Earth Strike Day at London Fire Brigades HQ, Friday September 20th. Photo: Southwark Climate Campaign.
Brexit — or no borders?
THE WHOLE PLANET is so close to disaster that we have to stop in our tracks and think quite differently about everything. This summer’s record heatwaves, with much of the Arctic burning and forests across tropical South America and Africa ablaze, are screaming at us to do something quickly.
We need to take to the streets, elect a government ready to champion life on earth, tell the truth, mobilise the country and join with our international comrades in spreading the necessary climate revolution cross the world. Given the huge success of the international School Strike and Global Climate Strike on September 20th, and with Extinction Rebellion’s International Uprising due to begin on October 7th, this revolution may already be well under way.
In the labour movement, all of us might learn a few things from the extraordinary Swedish school student Greta Thunberg. Time after time, she hits the nail on the head. Instead of repeating endlessly the mantra that ‘capitalism is the problem’, as many on the left tend to do, she is unerringly brilliant at going beyond platitudes to mobilize mass action in a language everyone can understand. An example is the way she spoke to a panel of prominent businessmen at Davos earlier this year:
“Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.... I want you to act as if your house was on fire - because it is.”
Greta also points out that the strategies adopted by various governments to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade as part of the Paris Agreement are insufficient and the greenhouse gas emissions curve needs to start declining steeply no later than 2020, which is next year. In January, she told the UK Parliament that Britain needs to stop talking in terms of “lowering” emissions and start thinking in terms of eliminating them. In February, at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee, she said that the EU must reduce its CO2 emissions by 80% by 2030, double the 40% goal set in Paris.
Jeremy Corbyn endorsed Greta’s call with these words:
“We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now. This is no longer about the distant future. We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes. Young people know this. They have the most to lose. The truth is they are ahead of the politicians on this - the most important issue of our times. We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge of climate activism with groups like Extinction Rebellion forcing the politicians in this building to listen. For all the dismissive and defensive column inches the protests have provoked they are a massive and necessary wake up call. Today we have the opportunity to say: ‘We hear you.’ ”
Currently, Labour’s energies are taken up almost entirely by Brexit. To some green activists, all this is just a distraction. I sympathise with that view. In the wider scheme of things, Brexit is a parochial and irrelevant preoccupation. But on the other hand, if the divisions around Brexit defeated us or lost us the election, that might well destroy any future for Corbynism in the Labour Party and therefore rob us of a base in Britain for resisting climate catastrophe across the globe.
Responding to Greta Thunberg, Jeremy offered this hope: “By becoming the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency we could set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe.” Judging by the success of Friday’s Global Climate strike, these words might — just possibly — come true. Putting Brexit in its place, we need to win and bring Jeremy to power, seizing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enact emergency public ownership and climate legislation on the drastic scale required.
BORIS JOHNSON is a climate science denier. He has described scientists’ concerns about climate change as a “primitive fear… without foundation”. During his campaign for the Tory Party leadership, according to Open Democracy, Johnson received a £25,000 donation from a director of Britain’s leading climate denial lobbying group. He has consistently voted against legislation to tackle carbon emissions. When Foreign Secretary, his team of climate attachés across the world was cut from 165 to 65.
Meanwhile, many of the most alarming theoretical predictions made by climate scientists are now being outpaced by events on the ground. The Amazon river basin is roughly the size of Australia. For the past several million years, it has been blanketed by a teeming tropical ecosystem of some 400 billion trees and vegetation so dense that it breathes out a fifth of the world’s oxygen, captures and stores vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and deflects an unknown but significant amount of heat from the sun.
20% of the world’s fresh water cycles through the Amazon’s rivers, plants, soils and air, driving and regulating planet-scale systems including moisture-laden conveyor belts or ‘rivers in the air’ which in turn are the source of many of our life-giving seasonal rains.
During the last 50 years, one fifth of this forest has been cut and burned in Brazil, whose borders contain almost two-thirds of the Amazon basin. This has set loose so much stored carbon that it has already negated the forest’s benefit as a carbon sink. If we lose a further fifth to forest fires, this will trigger a terrifying feedback loop known as dieback, in which the rains no longer fall, everything dries out and what remains of the Amazon burns out completely, releasing a doomsday bomb of stored carbon into the atmosphere.
We have been warned.
Terry Conway (Islington North CLP) adds:
THE DEPTH OF THE ECOLOGICAL crisis is ever more apparent. Extreme weather records are broken with increasing regularity. The ice melt speeds up, pollution escalates, species extinction accelerates, coral and other marine organisms die off. The Amazon – the lungs of the world and its greatest biodiversity treasure house – burns, along with swathes of Africa and the Siberian tundra. Meat consumption increases rapidly and aviation is set to double by 2040. Global carbon emissions rise along with the global GDP.
Trump, Bolsonaro and their co-thinkers are particularly culpable but nowhere are we even close to meeting the target of limiting the increase in global temperatures to the 1.5 degrees set by the Paris climate summit. And the assumptions made then about the chaos such an increase would cause are in themselves underestimates.
It is excellent that Labour conference will debate a resolution for a Green New Deal which sets targets based on scientific evidence, and support for climate refugees and justice. Its calls for a “Just Transition” are essential to winning trade unions to this life-and-death fight.
Amendments that water it down should be opposed. Those that would strengthen it – e.g. by opposing airport expansion, backing free public transport or putting flesh on the bones of a just transition, should be backed.
CLP delegates may well support such radical measures but we have not won the battle in many key trade unions. Conference needs to strengthen existing policy but also begin having the vital argument about more radical measures now. The radical network RedGreen Labour argues that we need two composites – one based on the model and one which contains essential measures which might not get agreed.
This is also what gives us the best possible chance of an even stronger defence of the environment in our manifesto for the forthcoming general election. That — together with an increased visibility of Labour activists and banners on protests to halt environmental catastrophe over the weeks and months ahead — will be vital in securing the election of a radical Labour government.
The climate crisis is the greatest threat facing us across the globe. We have a maximum of ten years to stop it spinning out of control. The growing movement for mass action to meet that challenge is led by the sort of people who flocked to our party to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. We need to be at its heart.
STOP PRESS: For Gabriel Levy’s informative report on Climate Emergency debates and decisions at this year’s Labour Party Conference, click here.
Dulwich and West Norwood CLP