In August this year, the United Nations Secretary-General declared the latest IPCC report on climate change a ‘code red for humanity’. As the COP26 talks begin, Martin Franklin asks whether we are facing up to this
The impacts of climate heating are no longer confined to the poor in the global south. Extreme weather, floods, wildfires, etc., are now a regular occurrence in rich developed countries like our own. This is sharpening public attention and, barring a tiny minority of sceptics, the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change is beyond dispute. Nonetheless, the political and cultural battle has not been won.
Society’s responses to climate heating and the environment crisis are worryingly contradictory. As ‘eco-anxiety’ grows amongst young people and a majority of the public support climate action, news media coverage of multibillionaire Jeff Bezos’ private space rocket launch was jubilant and uncritical. The celebration of elite, fossil fueled tourism, also promotes the Amazon.com model of endless cheap, disposable consumption, a lifestyle diametrically opposed to environmental sustainability. Our political and media establishment continue to treat climate breakdown as primarily the concern of ‘doomsters’ and those labelled as disruptive eco-zealots. Though this is challenged by celebrities like David Attenborough and high-profile campaigners like Greta Thunberg, the popular discourse on the environment crisis has a long way go.
Inertia and resistance from politicians, business and financial institutions mean delay in tackling climate heating. Like the coronavirus pandemic, climate breakdown intensifies existing inequalities and creates new ones. The natural environment is our ultimate commons but the Tory/Right strategy is to marketize it. Carbon trading and the coronavirus pandemic, illustrate how commercial interests and profiteering trump the collective good and provide opportunities for corruption. The chaotic mismanagement of the Covid crisis is a depressing preview of how the Conservative government will approach the environmental crisis and, no doubt, their policies will put conventional economic growth before social inequality and the environment. We need a political shift not greenwashed rhetoric.
What about the Labour Party? The 2019 manifesto offered serious policies approaching a Green New Deal ready to be built upon. Recently, Conference passed positive environmental resolutions but the Party is treading water when it should be building a programme for national recovery.
Sustainable energy is becoming cheaper than that produced from fossil fuels at the same time as investments are shifting away from them. We have the means to build a sustainable and equitable economy with examples to be found in the UK and beyond. Our current crisis provides the opportunity for a new social contract, to expand wellbeing and democracy. If we fail to take it, authoritarian and racist ‘solutions’ will gain ground.
The outcome from COP26 will hopefully be positive but ecosocialists will need to campaign vigorously inside and outside the Labour Party for a Green New Deal to address our social and environmental crisis.
Martin Franklin, chair of Tufnell Park ward, and one of INCLP’s environmental officers
Islington North CLP is holding a political education Zoom event at 7pm on 28th October: Politics and policy in the age of climate emergency, where we will hear from a range of excellent speakers. Join the discussion! Details and booking here https://cutt.ly/incop26