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‘Keep it Co-op’: another critical vote

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Last week’s unexpected victory for the Conservatives in the election came as a surprise and a shock to many. For those on the left, who thought that Ed Miliband would have a long and distinguished future at the forefront of Labour party, the defeat was crushing.

With Labour still licking its wounds from last week’s bloodbath, there have been calls for the Labour agenda to be less anti-business, more inclusive and more progressive. At the same time its sister party, the Co-operative Party, is facing existential challenges in a very different poll this weekend. Campaigning efforts are still well underway as the party is trying desperately to maintain its financial support from the Co-operative Group.

Formed in 1917, the party has worked to promote the values upon which it was built, securing consumer protection legislation, enhancing the position of co-operative and mutual organisations and was more recently involved in the establishment of Supporters Direct – an organisation that works to give football supporters a direct say in how their clubs are run.

But this weekend, almost three million members of the Co-operative Group will decide on the future of the party when they vote on Saturday to determine the future of its links with the retail and funeral care businesses. The group has had a turbulent couple of years, reporting the biggest losses it has ever experienced and seeing the chairman of its banking arm embroiled in a drugs scandal.

But following a governance review by Lord Myners, governance processes are to become more democratic and transparent. For the first time, decisions will be made on a one member one vote basis. Among the motions put forward, members will be asked to decide on whether the group should continue its subscription fee to the party. Worth £1m, a vote to suspend the subscription and sever financial links could pose a threat to the 98-year-old party.

A spokesperson for the group, which runs the supermarket and funeral care businesses, said that under the old rules a small minority of the membership made decisions.

“Following a fundamental review of our governance structure which ensured that our membership had a far more direct say going forwards, it was decided that decisions like this should be taken on a one member one vote basis. Any question regarding political donations is therefore one for our members to decide on”.

But what would it mean for the Co-operative Party should the group’s membership decide to break up the long standing relationship?

Karin Christiansen, general secretary of the Co-operative Party exclusively told Blue & Green Tomorrow that despite present challenges in both the context of the party and of the wider political landscape, she was more determined than ever to put communities at the top of the agenda.

Karin Christiansen said the Co-operative Party can play an important role in the revival of the British left.

She said, “The Co-operative Group have been voting on the party at the AGM for some years now. The difference now is that the group has gone to a one member one vote system. It is difficult to try and get the message across to 2.8m voters as to who we are and what we do, especially when the Co-operative Group have not facilitated any engagement. Which is a great shame”.

“One great element to this campaign is that it has enabled people to see the value of what we do. You don’t have to be politically engaged or even politically left to see the benefits of what we do. We’ve come across staunch Conservative voters who share co-operative values and really see that the work we do in communities is worthwhile”.

“The aim of our campaign has been to try and present people with the information they need to make an informed decision”.

Labour and Co-operative MP and shadow chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat by 422 votes in Morley and Outwood last week.

She paid tribute to Ed Balls, the former Labour and Co-operative shadow chancellor, who was the highest-profile casualty for Labour, losing his seat to Conservative Andrea Jenkyns in Morley and Outwood.

“It is a great shame that Ed Balls lost his seat in the election. He has done a lot of work within the co-operative movement, but we now have an equally hardworking shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, who is also a co-operative member. We look forward to working with him and the other Co-operative MPs to contribute from a co-operative perspective on putting communities at the heart of the agenda in Westminster”.

Chatting to Christiansen, I couldn’t help but feel the sense of hope and optimism she expressed that the Co-operative party could contribute to the resuscitation of Labour, despite the cultural and existential challenges posed to the mainstream left.

“It won’t be the end for the party. The political situation at the moment presents us with a real opportunity to put co-operative values right at the heart of the revival of the left in Britain. There exists now – and rightly so – a new emphasis on developing a more pro-business narrative and we really can be a part of that revival. We should be contributing to the debate on where the profits go; on who gets the wealth”.

“We have 24 MPs in parliament who will continue to work hard to make sure that communities are at the top of the political agenda”.

Should the 2.8m members vote to sever the group’s links with the party, this may well present further existential challenges for the mainstream left in Britain. Labour’s defeat has presented the left with an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what makes a properly progressive agenda that is lacking in British politics and the Co-operative Party should monopolise on this and could make a major contribution to what the future of our country should look like.

Co-operative values not only promote fair and sustainable communities, they have the potential to cross political boundaries and make the case for the fair distribution of wealth and profits in a capitalist society. We should not be shackling individual aspiration in Britain – we should be harnessing the potential that it brings and contributes to a stronger society, in both social and economic terms.

In order to build a more progressive and inclusive narrative on the left, efforts should be made to create a unique fusion of fairness and equality within sustainable and responsible communities where everyone has a stake in the future. While not presenting a barrier to aspiration, this narrative should have strong community based values at its heart.

 

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Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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