I was interested to read Heidi Foster’s article Politicians not role models and in particular the comments by GH, criticising tribal politics and making a plea to start thinking outside the box.
I perhaps need to start by saying that I am standing as the Green Party candidate in the forthcoming county council elections. This almost comes as a surprise to me as, until a few years ago, I was fairly uninterested in party politics. Until now, I have been content to leave the politics to others, believing that most of them do actually have our best interests at heart, whilst attempting to engage with environmental and societal issues in other ways. But time is running out fast.
My starting point is that I think we are living in a time that is exceptional and unprecedented compared to any previous time in history. I read just this week that human activity has caused our planet to tilt on its axis due to rapid melting of ice, it is also causing more volcano eruptions and earthquakes – it is quite incredible.
During my lifetime, there has been a catastrophic decline of biodiversity, with a more than 68% decline in wild animal population sizes since 1970. In a recent review of the state of Britain’s native woods and trees, the Woodland Trust has found only 7% are in a good condition. While woodland cover is slowly increasing, the wildlife within it is decreasing. If threats to woodland aren’t tackled, the UK’s ability to tackle climate and nature crises will be ‘severely damaged’.
Effects much worse than Covid-19
Over the last hundred years, the average temperature on Earth has warmed by 1°C, but this warming is due to increase significantly over the next hundred years. The effects of this will be many orders of magnitude worse than those of the current Covid-19 pandemic. It will have a profound and lasting effect on our society and economy. Also during my lifetime, pretty much all plastic ever made has been produced, about 10 billion tonnes, with about 80% of this thrown away as litter. This figure is due to quadruple over the next fifty years.
I have two children in their early twenties, with their lives ahead of them. Whatever has happened until now in the world, that is not of their doing. But for me, this is happening on my watch, in my time. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel impotent to act, to blame others. Yet surely we must collectively be aware that this is our doing, us more so than those in other less affluent countries. We led the industrial revolution and should therefore shoulder the biggest responsibility, surely?
And so, what to do? I have tried so many things. I try to act through my work. I write letters to MPs and to multinationals. I sign petitions. I support organisations that take action. I join organisations locally, sometimes I even help set them up and run them. I have given talks, including in schools. I have been on protest marches. I even had myself arrested two years ago when taking direct action.
I try and change my own behaviour. I have solar panels on my roof. I no longer eat meat. I try and use public transport when I can, although that has been difficult in the last year. I hope not to need to fly again. Maybe, sometimes, some of this works, but the evidence is scant. I don’t believe that individual action is ever sufficient, above all it requires collective action, by governments, institutions, businesses.
Time to think outside the box
Note, despite appearances, this is not me virtue signalling. I’m just curious to know what it takes to make a difference. I’m genuinely intrigued by the concept of thinking outside the box, and would like to hear from anyone who has any good ideas in this respect.
I firmly believe in science. The current pandemic was thoroughly knowable; the risk of a pandemic has consistently been ranked as the most impactful and likely event in the national risk register. And yet, it seems to have caught this country by surprise, one of the reasons why the mortality rate per capita here is even now higher than in any other similarly or larger sized country, other than Italy. It is evidence of a lack of resilience and forethought.
The really scary thing about climate change, unlike say the threat of a nuclear war half a century ago, is that it does not require a button to be pushed. It is actually quite the opposite, with the button being pushed all the time. It now needs a huge concerted effort just to avert the worst scenarios. This is not doom-mongering, it is just stating what science tells us. A blind reliance on future technologies to sort this out is a very dangerous idea and just leads to complacency.
My experience with Rye Mutual Aid gave me great faith in the ability of people to come together when needed. The local authorities failed to act at a time of crisis at the beginning of 2020, because public services including the NHS have been so badly run down by intentional neglect. There is no resilience or ability to adapt; everything is already pared to the bone.
We need to act locally
I think the big picture is important; the pandemic has proved that everything is interconnected. But I also believe the answer is to act locally. It is absolutely possible to achieve improvements that we need to the way we live, in a long term and sustainable way.
Maybe the single most important piece of legislation in my lifetime was the banning of smoking in public places. Even though many people resisted it then and possibly now still feel aggrieved, collectively it has been transformative for the better. I think that a lot of what needs to happen in the future needs to be seen in the same way. Doing away with fossil fuelled vehicles for instance might seem like a big loss when it happens, but in fact the improvements to air quality, noise pollution and safety will absolutely be worthwhile.
I do think that our political system is broken, not least because of the First Past the Post system of voting, which rewards the winners, disenfranchises so many and encourages a divisive society. What is the point in voting, if my vote doesn’t count? That needs to change.
We need a proportional voting system, which encourages collaboration and consensus. We should give 16 year olds the vote and teach civic responsibility in secondary schools, to allow young people to participate in democracy, rather than giving them the impression it has nothing to do with them.
Short-termism is blocking real change
Electoral reform is essential. Under the existing system governments are always constrained by the electoral cycle and the overriding need for their party to get re-elected. Hence short-termism and reluctance to do the big things that will be unpopular with sections of the electorate or with interest groups but will actually make a difference. Can people be made to see that the same is true of the climate emergency? And even if many world leaders drag their feet?
Having tried so many other things in the past, and notwithstanding my doubts about our broken democracy, I’ve now decided to stand for election, just to see if that might work. Green action needs to take place everywhere: in pressure groups, in communities, in businesses, on the streets, in petitions and demonstrations. But also in the places where the decisions get made which affect us all for years afterwards: national, regional, and local government. All of those debates and decisions need good strong persuasive green voices.
I will say that compared to so many other countries in the world, we are lucky to have a say in how our country is run, even though it is far from a perfect system. Locally, we are lucky to have Rye News and a dedicated team of volunteers, to give a platform for free speech – it is not something to ever be taken for granted. So I do urge you to vote on Thursday next week. Give it a go. I believe that together we can make a difference.
Image Credits: Rye News library .