Climate crisis -The stakes in the UK election.

The key task for the climate change movement in the UK between now and the end of the year is to get rid of Boris Johnson’s government.

Movements like XR argue that they are “above politics” and its quite right to aim to mobilise everyone regardless of existing affiliations or leanings. However this election offers a stark choice that can’t be ducked because the resulting government will either be one that will push ahead with the most ambitious green investment strategy in any developed country, or be one that will be trailing in the wake of Donald Trump’s denialist international.

The movement will either have a government it can work with – or one that it will have to keep mobilising against.

And we don’t have a lot of time.

Boris Johnson himself has not voted for any practical measure to reduce carbon emissions since he has been in parliament. By contrast Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas have voted for 92% of them. Conservative MPs have on average voted for less than half of these measures; Labour for more than half. The Guardian has a useful graph on this which shows the 50% mark mostly red above and blue below (1). Jo Swinson is on 50% and the Lib Dem record is wildly inconsistent.

Johnson is in an explicit alignment with Donald Trump.

If elected we can be sure that he would move Conservative government rhetoric away from current greenwash into line with his voting record.

The Conservative manifesto is being written by a lobbyist for a fracking company (2).

By contrast Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution pledges the following; and its worth reading all of this. What follows is a lightly updated and edited version of the full document from earlier in the year to take account of conference decisions. If there are significant alterations in the Manifesto I will update this blog accordingly.

ENERGY

 Decarbonise the energy grid by the 2030s. Fracking banned.
 Support the development of tidal lagoons,
 Upgrade and invest in flexible energy networks capable of supporting a transition to decentralised renewable energy
 Remove the barriers to onshore wind put in place by the Conservative government…invest in wind, solar and other renewable projects. Five times as much offshore and three times as much onshore wind.
 Work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities through transition

HOUSING
 Upgrade 4 million homes to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C in five years, investing £2.3bn per year to provide financial support for households to insulate their homes, with a zero carbon standard for new-build homes introduced as soon as possible.
 Insulation schemes to be done by local authorities working street to street to save at least £275 per year for affected households, improve the health and well being of families, reduce costs to the NHS and create thousands of new skilled jobs.

 Prioritise affordable homes in the new zero carbon homes programme,  provide funding to support councils and housing associations to build new homes to Passivhaus standards
 Tighten regulation of privately rented homes, blocking poorly insulated homes
from being rented out
 Introduce new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are fit for human habitation and empower tenants to take action if their rented homes are sub-standard

TRANSPORT
 Introduce a new Clean Air Act.
 Expand public transport, bring our railways back into public ownership, cap fares, and support the creation of municipal bus companies run for passengers not profit.

 Expand and electrify the railway network across the whole country, including in Wales and the South West and build Crossrail for the North linked to HS2
 Encourage greater use of public transport, introducing free bus travel for under
25s where local authorities regulate or own local bus services – paid
for with money ring-fenced from Vehicle Excise Duty

INVESTMENT
 Position the UK at the forefront of the development, manufacture and use of ultra-low emission vehicles
 Retrofit thousands of diesel buses in areas with the most severe air quality problems to
Euro 6 standards
 Airport expansion must adhere to our tests  to address, noise levels, air quality and the UK’s climate change obligations.

WATER
 Establish new democratic public water companies which will be mandated by
DEFRA to meet environmental and social objectives

FARMING, FISHING, HABITATS AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
 Funds for farming and fishing to support sustainable practices,
 Embed and enhance in policy the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals, and encourage the growth of wildflowers.

 New guidance to end the use of antibiotics for routine, preventative purposes with farm animals.
 A science innovation fund to promote the most sustainable forms of farming and fishing, with support earmarked for our small-scale fishing fleet
 Review the allocation of UK fishing quota to promote the most sustainable fishing
practices
 Protect habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding
the United Kingdom and its overseas territories,
 Set targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes,
 Strengthen the Hunting Act, end the badger cull, make illegal hunting and all wildlife crime a reportable offence,
 Initiate a large tree planting programme, working with farmers and foresters to
promote biodiversity and better flood prevention
 End rotational heather burning and launch a review into the economic, environmental and wildlife impacts of grouse shooting
 Ban wild animals in circuses

INTERNATIONAL
 Put the environment and human rights at the heart of our foreign policy,  drive forward new multilateral environmental agreements,  direct our armed forces to devote more resources to tackle humanitarian emergencies
 Negotiate a future relationship with the EU that maintains and extends all environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline, while introducing more ambitious domestic environmental policy than that guaranteed at the European level
 Develop a cross-government strategy to ensure UN Sustainable Development
Goals are implemented and reported on annually to Parliament
 Commit to supporting climate mitigation and adaptation in the Global South, and to support countries severely affected
 Oppose investor-state dispute systems in international trade and investment agreements, and other trade rules that can be used to undermine domestic or international environmental protections
 Ensure UK aid does not support fossil fuel projects, divesting DFID away from fossil
fuels towards renewable energy sources
 Promote UK Export Finance support for the energy sector towards low-carbon projects
in place of its overwhelming support for fossil fuel projects in previous years

This programme cannot be left to government ministers to get on with. Its not a matter of voting for it and sitting back. It will only happen if the whole movement engages with it and mobilises support for it and works on its implementation at every level and through every lever available to us.

Living in the End Times?

The Daily Telegraph used to be a reassuring newspaper in its way. I once had a mind numbingly mechanical job on the night shift in a chocolate factory; and one of the ways to keep awake was to read the Telegraph every night to keep my blood pressure up from indignation.

Though the Peter Simple column – with its fabulously nostalgic stock cast of grim booted, iron chained Northern Aldermen, and disclaimers of annexationist demands on the letters page – is long gone; the letters page itself is still full of carefully crafted missives from retired Commodores living in Surrey with double barreled names and strong views  – not blustery as they were in the immediate fallout from Empire, but quietly, thoughtfully defensive of an order that is setting us up for a fall out that will prove far greater – if we don’t stop it.

Alongside these are increasingly shrill columnists painting that fall out as an inevitability, not a matter of choice. One – Sherelle Jacobs -writing about Brexit (of course) – argued recently that “as the world turns Medieval” we are facing “a new global dark age” in which the only way forward is a renewed nationalism. British of course, not Scottish, Irish or Welsh.

There are limits old chap.

She recognises that the crisis of the world economic order is a crisis of the dominance of the United States but – in the age of “America First” manages to recast an abject subordination of the UK to the falling American star – by leaving the EU and integrating ever more closely with the US economic model

  • as careless of the environment as it is of its workers
  • with its horrendous health care,
  • convoluted and gerrymandered politics and brutal racist prison system,
  • alongside even closer subordination of military and intelligence
  • and abandoning any pretence to an independent foreign policy

as a buccaneering piece of national self assertion. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are trying to pull the same stunt. We will see in the next couple of months how far – and how long – people can be fooled by this. And what the fall out is if they get away with it on October 31st and the roller coaster ride begins in earnest.

She also manages to ignore the genuine threat of a new dark age as a result of social breakdown resulting form the degradation of the climate conditions that make it possible for us to – among other things – grow food. The Syrian drought between 2006 and 2011 that drove 2 – 3 million people off land they could no longer live on into cities that could not cope with them leading straight into civil war and everything else that has followed is – among many other recent events – a stark warning.

One of the most disturbing pieces in This is not a Drill – the Extinction Rebellion Handbook* is Douglas Rushkoff’s account of being paid a huge sum (half his annual professor’s salary) to brief five super wealthy hedge fund bosses about “the future of technology”.

It turned out that what they were most concerned about was how to escape the impact of climate breakdown as individuals. They were not in denial about it. They know it is happening. They are not concerned about how to use their wealth to try to avert or mitigate it. They are like passengers in first class on the Titanic less concerned about avoiding the iceberg than looking for lifeboats just for them.

They wanted to know whether Alaska or New Zealand would be less affected by climate change, and which would provide a better bolt hole. One admitted that he had already nearly completed building an underground bunker complex to move into when society breaks down, and wanted to know “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?” Money, of course, would have no value.

  • How could they stop the armed guards just bumping them off and taking over?
  • How could they make sure they could control a supply of food – with locks to which only they knew the combination?
  • Could they make the guards wear control collars?
  • Could they use robot guards instead?
  • Could the technology could be developed in time?

The future as zombie apocalypse movie, with most of the rest of us as the zombies.

These people are not isolated individuals. Steve Bannon, who acts as a guru for the whole international alt right, commented while he was an adviser to Donald Trump – “Half the world is going to burn and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Actually there’s plenty we could do. We are already (globally) doing about a quarter of what we need to. We just need to step up the pace and work together to do it. But to do so we need to change the economic and political systems that give people like those hedge fund managers the power and wealth that they have. This is becoming a matter of life or death.

Bannon’s answer to this is to try to build walls around the world’s wealthier countries so the burning takes place elsewhere – as it has already began to do. A necessary part of this is the dehumanisation of anyone who lives in the “shithole countries” (D. Trump) that are going to burn; so the citizens of the US can watch them do so with equanimity. If that means describing desperate refugees fleeing social breakdown as criminals and terrorists, interning them indefinitely, separating children from parents, depriving them of the most basic care and amenities (bedding, toothpaste, soap) – or, in the European case – letting thousands of them drown in the Mediterranean, then so be it.

This was put in a more anodyne form by Wells Griffith, Trump’s energy and climate adviser, who said this at the Katowice summit in November 2018. “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.” This extraordinary sentence recognises that the current engines of “economic prosperity” and “energy security” in the United States are not environmentally sustainable – and are undermining the conditions for human survival – but strongly believes that that this can be ignored until everything collapses.

This is in the context of the current challenge to the Pax Americana posed by the rise of China. Sherrelle Jacobs argues that China is a “stillborn superpower” due an economic collapse. People in the West have been saying that for twenty years, not grasping that a country dominated by state led investment does not operate on the same lines as those for which the imperatives of private sector dominance trump other considerations.

Whatever critique people may wish to make of China, the current trade war

  • in which the US is doubling down on fossil fuels while China is investing massively in renewable energy generation,
  • Donald Trump prohibits mention of Climate Change in US government publications and sabotages scientific research into it, while Xi Xinping is talking about building an “ecological society”,
  • the US is planning to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and stands against international co-operation, while the Chinese favour “win win” solutions and are set to achieve their 2030 targets between 5 and 9 years early

is a dramatic illustration that there is more than one engine of prosperity and energy security. The dominant western global elite are sticking with the wrong one because they can do no other – they would cease to be an elite if they were to embrace state led investment as a way forward. Even as they are staring at total panic and terrible consequences for the majority of humanity in the medium term.

The popularity of evangelical rapture Christianity among these people – in which we are living in the “end times” waiting for the second coming and sudden miraculous escape from all our problems to those who believe hard enough –  and the increasingly delirious and irrational mode of political debate has its roots in the same fears.

This is a cry of despair from a class that can no longer claim to represent humanity as a whole – in the way they have tried to do since 1789. Every day that passes produces more evidence like this that the people who rule us are unfit to do so.

Variations on this theme are fantasies of living “off world” in space stations or – even – Mars – though Antarctica is a more benign environment -with Elon Musk’s electric car in space as a symbolic gesture in this direction. If it weren’t for the resources required to get them there it would be tempting just to let them go – in an inverted version of Ursula Le Guin’s novel “The Dispossessed” – in which a political conflict was resolved by exiling all the anarchists to the nearest moon.

 

 

 

*Just published by Penguin. Essential reading, but don’t order it on Amazon; ask your local library to stock it instead.