What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament

What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament

The UK parliament declares a "climate emergency" while supporting Heathrow airport expansion, fracking, and fossil fuel subsidies. We need to make our own decisions about what the emergency is and how to deal with it

Strikes by school pupils, and civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion, pushed the UK’s House of Commons into declaring a “climate emergency” yesterday. The government is so weak and divided that – having said one week ago that it would not make such a declaration – it caved in and lined up behind a motion put by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tories’ weakness really is part of this. The prime minister, Theresa May, lost the ability to tell her MPs how to vote on anything, during repeated breakdowns of their traditional discipline over Brexit. And the “climate emergency” vote took place on the day that she fired her defence secretary Gavin Williamson for breaching security.

And the movements outside parliament made the difference. The Labour MP Faisal Rashid pointed out during the debate: “We are not here because of an international effort co-ordinated by world leaders. […] We are here because a small group of schoolchildren decided to walk out of school to take a stand against climate change, and they have inspired a global movement.” It is “an indictment of our global political leadership”, he argued.

Another reason the “climate emergency” motion passed is that it committed neither the government nor parliament to do a single thing. It could be, and was, supported by many total hypocrites as a way of co-opting and defusing people’s anger.

Anyone who thinks that parliament actually meant what it said, when it voted for Corbyn’s motion, should bear in mind that:

■ Parliament believes it can declare a “climate emergency” while supporting a third runway at Heathrow Airport. That will help ensure a global expansion of aviation, which is completely incompatible with averting dangerous climate change. Yesterday, parliament took a written statement from Chris Grayling, transport secretary, welcoming the High Court’s rejection of five legal challenges to the third runway. Green MP Caroline Lucas asked environment secretary Michael Gove about Heathrow during the “climate emergency” debate, and he sidestepped the question. When parliament voted in June last year to support the third runway at Heathrow, 115 Labour MPs voted with the Tories in favour of it.

■ While the Labour leadership moved the “climate emergency” motion – and good for them – a Labour-led council Cumbria in March approved the UK’s first new deep coal mine in decades, and Labour councils in London continue to support the Silvertown Tunnel and other car-focused infrastructure while public transport is cut.

■ Tory MPs in parliament – and some Labour ones too – see no contradiction between a “climate emergency” and government policies that support fracking for gas; boost subsidies to fossil fuel production (especially, tax breaks for oil companies working on the North Sea); and trash measures to support solar power, onshore wind and zero-carbon homes.

■ Greg Clark, the business secretary, wound up the debate in parliament by claiming capitalist economic expansion was the best way to deal with climate change. “Enterprise [he meant, private enterprise by capitalists] has been the greatest rebellion against extinction in the history of the world”, he said. The big lie of our time.

It’s not only that these politicians are hypocritical and treacherous in their claims to be dealing with climate change.

It’s that the solutions they propose range from measures carefully crafted not to damage the capitalist economy (e.g. opening electricity markets to renewables, but only in a way that helps big corporations keep control); to those that try to inflict austerity on working people in the name of “climate emergency” (e.g. the French government’s diesel tax that triggered the “yellow vests” revolt); to actively destructive policies such as geo-engineering (which was mentioned by Michael Gove when he met an Extinction Rebellion delegation last week).

To the extent that the far right gains traction in government and parliamentary politics, the “emergency” could also be used to justify anti-migrant policies and austerity measures even harsher than were planned in France.

This parliamentary decision tells us that the public space for discussion of climate change is shifting. In my view this means that, outside parliament – in climate campaign organisations, in the labour movement, in social movements, in communities – we have to develop real discussion about the measures we think need to be taken in the light of this climate emergency.

We need to work out how the fight to avert dangerous climate change, and the struggle for social justice, can be combined. Nixing the third runway at Heathrow and the Silvertown Tunnel, ending fossil fuel subsidies, vanquishing fracking – these will be a good start. But only a start.

We need to envision a transition away from fossil fuel consumption (the main cause of global warming) that involves the transformation not just of some parts of the economy, as some people claim, but of the whole economy and of society. The corporations that develop the fossil-fuel-intensive industries, and the relationships of wealth and power with which these industries are tied up, will need to be confronted and defeated.

Parliament’s decision is a double-edged sword.

On one hand it’s a weapon in the hands of each and every campaign on climate change in the UK. It makes it all the more difficult for politicians and trade union leaders to defend their indefensible decisions to support fossil fuel companies and fossil-fuel-intensive infrastructure projects.

On the other, it’s a reflection of a huge political effort to co-opt, neutralise, patronise and smother the growing movement against politicians’ inaction on climate change. The cynicism and sophistication of these efforts should not be underestimated: they have been going on globally ever since the Rio agreement on climate change was adopted in 1991. And meanwhile, fossil fuel use has risen by about 60%.

We need to define, outside parliament, what this emergency means, and how it is going to be tackled. Reposted from People & Nature.

Posted By

Gabriel Levy
May 2 2019 07:41

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  • We are here because a small group of schoolchildren decided to walk out of school to take a stand against climate change

    Faisal Rashid, a Labour MP

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Comments

eattherich
May 6 2019 07:36

Thank you for putting this up! A great read!

Noah Fence
May 6 2019 16:07

Hmmm, once again an environmental article mentions various problematic practices but fails to mention one of the biggest problems of them all, namely, animal agriculture. The discourse on this is extremely conspicuous by it's absence.
I don’t expect every article to bring up every single cause of environmental damage, but it’s looking increasingly weird how the issue that isn’t far off being the biggest cause of environmental damage, climate change etc is almost never mentioned and even when it is it’s likely to be something of the order of ‘eat less red meat’, which is pretty ridiculous.
So why is this? I could take a guess, but before I do so I wonder if anyone can explain this phenomenon to me?

Mike Harman
May 6 2019 19:46

A big reason is that a lot of the mainstream focus is on carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels rather than carbon emissions as a whole, or ecological destruction more generally.

Wetlands drained and turned into farmland tend to emit a lot of carbon/methane, the only way to prevent this would be to return them to wetlands (where sphagnum moss would rapidly absorb carbon again). There are some experiments in wetland farming so they could still produce food or textile fibres (i.e. you can make jeans from nettles) but not much of this happening.

The other obvious major one is deforestation.

So reforestation (proper reforestation not just planting monocrop plantations) and returning drained fields to wetlands potentially reabsorbs a tonne of carbon/prevents new emissions, but all of this is nearly 'off the books' as far as state and international carbon measures go.

The EPA for one US government agency does mention it but not in any detail https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

I don't see a move away from industrial farming within capitalism - there are obviously techniques that have been developed over the past two centuries and ongoing research, but actually applying those on a wide scale seems extremely unlikely (whereas widespread conversion to renewable energy does seem possible under capitalism even if the timeframe might be a lot longer than needed and the way it happens causing other problems).

In terms of a massive reduction in meat consumption specifically, again I only see that happening when it's not possible to force people to work in factory farms and abattoirs for wages. The worst vegan food from an ecological standpoint is not better than the best meat from an ecological standpoint but this tends to be glossed over when people look at things from an animal rights rather than ecology standpoint.

Noah Fence
May 6 2019 20:20
Quote:
The worst vegan food from an ecological standpoint is not better than the best meat from an ecological standpoint but this tends to be glossed over when people look at things from an animal rights rather than ecology standpoint.

What would you suggest is the worst vegan food in terms of ecological impact?
As for deforestation, is it not the case that growing crops for the industrial production of meat and dairy is the biggest culprit? Plus of course, the ‘best’ methods of meat production cannot begin to provide even a fraction of the animal foods created by factory farming. Whether in capitalism or communism it is a simple fact that the production and consumption of animal products has to be massively reduced if there is to be any possibility of turning things around.

jura
May 6 2019 20:44
Noah Fence wrote:
What would you suggest is the worst vegan food in terms of ecological impact?

Avocados flown to Europe?

Noah Fence wrote:
As for deforestation, is it not the case that growing crops for the industrial production of meat and dairy is the biggest culprit?

Apparently the four key drivers of deforestation are beef cattle, soy beans (mostly as animal feed), palm oil (endless list of industrial uses), and simply wood products.

Noah Fence wrote:
Plus of course, the ‘best’ methods of meat production cannot begin to provide even a fraction of the animal foods created by factory farming. Whether in capitalism or communism it is a simple fact that the production and consumption of animal products has to be massively reduced if there is to be any possibility of turning things around.

It also makes sense from a purely energetic sense. The amount of energy required to produce a kg of plant-based food is a fraction of the amoutn necessary to produce a kg of beef.

Mike Harman
May 6 2019 21:16
Noah Fence wrote:
What would you suggest is the worst vegan food in terms of ecological impact?

Thinking about stuff like california almonds and processed soy products. [edit - or as jura says avocados).

Noah Fence wrote:
As for deforestation, is it not the case that growing crops for the industrial production of meat and dairy is the biggest culprit?

It is, my point is that deforestation is accorded a much lower priority than transitioning away from fossil fuels. Because there is a massive faction of capital interested in making money off renewable energy and electric vehicles, and not one for reforestation really.

Noah Fence
May 6 2019 21:32
jura wrote:
Noah Fence wrote:
What would you suggest is the worst vegan food in terms of ecological impact?

Avocados flown to Europe?

Noah Fence wrote:
As for deforestation, is it not the case that growing crops for the industrial production of meat and dairy is the biggest culprit?

Apparently the four key drivers of deforestation are beef cattle, soy beans (mostly as animal feed), palm oil (endless list of industrial uses), and simply wood products.

Noah Fence wrote:
Plus of course, the ‘best’ methods of meat production cannot begin to provide even a fraction of the animal foods created by factory farming. Whether in capitalism or communism it is a simple fact that the production and consumption of animal products has to be massively reduced if there is to be any possibility of turning things around.

It also makes sense from a purely energetic sense. The amount of energy required to produce a kg of plant-based food is a fraction of the amoutn necessary to produce a kg of beef.

Well yes, except it’s a falsehood to define avocados as a vegan food. I mean, it’s clear that avocados are eaten by people that eat meat dairy and eggs as much as they are by vegans. It makes no more sense than calling wheat or rice a vegan food, though of course, all three examples are plant foods. Regardless of this, the hysterical anti vegans in the media or on social media love to disingenuously pull that one out of the bag,

I’ve seen the almond accusations pretty convincingly de-bunked though I can’t remember the source. But even if the de-bunking was wrong I don’t think there is any doubt that the production of dairy milk uses significantly more water than almond milk and of course it avoids the various other environmental impacts created by livestock.

zugzwang
May 6 2019 21:31

Id say any type of capitalist food production, whether the enterprise is producing vegan or aimal commodies, is a culprit due to the need to compete and accumulate, at the expense of people and the earth, or else cease to exist as a business. The big issue for me is more so those capitalist social relations rather than choosing vegan over animal products.

Noah Fence
May 6 2019 21:37
zugzwang wrote:
Id say any type of capitalist food production, whether the enterprise is producing vegan or aimal commodies, is a culprit due to the need to compete and accumulate, at the expense of people and the earth, or else cease to exist as a business. The big issue for me is more so those capitalist social relations rather than choosing vegan over animal products.

Yes, but our ideological position doesn’t alter the fact that in or out of capitalism, animal products require way more resources and cause way more environmental damage than plant foods. And in or out of capitalism we have to drastically reduce the amount of animal products we consume, though of course, the best case scenario is to just cut that shit out altogether.

Mike Harman
May 6 2019 21:38
Noah Fence wrote:

Well yes, except it’s a falsehood to define avocados as a vegan food. I mean, it’s clear that avocados are eaten by people that eat meat dairy and eggs as much as they are by vegans. I

Happy to replace 'the worst vegan food' with 'the worst non-meat food'.

Noah Fence wrote:
But even if the de-bunking was wrong I don’t think there is any doubt that the production of dairy milk uses significantly more water than almond milk

You could find a specific goat or cow farm where they're used as part of rotation or something and supply locally where it's likely comparable - in aggregate dairy production is obviously a disaster. The problem then being industrialised production rather than meat vs. non-meat as such.