We live in ‘broken Britain’, but not as the Sun and David Cameron’s pre-2010 phrase intended, of social decay and the mythical dysfunction of the poor and unfortunate. We have a broken and unequal economy, managed by broken politicians, in a broken electoral system, in broken political and economic Unions, at both a UK and European level. It’s time for a constitutional convention and root and brand reform.
In our recent Guide to Sustainable Democracy our readers voted for the reforms that would create a more sustainable democracy. The top ten most popular reforms were:
1. (Proper) MP recall for constituencies (93% support)
2. ‘None of the above’ option on ballot papers (83%)
3. Greater citizenship/political education in schools (82%)
4. Proportional representation (80%)
5. Disestablishment of the Church of England (76%)
6. Greater devolution to countries and regions (76%)
7. Abolition of party whips and all votes to be ‘free’ or unwhipped in Parliament (73%)
8. Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly to receive same devolved powers as the Scottish Parliament (68%)
9. Equalising the electorate size of Westminster constituencies (63%)
10. Compulsory voting (62%)
We would go three steps further to create a modern, representative, dynamic and resilient democracy for the 21st century. Here we imagine what we could do with our own democracy if it was up to us. Which it isn’t…. more’s the pity. We’d love to hear your ideas so we can start crowd sourcing the next Guide to Sustainable Democracy.
Our three ‘mad’, yet modest reforms
Most ‘new’ democracies form the United States (1788) onwards, choose to separate the church from state (reform #5 above), the executive from the legislature, and the judiciary from all others. This ‘separation of power’ means those that run the government on a day-to-day basis, a single-party executive, can be independently held account by the representatives of the people, a multi-party legislature. The judiciary sits totally apart, allowing citizen’s rights to be protected and laws to be struck down or upheld if they are unconstitutional.
Our system is a mixed system, evolved over centuries, where the head of the party that can command a majority in the Commons, historically the largest party, becomes the head of government (our Prime Minister), but he also sits in Parliament, as do his or her ministers – often subject matter amateurs and short-serving in their appointed portfolio – the average tenure of a minister between 2005 and 2009 was 1.3 years. Our judiciary is spread across the executive and the House or Lords.
Perhaps it’s time we entertained the idea of a directly-elected Prime Minister (using the alternative voting system), who could command majority public support and legitimacy across the whole nation. His appointed cabinet could then be formed of real subject matter experts in their appointed portfolios, and held to account by…
A proportional representation-elected House of Commons (using single transferable vote), on a six-year cycle, similar to the US Senate, which would legislate and approve appointments to the executive and judiciary. Elections would be held every two or three years, with a third or half of the Commons up for election – to create longer-term thinking MPs, while avoiding complacency and arrogance between elections, similar to the US Senate.
Members of Parliament are whiter, older, more male, more privately-educated and more university-educated than the people they represent. Rather than try to control who stands for parliament, one way to address this is to look at the ‘other place’ (Parliament’s archaic phrase for the opposite House, Commons or Lords) .
Our third and final constitutional reform suggestion would be to abolish the House of Lords, and replace it with a people’s jury or Citizen’s Senate, which would only meet annually. Citizen Senators would be selected at random for one term only, in the same way a jury is. Their selection would be stratified to be as representative as possible of the whole country – by gender, age, wealth, race and region. The current House of Lords is one of the most unrepresentative and largest parliamentary chambers in the world, with 780 members, second only to the Chinese National Party Congress (2,987 members). 200 or 300 members would probably suffice to be representative.
A new Upper House’s sole role would be to vote for or against elements of the executive’s legislative programme at the start of each Parliamentary term. Just as a jury in court hears the evidence for and against a case, so the Citizen’s Senate would hear the case for (executive witnesses) and against (opposition witnesses) each piece of proposed legislation. They would then deliberate and debate, and vote forward the legislation they supported to the Commons for line-by-line consideration and amendment, or vote it down.
In a digital age, direct democracy is feasible and has some attractive qualities, but it can easily lead to only the loudest/best-funded voices being heard and is open to corruption or hacking. Complex issues being simplified to binary decisions and there is a very real danger of mob rule. A jury-based, time-limited, once-only, annually-meeting Upper House would allow enough deliberation of complex legislation, uncorrupted by vested interests – with the will of the people represented without challenging the primacy of the Commons.
Final thought. If we could wind the clock back to a pre-devolution UK, to preserve a better Union, we would have proposed that there should only be one legislature for the UK – no other parliaments or assemblies. This would contain four grand committees, made up of MPs for the four constituent nations, which could decamp to the national capitals for a period each year.
These grand committees would vote on devolved issues affecting their constituents: health, education, welfare, transport, crime, etc. All MPs would be equal, and all would vote on national issues such as the environment, the economy, immigration and foreign policy/defence issues. It could also have smaller committees to be the bodies for the major conurbations and regions: London, Manchester, Glasgow, the borders, etc. Fewer politicians, devolved decisions – what’s not to like. And the UK would stand a chance of staying together.
Radical, naïve, silly, all or none of the above? Do you have reform ideas of your own? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: shining.darkness via Flickr
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.
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