Cornwall and climate breakdown: the need for a strategy

In My View… by Patrick O’Sullivan, Energy and Environment Coordinator, SE Cornwall Labour

PatrickO'SullivanIf Councillors German and Hannaford are serious about tackling climate change – which I am sure they are – then probably the best thing they could do is sign up to Labour’s Green New Deal, which is not only a comprehensive strategy for decarbonising the UK economy, vital though it is, but also for reversing the forty years of poverty, deprivation, and insecurity introduced into life in Britain by Thatcherism, globalisation and austerity.

For example, a programme of house retrofitting would indeed lower domestic emissions, help reduce fuel poverty, and create numerous skilled and semi-skilled jobs. But it would surely be more effective as part of a more comprehensive strategy of remunicipalisation of public services, bringing them back under local, democratic control, of ‘insourcing’ of running and staffing these services so that vital funds are not siphoned off into profits and dividends, and of local procurement of materials and equipment, not only stimulating the local economy, but also reducing ‘distance-travelled’, and hence emissions from transport, the other main source of greenhouse gases, as far as Cornwall is concerned.

Basically, almost everything Western nations have done in terms of economic policy since about 1980 has been completely wrong, as far as environmental stability is concerned. We exported jobs and traditional skills abroad because it was ’cheaper’, ignoring not only the devastation caused to communities at home, but also the impact of increased transport of goods around the globe, and of distortions produced in developing economies. And we have operated a cheap food policy based on fossil fuels and biocides, allowing too many business models to be predicated on job insecurity and low wages (topped up by the state!), while at the same time reducing numbers of vital organisms, and the ‘ecosystem services’ nature provides to dangerously low levels, to the point where even Michael Gove acknowledges we only have three to four decades of soil fertility left. All of these policies have seen wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, and a major increase in inequality since the ‘bad old’ 1970s with their strikes and winters of discontent.

As witnessed by the results of the European elections, ‘climate breakdown’ is now seen by many as the most important political issue facing us. But already climate activists are being asked, ’What must we give up?’, a statement which ignores the fact that it is those on high incomes who possess the greatest ‘ecological footprint’, and that the poorest people not only have fewer choices about what and how they consume and live, but also exert a much smaller impact on nature.

Addressing environmental issues must therefore begin with social justice, and with spreading the awareness that climate change, poverty, job insecurity and inequality are all part of the same issue: the operation since 1980 of an economic model based on the ‘free’ market which fails to count as costs not only its social impact, but also its impact on nature. Labour’s Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan to address all these issues.

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