As climate warnings become more dire, we need vision and drastic action

Politicians need to present a grand offer to the public on climate change, only then will it be possible to win support for the measures needed to avert calamity.

Early in July, new research indicated that warming could be worse than feared. Another study put our chances of avoiding more than 2°C of warming, the target of the Paris Agreement, at only five percent.

Climate change is already a disaster for many. But in case you were in any doubt as to what could be in store, David Wallace Wells spelled this out in an 8,000 word essay in terms so bleak – the article was titled ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ and featured subheadings such as ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Heat Death’ – you’d expect a drop off in the birth rate.

In response, a number of commentators have called for a moon-landing style effort to reduce emissions; a collective and transformational reorientation of our economies behind a single vision.

But what is that vision? Certainly, the UK Government does not have one. Look to its policy announcement to ban diesel vehicles by – wait for it – 2040. Note its continued pursuit of fracking, and gutting of support for solar and onshore wind.

There was not a single, substantive climate policy in the Conservative manifesto. Expectations have fallen so far, that green NGOs greeted with relief Michael Gove’s recent announcement that he believes climate change is a problem and cares about “the fate of fellow animals”.

Labour’s manifesto was far better, committing to 60 percent zero carbon energy by 2030 and democratic control over the grid, the insulation of four million homes and investment in the low carbon economy.

But Labour’s approach does not go far enough in two regards: first, and understandably, the details are based on political pragmatism rather than scientific necessity, and do not shoot high enough; second, the vision isn’t big enough.

Transitioning to a low carbon economy, affordable and secure energy – these are good things. But they are not moon landing material.

And that’s where climate policy upends the assumed trade-off in politics between ambition and expediency.

Only by making the public a grand offer, a simple terms vision that speaks to the imagination and sense of possibility, will it be possible to win support for the measures needed to avert calamity.

Look to energy. Politicians should aim for zero carbon zero cost electricity by 2025. This could be delivered through a national energy service that guarantees a quantity of clean energy to every household, free at the point of use.

Politicians should set out a vision for public transport that is door to door and faster than driving. Think automated electric buses with routes responsive to demand intra-city, integrated with intercity rail and bus networks in which everybody rides first class.

Think quiet roads, clean air and connected communities with bikes on every corner in open circulation.

How about a forest and wildlife policy that you can see from space? The Labour manifesto proposed to plant a million trees. India managed 66 million in twelve hours.

One million trees would only add 0.0003% to the UK’s forest cover, which is already one of the lowest in Europe and less than half the rate of Germany and France.

Why not offer people expanding woodlands in which biodiversity is not falling off a cliff, but taken back to levels they remember from childhood, and then some.

This is not science fiction – these are things we can actually do. Neither is this idealism. Ambition on this scale is all we have left, because from where we’re standing, you either shoot for the moon or burn up in the atmosphere.

Paul Keenlyside is coordinator of the Trade Justice Movement.

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