As with stopping Covid-19 from spreading, it should not be difficult to see what needs to be done and what we need to stop doing, to save the planet. However, judging by what the UK government has just announced, it is clearly beyond their capability.
What needs to be done to help save the planet
Some of the obvious things that should be on the ‘to do’ list include.
- Food production and distribution. We need to:
- produce more food closer to where it will be consumed
- encourage people to produce food for their own consumption.
- accept that the availability of certain foods will depend on the season.
- reduce and eventually stop eating meat, so that:
- more crops can be grown to feed humans rather than animals
- more land can be set aside for rewilding and natural carbon capture.
- Transport. We need to reduce how much we travel, switch from private to public transport, and move fewer goods shorter distances. We could:
- reduce carbon emissions at a stroke by imposing a maximum speed limit of 50mph on our roads and motorways.
- provide a better infrastructure for active travel (pedestrians and cyclists)
- provide local travel hubs in communities, schools, hospitals, industrial and retail areas offering integrated services with through ticketing to wherever you need to go.
- extend and fully electrify the rail infrastructure
- introduce the use of double deck carriages
- provide a network of freight hubs and related services
- create direct links to major continental locations
- Energy. We need to continue expanding renewable energy sources by:
- mastering tidal power generation
- expanding onshore wind power generation
- installing solar panels on every new roof
- developing more schemes for energy storage
- utilising the efficiencies of power distribution using DC
- Construction. We need to:
- insulate homes
- implement district heating schemes
- repair and repurpose existing buildings
- erect new buildings on the old foundations if buildings must be demolished,
- provide smarter heating controls.
I could go on and on: there is so much that we should be planning to do right now if we were serious about dealing with this emergency. Some of these things are happening, but not at the pace and scale needed to keep global temperature from rising by more than 1.5ºC. It is clear that market economics will not bring about these changes.
There needs to be a plan.
What we should stop doing to help save the planet
Things on the ‘not to do’ list are just common sense, such as:
- Reduce the production of cars for private use (Electric or otherwise). The idea that everybody should have an electric car is nonsense. There isn’t enough room to park all the vehicles. Has anybody even calculated the carbon cost of just manufacturing electric vehicles to replace all those powered by internal combustion?
- Stop short-haul passenger air travel. Do we really need to fly anywhere for a break? The environmental cost is staggering and, as many have found recently, we can all enjoy time off much closer to home.
- Moderate our festivals and other celebrations. Worldwide many traditional festivals have been transformed into consumer fests. Many manufacturers focus their production on the Christmas period, with much of what is produced going into landfill within months.
- Less consumption means that there will be less:
- extraction and processing of minerals
- sales, marketing and advertising
- management and administration
- Restrict new construction to what is needed, so:
- stop building new roads.
- stop building new homes on greenfield sites
- stop building runways
There is so much more, but as with the actions that should have been taken to slow the spread of Covid-19 it seems that politicians throw common sense out of the window when commercial considerations take priority over people’s lives.
The choice we have to make to save the planet
The consequences of the changes we need to make are vast. Opponents will see such ideas as a socialist ploy and seek to explain why socialism doesn’t work. The undeniable truth though is that capitalism has brought the planet to the brink of destruction and enslaved many like the children in Bangladesh, put to work in garment factories.
It seems we can:
Give priority to the climate emergency and focus on building a society with a sustainable economy. With less production, and a reduced need for services, there will be a huge shift in the pattern of work. There will be fewer traditional jobs, but there will still be a need for everyone to contribute to society. Families will not have to manage multiple jobs, working all hours to just to keep a roof over their head or food on the table. There will be more time:
- Time to provide support and care for the young growing up.
- Time for those who are unwell, and those no longer able to look after themselves.
- Time to develop new interests and skills.
- Time to discover and understand the natural world and look after the world we live in.
Society will need to make sure that nobody is left behind. There will need to be Universal Basic Services to cover needs such as housing, food, energy, transport, health care and education – with a Universal Basic Income to meet discretionary needs.
we can carry on as we are, striving for continuous growth in economic activity, pushing up carbon emissions and accelerating climate change. The roots of the civil war in Syria lie with drought and crop failures. There we have seen desperate people protesting about food shortages followed by riots, oppression, violence, civil war, refugees, and the migration of millions. We know that if unchecked global warming will cause more droughts and crop failures in Europe, China, Russia or North America. What we have seen in Syria will be repeated more frequently and on a larger scale. The dominoes will start to fall, resulting in a global collapse of trade and society with unimaginable suffering. Those with power and wealth will strive to hold onto what they have, living behind high walls in fortified communities surrounded by failed states governed by warlords, and an ever growing underclass.
We can either find a way to share what we have, or continue on the path to global collapse from which few if any will survive.
The pandemic was expected; we just didn’t know when it would arrive. Preparations that should have been made were left undone. There was no plan. When the outbreak reached these shores, our government still failed to produce a plan and take the measures needed. The lack of leadership and inaction resulted in widespread and avoidable suffering and deaths, as I argued in my earlier article.
As Nobel Prize winner Klaus Hasselmann recently explained, scientists have known that climate change is happening for 50 years.
Still we have no plan.
Political leaders appear to be either in denial that it will happen, or waiting to see how bad it’s going to be before deciding what to do? Few it seems will openly advocate the need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Ed: If you haven’t already read Bob’s first article in this two part series (on how the lessons from the pandemic can help us manage the climate emergency), you can do so here.