Time has gone when we could take climate change for granted

Peter Underwood on the marchClimate change is back on the media agenda this week, with the international conference in Paris. PETER UNDERWOOD, pictured left, took to the streets of London yesterday to demonstrate that the environment matters to the people of Croydon

Yesterday, I joined other Croydon residents and headed into central London to join the tens of thousands of people on the March for Climate, Justice and Jobs.

The Croydon marchers represented many different local groups, such as the Stop the Incinerator Campaign, Croydon People’s Assembly, Croydon Friends of the Earth, The Green Party and the TUC.

On the march there were hundreds of other groups represented, including environmental groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, religious groups such as CAFOD and Islamic Relief, there were workers in the renewable energy industry and from the Fire Brigades Union, and people highlighting the effect of climate change on other parts of the world from the Amazon rainforest to Pacific Islands. The march in London was also just one of thousands taking place across Britain and the rest of the world.

Why were we marching?

The Paris climate summit is happening over the next few days. World leaders will come together to discuss what they are going to do to tackle threat of climate change. Thankfully, we are past the stage when people who deny that human activity is affecting the climate are given any credibility, but we still face the problem that some people think that making money is more important than saving the planet.

Joel Pett cartoon

Personally I don’t see how anyone could be so stupid, or so selfish, to believe that their profit levels are more important than people’s lives. But when you listen to some politicians speak, they seem more concerned about impacts on the stock exchange than they do about impacts on air quality and sea levels.

So the first reason for marching is to remind politicians that we do take climate change seriously and we expect them to represent the views of the public at the conference, not just the views of Big Business.

The second theme of the march was climate justice.

One of the points raised by a number of marchers was that those people who have benefited least from unrestricted economic growth and are least able to adapt to climate change are the people who will suffer its greatest effects. It was part of the message of US President Obama’s speech in Paris today: people who live on low-lying islands in the Pacific or in the river deltas of Bangladesh are seeing their land becoming unusable for farming or living as sea levels rise.

Some of the poorest countries in Africa are seeing droughts, crop failures and famines, what used to be once-in-a-lifetime events, now happening every few years. And it’s not just in other parts of the world. In wealthy western countries like Britain, it’s the poorest people who cannot afford to insulate their homes, install solar panels, or move to areas not affected by flooding. In the past, too many proposed “solutions” to climate change were just schemes that allowed rich people to carry on as they were, while everyone else suffered the consequences – climate justice means that we all must play our part.

The third theme of the march was climate jobs.

Many people still believe the lie that dealing with climate change will mean putting people out of work. The opposite is true. Tackling climate change will create more jobs, many of them for small local businesses to install insulation in people’s homes or to install and service domestic renewable energy. Even at the larger scale, as we move away from fossil fuels, we create new jobs in renewables – the skills needed to maintain North Sea oil rigs are very similar to those needed to maintain offshore wind farms.

A government decision on a new runway for Heathrow, or Gatwick, is expect before the end of this year. The environmental consequences may cost more jobs than any new runway provides

A decision on a new runway for Heathrow, or Gatwick, is expect before the end of this year. Yet the environmental consequences of airport expansion may cost more jobs than any airport expansion provides

Once we take into account the carbon cost of transporting goods, it will also create more opportunities for manufacturing goods locally, rather than in factories on the other side of the world.

If governments invested in tackling climate change, then they would reap the rewards of higher employment and a more efficient, sustainable economy.

So, having been on a march, where do we go from here?

The first thing is to keep up pressure on the politicians meeting in Paris. There will be more demonstrations and opportunities to write to national politicians to reinforce the need for them to act on climate change.

But I am not pinning all my hopes on the Paris talks. Even if countries live up to all of the pledges they are currently making, we are still on course to produce a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees centigrade. We must keep up the pressure and keep pressing politicians to act. If they won’t act, then we need to vote for politicians who will.

There is also scope to act locally.

When proposals are made to build more roads or airport runways, we must ask how is this going to help reduce fossil fuel use? What are politicians doing to help us cut down on car journeys and increase use of public transport?

When new building developments are proposed, what requirements are being placed on developers to use renewable energy, or properly insulate, or provide space for roof gardens and green walls?

There is also scope to act individually. Are you using an energy supplier that only uses renewable energy? Are you using a bank that is investing in fossil fuels? Are you driving everywhere when you could walk, or cycle, or use public transport instead? Are you recycling materials that could be used again or are you just throwing them away? We all need to do what we can to help solve the climate crisis.

Personally, I will keep doing what I can in how I live my life and how I campaign for change. I’m not perfect, but I know that every change I make for the better is a step in the right direction.

In the end, I’m not one of those people who believe that I should go round judging whether people are doing enough to prevent climate change. I think our children and grandchildren will be able to make that judgement.

  • Peter Underwood is the chair of the Croydon Friends of the Earth

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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