Martin Empson

Are there too many people on the planet?

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Martin Empson unpicks the arguments of those who claim that population growth is to blame for the climate crisis.

At some point between October 2011 and March 2012 the world’s population surpassed 7 billion people. Whenever such a milestone is passed there is a rash of alarmist articles in the media warning of the dangers of uncontrolled population growth. In the years since 2012 the total has increased by a further 700,000 people, which for some activists, politicians, demographers and media commentators only fuels the panic. As a result, you don’t have to campaign around environmental issues for long before someone will tell you that the problem is “too many people”.

Writing the Lives of the English Poor 1750s-1830s

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The “Old Poor Law”, first passed in 1601, was a series of pieces of legislation to attempt to deal with poverty in England and Wales. It lasted, with amendments, until 1834 when the New Poor Law was finally introduced after growing discontent at the system’s inadequacies.

These laws have been closely studied by historians, because the treatment of the poor gives an indication of wider changes in society. The Old Law covered the period from the end of the Tudors to the birth of capitalism and industrialisation.

Joseph Arch and the revolt of the fields

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In the 1870s agricultural workers across Britain began a whirlwind campaign to organise trade unions. Martin Empson looks at the involvement of the now little known leader of the movement, Joseph Arch, who died a century ago this month and whose contribution shouldn’t be forgotten.

Joseph Arch, agricultural labourer, trade unionist and Liberal MP, died in February 1919 at the age of 92. Today he is almost forgotten, yet in his lifetime tens of thousands of agricultural workers looked to him as a leader. In the 1870s, in response to poverty and unemployment in agricultural communities, he was at the heart of an explosion of trade unionism that terrified landowners and farmers.

The future’s already here

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The IPCC climate change report grabbed headlines with the notion that we have 12 years to avert climate crisis. We would be better served by recognising that the crisis is happening now, writes Martin Empson.

The publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report in October provoked major discussion. Headline writers seized on a figure that suggested we have 12 years to prevent catastrophe.

Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the IPCC’s working group on impacts, used similarly apocalyptic language: “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now… This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”

Marx 200

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The 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth has produced plenty of articles and books discussing his legacy. Few of these have had any real clarity on Marx’s actual ideas. So it is refreshing to read Michael Roberts’ short, but detailed, discussion on the relevance of Marx’s economic ideas.

Focus on China: The East is green?

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Martin Empson examines the contradictions behind the green rhetoric of the Chinese government and its continued reliance on fossil fuels.

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

The Civilization of Perpetual Motion

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Nomads are often dismissed or overlooked. Indeed, one relatively recent book declared that nomads “have had no major role in world history for the past 500 years”. Such views are often based on inaccurate and outdated views of nomads and their role in the modern world. Historically, nomads have been seen as backward and violent people — Genghis Khan’s barbaric hordes pouring down on the defenceless civilised world, or more recently the romantic view of people “free of cumbersome city goods” living in empty, pristine wilderness.

Can we build a sustainable society?

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There is an assumption that Marx and Engels's vision of communism sees the natural world as an inexhaustible collection of resources. Martin Empson argues that they sought a profound change in how humans relate to nature, flowing from the democratic and collective organisation of labour.

This month will see major worldwide protests demanding action on climate change. As world leaders meet in Paris they have a chance to plan the massive reduction of emissions to keep world temperatures below the 2 degrees threshold. Time is now tight, and the action would need to be quick and drastic.

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