It’s simple. If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up

30 04 2017

I occasionally publish articles by George monbiot. At times I have labelled them ‘Monbiot at his best’, even if I disagreed with bits of it….. but this time, he utterly nails it. There’s very little regulars to this site will learn from this, but it is a good piece of writing, and it needs to be shared far and wide, because we truly need this revolution. It’s two years old, but even more relevant now than when he wrote it.

Found on the Guardian’s website…..

'The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.'
‘The mother narrative to all this is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots.’ Photograph: Alamy

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided toallow oil drilling in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as either blackmail or fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich. Why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

Almost 45% of the Yasuni national park is overlapped by oil concessions.
Yasuni national park. Murray Cooper/Minden Pictures/Corbis

The UK oil firm Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about colonising space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced.

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we miraculously reduced the consumption of raw materials by 90%, we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

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No fracking, drilling or digging: it’s the only way to save life on Earth

29 09 2016

“Do they understand what they have signed? Plainly they do not. Governments such as ours, now ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change, haven’t the faintest idea what it means – either that or they have no intention of honoring it” writes George Monbiot in the Guardian…… but does George himself ‘get’ what he’s writing….?

Any regular visitor to this blog will know I entirely agree with the title of Monbiot’s thesis. But at least, I know it also means the end of civilisation as we know it.

Using the industry’s own figures, it shows that burning the oil, gas and coal in the fields and mines that is already either in production or being developed, is likely to take the global temperature rise beyond 2C. And even if all coal mining were to be shut down today, the oil and gas lined up so far would take it past 1.5C. The notion that we can open any new reserves, whether by fracking for gas, drilling for oil or digging for coal, without scuppering the Paris commitments is simply untenable.

Too right. Especially as we have pretty well already reached the 1.5°C threshold according to several sources.

on-the-edge-of-1-5-c

The only means of reconciling governments’ climate change commitments with the opening of new coal mines, oilfields and fracking sites is carbon capture and storage: extracting carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of power stations and burying it in geological strata. But despite vast efforts to demonstrate the technology, it has not been proved at scale, and appears to be going nowhere. Our energy policies rely on vapourware.

All this nonsense is a substitute for a simple proposition: stop digging. There is only one form of carbon capture and storage that is scientifically proven, and which can be deployed immediately: leaving fossil fuels in the ground.

So far so good…..

[governments’] choices are as follows. First: a gradual, managed decline of existing production and its replacement with renewable energy and low-carbon infrastructure, which offer great potential for employment. Second: allowing fossil fuel production to continue at current rates for a while longer, followed by a sudden and severe termination of the sector, with dire consequences for both jobs and economies. Third: continuing to produce fossil fuels as we do today, followed by climate breakdown. Why is this a hard choice to make?

But George…… if we are at 1.5°C already, not even choice 1 is viable….

arcticspiral

The Arctic ice death spiral has lost no momentum, with current volumes at the lowest they have ever been recorded, and cruise ships actually being sent to the North West Passage for the filthy rich to see the product of their handy work……

Only an economic collapse can fix this ongoing insanity. At least it’s interesting to see Monbiot making no mention of nuclear power in this Guardian article. Has he changed his mind, or was it a mere omission..?

 





Channelling the Joy

18 06 2015

George Monbiot

George Monbiot

Go George……  I think his latest writings show a deeper understanding of our predicaments than ever, and we need him as a popular ‘voice’ to spread the truth.  Enjoy….

In defending the natural world, we should be honest about our motivations – it’s love that drives us, not money.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June 2015

Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimmed with rubbish?

No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil,banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.

Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.

I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has a hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.

Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.

I see the encyclical by Pope Francis, which will be published on Thursday, as a potential turning point. He will argue that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world; and in both respects he is right.

I don’t mean to suggest that a belief in God is the answer to our environmental crisis. Among Pope Francis’s opponents is the evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has written to him arguing that we have a holy duty to keep burning fossil fuel, as “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”. It also insists that exercising the dominion granted to humankind in Genesis means tilling the whole Earth”, transforming it “from wilderness to garden and ultimately to garden city”.

There are similar tendencies within the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, its head of finance, currently immersed in a scandal involving paedophile priests in Australia, is a prominent climate change denier. His lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation was the usual catalogue of zombie myths (discredited claims that keep resurfacing), nonsequiturs and outright garbage, championing, for example, the groundless claim that undersea volcanoes could be responsible for global warming. There are plenty of senior Catholics seeking to undermine the Pope’s defence of the living world; which could explain why his encyclical was leaked.

What I mean is that Pope Francis, a man with whom I disagree profoundly on matters such as equal marriage and contraceptives, reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our well-being. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.

In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”

He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world remains essential to our psychological and physiological well-being. (A paper published this week, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance).

This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there’s a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds. Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.

Is this a version of the religious conviction from which Pope Francis speaks? Or could his religion be a version of a much deeper and older love? Could a belief in God be a way of explaining and channelling the joy, the burst of love that nature sometimes provokes in us? Conversely, could the hyperconsumption that both religious and secular environmentalists lament be a response to ecological boredom: the void that a loss of contact with the natural world leaves in our psyches?

Of course, this doesn’t answer the whole problem. If the acknowledgement of love becomes the means by which we inspire environmentalism in others, how do we translate it into political change? But I believe it’s a better grounding for action than pretending that what really matters to us is the state of the economy. By being honest about our motivation we can inspire in others the passions that inspired us.

http://www.monbiot.com





How fossil fuel burning nearly wiped out life on Earth – 250m years ago

30 05 2015

George-Monbiot-L

Originally published in the Guardian, this article just blew me away, as it seriously contests ideas I had accepted as facts a very long time ago….

Do you want to know the real reason for the advances by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? Changing light bulbs in America. This is the explanation given by John McCain, Republican chair of the Senate armed services committee. At the weekend he blamed Barack Obama’s inability to magic away Isis on the president’s belief that climate change is “the biggest enemy we have”. Never mind the role of the Iraq war – which McCain supported – in destabilising the region, destroying the Iraqi army and creating the opportunities Isis has exploited. Never mind the propagation of Salafi doctrines by Saudi Arabia, which McCain bravely confronts by grovelling before its tyrants. It’s the Better Buildings Challenge and the Solar Instructor Training Network that allowed Isis to capture Ramadi and Palmyra.

In fact there is a connection, but it strengthens Obama’s contention that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security”. One of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.

But this is nothing by comparison to the real threats to global security, which make global security, as understood by McCain and Obama, look almost frivolous. As the evidence accumulates, it now seems that climate change was the commonest cause of mass extinction in the Earth’s prehistory.

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years.

The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land.

What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explain this extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means. This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

The latest research into the catastrophe at the end of the Permian is summarised in two articles by the geologist John Mason on the Skeptical Science site. The strongest clues all seem to point to the same conclusion: that the extinctions were triggered by the eruption of an igneous belt even bigger than the Deccan plateau: the Siberian Traps. As well as CO2, the volcanoes there produced sulphur dioxide, chlorides and fluorides, causing acid rain and the depletion of ozone.

But because carbon dioxide’s residence time in the atmosphere is greater than that of these other gases, it’s likely to have been the major cause of extinction. The change of state – including a rise in oceanic temperatures of 6-10C – was too sudden and sustained to permit the majority of life forms to adapt. The onset of mass extinction coincides with a giant carbon spike “so distinctive that it serves as a marker-horizon all over the world”.

So where did the carbon dioxide come from? Some of it would have bubbled out of the magma. But, enormous as the eruptions were, this alone seems insufficient to account for either the total volume of emissions or the ratio of isotopes (the different atomic forms) of the carbon entering the atmosphere. Fossil fuel seems to fill the gap.

The volcanoes exploded through the Tunguska sedimentary basin,cooking much of the coal, petroleum and methane it contained. Particles of coal fly ash have been found in rocks as far away as the Canadian Arctic. Rising temperatures might also have destabilised methane hydrates – a frozen form of natural gas – causing the kind of runaway feedback that terrifies some climate scientists today. Yes: the geological record suggests that fossil fuel burning might have eliminated most life on Earth.

And today? According to a paper published in 2013, the current rate of ocean acidification, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is faster than at any time in the past 300m years. During the Permian mass extinction, the eruption of the Siberian Traps through the Tunguska basin seems to have produced between one and two gigatonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Today fossil fuel burning produces 30 gigatonnes a year.

Isis? Global security? If anyone were to survive a mass extinction on the scale of the Permian catastrophe, they would look back and shake their heads, amazed that we could have considered such issues more important.





Code of Silence

7 05 2015

George-Monbiot-LEvery now and again, when he’s not spruiking nuclear power, I get the strong impression George Monbiot ‘gets it’.  I definitely get this impression in this, his latest effort which I hope no one will mind my republishing in full, because it’s such a wonderful read.  It’s of course all about the looming UK election, but what he says here applies everywhere, not least Australia.  Enjoy anyway…….

Almost all the issues worth debating are left unmentioned in this election.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th May 2015

Political coverage is never more trivial or evanescent than during an election. Where we might hope for enlightenment about the issues on which we will vote, we find gossip about the habits and style of political leaders, an obsession with statistically meaningless shifts in opinion polls and empty speculation about outcomes. (All this is now compounded by the birth of a royal baby, which means that our heads must simultaneously be dunked in a vat of sycophantic slobber). Anyone would think that the media didn’t want us to understand the choices confronting us.

While analysis of the issues dividing the political parties is often weak, coverage of those they have collectively overlooked is almost non-existent. The Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and even the SNP might claim to be at each other’s throats, but they have often reached consensus about which issues are worthy of debate. This article will list a few of the omissions.

The first is so obvious that it should feature in every political discussion: the corrupt and broken system under which we will vote. The argument I’ve heard several Labour activists use – “vote for us because it’s the best we can hope for under first-past-the-post” – would carry more weight if Labour had any plans to change the system.

Where are the furious arguments about the UK’s unreformed political funding, that allows billionaires and corporations to buy the politics they want? Where is the debate about the use and abuse of royal prerogative by successive prime ministers? Where is there even a mention of the democratic black hole at the heart of Britain, into which hopes for financial and fiscal reform are sucked: the Corporation of the City of London, whose illegitimate powers pre-date the Magna Carta?

Here’s a fact with which politicians should be assailed every day: the poor in this country pay more tax than the rich. If you didn’t know this – and most people don’t* – it’s because you’ve been trained not to know it through relentless efforts by the corporate media. It distracts us by fixating on income tax, one of the few sources of revenue that’s unequivocally progressive. But this accounts for just 27% of total taxation. Overall, the richest tenth pay 35% of their income in tax, while the poorest tenth pay 43%, largely because of the regressive nature of VAT and council tax. The Equality Trust found that 96% of respondents to its survey would like a more progressive system. But where is the major party mobilising this desire, or even explaining the current injustice?

A comprehensive failure to tax land and property is a policy shared by the three major English parties, mansion tax notwithstanding. None of them seems to mind that this failure helps to replace the entrepreneurial society they claim to support with an economy based on rent and patrimonial capital. None of them seems to mind that their elaborate fiscal ringfencing of land and buildings clashes with their professed belief that capital should be used productively.

Nor will any of them mount an effective challenge to kleptoremuneration: executives siphoning off wealth they had no role in creating. None seek to modify a limited liability regime so generous that it allowed the multi-millionaire authors of the financial crisis, such as Fred Goodwin and Matt Ridley, to walk away from the pain they helped to inflict without forfeiting a penny.

Even these issues are trivial by comparison to the unacknowledged cloud that hangs over our politics: the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet. All major parties and media outlets are committed to never-ending economic growth, and use GDP as the primary measure of human progress. Even to question this is to place yourself outside the frame of rational political debate.

To service this impossible dream, we must work relentlessly, often in jobs that deliver no social utility and cause great harm. Who in politics is brave enough to propose that we work less and enjoy life more? Who will challenge working conditions characterised by ridiculous quotas and impossible demands, or reform a social security regime more draconian and intrusive than day release from prison? Who is prepared to wonder aloud what all this striving and punishment is for?

And how about some acknowledgement of the epidemic of loneliness, or the shocking rise in conditions such as self-harm, eating disorders, depression, performance anxiety and social phobia? Evidently, these are not fit and proper subjects for political discourse, which creates the impression that those who suffer them are not fit and proper electors.

How about some arguments over the loss of public space? Or a debate about what’s happening to children, confined as never before within four walls, both at school and at home? How about some recognition of the radical changes in transport demand, that are likely, in the age of peak car and peak plane, to render redundant the new roads and airports to which all the large parties are committed? Forget it.

The national and global collapse of biodiversity, the horrifying rate of soil loss, the conflict between aspirations to minimise climate change and maximise the production of fossil fuels: none of these are put before voters as issues of significant difference. All major parties tacitly agree to carry on as before.

Politicians will not break these silences voluntarily. They are enforced by a narrow and retentive public discourse, dominated by the corporate media and the BBC, that ignores or stifles new ideas, grovels to the elite and ostracises the excluded, keeping this nation in a state of arrested development.

After this election, we need to think again; to find new means of pushing neglected issues onto the political agenda. We might try to discover why the social media have so far mostly failed to fulfil their democratising promise. We might seek new ways of building political communities, using models as diverse as Podemos and evangelical Christianity. We might experiment with some of the Latin American techniques that have helped to transform politics from the bottom up. However we do it, we should never again permit democracy to be reduced to so narrow a choice.

http://www.monbiot.com

* 68% of respondents to the Equality Trust’s Survey believed that households in the highest 10% income group pay more of their income in tax than households in the lowest 10% income group.





To Collapse or Not To Collapse

21 02 2015

This is a great debate from the Sustainable Living Festival featuring David Holmgren, George Monbiot, Nicole Foss, Philip Sutton, and a couple of others I don’t know like Jess Moore and George Marshall…..

The SLF Great Debate presents

To Collapse or Not To Collapse, or Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet according to Nicole Foss!

Pushing for economic ruin or building a great transition





George Monbiot on Money

19 02 2015

George-Monbiot-LUnlike the vast majority of journalists, George Monbiot does his own research rather than repeat parrot fashion what others in his trade throw at the sheeples as ‘news’.  It’s a pity he hasn’t included resource depletion in the pot as a problem for growth and therefore debt servicing, but there are enough new concepts in this to make it a most worthwhile read.  Lifted from the Guardian.

 

A maverick currency scheme from the 1930s could save the Greek economy

Compare the terms demanded of the Greek government to those offered to the banks. Eurozone ministers now insist upon unconditional surrender: a national abasement that makes a mockery of democracy. But when the banks were bailed out, governments magicked up the necessary money almost unconditionally. They shyly requested a few token reforms, then looked away when the bankers disregarded them.

The German government, now crushing the life out of southern Europe, merely tickled its own banks. As the New York Times reported, though the corrupt German banking system “required a bailout bigger than the one American banks received”, “there is little appetite for change in Germany because the banking system is so deeply intertwined with its politics, serving as a rich source of patronage and financing for local projects”.

When the Greeks complain that they have been reduced to colonial subjects, they are right, but the colonial masters are not the northern members of the eurozone. They are the private banks. The governments that seem determined to destroy a sovereign state for its impudence are merely the intermediaries of power.

None of this is to deny the corruption and fiscal promiscuity of previous Greek administrations. But while the banks have got away with far worse, the bullies of the eurozone insist on extracting every last drop of blood from people who had no role in their governments’ deceptions.

Greece is stuffed: or so almost everyone asserts. Perhaps. Or perhaps there are possibilities we have scarcely begun to examine. I should warn you that no one in their right mind would take financial advice from me.  (Or, for that matter, from most financial advisers) I seek only to suggest that there may be some possibilities of hope among the ruins.

One of these radical ideas was proposed a few months ago by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. He suggests stripping private banks of their remarkable power to create money out of thin air. Simply by issuing credit, they spawn between 95% and 97% of the money supply. If the state were to assert a monopoly on money creation, governments could increase their supply without increasing debt. Seigniorage (the difference between the cost of producing money and its value) would accrue to the state, adding billions of pounds to national coffers. The banks would be reduced to the servants, not the masters, of the economy.

An entirely different approach is proposed by Ann Pettifor, in Just Money. She argues that governments have failed to understand what money is. It should not be seen as a commodity, she says, but as a social relationship based on trust. Unusually for a radical critic of finance, she sees the creation of money by private banks as “a great civilisational advance”, freeing nations from the usurers who once monopolised and restricted wealth.

The supply of money is, in effect, unlimited: as long as there is sufficient productive activity to absorb it there is no obvious restraint on the amount of money that can be issued. So when governments and central bankers tell you that the money has run out, Pettifor argues, they are either deceiving us or deceiving themselves. What holds back economic activity is an unnecessary and artificial restriction of the medium of exchange.

Banking’s great civilisational advance has been all but destroyed through deregulation, whose result is a new system of usury, speculation and exploitation. Private banks borrow cheap and lend dear, forcing us to work ever longer hours and to inflict ever more damage on the natural world to service our debts. Pettifor suggests that governments should reassert control over interest rates at every level of lending.

But perhaps the biggest transformation could happen at the local level. Greece already has set up some local currencies that have kept money circulating in several towns and cities as it cannot be siphoned away. (There are similar systems in Britain, such as the Bristol Pound). But strangely they do not make use of the thrilling, transformative system that almost saved Europe from fascism; the currency developed by the economist Silvio Gesell called stamp scrip. It is explained in Bernard Lietaer’s magnificent book The Future of Money.

In its original form, stamp scrip was a piece of paper on which a number of boxes were printed. The note would lose its validity unless a stamp costing 1% of its value was stuck in one of the boxes every month. In other words, the currency lost value over time, so there was no incentive to hoard it. Stamp scrip projects took off across Germany and Austria after national currencies collapsed in the early 1930s. In 1932, for example, the Austrian town of Wörgl was almost broke, unable to finance public works or to support its destitute population, until the mayor heard of Gesell’s proposal.

This little pot of money kept circulating, enabling Wörgl to repave the streets, rebuild the water system

He put up the town’s tiny remaining fund as collateral against the same value of stamp scrip, and used it to pay for a building project. The workers then passed on the currency as quickly as they could. Like the magic pudding, this little pot of money kept circulating, enabling Wörgl to repave the streets, rebuild the water system, construct houses, a bridge and even a ski jump. In the 13 months of the experiment, the 5,500 scrip schillings in circulation were spent 416 times, creating between 12 and 14 times as much employment as the standard currency would have done. Unemployment vanished, and the stamp fees paid for a soup kitchen feeding 220 families.

The governments of Germany and Austria, profoundly threatened by the success of these projects, shut them down and employment collapsed once more. When the US economist Irving Fisher examined these experiments he concluded that “the correct application of stamp scrip would solve the depression crisis in the US in three weeks!”. Roosevelt’s government, aware that such currencies could invoke a massive loss of federal power, promptly banned it.

Could these ideas be useful to Greece? Could they be of relevance in other parts of Europe? Even perhaps in Scotland, where the currency issue was unimaginatively fudged before the referendum? I don’t know. But if Greece leaves the eurozone, it could open up a world of possibility to which other nations have closed their minds.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com