Feb 08, 2011
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon opines that the current world economic model is a global ecological suicide pact. Andrew Simms explores the hazardous ways adopted by the banking and oil industries in their bid to maximise profit.
Capital One's advert for its World Mastercard is quite emphatic: "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, there's no limit." That kind of certainty normally comes wrapped in fundamentalist religion. It could be the magical thinking of an economic system drifted dangerously far from its real world roots, or just the "bring it on" machismo of banks desperate to forget the consequences of reckless lending.
Either way, it neatly illustrates Ban Ki-moon's suspicion that the world's economic model is an ecological "global suicide pact". Whichever data set you refer to, his concern is well grounded. Last year was either the equal warmest year on record, or second warmest.
But, given that the model for the world economy has also been something of a suicide note, you'd expect a growing clamour for system change. But, you'd be quite wrong.
As fatigue about climate change sees the issue recede from the news like a glacier up the Alps, column inches instead are filled with the increasingly indignant cries of an unrepentant financial sector.
At the recent meeting of the global elite in Davos, at which climate change seemed barely to be mentioned, the bankers were impatient, not for change, but to get back to business as usual.
But when they say that it is "time to move on", do the bankers realise that they just sound desperate to leave the scene of the crime.
Dame Clara Furse, former chief executive of the London Stock Exchange said as much as guest editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 31 December. Since then, a queue has formed to sing the same tune.
Under questioning by the treasury select committee, Barclay's head, Bob Diamond, said that the time for "remorse and apology" in the financial sector was over.
Later, Diamond at least had the presence of mind to offer a "heartfelt thanks" to the various ministers in Davos who had engineered the trillions of public money in support of the banks. J P Morgan's boss, Jamie Dimon, was at a different point on the graph of worldly sensitivity, and told his audience that bank critics were being "unfair".
So, as we stumble through the early days of 2011, two economic and environmentally shattering issues are being neatly swept under the carpet. Could the reason for inaction be as simple that politicians in general, and the government in particular, are hugely dependent on financing from both the oil industry and financial services?
We have a banking system, still unreformed, getting back to its bad old ways, even though they are almost certain to need more public support in the coming months. Oddly, you can't help but think that when Goldman Sachs announced that its average pay for staff was going to be £269k, they thought we would all be impressed by their restraint. Until, at least, someone pointed out that when you excluded all the admin staff, the average package for their top 1,000-plus bankers was more likely £5 million.
When senior figures in banking refer to their pay as "compensation", you do wonder exactly what they are being compensated for. Perhaps it's the stress of having to suppress knowledge of the other issue kept under the carpet: how the economy, dancing to the tune of finance capital, is gambling, badly, with the stuff of life.
The wheel of high and volatile food and oil prices has spun around again very quickly since the last peaks of 2008. And BP, after its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, is once again attracting investors and paying dividends in spite of its continuing, huge liabilities.
This month – number 70 in this countdown for action on climate change – saw BP publish its latest, industry standard projections of future fossil fuel demand and production. They predict that global carbon emissions will keep rising until at least 2030, in spite of the fact that to prevent dangerous climate change they should already be reducing. Presented in numbing pages of graphs and tables, this is the "global suicide pact" written invisibly into the world's economic model referred to by Ban Ki-moon. And it will remain so, until we can break the spell of magical thinking which allows us to believe that, economically and environmentally, there are no limits.
70 months and counting ...