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Scotland’s decision: a more sustainable United Kingdom democracy

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Scotland’s independence debate has dispelled the myth that people are apathetic about politics. What is critical is the importance of the vote and the way the campaign is conducted. A clash of opposing ideas creates a higher turnout.

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In our Guide to Democracy we looked at how we could create a more sustainable democracy. We asked 6,999 Vote for Policies registrants to vote on the electoral reforms they would most like to see.

These are the 17 suggestions, which 50% or more of our respondents said would improve our democracy.

#17: MPs, rather than government, to determine the business of the House. Currently the government sets the agenda for parliament. In other legislatures they set the agenda and government must encourage a member to bring forward government legislation – Improve 50% / worsen 14%.

#16: A codified or written constitution. The UK constitution is ‘uncodified’. It is a mix of statute, case law, precedent and convention. Many countries and UK devolved legislatures have ‘codified’ constitutions i.e. a single document that describes who has what powers and how the democratic institutions work – Improve 52% / worsen 15%

#15: More direct democracy e.g. referenda, directly elected Mayors. The Athenians did it – Improve 53% / worsen 20%

#14: A fully elected second chamber to replace the current part-appointed/part-hereditary House of Lords – Improve 53% / worsen 23%

#13: A partially elected House of Lords to retain subject matter experts – Improve 54% / worsen 14%

#12: Legally-binding manifestos – with areas of compromise in a hung parliament clearly spelled out – Improve 56% / worsen 21%

#11: Compulsory voting. Ancient Athens did it and today, Australia, Brazil, DR of Congo, Luxembourg, Singapore and others all have compulsory voting for some elections. As the ballot is secret, you can leave it blank or spoil it – but you have to turn up and vote – Improve 57% / worsen 23%

#10: Creation of an English Parliament with the same devolved powers as the Scottish Parliament or other devolved assemblies. This would address some people’s concern about MPs from devolved countries voting on laws that won’t affect their constituents – Improve 57% / worsen 19%

#9: Equalising the electorate size of Westminster constituencies (these currently range from 22,000 electors to 110,000. The average size of constituencies in Wales is 56,628, in Scotland 65,475, and in England is 71,858) – Improve 61% / worsen 9%

#8: Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly to receive same devolved powers as the Scottish Parliament. Scotland currently has more powers than the Welsh and Northern Ireland assembly – Improve 64% / worsen 12%

#7: Abolition of party whips and all votes to be ‘free’ or unwhipped in Parliament. Whips encourage MPs to vote along a party line. It is seen as a way of making our parliament function more efficiently but seen by some as placing party over constituents – Improve 69% / worsen 13%

#6: Greater devolution to countries and regions. The UK is politically and economically centralised in London. Germany and the United States adopt a more devolved federal structure, with more hubs of economic and political activity. Centralisation creates a globally significant megacity. Devolution creates a more dispersed democracy and distribution of economic and political activity – Improve 70% / worsen 12%

#5: Disestablishment of the Church of England. Parliament enjoys certain rights within the Church of England and the Church of England enjoys certain privileges in our democracy, including seats in the House of Lords. It is the ‘established Church’. Other democracies separate Church and State to avoid direct church involvement in legislation and political involvement in matters of worship – Improve 73% / worsen 11%

#4: Proportional representation. The number of seats reflects the proportion of votes cast. If you get 35% of the vote, you get 35% of the seats – Improve 74% / worsen 14%

#3: Greater citizenship/political education in schools. Some argue that the level of political understanding in schools is poor, which is bad for democratic engagement. Others argue that this would be a back door for political instruction by teachers with specific political perspectives – Improve 80% / worsen 7%

#2: None of the above option on ballot papers. A ‘none of the above’ option means you can reject all the candidates, a formal spoiling of the ballot paper. If none of the above ‘wins’, nominations are reopened and a new slate of candidates is put forward – Improve 80% / worsen 9%

#1: MP recall for constituencies. Recall means that an MP who is found guilty of serious wrongdoing could be forced to stand down and face a by-election – Improve 93% / worsen 2%

The Scottish referendum now gives us a chance to engage civic society as never before and create a sustainable democratic settlement.

Thank you Scotland for choosing to stay within the Union and giving the whole of the United Kingdom a unique opportunity to:

“Form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” (Opening preamble to the Constitution of the United States)

Photo: Nick Page via Flickr

Further reading:

Scottish independence: Scots vote to stay in the UK by 55% to 45%

Scottish independence: Blue & Green readers’ view

Scottish independence: renewables and climate change debate heats up

Scottish independence: ‘Yes’ vote could lead to £14bn hole in budget

Scottish independence: what the papers say

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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