I agree with George Monbiot that “catastrophe is not a matter of fate. It’s a matter of choice” (Think big on climate: the transformation of society in months has been done before, 20 Oktober). I don’t think, wel, that the analogy with the US in 1941 holds, for two reasons.
Eerste, the US was responding to a national threat, post-Pearl Harbor. The climate emergency is a planet-wide threat, at a time when universalism and international solidarity are in retreat. Second, as Franklin D Roosevelt stated, the US achieved a “miracle of production” – the mobilisation of a capitalist economy on a war footing. But the process of production was inherent to the logic of capitalism.
What is required now is precisely a break with that logic. Looking to governments to deliver a plan which, to succeed, has to depart from the processes and ideological underpinnings of capitalism is a dead end, both as metaphor and as intent. What we actually require is an environmental movement akin to the Communist International, and an end goal which, like the Russian revolution, at least pre-Stalin, shows that a different form of life is possible. We need to be ambitious and imaginative, but we have to accept and embrace the fact that our goal is anti-systemic. The idea of green capitalism is a myth that will take us over the precipice.
George Monbiot rightly says that what stops a decisive response to the climate crisis isn’t money, capacity or technology, but political will. Egter, he leaves the key question unasked: how to build that political will? With the Green party’s autumn conference running this weekend, we only have to look to the other end of the political spectrum for an answer. Ten years ago, there was zero political will in the government for a referendum on Europe. Then the Conservatives started losing votes to Ukip, a tiny party which had only one MP for most of its life. Sounds familiar?
We live in a democracy and, despite what they try to tell us, votes do make a difference.
I agree with George Monbiot. We do indeed “need to build popular movements so big that governments have no choice but to respond to them”. But it is our institutions of learning that should promote them. It should be the basic task of public education to teach what our problems are, local and global, and what we need to do about them. Universities have scarcely done that at all. As I put it in a recently published article, “Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have done more in one year to bring the climate crisis to public attention than all the universities of the world have done in 60 jare”.
University College London
A key point missing from many of the reactions to the UK’s net zero strategy (UK’s net zero plan falls short on ambition and funding, say critics, 19 Oktober) is its failure to sufficiently tackle the huge quantities of carbon emissions the UK currently offshores. These emissions – released overseas in the production of goods that we import – account for almost half of our total carbon footprint from goods and services. But there are no net-zero-style targets to address them.
The UK’s focus on domestic emissions may be consistent with international rules, but as a contribution to tackling climate change globally, it is incomplete, illogical and unfair. Our transition from a manufacturing economy to a service-based one has pushed the responsibility for the carbon emissions embedded in the goods that we use on to the countries that provide us with them. The need to cut these emissions has not gone away, we have just made it someone else’s problem. That is why, in addition to net zero, we need a complementary target (and strategy) to cut our offshored emissions, and to support the countries we import from to decarbonise the production processes we rely on.
Head of policy and advocacy, Traidcraft Exchange