Something to 'look forward' to...
I am working on this problem, in my philosophical research at present, and will offer highlights of my proposed solutions, in posts later this year.
Dr Rupert Read, Eastern Region Green Party Co-ordinator
News: Green Party of England & Wales
22 February 2008
In the wake of the life sentence handed down today to the Suffolk strangler Steve Wright for the killing of 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, Green Party Norwich councillor and prospective MEP for the Eastern Region Dr. Rupert Read calls for the complete decriminalisation of sex work so that the focus of police efforts can be redirected to protecting the most basic human rights of prostitutes: their life and their health.
Green Party policy called for the complete decriminalisation of prostitution on the "New Zealand model", so that the focus for sex workers moves from evading arrest to their safety and wellbeing.
Dr. Read, a lecturer in moral philosopher at UEA, said: "The current system that criminalises prostitution just pushes street sex workers further into the twilight, further from traditional areas of relative safety and further into danger.
"Decriminalisation could mean that instead of hearing about prostitutes being murdered and attacked on the streets of our cities and towns, we would instead be talking about health and safety in sex work premises, which are already 10 times safer than working on the street.
"Criminalisation of actions associated with prostitution leave workers vulnerable to violent clients, and encourages police and other authorities to treat them as criminals even when they are in fact victims of serious crimes."
Dr. Read also attacks the new Clause 124 of the Labour government's Criminal Justice Bill, which introduces a new 'order to promote rehabilitation' for the offence of 'loitering or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution.'
He noted that this was effectively re-introducing imprisonment for the offence of soliciting, which was abolished by a Tory government in 1982.
He said, "The government with this Bill is treating prostitution as though it were an illness, and one for which women and men should be punished. Of course we would hope that sex workers who want to get out of the industry, and who need help with that, should find it immediately - and for that the government needs to provide greatly improved funding for, for example, drug addiction treatment programmes. But women and men arrested for soliciting should not be forced into 'treatment' against their will.
"And the government should note that it is often its own policies - inadequate support for women with children, the withdrawal of recourse to public funds for failed asylum-seekers, that is forcing women and men into the industry."
Dr. Read added: "Centuries of criminalisation have not wiped out, or even reduced, the level of prostitution. Instead it has left on our streets, and our consciences, the bodies of many murdered women and men."
http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30000-1304367,00.html As well as locking up the Sufolk strangler Steve Wright for a long long time, today, so that he can never do any more harm, we need to change the law such that prostitutes are never again an easy target for a serial killer. Green Party policy would make it significantly less likely that there will be more Wrights in the future.
The best memorial to all Wright’s victims would be to ensure that: Never Again.
[Here is the full G.P. policy on prostitution, from the national Party website:
RR550 The Green Party believes that the law should not seek to regulate consensual sexual activities between adults where those do not affect others. Where there are such effects, a balance must be reached. Adults should be free to do as they wish with their own bodies, and to practice whatever form of sexual activity they wish by themselves or with each other by mutual consent. This includes the freedom not only to engage in such sexual acts, but also to be photographed or filmed doing so, to make such images available to other adults with their consent, and to be able to view such images. That someone might receive payment for any of these activities should not affect this freedom.
RR551 Regardless of generally accepted standards of public morality in the past, no attempt to end various aspects of prostitution with prohibitive laws has worked. In addition, with the availability of sexually explicit material via the internet it is not realistic to expect that censorship laws will be able to stop access to such material in the future.
RR552 For the reasons given above, the Green Party believes that attempting to stop the sex industry by using prohibitive laws is neither desirable nor realistic.
RR553 Criminalisation of many parts of the sex industry leaves those working within it in a vulnerable position. They are often unable to turn to the law for help in cases where their rights are violated, and instead fall prey to criminal gangs and pimps.
RR554 Therefore, all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults should be decriminalised. Restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those which are aimed at protecting children. Workers in the sex industry should enjoy the same rights as other workers such as the right to join unions (See WR410), the right to choose whether to work co-operatively with others etc. Decriminalisation would also help facilitate the collection of taxes due from those involved in sex work. Legal discrimination against sex workers should be ended (for example, in child custody cases, where evidence of sex work is often taken to mean that a person is an unfit parent).
RR555 The Green Party recognises that, although people should be free to engage in sex work if they wish, this is an industry which can be more exploitative than others, and those who work in it should be adequately protected against such exploitation. There should be zero tolerance of coercion, violence, or sexual abuse (including child abuse). Those who have been trafficked into the country and forced to work in the sex industry against their will should receive protection under the law (see MG450-454). There should be legal support for sex workers who want to sue those who exploit their labour unfairly, and access to re-training for those sex workers who want to leave the industry. As far as possible, public services, the Government and legal system should aim to end those social attitudes which stigmatise those who are, or have been, sex workers.
RR557 The use of commercial premises as brothels should be legalised, and such brothels should be subject to licensing by local authorities to ensure protection of those working there and clients from abuse, and protection of the local community from nuisance and abuse. Some prostitutes choose to work from home, or similarly in residential premises, like some other trades. Such use of primarily residential premises should be permitted without a licence being required, subject to the avoidance of nuisance and abuse. This exemption from licensing requirements should still apply if more than one person works in such premises, provided that such activities take place on a sufficiently small scale that they are not tantamount to a commercial brothel.
RR558 The decriminalisation of prostitution should not require all prostitutes to work in regulated brothels. Doing this would still leave a criminalized street prostitution market. Those workers whom regulated brothels chose to employ would work legally, and those who not so employed would still work illegally on the streets. In order to protect those street workers (often the most vulnerable) the law shall not criminalize their activity.
RR559 Laws against soliciting should be repealed, and issues of "public nuisance" should be dealt with under general legal provision against nuisance. In order to minimise any such nuisance, wherever possible particular areas should be designated where street prostitutes can work in safety without upsetting local residents and traders. Such areas should be decided by negotiation between the police, prostitutes and/or their representatives, and the residents and/or their representatives. Local authorities and the health service should ensure that such street workers have ready access to health facilities and advice about the health risks of their work. ]
We in the Green Party are highly critical of the EU where criticism is called for. For example, we find the Common Agricultural Policy as it is presently constituted a dangerous waste of money; we oppose joining the Euro; and we think that big business fat cats and lobbyists have an undue role in creating European laws. We are Euro-critical. But we are not outright Euro-sceptical – because it is obvious that Britain’s membership of the EU has in some respects conferred significant benefits on this country. For example by playing a key role in keeping the peace in Europe for most of the last sixty-three years, by ensuring human and political rights for all citizens (including equal rights for men and women), by giving rights of travel and employment throughout Europe (for plumbers, for painters and decorators, for British people who want to live and work elsewhere in Europe, for everyone).
But, most significantly, it has taken action, where the British government has failed, in measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus fight dangerous climate change.
The most recent move in this direction is the proposal to ban the sale of patio heaters which must be the most wasteful form of energy-use of all. A 9.3 kW gas heater generates 2.3 tons of CO2 per year and 90% of the heat generated goes straight up to the sky. I have long campaigned against the use of these climate-dangerous patio heaters and welcome this move by the EU.
EU policy in this instance is really just common sense. Isn’t it just a bit silly to burn your money? But that, in effect, is what one is doing when one uses a patio heater. Paying, to heat up the night sky…
[See the posts below, for explication of the context here.
This is a reply to Rob Hopkins's critique of my column, here
>The first of [Rupert Read’]s specific arguments, the one that I am still scratching my head about days after reading his piece, goes as follows; ”The Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us because, within the existing economic system, some people reducing their use of fossil fuels is received by everyone else as a price signal that it is OK to use even more fossil fuels”. This seems like an astonishing argument from a member of the Green Party, to suggest that it is counter-productive to reduce fossil fuel consumption in one place because it will just increase it elsewhere. I sometimes hear the same argument from those who suggest that there is no point in our doing anything to lower our carbon emissions because
Yes – because anything else simply will not work.
Look: you cannot change the world very much just by asking people to be nice. In a globalised world, if you succeed in getting tens of millions of people to be nice, you have only a very tiny effect, if you simply allow other people to do more of what isn’t nice, as a result.
But let me be completely fair to Rob here: he asks a good question. The question he asks is: If Rupert Read’s argument posing a problem for Transition Towns is valid, then doesn’t that imply that if we use less oil China and India and America and so on will just use more, and so it isn’t really worth us using less oil, in terms of having any impact at all on long-run resource-crunches and pollution-disasters? This is a good question: because the reality is that the main reason for Britain to use less oil is not to have a lower overall pollution and resource-depletion effect, because (as any economist worth their salt will quickly tell you) even the whole of Britain cutting back on its oil use as a matter of a successful government policy – a far larger effect than Transition Towns can hope to have for a long time to come – would have only a relatively minor effect upon world consumption levels, because it would send a price signal to other countries that its OK to burn even more of the stuff like there is no tomorrow.
Is this a shocking – “astonishing” -- thing for a Green Party member to say? No, because it is simply fact. Only: if one stops there, one is being irresponsible. There IS a very good reason for
We can show an example to others: and then, to actually save the future, we have to get most of them to make the change too. (And not just allow them to free-ride and to be in denial about the need for energy-descent for years longer as a result.)
That is going to require political action on an unprecedented global scale – it will make
Rob goes on:
>It is absurd to suggest that reducing dependence on fossil fuels is counter-productive for many reasons, including the following;
Well, I agree with 1, 2, & 3: but they do nothing to address the issue that I have raised. Nothing. What is Rob Hopkins’s answer to the free rider problem?
>It seems to me that legislation will struggle and be ultimately ineffectual if it is fighting against rather than with the will of the people.
I agree. This is the huge challenge that we face: reframing the issues such that making the collective changes that need to be made becomes the will of the people. This requires democratic engagement on a large and intense scale. And it requires that we have faith that people can desire to make these changes, and can face the realities – and the wonderful opportunities -- of the long emergency that we are embarked upon.
> Read misunderstands the Transition approach when he writes “the Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us”. No-one has ever said it can.
Well; what I have sometimes heard people say is that individual and small-scale local action is enough, and is all we are ever going to get. But Rob and I at least evidently agree on fundamentals, which is good:
>Transition Initiatives are seen as one of a hierarchy of approaches that will be required to get us through the twin crises of peak oil and climate change. We will need international action such as Contraction and Convergence, the Oil Depletion Protocol, strong international climate legislation and a moratorium on biodiesel production. We will need national action such as strong climate legislation with realistic targets, a carbon rationing system such as Tradable Energy Quotas and a national food security strategy, and we will need more local solutions.
Here we are in total concord.
>That said, Transition Initiatives can do a lot more than merely, as Read sees them, “function as demonstration projects”.
Well, I don’t think ‘merely’ is the right word at all. ‘Merely’ is Rob’s word, not mine. I think demonstrating that one can live sustainably on a path of energy descent is fantastic, and vital.
>For me, if Totnes were to be the only Transition project in country it would have failed. Isolation is not a viable response to the challenge that peak oil presents us with. Hence the Transition Network, which now comprises around 40 formal Transition Initiatives on a range of scales, and over 600 more at earlier stages of this process.
Absolutely. The more the Network grows, the stronger and more effective the demonstration.
>That said, Transition Initiatives can do a lot more than merely, as Read sees them, “function as demonstration projects”. It is not unimaginable that we might move to a stage where the majority of settlements in the
But even if we imagine this – and it seems to me slightly far-fetched, although I would be delighted to be proved wrong on that point – , then, unless the same thing is happening in most countries of the world at the same time, a very serious problem remains, for the reasons given above. If
>The suggestion that Read puts forward of legislation that “forces everyone to try to become a transition town” misses the point completely. That would surely be the fastest way to kill the idea stone dead.
This is not a suggestion that I am putting forward as a recommendation for policy. I think that the much better option is to put in place carbon rationing and contraction and convergence, which will create the kind of atmosphere in which Transition Towns will flourish and ‘mainstream’. The point I was making was that, logically, you either have collectively to insist upon Transition Towns or collectively to insist upon carbon caps. Allowing most people voluntaristically simply to carry on as they wish would, by contrast, eat up most of the benefits for society that the Transition movement was creating.
>Legislation at each of the three levels outlined above needs to be based on enabling the building of resilience at a local level, alongside cutting carbon emissions. That legislation may come from parties such as the Green Party, or may even come from other political parties. There is often discussion about how politically difficult it will be to get elected on a platform of “vote for me, and every year your consumption of energy, carbon producing goods and services and travel will fall, but you’ll be happier for it”, a difficulty reflected in the Green Party’s poor standing in recent elections. As well as encouraging and supporting political representatives who are skilful at turning that message into both votes and legislation, we also need to find other ways of initiating and supporting that change, and the Transition movement is our attempt at doing that.
Huge agreement here. I hope that I / we are skilful… And I am totally with you in what you are trying to do.
>The key point about legislation is that its role should be to support and enable the Transition work happening at a local level.
Agreed. That is exactly why I am saying that Green Party policies are needed – because we’ll do that by far the best.
>Of course we need ‘ordinary politics’, but we cannot wait for/depend on it. The beauty, as I see it, of the Transition approach is that it engages people at a community level, and it makes preparing for life beyond cheap oil feel like an exhilarating challenge, a historic opportunity to do something extraordinary. Indeed I suspect that what makes it more powerful is the fact that it is not an overtly ‘green’ approach. It steps outside the usual suspects and is all the more powerful for it.
Agreed. With this one important caveat: without ordinary politics to complement your efforts, you will be stuffed in the end. We all will. There is no solution to this that is local or that comes down to individual action.
The exciting aspect of why, is that we truly are all in the same boat. …Humanity has (b)reached the global limits to growth: We are now having to learn that we are in this together; that we are one. Will we truly learn this in time? The question is open. But it is for sure that only a solution to our predicament that involves us all will work.
Consider the -- importantly different -- case of vegetarianism. If one becomes a vegetarian, one ensures that over time the lives of many animals are saved, or at least not lived in a dreadful manner. Because one reduces the demand for a ‘commodity’ whose total amount can be reduced or increased in proportion to that demand. But with oil and carbon emissions, the situation is that the total quantity available is, roughly, fixed. There is a given amount of oil on the Earth – increasing demand for it cannot really increase that amount; nor can reducing demand for it really reduce it. All we can do collectively is decide whether or not to use it all. The same goes, crucially, of course, for all other fossil fuels, too, including much more deadly ones. For the same goes for carbon emissions: there is more or less a fixed amount which we can put into the atmosphere without generating runaway climate change and extinguishing ourselves.
Are we going to leave enough fossil fuels in the ground, and use what there is gingerly enough, or not? Remember: we are all in this together. Me using less and someone else using more doesn’t help. As George Marshall rightly says: The atmosphere doesn’t care who emits carbon. It grinds on, remorselessly. All that matters is the total amount of carbon emitted into our collective life-support system, our great lungs: the atmosphere.
We have to find ways, fast, of ensuring that the amount that gets put up there is not too much. We have to do this together, societies as a whole and the world as a whole.
That is the point: that liberal individualism is not conceivably a way forward. Now is the time for collectivism, and ecologism.
>Perhaps the Green Party should be looking at how to engage with and support this emerging [Transition movement] groundswell rather than seeing it as competition.
This is a cheap shot, which I am sure that Rob doesn’t really mean. (And let me note again that my article does not in any case express Green Party policy. It is a personal view expressed in a Column in order to provoke thought and discussion.) I am fully in support of this groundswell; and there is no competition between us. ON the contrary: my point is precisely that we need each other.
>Perhaps the Green Party should be looking at how to engage with and support this emerging groundswell rather than seeing it as competition. The Green Party has done much that is wonderful, and contains many inspired, principled, dynamic activists, no doubt such as Read himself. But any frank assessment of where it finds itself as the country teeters at the top of the peak oil curve, about to enter a crushing recession, hideously dependent on cheap imported food, would suggest that we need, at this historic juncture, more than just the Green Party.
Agreed. Nothing that I wrote suggested otherwise.
>What concerns both Transition Initiatives and the Green Party is how best to design a pathway through this ‘sustainability emergency’ to the benefit of everyone. However, unless we also have a tool that motivates and engages people in seeing these challenging times as also being a thrilling opportunity, we are always going to struggle, and we will end up needing to resort to imposing change from above resulting in a long and drawn out process of the public being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the post carbon age. The Transition movement may not, in the long view of history, turn out to have been that approach, but whatever that approach ends up as being, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn’t use many of the tools it has been developing. At the moment, it appears to be unleashing a spirit and a depth of engagement that Rupert would do well to support rather than belittle.
I agree with this; and I sincerely apologise that evidently what I wrote was not carefully enough framed… For the last thing I would want to do is belittle the Transition movement. What I want to do, rather, is to make it possible for us all to work together in order to win; or at least to be able to have the long view of history, rather than no view at all (because there is no-one left to write the history).
But do not be under the illusion that everyone is going to be persuadable to give up carbon-obesity in time through the power of a good example. Any political movement involving real change has seen hard hard struggle. Look at the suffragettes; at the Chartists; at anti-apartheid; at the Civil Rights movement; at Trades Unionism. Look how viciously people who felt threatened have held onto their power and riches.
It is going to take political action to provide the umbrella through which amazing new experiments in living are able to lead the way into a sustainable future. For the struggle we face is much harder than the ones I have just mentioned. Because none of those struggles involved absolute limits which we as a species are breaching and none of them essentially involved tragedies of the commons.
We need to be clear that Rob’s ‘hierarchy of approaches’ has to be taken in earnest. And that is all that I was saying in my piece. So I’ll stop now, in hope that we can now agree to agree…
[Prefatory note: A shortened version of this opinion piece has just been published in GREEN WORLD magazine. Here is the full version -- I am publishing it now on my blog, to allay the misplaced fears [see
; see also my comment, the second comment on the piece] of the excellent Rob Hopkins, founder of the 'Transition Towns' initiative, that I am somehow an enemy of Transition Towns. I hope that it is clearer from this than it may have been from the inevitably-compressed GW piece just what it is I am saying:]
A transition to a lower energy future is certainly badly needed, and so the Transition Towns movement, which looks to develop NOW ways in which to live with the power way down, is obviously deeply to be welcomed. But there is, I’m afraid, one critically important respect in which the bold hope vested in this movement as it stands could not possibly come true:
The Transition Towns movement alone cannot save us, because, within the existing economic system, some reducing their use of fossil fuels is received by others as a price signal that it is OK to use even more fossil fuels. I.e. For every litre of petrol that (say) Totnes or Stroud does not use, everyone else in Britain is very slightly incentivised to use more petrol, by the price not going up as much as it otherwise would. Thus (e.g.) others’ even more unsustainable commuting patterns will almost entirely cancel out the positive effect of Totnes.
This means too that, as resource depletion crunches (http://www.roadtransport.com/Articles/2008/01/31/129670/worried-about-oil-shortage.html ), successful Transition Towns will not be able to count on accessing even the small amount of oil that they still need. For the price will be through the roof, with others having guzzled what the Transition Towns voluntarily eased back from guzzling. (This is a classic case of the so-called ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.)
Transition Towns are a wonderful and inspiring experiment. But, alone, they can function only as demonstration projects. They show what is possible. But in order for them to be part of a movement that actually reduces overall use of fossil fuels, legislation is needed. Legislation that enforces lower overall use of fossil fuels, and/or, I suppose, legislation that obliges every town to try to become a transition town. Legislation that treats precious natural treasures such as oil – and a liveable atmosphere – as true commons, held in common by all and (as much as possible) in perpetuity.
And that is where party politics comes in. Unless we g/Greens force political change through the electoral mechanism, then the 'Transition Towns' vision of how why we might make a transition to a saner future would remain unattainable. A lifestyle choice is not enough: Tragedy can only be averted, if collective action is forced by us all upon us all. Science and equity must trump free-for-all price ‘signals’. ‘Transition Towns’ pride themselves on being a community of people working together, and that’s great – but the truly collective and communal response to our plight, the response that most deeply acknowledges our interdependence upon one another, must think and act across a much larger piste. The admirable local action of Transition Towns is countermanded by economic effects of that action elsewhere in an unreformed more global economy.
So: if you hear a
Because, as fast as oil runs out, so – unless we change the political economy of the nation and indeed of the world radically, and fast – the existing system will look to exploit other more carbon-intensive fossil fuel sources (as I explain at http://oneworldcolumn.org/132.html ), such as tar sands and of course coal.
In fact, this is already starting to happen. This is where the real commercial sector energy ‘action’ is, not in the lumbering nuclear distraction. Terrifyingly, the energy-intensive process of extracting usable petro-substitutes from the tar sands has already begun: even 'good old' BP, who with good old greenwashed boldness now of course characterise themselves as ‘Beyond Petroleum’, is moving in on the action (http://environment.independent.co.uk/article3239364.ece ), and lessening the bite of Peak Oil only by producing and burning much-higher-carbon alternatives.
The prognosis is extremely challenging. Peak Oil will hasten climate catastrophe – unless g/Greens manage, and fairly soon, to change the rules of the game, for everyone… and not just for the converted few.