It’s Not Just a Prediction Anymore
If you’ve been living under a rock then you will have missed the dreadful news these past few weeks of fires from the pits of hell breaking out in the US, Russia, and Canada and Turkey along with droughts and deadly heat. And following on from those hideous nightmarish weather events, the onslaught of flash floods has literally taken us by storm, stealing lives and destroying homes and land across the UK, Germany, Belgium, India, Uganda, Burundi, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Costa Rica and Oman (I may have missed some out here).
Here in Manchester after a very hot and very stuffy heat wave, the weather finally broke on Thursday resulting in flooding submerging wheels of cars in South Manchester after only a half hour downpour, which, thankfully, didn’t overwhelm our drains as they had in London after a months worth of average rain fell in a single day and brought parts of the city to standstill earlier this month.
12 years ago while studying for my Environmental Governance masters, these are the nightmarish extremes in weather that my professors were teaching us about. Back then, though I knew otherwise, I hoped that time would play out to prove the climate predictions of the IPCC wrong. So must the governments and local authorities around the world because they failed to prepare for these disasters. The grim predictions of climate scientists have now accurately transpired, and while extreme weather events were predicted, we are all shocked at our lack of preparedness. These events are happening while we are at global warming of 1.2 degrees, and so we are easily able to imagine the catastrophe that will ensue as we near 2 degrees, and, even worse, 3, which is more in line current trajectories given our collective lack of action and government policy failure. It’s no longer possible to imagine this as anything short of a crisis. And it’s no longer possible to ignore the climate scientists warnings. We must act.
What We Need to Do To Meet Climate Targets
Certain things are required if we are to save ourselves:
- Reduction in overall consumption, focusing on growing only consumption that enables decent living conditions, while massively reducing the types of consumption that offer no marginal benefit to human wellbeing.
Decarbonisation – NO NEW OIL!
The recent Production Gap Report which “measures the gap between Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned and projected production of coal, oil, and gas”, has brought to light the fact that we have already extracted, and are currently extracting, the maximum amount of fossil fuels with which we can hope to remain within 1.5 degrees of warming. However, governments globally have plans for further fossil fuel growth. In fact, astonishingly, “countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5°C temperature limit.”
I can not emphasise this point strongly enough: THERE CAN BE NO NEW OIL OR GAS OR COAL EXTRACTION ANYWHERE FROM NOW ON. I repeat, no form of fossil fuel expansion, anywhere, is compatible with climate goals. Any further extraction leads us directly to uninhabitable earth. We are killing our life support systems with our fossil fuel addiction. We can stop now and invest in renewable energy.
In terms of consumption reduction we know a few key areas are going to need to be the focus. Government spending is required to invest in upgrading energy provision to renewable sources, upgrading housing, transport and infrastructure to enable lower energy consumption. And importantly, drastic and fast action is required to shift food production to a plant based system, which will free up approximately 70% of land currently used for farming, reduce emissions and pollution and help give us fighting chance to prevent more extinction losses. In fact, even if we cease fossil fuel expansion now and transition to 100% renewable energy over the new few decades, we are still going to surpass our climate targets and screw over the eco system unless we also switch to plant based farming.
Personal Adaptation for Systemic Change
Along with top down, government spending in the economy to enable this carbon revolution, what can we do as individuals to contribute to consumption reduction? Well, the trite line that ‘there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism’ that many left wingers love to trot out to justify their own personal consumer indulgence isn’t going to cut it. Climate change is systemic, yes. No it is not the fault of any one individual; climate change is not your fault, dear reader. But, as individuals, we are part of the system, and we have power and agency. We can all help to contribute to systemic change with the personal decisions we make. The fact that 100 companies are responsible for approximately 70% of emissions doesn’t mean we can just wave our anti-fossil fuel protest signs while we munch on meat and holiday abroad. The 100 companies responsible for the majority of emissions are on that list precisely because they are the companies we buy our fossil fuels from. We are part of a system that has to change if we are to make it, which by definition means that we have to change.
So, changes to the way we live, consume, eat, travel and work all make a difference. We can choose to eat plant based and buy plant based clothes and homeware. We can choose to make fewer unnecessary journeys – like to an office, for example, if we can work at home. We can choose to cycle or walk whenever possible. If we have to use a car, when it’s time to renew it we can choose a hybrid or a low emissions vehicle, or for those of us who can afford it, electric. We can choose to holiday without air travel. We can choose to buy low waste homeware and personal care products. If we can afford the upfront cost, then installing tech for renewable energy and extra insulation to our homes is a great idea. We can reduce our food waste. We can buy second hand clothes or items that we know we can get lots and lots of wear out of. We can upgrade our mobile phone and other tech only once it’s completely knackered, and not before. We can stop buying unnecessary crap, especial unnecessary plastic crap. We can do what ever is possible and practicable to reduce our personal environmental impact.
Political Agency to Push for Systemic Change
What else can we do? Well, a recently published study examining the conditions which enable lower energy use while satisfying human needs empirically demonstrates that:
“factors such as public service quality, income equality, democracy, and electricity access are associated with higher need satisfaction and lower energy requirements (‘beneficial provisioning factors’). Conversely, extractivism and economic growth beyond moderate levels of affluence are associated with lower need satisfaction and greater energy requirements (‘detrimental provisioning factors’).”
This information can guide the direction of our activism efforts. We can pressure our political representatives at local, national and international level to implement policy that encourages decarbonisation, transition to plant based farming, ending subsidies to these industries, decoupling the economy from growth. We can do this by protesting, disrupting, writing letters and signing petitions, joining local activist groups, and spreading information in our communities.
And we can vote! We can vote for parties and representatives willing to invest in public services and infrastructure. Those who stand for democracy and protecting our environment. We can vote for parties that endeavour to reduce income inequality. We can vote for parties which promote policy that progress democracy and do not attempt to subvert it. Which parties are they, I hear you ask. Well I’ll leave you to research your own decision and come to your own conclusions, but I will point out a few failings of the current government in respect to our ability to establish systems of lower energy use and high needs satisfaction to wet your appetite!
Government Threats to Systemic Change
The current UK government, to put it bluntly, is miserable and mean. A decade of austerity has cost many their livelihoods and even their lives. Recently, cuts have been proposed to Universal Credit that will see the poorest among us suffer unnecessarily. The constant droning on about austerity and reducing the national debt when clearly so very many of the Tories fail to understand (or pretend to misunderstand) what the debt is, and where it actually comes from is both manipulative in its methods and inhumane and undemocratic in its execution (see Modern Monetary Theory and I recommend Richard Murphy’s free e-book ‘Money for nothing and my tweets for free’ for a simple explanation of the nation debt and the deficit myth). The callousness of neoliberal libertarian approach to public health and social policy would happily see the poorest children in our society starve rather than pay for school lunches and it makes sacrificial lambs out of the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable, the old, and the young. This all built on the cruel and simplistic ideology which says that poverty is the fault of the poor, sickness is the fault of the sick, and those who suffer deserve it.
More notable than the usual crass Conservative ideology though is that this government appears to be ushering in a form of oppression and authoritarianism which is unusual even by its own standards, which is cause for concern for obvious reasons, but especially worrying because we are not going to be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change with a government which goes against the science and actively oppresses and subverts democracy.
Over the term of the Tories and in particular since Boris Johnson has taken his seat as PM, numerous political shenanigans endangering our civil liberties have made a mockery of our democracy. For the purposes of this blog post I will focus on a trio which clearly illustrate my point. The first two emerge off the back of the strength of Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests, which clearly rattled the Tories into introducing law which serves to protect and entrench their power and business as usual. The third exemplifies linkages of government corruption with the wider problems of society – lack of inclination to discern fact from fiction, where government, media and civil society only reinforce the pretence that we have a functioning democracy. Everyone knows the system is a sham, but mainly continue to act as thought it is legitimate. Individually, these examples effectively curb our civil liberties and serve as a barrier to protest the current regime. In combination, they make all too clear that the objective is to eliminate defiance. They demonstrate the unsuitability of the Conservative party for government in general, and especially during this climate and species extinction crisis where critical thinking and protest is necessary for resolution of the dearth of climate action.
A Trio of Troubles
First in September 2020 the Department for Education guidance labelled anti-capitalism as an extreme political stance, banning the use of teaching materials from any organisations with anti-capitalist sentiments – which would mean even mentioning certain historical facts or ideology – past and present – of the political opposition, for example, would be deemed unacceptable. Critical thinking is now deemed criminal by the Conservative Party and Government.
Next as part of The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021-22 came proposed changes to the laws in England and Wales on protest, which would give the police powers to prevent protest, including single-person protest, “where noise may cause a significant impact on those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the running of an organisation” and further to this the bill gives authority to Priti Patel to single handedly create legislation to define what constitutes this “significant impact” and “serious disruption”. Additionally, the bill specifies that a 10 year maximum jail sentence is appropriate for criminal damage to a statue, which is completely disproportionate to the crime, and far more severe than much more serious crimes.
Thirdly the policy of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to outrageously and continuously lie in Parliament and elsewhere, unchecked, regarding all manner of topics from Brexit to the environment, exemplifies the hypernormalisation of a society in which media and politicians maintain a pretence of competency. Peter Stephanovic has relentlessly tweeted about and exposed such lies and the failure of the media to report on them. In July, Dawn Butler MP, quoting this fact checking, was removed from the House of Commons for calling the Prime Minister out as a lier. A parliamentary system in which a Prime Minister cannot be held accountable for brazen lies, and where the opposition is removed from the House for pointing lies out, we have to concede, is a parliamentary system which appears unfit for purpose.
UPDATE – a fourth addition: The financial times did not mince it’s words on 1st Aug when it opened it’s piece entitled ‘The Conservatives and the Whiff of Chumocracy‘ with the bold line “Is the UKs democracy for sale?”. The article reports on “a shadowy club of elite political donors”, which it states is “a problem for good governance and good government, increasing perceptions of cronyism and sleaze”. Nothing too surprising for those of us who have followed along the Tory PPE and consultancy scandals of cash for chums of the government.
A Political Alliance for a Better Future
My view is this: if we are to stand a chance in the UK of getting ahead of the miserable future that climate change will inflict upon us, we need ensure that the Tory party are prevented from stalling action and undermining our democracy. How can we possibly affect change in a system where our civil liberties are under such serious threat and are led by a government that consistently lies and cheats the system to benefit their vested interests.
An alliance of Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems with potential to introduce PR and citizen assemblies would be a better alternative and one with which we have a chance to invest in better public services, reduce income inequality, and improve our democracy so that we have a fighting chance to avert the worst case predictions by climate scientists.
Be The Change
We can wait for change to be inflicted upon us by law, or war, flames or floods, or famine and drought. Or we can be the change, and help in the effort to get ahead of run-away climate catastrophe. We will never have this much time to act, ever again. Time is running out. What will you do with yours?