This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:
Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general. We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.
But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity. As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.
For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears. We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.
It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires. I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs. To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy. Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.
The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).
We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.
This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000). But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency. The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen. They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.
The knock on effect of having all these people employed with increased spending power, and the allied industries needed to supply all the construction of this transition will create hundreds of thousands more jobs. This always happens with new investment.
The total cost of employing 1 million people, and supplying the material and supplies for the new climate industries would be about £50 billion. However, the extra money received in taxes, and the loss of expenditure on benefits for all those extra jobs would instantly save £18 billion. Much of this investment will provide long term returns that outstrip the cost of borrowing, (bus and train passengers buy tickets, electric cars and low energy appliances are sold for money, people pay bill for renewable energy, etc). The Campaign Against Climate Change again estimate this would recoup around another £12 billion of these cost. Meaning in total it would be £20 billion a year.
It sounds like a lot, but remember at the drop of the hat the government’s found an extra £12 billion for extra defence spending just yesterday. Also we don’t collect hundreds of billions of pounds in tax avoided and evaded by the wealthiest companies and individuals; we’re wasting 100s of billions on replacing trident; and when the banks crashed the government happily bailed them out to the tune of £850 billion (whilst exposing itself to £1.2 trillion pounds worth of ‘toxic’ debts).
Despite the economic crash and austerity, this is actually an ideal time to invest, as interest rates on government bowing are at a historic low. Much of the capital could be paid for a Peoples Quantities Easing (like the Quantitive Easing they used to bail out the banks but this time for the benefit of everyone). Not only will we be saving the planet, but we’ll also get over a million people into secure long term jobs (easing the blight of unemployment) and provide a fiscal stimulus to get the economy going again.
Win, win, win.
Earlier this year research carried out by the Resilience Centre outlined in greater detail how this transition could play out in the South West. We are lucky that the South West has an abundance of renewable energy resources, and has the capacity to not only provide all of its own energy needs from a diversified renewable energy system (and go completely fossil fuel free), but also to become an exporter of energy to the rest of the UK.
The report also stresses the economic impact of implementing the plan, which has the potential to create 122,000 jobs in the region (where unemployment numbers 126,000) and directly add over £4.2 billion to value of the local economy (48% the total value of the South West’s tourism industry, or 87% of the total value of its aerospace and defence industries).
A mix of onshore and offshore wind, marine and tidal, solar, geothermal and biomass dispersed across the region can meet all our long term energy needs; and provide full employment and a vital economic boost in these dark times of austerity.
The resilience foundation estimates that this would add an extra £4.3bn per year to the region (representing about 4% total economic growth to the South West economy).
This can be done. In the last few years in Germany for example their Energiewende (Energy Transition) has seen the country rapidly move to an energy sector driven by renewables. The South West has even greater potential for renewable energy then most of Germany. It is not that we lack the physical capability to implementing this plan; it is just that we lack the political will. We need political change (and the Green Party locally is increasingly playing an important part in this), but this alone will not be enough.
To get the kind of wholesale change we need, in the timeframe available, is going to require massive mobilisations of people in the streets and in our communities. Our governments have been keenly aware of this looming disaster since at least the 1980s, they’ve seemingly endlessly negotiated and prevaricated, and all the while the emission have been increasing exponentially. We need people power, this is far far too important to be left to the politicians and the institutional comprises they’re forced to make. That’s why Sunday’s march and meetings like this are so vital. Thank you inviting me here tonight and listening to me. See you all on Sunday!
The Power to Transform the South West report can be found here:- http://mollymep.org.uk/2015/04/17/power-to-transform/
A Million Climate Jobs now here:-