One of my favourite subjects at school was geography. I remember learning about acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, and global warming. It wasn’t until I got involved as a Greenpeace activist that it struck me: why hadn’t we sorted the third one out, yet?
The Montreal Protocol signed in 1987 kicked off a successful international push to deal with the hole in the ozone layer. Though the hole remains large because the pollutants are long-lived, we’re broadly on track to fix the problem.
European regulations cut sulphur dioxide emissions from industry by 70 per cent, making huge progress in tackling acid rain. Too many lakes and forests still suffer from acidification, and high levels of nitrogen dioxide emissions from traffic and industry remain a problem, but again we are very much heading in the right direction.
But with global warming (or climate change), global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Europe’s emissions have fallen, but only very slightly, and much of that was ‘achieved’ through exporting our manufacturing to Asia:
Why haven’t we fixed climate change?
You could say – if you were to hugely oversimplify things – that the ozone hole and acid ran were both fixed without fundamentally changing our economic system. We switched from CFCs in fridges, and cleaned up industry’s chimneys, and bob’s your uncle.
But global warming requires that we fundamentally rethink our economy. Both left and right in Britain seek growth through more airports, more roads, more oil and gas extraction. Growth, whether driven forward by unconstrained capitalism or social democracy, comes first, and environmental considerations are an afterthought. Never mind that climate change could do more damage to our GDP than any financial crisis to date! As Jonathan Porritt put it, whether you’re in the left or the right land, you’re still on a motorway heading over a cliff.
Successive Labour, Conservative and Liberal governments have ploughed on with economic strategies of more, more, more. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are constantly undermined by their desire to build roads and frack the countryside, their failure to insulate homes and decarbonise our energy production.
Those parties may not deny the science of climate change, but their actions speak louder than words, of climate change denial in practice.
I’ve been cheered by recent announcements from Ed Miliband who – I believe – understands climate change better than most of his colleagues. There can be no doubt that a British government led by Miliband would do far more in the 2015 Paris climate talks than one led by Cameron. But climate change remains a low priority, an afterthought even, for the Labour Party as a whole.
Not so for the Green Party
On the Saturday at our spring conference in Liverpool I joined hundreds of Parliamentary candidates and party members in this photo-shoot to coincide with a large march through central London.
You can just spot me standing to the right of our party leader, Natalie Bennett:
Unlike the other political parties, the Green Party begins with climate change. It’s an assumption, built into everything we do, like equality. We would never promote a policy that might increase greenhouse gas emissions, just as we would never promote a policy that would make economic or racial inequality worse.
Time again, I have seen that without a Green in the room it just isn’t raised. For example, in the fourteen years before Jenny Jones became chair of the London Assembly Economy Committee, the economic consequences of climate change were never properly discussed in that committee.
Climate change is also a priority, one high enough to require that photo-shoot, and to be the subject of an entire speech by one of our deputy leaders, Shahrar Ali:
The Green Party offers the leadership on climate change that Shahrar speaks about.
If you marched on Saturday; if you shout angrily at the radio everytime they discuss a boom on the oil industry without mentioning climate change; if you want an MP like Caroline Lucas willing to put her liberty on the line to take a stand against fracking; then vote for a party that takes climate change seriously.
If you want real leadership on climate change, vote Green Party on the 7th May.
“that the ozone hole and acid ran were both fixed without fundamentally changing our economic system. We switched from CFCs in fridges, and cleaned up industry’s chimneys, and bob’s your uncle.
But global warming requires that we fundamentally rethink our economy. Both left and right in Britain seek growth through more airports, more roads, more oil and gas extraction. Growth, whether driven forward by unconstrained capitalism or social democracy, comes first, and environmental considerations are an afterthought.”
but where is the fundamental difference? If growth was all that mattered to the mainstream, these changes would not have happened. The difference with climate change is a matter of degree. And Greens are not part of the solution as long as they pick and chose what scientific advice they want to hear.
Could cities be part of the solution to climate change?
The fundamental difference is twofold.
First, climate change requires that we do less of many of the things that have driven growth in the past. For example, almost nobody believes we can decarbonise our transport system quickly and deeply enough without reducing traffic levels. But that requires that we stop building more road capacity and encouraging more traffic. To date, no British government has really taken this on board, and even in this forthcoming election we have the absurdity of Ed Miliband pledging to do all he can on climate change, while his shadow transport secretary promises to “end the war on motorists” and his shadow chancellor promises to back Davies’ plans for airport expansion.
Second, if you accept the Prosperity Without Growth? thesis (which obviously we do), then climate change requires that we stop economic growth, because it is inconceivable that we could develop technologies quickly enough to decarbonise a growing economy to the extent that would be required. Read the chapter of that report on ‘the myth of decoupling’.
You might still say this is a matter of degrees – that all three problems are basically about reducing pollutants through a combination of technological fixes and changes in economic patterns. But I believe that climate change requires so large a change that it runs much deeper.
I do indeed say it is a matter of degree, and I don’t think you give any reason why the admitted greater problem of greenhouse gases makes it qualitatively different. I read the chapter on decoupling, which acknowledges that unit for unit, resources are now used more carefully (relative decoupling), but not in aggregate, which would be absolute decoupling. It is clear why; because world population has increased, but more because so many of these billions want to become middle class consumers.
Hard as it may be to see capitalism giving the desired outcome, it is even harder to see a system do so without using pricing, a word with zero frequency in the report. Instead, we have irrelevant diagrams such as Fig. 18, “The ‘Engine of Growth’ in Market Economies”. Under circumstances which have applied to date, market economics may have led to growth in GDP, but markets persist in economies in decline, even when the reason for the decline is a policy to eliminate markets.
We need to be honest; for the sake of the planet and the future, we need to change how these new billions of world citizens use the world’s resources. We need to explain why it is necessary, to win political support for the policy controls which will be needed. These policies need to be global, so centralised to a degree which is hard to imagine, except by those who remember that similar policies have worked to save the ozone layer. To ignore the help that pricing can give, and bad mouth market economics is perverse. we have to accept that humans will continue to be selfish to a degree, and work with it. Discourse which suggests the world would be saved if only everyone was as ethical as those in the Green movement will actually be counter productive.
what about, instead of saying that we can control climate change, or revert it, or somehow have an effect on global weather systems – how about we (you) concentrate on things that you know you can fix – for instance subsidies for renewable energy production? investment into proper insulation, ventilation, and heat recovery in all properties?
If you can persuade people that a better insulated house saves them money on their electricity bill, they’re more likely to go for it than saying “you’ll use less CO2, and hence reduce climate change”, but saving money on your fuel bill this way will use less energy, produce less CO2, reduce emissions, reduce fuel use, and could potentially reduce the rate of climate change to something that the human race might have a chance of being able to adapt to.
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