the process), the requisite political will never materialises, and the UNFCCC process becomes a zombie – staggering on, never quite dying – just like the Doha trade round before it.

– Alternatively, it could succumb to Death by Climatocracyin which an apparently ambitious deal fails during implementation, with inadequate attention paid to the supporting institutional infrastructure, and the deal slowly collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.

In our next posts, we’ll look at what might prompt a slide into any of these scenarios, and at what policymakers and campaigners can do about it.

But for now, one parting thought: not all failures are equal. Some outcomes boost the prospects of eventual success. Others, as discussed above, push the climate process towards semi-permanent dysfunction, an equilibrium that may only be shifted by future climate catastrophe. 

It’s time to start looking failure in the face – and asking which kind of failures could be used as the springboard for meaningful action, and how.

Find Part 2 of this series here.

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