The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 30 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sir Richard Attenborough & his Beaver Obsession

Sir Richard Attenborough & his Beaver Obsession

Tributes pour in for this great man but it is fitting that just as his death marks and end of a venerated British Institution, his secret passion is flourishing and may be the best legacy of his life. Beavers are finally returning to Britain.

And the story of beavers in Britain looks like a script for a future film; this battle of cinematic proportions is breaking out as we speak to save these beavers form the dark forces of dominion and insidious privilege that Sir Richard so detested.

Many of Sir Richard’s most ardent admirers are today mourning his parting, but the many who understand his beaver obsession are preparing to do battle in the British countryside and stop the dark forces about to be unleashed upon the beavers in an attempt to remove them from the riverbanks of Devon’s river Otter.

Sir Richard, though not  immediately taken by the profound story of the beaver was fascinated by his mother’s and brother David’s (the famous conservationist and BBC wildlife presenter) captivation by the speech of Grey Owl they saw as children in the 1930’s, later so beautifully shown in the film Grey Owl, portrayed by Pierce Brosnan. Grey Owl brought to light the plight of the beaver and how whole ecosystems would collapse without the beaver to manage the water ways of Canada, just as they collapsed when we hunted the beaver to extinction in Britain and Europe.

“Not surprisingly, Dave's memories of Grey Owl's lecture are very different to my own. He was bowled over by the man's determination to save the beaver, by his profound knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Canadian wilderness and by his warnings of ecological disaster should the delicate balance between them be destroyed. The idea that mankind was endangering nature by recklessly despoiling and plundering its riches was unheard of at the time, but it is one that has remained part of Dave's own credo to this day.”

Sir Richard’s mother was equally taken by Grey Owl and after his death after he was exposed as Archie Balaney, and said this of him:

"His identity doesn't matter a damn," she, who never uttered an oath, said firmly. "The only important thing is what he came to tell us."

The great actor and directors life has demonstrated a hidden obsession with beavers and their positive virtues.

His London home he called the beaver lodge, where he lived from 1949 until October 2012, in Richmond Green in London (only leaving due to his failing health)

His production company, Beaver films, is renowned for some of the greatest cinematic works in the history of film.

Once Sir Richard’s career was established he sort out a retreat to write his films in solitude, again his obsession came to the fore when he purchased Rhubodach estate on the Isle of Bute. His office was known as the beavery, in the castle, famed because of the old Duke’s love of beaver, who built a ‘beavery’ in the grounds when her tried to reintroduce beavers.

Sir Richard’s greatest work was carried out in the beavery overlooking the real beavery, sadly devoid of beavers. But the island has seen the possible return of the beaver with the nearby Knappdale beaver reintroduction project. One beaver was found washed up and it may not be long before beavers once again surround the castle and its grounds and the nearby beavely hills.

Sir Richard’s life is a model of hard work and dedication to all that is best in humanity & the arts. We must try to live up to his example to continuously ‘beaver away’, never giving up, if we are to create a better world. The story of the beavers obsessed Sir Richard, just as it has obsessed so many conservationists including myself, we must never give up in our quest to rewild the countryside and bring back the functioning ecosystem that beaver, and other keystone animals, can bring about.

The one project Sir Richard never completed was his life-long ambition to make a film about his hero Thomas Paine, whom he called "one of the finest men that ever lived". He said in an interview that "I could understand him. He wrote in simple English. I found all his aspirations - the rights of women, the health service, universal education... Everything you can think of that we want is in Rights of Man or The Age of Reason or Common Sense”.

Not surprisingly Thomas Pain was an advocate of Land Value Tax, the collection of publicly created rent and its fundamental importance to abolishing poverty. This interestingly is the economic model I propose that would save all the wildlife of Britain and help foster the return of the beaver, although I do not know if Sir Richard ever made this connection between the economics of land, wildlife and the betterment of society.

Good bye Sir Richard, A life well lived & thank you for all your hard work.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

GDH - Gross Domestic Health & Dodgy Economics

Hooray GDP is up, headlines are plastered across the papers this weekend. The UK beats GDP growth of all the major G7 countries. Britain can be proud of the work of our great financial leaders have done restoring the wealth to our country. But what does GDP measure, well the answer is not a lot. And a lot of our growth is just the fallout of lending more money into the housing bubble (which will come back to haunt us very soon, robbing the poor & hard working to feed the rich & lazy)

As my Friend Fried Harrison points out in his thesis on 'ecocide'

"Driving the destruction are land-use and tax policies that reward speculators who engage in urban sprawl. We wreck habitats (deforestation), dump waste into the oceans, and even the heavens are littered with waste from disintegrating satellites. The catalogue of disasters cannot be blamed on nature.
"People do not behave in such reckless ways within their private spaces (our homes). We tend to be tidy, economical, we conserve the products of our labour and we respect the rights of our neighbours. So what motivates the opposite forms of behaviour towards nature? Again, it boils down to the pursuit of (or the ripple effects from) the flow of rental income. Joseph Stiglitz observes that conventional indices fail to expose the full extent to which rent-seekers are wrecking the environment:“Sometimes the distortions of the rent seekers are subtle, not well captured in the diminution of GDP. This is because GDP doesn‟t adequately capture the costs to the environment….Industries like coal and oil want to keep it that way. They don‟t want the scarcity of natural resources or the damage to our environment to be priced, and they don‟t want our GDP metrics to be adjusted to reflect sustainability” (Stiglitz 2012: 98-99). If the services provided by nature and society were correctly priced, we would not waste them, and we would not shift onto others the costs of our actions (such as dumping waste into rivers or seas). "

If we really want statistics to measure the health of the UK a far better balanced scorecard of our nations health would be using stats such as modal and mot means and the variation within of factors such as:

  1. Infant mortality
  2. Average life span
  3. Educational attainment
  4. Disposable incomes
  5. crime

Also highlight depletion of natural resources and dilapidation of infrastructure and projections of the future of all these stats that would highlight excessive personal, private and state debt.

Such a measure of GDH will be some percentage points down this week, with a trend that has been dropping for some time. The dodgy economics that masquerade as public information must be changed if we are to protect people and the environment instead so lets have some headline on from The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on GDH & consign GDP to the dustbin of dodgy statistics.

Dodgy theories and discredited statistics which are used by agencies like the OECD camouflage the trends that determine the health of the economy -- and people's welfare. Prof. Mason Gaffney explains why we should treat GDP data with extreme caution, and he identifies holes in the numbers used by governments.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

"The Pricing of Everything" How can we really put a value on nature?

"The Pricing of Everything" by George Monbiot:

I loved Monbiot's latest lecture.

He evens mentions Land Value Tax, but did not explore its link with the protection of nature and properly valuing nature. But there is one thing I disagree with in that we can use a system of valuing nature in our economic system, that does not have the downsides he so rightly points out in the failings of the Neo Classical economic consensus that is so fundamentally flawed.

There is nothing wrong with ‘valuing nature’ the problem is not ‘valuing’ it properly, which Monbiot has been spot on. Efforts to value nature so far are complete rubbish, then even more importantly how does that value get internalised into our economy – again the neo-liberal ideas are pure rubbish in an economic sense.  But there is a way to value nature in a way that helps the economy and helps preserve nature. The simple solution is of course to transfer taxation off of incomes and trade and put it in the destruction of nature. So destroying an ancient habitat become extremely expensive, prohibitively so. Land and natural resources become expensive to exploit and when not a true economic benefit get left alone.

Taxation means we leave fossil fuels in the ground, we stop farming marginal habitat and it becomes wild again, we reduce the extraction of fresh water and it stops in rivers and wetland. Carbon will come out of the atmosphere and be sequestered back into the ground.

So get rid of subsidies for farmers and industry and tax the use of land & natural resources, proportionate to the damage their use causes. So special taxes for the destruction of high value habitats and pollution, and areas that provide specific ecosystem services such as flood prevention and carbon sequestration.

These taxes need to embody future destruction, and not at any ‘discount rate’, also land taxes should be yearly taxes so we properly value that destruction in the future and we do not undervalue the ecosystem we leave to future generations.

The idea of using nature as a means of rent seeking by those that ‘own’ it is an appalling idea and is the fundamental problem of ‘neo classical’ economics.

I attended a seminar organised last month by the New Economics Foundation and WWF and was appalled by the poor level of economic understanding and that organisation like WWF viewed ecosystem services as a fund raising exercise and had no comprehension of the problems outlined by Monbiot, myself, and the many proper green economists who have highlighted this over the years.

My view of how we value nature:

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