Brexit after Brexit

Now that Brexit is on its way, everyone is trying to work out what it means. I believe the most profound implications are not about the re-configuration of the UK’s political parties, or the length of time withdrawal may take, or the possible economic impact – or even the fragmentation of the United Kingdom.

The most important implications will be what it means for social conditions and the environment. Brexit is a giant exercise in re-regulation.

Clearly part of the motive for leaving was to achieve a reduction in the regulation of business. I fear that will mean harder working conditions for the majority of the very people that voted to leave. But what no-one is talking about is a possible relaxation in environmental regulation.

It will be a Pyrrhic victory for Britain if the planet is defeated.


Quantitative Pleasing – how many is too much

The ICAEW have published my report on the perils of quantification and what can be done about it. Using the examples social and natural capital, it sets out guidelines for when and how quantification should be attempted – and what to do when it should not be done.


When science clashes with society…

Should public honour be given to scientists irrespective of the social impact of their researches? Would it have been right for Robert Oppenheimer to have been awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on the Manhattan Project?

The World Food Prize is a case in point. The 2013 World Food Prize has been awarded to three people who developed GMOs. One of them is from Monsanto, another from Syngenta. The prize recognizes work to produce RoundUp Ready crops amongst others. But there is no mention of the controversies surrounding these products or any attempt to take into account their wider environmental or social consequences.

It looks like the World Food Prize organisation has been poorly advised. At the least a more extensive analysis of the impact of GMOs should be given.


Cuadrilla: back to the past?

However new the technology, Cuadrilla appears to be operating in the last century. The Cuadrilla website includes a section on how insignificant their earthquakes actually are and why water supply contamination just cannot occur.

Unconvinced, the citizens of Balcombe and environmental campaigners have been on the move. They are concerned about the direct impacts of fracking and the damage that releasing another source of fossil fuel will do to the environment.

What Cuadrilla has failed to do is properly acknowledge the concerns of the communities it impacts, going far beyond donations to local charities while they are drilling. It is not just a matter of going by the rules with the planning process – if they hadn’t done that they would have been stopped long ago. It is about taking stakeholders seriously. The issues raised by local community reaction and interaction and the views of NGOs are poorly represented on their website.

This could be BP back in the 1980s. The lessons that Shell and BP seemed to take on board for a short while in the late 1990’s and the first few years of this century- about transparency and stakeholder engagement – appear to have left little lasting legacy. BP was the first energy company to acknowledge the problem of climate change, breaking ranks with the industry at the time. This was during the John Browne era, when BP seemed to want to make progress towards sustainability.

The sad irony is that John Browne is now the Chair of Cuadrilla.


Leaden responsibilities

If lead is the cause of crime, who is left with the responsibility?

George Monbiot has highlighted research that seems to show convincingly that lead leads to crime (after a gap of 20 years). That raises some key questions for personal responsibility and for corporate responsibility.

Simply put: if the reason you committed a crime is the lead you were exposed to, then how much can you be blamed? The balance of the justice system is likely to be further shifted towards rehabilitation (or even detoxification), rather than punishment.

But will it go the other way for some companies? Innospec is still busy selling lead tetraethyl, one of the main sources of ambient lead. Should that be allowed to continue? And what about all those companies that used to sell it in the past? Should they be held to account for the crimes eventually caused by their sales? In the light of the South African asbestos case, it looks as though ignorance of the link will not be a good enough excuse to avoid liability. And as Dow Chemicals and Bhopal shows, the moral liability, in any case, will linger.