Environmentalism has a long history in the Labour Party (check out SERA https://www.sera.org.uk/) but until recently it hadn’t really become mainstream. Often seen as being about personal choices, which needed constant environmental vigilance (to decide what you should or shouldn’t be doing rather than dealing with the underlying structural issues) it was seen as a largely middle-class concern and felt like a brake on ordinary people’s aspirations.
In recent years, this has begun to change. Environmentalism was at the heart of the last manifesto and now, to show that this wasn’t a vote loser, even the Tories have adopted the language of the green industrial revolution. I suspect that this is because the disruption wrought by Climate Change has become obvious and the popular, and implicitly apocalyptic, works of David Attenborough have aroused broad public concern. There are even an increasing number of financial institutions and insurance companies which now accept that messing up the planet’s life support systems is not a sensible long-term strategy.
For socialists, it’s obvious that, at heart, environmentalism is about equity. The poor not only bear the biggest burden of climate change but also suffer more from air pollution, noise and lack of access to green space. An environmentally degraded and ecologically diminished world makes life worse for everyone. Leaving behind such a world to our successors is an act of intergenerational sabotage.
But all is not lost, and the technological and social changes we need to make can not only bring worthwhile jobs but also dramatically improve the quality of people’s lives. For example, insulating our solid walled housing stock wouldn’t only reduce our carbon footprint but provide jobs right across the country, improve the quality of our housing and help to address fuel poverty. Making our towns and cities comfortable places to walk and cycle would not only cut noise, congestion and pollution but also give us a more active, better socially connected and healthier population.
In the distant past we know that there have been five great extinction events and that we’re now entering a human-made sixth. In the long run, extinction is not that unusual (99.9% of the life forms that have ever existed are now extinct) and what we’re doing will not end life on Earth, but it will dramatically change the way it looks. In the short term, within the next few hundred years, humanity will have no choice but to learn to live within its ecological means. It’s just a question of how we do. We could do it in a serious conscious way that pays due respect to people’s basic needs of food, shelter, good health and social standing or in a chaotic way where, as usual, ordinary working people will pay the biggest price.
Are there are practical things that we as individuals could do now to help the environment?
Of course there are things that people can do as individuals. buy less stuff, recycle the stuff that can, walk and cycle more, put on jumpers indoors, be less rich, there’s all sorts of things you can do and this “list” leaves out some biggies. But I think what’s needed here is not a list of things to do but rather a few habits of thought. So, when thinking about the environment, in terms of public policy as well as personal behaviour, do bear in mind the following
- Saving energy is generally better than finding greener ways to produce it.
- People will choose to walk or cycle if they can get away from traffic.
- Current average life styles in the UK would need 3 planets like Earth to support if shared worldwide.
- You can have an ecosystem without an economy but you can’t have an economy without an ecosystem
- Hotter and faster usually means more energy
- The environmental impact of a product comes when it’s made, used and disposed of.
- The land and sea, and the plants and creatures on it and in it, are our life support system.
Are there any policies or actions that the local party should take?
Thinking about the towns’ overall environmental impact it largely comes down to how we move about, how we heat our buildings and how much stuff we bring in from elsewhere and how we use it once we’ve got it here.
It can take some imagination to come up with public policies to address these things.
- The stuff that comes in and how we use it is largely down to national product regulation. (e.g fridges use much less energy than they used to, lighting is a lot more efficient) and personal choice (but I like to wash and tumble dry my towels every time I use them).
- How we get about can be addressed by changing infrastructure so that it’s a lot nicer to walk or cycle and less pleasant to drive.
- Properly insulating and heating our homes depends on having the trained people and resources to do it. The towns’ have quite a few heating engineers but few people able to install insulation on the solid walls of most of our older housing stock. So we could develop local policies around training for this and other green jobs. (When I recently made a query through the Green Homes Grant the nearest accredited for external insulation was in Huddersfield and already had a full order book)
- SBC declared a Climate Emergency. I’d like to see them provide a breakdown of overall emissions from each department and a plan to improve them significantly year on year. Local businesses could be encouraged to join in.