Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tackling climate change is a job for everyone

Climate change is the most pressing problem facing us today. Full throttle capitalism has prioritised the profits of the few over any consideration of ecological sustainability. Indeed it can't, it's an economic system based on anarchy not on democratic decision making where we can plan, rationally, for our future. It's been left to its own devices and is out of control.

The consequences of climate change are not just that the polar bears will melt or you'll have to cancel your skiing holiday. In the short term it means that those living in the developing world will suffer disrupted weather patterns, water shortages and an increased frequency of certain natural disasters.

If climate change is allowed to progress beyond that point it wont just be the millions in the poorest nations who will suffer, even the richest countries will be unable to avoid the consequences. I'm not going to go for a timescale as the scientific consensus on this seems to shift fairly regularly but I will say that we need to act urgently and radically to prevent humanitarian catastrophes to come.

It has always been a terrible irony that those who have contributed the least to climate change are those to feel its full force first. A Salvadorian once told me it was like having to pay for the most expensive meal on the planet and not even getting a bite of the food. He should know, his country has had a devastating taste of changing climate and most of the population had no reserves to rebuild after the storms.

Does this mean I'm about to call everyone in the West a climate criminal and demand they start sleeping on the floor? No. Because whilst Western consumption has to be reduced that should not, usually, mean a cut in living standards - in fact if we do it right it means life for the majority will get a whole lot better.

Traffic jams, excess packaging, highly polluting power stations and junk mail are good examples of where, if we can reduce or remove them from our lives we can lose the CO2 without for one moment thinking we have to miss out.

If you think back to the Second World War we can see how economies can be geared up, internationally, to fight a global threat. Out of a deep recession the UK, along with many other nations, we were able to create full employment, re-gearing the economy to the urgent tasks of the day. We can do that again with the added bonus that instead of using that strength to continue the subjugation of Asian nations we'll actually be helping them out this time.

Sometimes there will be tough choices, like over the siting of wind turbines or the Severn Barrage, but I think we need to harden ourselves to that. If anyone says we can win the war against climate change without any real efforts then they are sadly mistaken.We need political action and that can only come from a mass progressive movement that fights on every front to retool society. That probably means a bit of work from a lot of people.

That movement has to stand at the ballot box, of course, but also in the communities, on the streets, in the workplaces, everywhere there is human activity there is a role to play in making a more ecological sustainable economic system. Often this will mean diverse self organised groups doing their own thing in their own area in their own way, and at other times it requires more coordinated action mediated through one body, pact or coalition.

No matter how many plastic bags you refuse or how diligent you are with your recycling we have to have government action over how we source our power, over legislation and to ensure that tax revenue is spent in a way to boost green jobs, like in manufacturing and building, that benefit the community and the world.

That doesn't mean that no one needs to take any personal responsibility, a movement that practices what it preaches is far stronger than one that says it's always up to to other people to take action because it understands practicalities rather than just theoreticals. We are society, it's our responsibility and tackling climate change is a recession busting job for everyone.

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