Saturday, 31 March 2012

Pondering on Climate Change

Freezing weather in the state of New York

Is the Weather out to get Us?!

It’s a  bizarre sounding question I know, but bear with me a minute here. You see in the world of academia [where I primarily exist these days] there has been this shift of ‘securitization’.The best way to explain what securitization is is by quoting Barry Buzan; making something a security issue means it “is presented as an existential threat, requiring emergency measure and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure” (Buzan et al, 1998, p. 23). If you or I were labeled a security threat that would mean that all violations to our human rights are acceptable, they can listen to your phone conversation, read your [e-]mail and bust in on you while you are in the shower, arrest you and take you somewhere where not even God himself will find you. How does this relate to the weather you ask? Climate and the way it is changing is being portrayed more and more as a security threat, and after all weather is what you see but climate is what drives is.  

This event is not occurring just in academia. In everyday life the changing climate of our planet is being labeled “dangerous”. It is stages as a threat that needs to be eradicated.But how are we to save mankind for Climate Change? Well I would love to tell you but that is usually a step too far for these beacons of security. All they really do is scream “DANGER, DANGER!”
You don’t believe me? Here is an example:
In a newspaper article Professor Anthony Costello says that:
“Climate change is the biggest threat to human health” that is it a “clear and present danger…that is affecting billions of people!” (The Times Online May 14th 2009, Sam Lister) The article continues in a similar tone telling us how we need to do something now to secure humanity’s future.

Why are we so scared of Climate Change?  

This is why
Property Destruction from Sever Storms in the USA
By this stage our heads are SO full of the fear that this monstrous climate change poses that we will gobble up anything that will be fed to us as a solution. We will buy electric cars, recycle, buy organic products, wear hemp and pray to Gaia in the hope that we are saved! 

Now before you label me a climate change sceptic let me make one point PERFECTLY clear! I am NOT disputing that Climate Change carries huge costs to humanity, the pictures above show that only too strongly. I am also NOT disputing that being more responsible with your consumption of transport and other goods as well as recycling is going to make a change. All those are things that we should all do. I am disputing however the use of a language of fear, crisis, insecurity, and panic. It is hardly going to deal with the problem by making people run for the hills, or buy products labeled “environmentally friendly”! With all due respect to  ALL the professors out there, we need a language of awareness and empathy.

I know what you are thinking, oh god not another one of them hippies that is gonna tell me to go hug everyone and it will all be better. Don’t worry although I am an idealist I am a pessimistic one, it balances it all out that way, although this is gonna get heavy from here on! What I mean is knowing what we are doing, and trying to change it out of pure empathy towards the harm those actions have done. And lets face it:

Our actions have caused: Destitution, Hunger, Shame, Pain, Fear, Loss, and Death.
Sever Famine and Overindulgence

So when I say awareness I mean making people aware of how their actions cause the above, but not just that. Making people aware of the simple facts; not just of the dangers that the changing climate poses to us, but our part is creating this danger. Some ugly truths about the highly consumerist, self-centred individualistic nature of many communities need to come out so that we do not have to see pictures as the ones on the right or underneath. This needs to be done in a way that does not point the finger of blame and try and shame us into action. We need to understand WHY we need to change our actions. And here is where the empathy kicks in.

Sever Flooding

We are all despite our many and wonderful differences the same at the core of us. We generally do not want to see people suffering as the mother and child are above. Even though we have do not know these people we feel a deep sadness and an urge to help in any way we can, we empathise, because despite everything else they are like us. Making us aware of the harm our western culture produces in developing and underdeveloped regions will hopefully make that empathic instinct kick in on a larger scale. It will make us understand that we are literally the cause of those starving and dying children, and as members of mankind we have a responsibility to stop it, now!

Our greed, gluttony, consumerism, selfishness, and most and worst of all apathy is slowly choking the life out of our planet and many of the people on it, and our planet will in turn return the favour.

I am going to start the awareness process with the video below. I dare you to watch it and throw out perfectly good food!

We only have one Earth please look after it!


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Pondering on Tesco Profits

Responsibility but to whom?

Every year there is this big hoo-haa over Tesco profits. Mid April comes and we are showered with figures so huge it makes our eyes water and our palms itch! There is a flurry of people swearing off shopping at Tesco for life only to find themselves back in its shops only a week later due to the sheer convenience, low prices, and vast number of shops. I know I have been appalled by the billions the company makes every year. The red blue and white of its shopping bags along with its slogan of “every little helps” infuriates the general public every April when they see that every little piles up to an alful lot!

This year however the run up to the end of year results is a little bit different. There are no predictions of record profits, rising dividends and super bonuses. Instead miles and miles of printing paper has been used to write of Tesco’s “crisis”! Its falling market share to Asda and Sainsbury's, its falling like-for-like sales quarter upon quarter. This sounds like a real disaster, for Tesco at least! Truth is, they are still making profits though!

Here is the problem, the profits are not growing, in fact they have gone down by 10% on last year. Therefore logic [Tesco logic not mine!] dictates profits slump [by 10%] = Crisis. Correct? No, not really, not if put into context, and if it is over a short period of time. So lets put this “crisis of profits” into context shall we! Tesco finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Inflation and growing price of food production means that it has to pay more money to its suppliers, that comes out of its bottom line. Competition from 4 or 5 other supermarkets means that to attract customers in the hard economic times it needs to keep its prices low - basically absorb the rising food costs and inflation -  that also comes out of its bottom line, making the squeeze of profits come from both above and bellow. This makes sense considering we have hit upon hard times. So why people are panicking is maybe not understandable and clear cut?
This is why... 

Losing 10% of your profit is a rather big deal to some people, with small and medium businesses that can be the difference between paying wages and not paying wages for a period of time; but when you are Tesco, one of the biggest supermarkets in the world, 10% of £3.8bn a year is not really that much, is it? 10% of £3.8bn is £380m and yes that is A LOT even if you are Tesco. Essentially this can make the difference between paying/raising a dividend, or not. In this case it made the difference between Tesco UK CEO Richard Basher keeping his job or not, and according to Tesco CEO Philip Clarke the answer is very much NOT. But don’t weep for poor Mr. Basher his salary up to date should soften the blow somewhat. Plus you never know he might still get a bonus - after all bankers get bonuses for failing, why shouldn’t supermarket executives?! But I digress!

See there is nothing scarier to a CEO than angry shareholders who can force you to give up your cushy job. And if you are not paying them a dividend, or cutting it, or just simply keeping it the same they get VERY angry! Not to mention that a fall on profits, means a fall on share price, means a smaller payout to all.  So a CEO’s job in this situation  is to raise profit year on year, and raise dividend year on year and well the hell with the rest, there is no space for the rest! This raises the question however, should companies such as Tesco which provide a rather important service - food! - be more concerned with their shareholders, than their clients, and their general responsibility towards the public space they occupy? I personally don't think so, but I doubt Tesco give a monkey’s about what I, or you think!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Pondering on Morally Corrupt Companies

I was reading an article by a Goldman Sachs Exec who is leaving the company because he can no longer in clear conscience stay with a company that is so morally corrupt they make Satan seem like a Saint [my words not his!]. As with most things that I read these days it made me wonder what do people who find themselves in that situation do. What would you do if you found yourself working for a morally corrupt company? Or worse a morally corrupt business sector? - Again Banking somehow comes to mind here, but there is also mining, drilling for oil, and tree logging that might fit, not to mention food production!

Now I have worked for some interesting people/companies; my current employer is certainly quirky in terms of corporate culture, but none of them have come across as morally corrupt. The London council I worked for was morally constrained by central government policy that is for sure, but the people leading it were by all standards good people with some decent ideals.   

Normally I would keep these sort of thoughts to myself or share them with my friends - God knows they suffer my opinions on a daily basis and all deserve a Nobel prize for it! I get my feed back from them, but most of them have not even been given the chance to work, dare I say work for a company with low or no ethics! So I thought I would share this pondering in the hope that I might get some insightful responses from the rest of the world.

To explain why I am asking and why I am so interested in this. I am a masters student in international relations as well as being a business media analyst/researcher. The human condition on a global scale is my bread and butter. I read about banks, insurers, credit card companies, mining giants, oil companies and food producing giants which control our lives on a day to day basis. For the last two years as part of my studies as well as part of my job AND everyday life I have come across greed, ruthless profiteering, environmental destruction and the mindless infringement on Human Rights from every single company I encountered. I read about their Corporate Social Responsibility policies, but it is just rhetoric and posturing. Don’t get me wrong I will defend the notion of CSR until I am blue in the face, unfortunately it seems to be nothing more than a notion for the vast majority of these corporations. I also need to say that I am fully aware that there are companies out there with a good CSR record which benefit their stakeholders [different to shareholders!]

But back tomy point. These are the companies a lot of us work for, or aspire to work for. They are teaching us a particular kind of ethics [or lack of!] and as we become accustomed to think of nothing but making money at any cost to our moral selves and call our clients “muppets” because we were never taught to respect, we are going to allow this sort of behavior to creep into our daily lives - I already see it in some people I know - and eventually we will pass it on to our children.  

So what would you do if you worked for a morally corrupt company??

[You can read Greg Smith’s article about why he is leaving GS here: ]