The Climate Emergency – Part 1: Lessons from the Pandemic

St Marys Kingswood – Source: Author

The Government couldn’t cope with the pandemic, and clearly can’t cope with the climate emergency.

A few months before the pandemic hit, there was a short presentation and discussion about the Climate Emergency at our village church. I went along with my two daughters and joined a group of around 20. It was a surprisingly good discussion and I came away with a much clearer view of what needs to happen. However, since the pandemic it has become clear that the solutions that are needed will never be discussed seriously by our political leaders – let alone implemented.

The train of thought that clarified my thinking at the meeting started with me asking aloud “why do I have so many T-shirts stuffed in a drawer that are seldom worn or mugs stacked in a cupboard that are hardly used?”. Straight away the answer came back “By buying T-Shirts, Bob, we are giving an opportunity to a child in Bangladesh to earn some money that they wouldn’t otherwise have“. The penny dropped, and a light clicked on in my dim mind. That was it! The crux of the issue is the production and consumption of products that we simply don’t need.

Buddhists have known for 2,500 years that the source of happiness is the ability to control your craving. With relentless consumption ultimately responsible for destroying the planet, Buddhists have shown us the key to our survival. The way to save the planet is simple: we need to cut the amount of material goods and services that we consume, and so drastically reduce the production of almost everything we don’t really need. But there is little appetite to explore or even discuss how we should do this.

Bringing people together

For me that meeting also illustrated that no matter how widely we read as individuals, it is by sharing your understanding of an issue with a group and dealing with the questions raised by others that deepens your understanding. Only by taking part do we really take it in. It is a practice that society has almost forgotten; we are, it seems, only too happy to watch and listen to others rather than fully engaging with the debate. Bringing people together to discuss and understand issues like this is perhaps something churches should do more of.

Had a similar group gathered a couple of months later to consider what to do about a virus outbreak in China, they might have seen the need to restrict travel and stop people from mixing until more was known about the virus – buying time for the capabilities to be developed, and the resources put in place to control the spread of the virus. No modellers or scientists would have been needed to reach the conclusion that straightforward common sense public health precautions should be put in place. What we got, though, were politicians seeking to balance controlling the spread of the virus with the impact on corporate balance sheets, and in doing so they were prepared to risk the lives and health of so many.

Climate Emergency – Threat to human society

The climate emergency we are faced with today is a much bigger threat to human society than the pandemic, but we still have the same politicians in charge.

The monumental efforts of a single Swedish teenager have now put this issue firmly on the political agenda, but our politicians still refuse to treat this as an emergency. There are no COBRA meetings, or regular briefings by ministers and their advisors updating us on the progress being made to measure and reduce our carbon footprint. Calls for action are ignored by the government, so people resort to protest. Rather than listening to what the people are saying, the government seeks new powers to criminalise protest. How is it that even at this stage the Government cannot simply accept that it should be planning to help insulate homes to reduce the demand for energy?

If the recent party conferences are anything to go by, our politicians are still busy fighting the old battles with outdated rhetoric such as the need to ‘create more and better jobs’. We don’t need more people to slaughter and butcher animals: we need to eat less meat. There is no need for more HGV drivers: we need to transport fewer goods. We can also manage without the extra ships chartered by John Lewis to bring goods from China in time for Christmas. We are simply consuming too much. The political world is totally oblivious to the fact that producing goods and services that people don’t really need is responsible for destroying the world we live on.

Climate Emergency – The core issue

The core issue our political leaders should be discussing is how to scale back the economy while ensuring that the basic needs of ordinary people are met. The impact of scaling back will be huge and a clear threat to the wealth accumulated by powerful corporations. As always, the corporate world will fight to protect their own interests and put pressure on the politicians of all parties to put corporate balance sheets before life on earth.

We can see that a catastrophe is coming, we can see the need to reduce consumption, and make our economy sustainable, but there is no urgency and worst of all there is no plan. During the 2nd World War the country had to fight for survival. It was total war, fought with a planned economy. We are now fighting for the survival of humanity – this is no time for laissez-faire economics.

Perhaps the real question is how anyone can still have faith in a political system that delivered a government that so manifestly failed to protect the people from the global pandemic.

There is an urgent need to make the reforms required to make government more representative and accountable. The current government was rejected by a majority of voters at the 2019 general election. Furthermore, given that the climate emergency will have the greatest impact on future generations it is time to reduce the voting age to 16. Greta Thunberg has clearly demonstrated that teenagers are far more aware of the issue than the older generations.  Millions of others who are invested in our society through taxation still have no vote and now more than ever deserve a say.

And, of course, we need to treat this as the emergency it is, as if we were at war and move to a planned, sustainable economy. Then perhaps our descendants will have the chance of a future on earth.

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