Photograph: Robin Pope
EXTINCTION REBELLION’S protests gained vast coverage on the immediate need for a systemic response to climate change – and has called for systematic changes at state level. Labour’s response was promising and the Labour left must use this momentum to further environmentalism as a priority and ensure legislation is brought forward now.
Personal responsibility for climate change can be used as a cop-out and has been by the Tories. Their bans on microbeads and plastic bag charges are good things but have quantitatively tiny impacts on the greenhouse gas emissions that are the real problem. The way we eat and travel are what we actually have to address.
Climate change represents an existential threat to the human race. But it is vital we also acknowledge the inequalities in how this is likely to play out. High income countries such as ours are likely to be insulated against the worst consequences of climate change for quite some time, while low income countries are already feeling the heat.
Animal agriculture represents 61% of worldwide food related emissions, despite accounting for only 18% of the calories we eat. It has significant further impacts through deforestation, local air and water pollution, and pesticide use. The socialist case for adopting a plant based diet is rock solid on these grounds alone. It is unanswerable when the dismal conditions of agriculture workers and animal rights are considered as well.
Flying too has a massive impact. Aviation continues to grow in emissions despite our looming catastrophe. Budget airlines and EU freedom of movement has created a hypermobile youth in the UK. Your carbon footprint can very quickly become dominated by flights, regardless of other eco-lifestyle choices.
There are of course steps a Labour government could take – making plant based food cheaper with subsidies redirected from animal agriculture and ensuring public sector menus were plant based, for example. Nationalising the railways and the cheaper fares that would result would allow train travel to become the preferable option for inter-UK journeys, currently cheaper by plane.
XR has been criticised as a movement of the middle class. This is an unfair and pointless criticism – it is commendable that those who have the time and resources to protest do so. But while it is hard to criticise working class families for buying whatever food is cheap and available, or taking advantage of cheap flights for rare holidays abroad, for those who do have the choice (including large numbers of those taking part in the XR protests) this criticism is valid.
We would rightfully call out leftists benefiting from labour abuses or taking advantage of tax loopholes and wouldn’t accept waiting for changes to the law as an excuse. We should apply the same logic to our actions in terms of climate change. As the reality of life on a warmer globe comes into sharp focus, we must transition to socialism or risk regression into a flood and famine induced barbarism.
At the same time, we must address our consumption patterns, and do so immediately. The time has come to see eating plant based diets and refusing to fly as praxis, a necessary element in the vital systemic revolution.
Glasgow Cathcart CLP