Ellie Chowns lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands
The European elections are upon us. Voting in UK is on Thursday. In other EU countries it is variously on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Results should start emerging from about 10.00pm on Sunday. These elections are crucially important.
Humanity faces an existential crisis: Climate breakdown, ecological collapse, myriad forms of pollution, insane levels of inequality are all indicative of the need for our species to radically change direction. The far right essentially want to double down on the current path of greater inequality and pollution. The old centre politicians tend to pay lip service to these problems while trying to carry on with business as usual. Only Green Parties offer a solid programme of action to address all these problems in a concerted way. Greens stress the benefits of working to build greater social solidarity, within our local communities, across our continent and around the World.
The UK sends 72 MEP’s to sit in the European Parliament, three of whom are from the Green Party. The latest polls show the Greens gaining four or five more seats, to make seven or eight in total. Brexit may, or may not, go ahead: we simply don’t know. The MEP’s we elect on Thursday may sit for the full five year term, or only a few months, if Brexit does indeed go ahead. Either way, it is important for more Greens to get elected.
The Greens have substantially less money to pay for leaflets and advertising than the other parties, and get less TV and radio coverage. However the recent local election results were very positive and show how their grassroots support is building in local communities right across the UK. There are some great videos that are helping get the message out. Do please watch the truly remarkable Majid Majid, ex Lord Mayor of Sheffield and lead candidate for the Greens in Yorkshire and Humber Region. Also, please watch this latest video from Ellie Chowns, our excellent lead Green candidate in the West Midlands Region, and you can see her leaflet here. Both these two people stand a good chance of being elected. Please, wherever you live in UK or across Europe, do vote this week, and do please vote Green.
Greens celebrate victory. Here in Hereford gaining 3 seats, and 194 across the country, spread across 122 councils.
These local elections saw the total number of Green Councillors leap from 173 to 362
The full results of the local elections from England and Northern Ireland are now in, and they are, across the board, wonderful. The Green Party has had the best results in its 47 year history, with a net gain of 194 councillors. The Liberal Democrats have also done exceptionally well, quite possibly their best night ever, with a net gain of 703 councillors. Locally focused independent councillors have made net gains of 662. Meanwhile the Tories had net losses of 1334, Labour of 82 and UKIP of 145.
Bizarrely many Labour and Tory politicians, and many of the media commentators, are interpreting this as the people ‘just wanting to get on with Brexit’. This seems to me to be utter nonsense. LibDems and Greens are the most strongly pro EU membership parties, and they both made historic gains, while all the parties advocating Brexit, from UKIP, to the Tories, Labour and the DUP all lost seats.
Of course in these local elections local factors played a key role, but so too did the national political chaos, and what I’d argue is perhaps equally important, the ecological and climate crisis. Greens, and to some extent, LibDems, are more internationalist, and also more locally focused: they are less consumed by the gossip inside the Westminster bubble, and more concerned with addressing the real issues facing humanity.
These election results provide dozens of really heartening examples of positive change, and none of them are being determined by those inside the Westminster bubble. Here in Herefordshire our local Green Party had a local alliance with a local party called ‘It’s Our County’ and with a number of Independents, and we all gained seats, as did the Lib Dems, all at the Tories expense. Thus the council has shifted from being Tory controlled to having no overall control, which I’d argue is good for democracy, and opens up the possibility of huge change. Our Green group slowly went from one councillor to four over the last 5 or 6 years. On 2nd May we added three more.
In my last blog I wrote about the nature of political change. Of course elections matter, but so too does non-violent protest and the two are ever so closely related. On the doorstep I had as many conversations about Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes for Climate as about Brexit. Many people are as inspired by the clear moral and factual leadership of Greta Thunberg as they are repulsed by lies and narcissism of the likes of Boris Johnson. The window of what is possible to talk about is shifting. Discussing radical action on the ecological and climate crisis is now permissible in a way in which it was not a year or two ago.
I’m looking forward to the Euro elections on 23rd May with glee! I’d expect the Greens and LibDems to have another excellent set of results. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both terrified of these elections, and may do a deal on Brexit just to avert having to fight them. To make such a huge and long term decision based on very short term and narrow party political considerations would be both insane, and typical of politics within the Westminster bubble.
Over the coming months there is so much I’d like to do. I hope to work with my seven Green Party councillors to see how we can continue to grow, and to work with our local Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes groups to plan our next steps after their extraordinary achievements of the last few weeks, and I plan to restart giving my talks and leading discussion evenings about envisioning a radically different and better future. Our local car sharing club will be getting a loan of a hydrogen fuel cell car, and hopefully also buying an electric car to replace one of our diesel cars. All these aspects of change, be they party political, non-violent protest, changing the technology we use, or leading discussion evenings, they are all so closely interrelated and part of the same necessary process of change. A better future is possible, but only if we make huge changes on multiple fronts simultaneously, rapidly and globally. Our political system seems incapable of rising to the climate and ecological crisis: therefore we need to change the political system, from within and from the streets, globally and rapidly.
School strikes for Climate Action take place all over the World. Today, here in Hereford, outside Jesse Norman MP’s office.
We need political change. The global ecological and climate crisis demands it. The insane levels of inequality demand it. Positive political change happens in many ways, at different levels of government, over differing timescales in different regions of the World. Today I want to celebrate a few small victories, and flag up the possibility of others.
Yesterday in Sudan President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a coup after months of popular protests. In my youth I spent time in Sudan and have followed its politics ever since. The protestors are clear they want an inclusive, democratic government not military rule, and so the street demonstrations will continue. I wish them well and share with them the hope for a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy.
Achieving good governance is a long and slow process. The five Nordic countries are generally perceived to be the best governed countries on Earth, and the fact that they have low levels of inequality, ever more ecologically inclined policies and high rates of wellbeing are of course all related. Costa Rica is one of the best governed countries on Earth, and last year I posted a blog about what it is achieving. I’ve blogged before about good governance in Uruguay and inspiring new leadership in Ethiopia and Spain. Political progress is always hard won, often slow, but it can be cumulative and build toward something really worth striving for.
In Europe the forces of right wing popularism are being challenged by positive, socially inclusive and ecologically orientated parties, notably the Green Parties, as I wrote about in blogs reporting recent Green gains in Bavaria, Luxembourg, Belgium, and then in Hesse. Last week I came across the wonderful Swiss activist group Operation Libero.
As Brexit crumbles into ever greater farce we face elections in UK: local elections on 2nd May and European elections on 23rd May, and quite possibly a General Election sometime soon. Due to our antiquated First Past the Post system the Westminster elections will inevitably produce a government that fails to reflect people’s real feelings or ideas. I’m much more excited about the possibility of change that comes at the local level, and here in Herefordshire the Green Party could well take a few more seats. I’ll be out tomorrow in Leominster as part of one of the Green Party’s Big Days Out. The European elections are really important, and are fought under a proportional system, so it makes sense to vote for what you really believe in. The Green Party of England and Wales currently has three MEPs and I hope they’ll add substantially to that number on 23rd May. Here in the West Midlands we have a good chance of getting Ellie Chowns elected!
Although voting is important, non-violent direct action has a massive role to play. Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate movements are both doing vitally important work, and today I joined them in lobbying my MP, Jesse Norman. So much to do, but none of it without hope!
Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency
Last Friday Herefordshire Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency. It was an inspiring day. About a hundred of us old environmental activists were outside the Shirehall when along came about one hundred and seventy young students who had marched chanting from the collages, down Aylestone Hill and through High Town. Our councillors had seldom, if ever, seen so much support for a motion to be passed. Yesterday the same council approved their own Transport Package, which essentially commits them to spending vast sums of money on road building and peanuts for walking, cycling and public transport. This, of course, is exactly the kind of policy that shows they are not serious about the Climate Emergency that they themselves had declared just a few days earlier. It reflects the muddled thinking of governments around the World, who continue to give billions in subsidies to keep the old fossil fuel industries going, while at the same time professing to be concerned about climate change, ecological breakdown and appalling air quality. It is why more and more people are taking to the streets globally, with groups like Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate Action, demanding immediate and decisive action.
This coming Friday, 15th March, there will be a global school strike for climate action. As of this morning 1209 actions in 92 countries have been announced, and many more are being added each day. I follow many of the organisers on Twitter, and these young people, some only ten years old, are so powerful and eloquent speakers. They put most of our elected politicians to shame.
We need to make policy and investment decisions fit to the physical realities of the ecological crisis. Take road building. While our local council’s top priority seems to be to build ever more roads George Monbiot suggests a target of reducing car use by 90% over the next decade. Halting the manufacture, sale and use of fossil fuel cars, lorries and buses is a political decision. As I have repeatedly argued on this blog battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell alternatives already exist, and having most of the cars in car sharing clubs rather than private ownership we can further decrease the damage they do and the space they take up. If we are serious about action on climate change, or children’s health, or the liveability of our cities, then we have to make planning policy decisions in the understanding that the era of the privately owned motor car is over.
The World is getting warmer. This graph depicts the global temperature changes from 1880 to 2018. The data on which it is based is from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the graph is courtesy of Levke Caesar.
This week in the UK we’ve been enjoying unseasonably warm weather. Lots of us have been outdoors actively making the best of it. However there is also the worrying knowledge that this lovely weather is not how February in UK should be. Weather records are being broken all over the world. Some of these events are pleasantly enjoyed by millions, such as this warm spell in the UK. The other side of the coin is that many people are experiencing life threatening weather events: floods, droughts, hurricanes.
What is of course most worrying is that the warmer global temperatures are increasingly triggering a number of feedback loops. Ice is melting from the Arctic to the Antarctic causing sea levels to rise. As the oceans warm the water expands, further adding to sea level rise. Less ice means more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the ocean, further contributing to warming, and to sea level rise. As the sea warms methane is released from the ocean floor. Permafrost is melting releasing more methane and carbon dioxide, further intensifying climate breakdown. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, turning some of this into carbonic acid and thus making the oceans more acidic, with potentially catastrophic results for humanity.
The science is clear. We need to get to a zero carbon economy as quickly as possible. As I’ve repeatedly said on this blog, we have technological and political choices. Our politicians consistently hold on to outdated concepts, like economic growth and national self interest. The young people involved with school strike for climate, and so many of us in ecological activist groups like Extinction Rebellion, understand we need system change, not climate change. If our species is to have a future we all must start acting in the interests of our own species, as a unified collective entity. We all need a stable climate and a fully functioning biosphere. That will entail reallocating resources on an epic scale. It will involve the closing down of many industries, and the expansion of others. Our decisions will need to be guided by the ecological imperative, and that will need to trump all concepts of profit and power. A big ask, but absolutely necessary.
Renault-Neoline. A sailing cargo-ship, due to be in commercial operation by 2020
Last March I posted a blog about the great success of the Ampere, the first regular passenger ferry using battery electric propulsion, rather than diesel engines. It achieved 95% reduction in emissions and an 80% reduction in operating costs. In that blog I argued that it was likely that short routes, such as the Dover – Calais, would probably switch from diesel to renewables before longer, ocean going routes. However a new partnership between the car maker, Renault, and ship building start-up Neolineare planning a predominantly wind powered regular Trans-Atlantic service, due to start operating in 2020.
The picture above shows what they are proposing. It is quite a large roll-on roll-off ship, capable of carrying 478 cars on two decks. Most of the time while at sea it would be entirely sail powered. For manoeuvring in port and times of slack wind a diesel engine is planned. I would like to see Neoline replace this diesel with a hydrogen fuel cell engine. However, even with the diesel engine, emissions are forecast to be 90% lower than conventional ships as essentially this is a new iteration of a sailing ship, although no doubt with smart computer controlled sails.
I have on this blog written about several experimental hydrogen fuel cell ships. Now construction is just beginning on what will be the world’s first regular commercial hydrogen fuel cell ferry. It will be a 70-foot long catamaran, capable of carrying 84 passengers, and will commence operating in San Francisco Bay sometime later this year, initially on a three month trial basis. It will carry sufficient hydrogen for two full days operation.
Combining the sail powered ship designed in France by Neoline and the hydrogen fuel cell ferry under construction in California seems to suggest the path to a truly sustainable global shipping technology. Predominantly wind powered, but with clean hydrogen fuel cell technology for manoeuvring in port and as back up for when the wind is not strong enough. How long will it be before these technologies replace diesel on the huge bulk carriers that criss-cross the planet’s oceans. That would improve local air quality in ports, cut carbon and other emissions, and be quieter and so less disruptive to whales and dolphins, and it might also be considerably cheaper than dirty old diesel. What’s not to like?
Greta Thunberg, who started the School Strike for Climate movement, and is my Person of the Year 2018
For the last few years on this blog I’ve chosen a person and/or a technology to celebrate as the Person of the Year or Technology of the Year. I try and highlight ideas, people and technologies that might help humanity move to a better future, where climate breakdown is averted, mass species extinction halted and where people can live in a peaceful and prosperous manner, without wrecking the planet in the process.
The hydrogen fuel cell is my technology of the year. Lots of companies and research programmes have made important progress over the last twelve months, and many of them I’ve written about. In September I posted two blogs on the subject, here and here, and one in March.
We have the science that informs us we must combat climate change and the technologies to do so. Our planet is dominated by politicians who don’t want to understand the dangers or learn about better ways of doing things. Carbon emissions rose last year, when the science tells us they need to be falling fast.
The biggest and most positive thing to happen over this last year has been the emergence of a new generation of climate activists. In August the 15 year old Swede Greta Thunberg started her school climate strikes, taking every Friday off school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament. Her tweets and videos have gone viral and young people in hundreds of cities around the World have joined her in going on school climate strikes. In October Extinction Rebellion launched its programme of non violent direct action in London, and it too has rapidly become a global phenomena. Linked with these street based activist movements has been the growth of political movements advocating radical action on climate breakdown. In October I blogged about Green Parties gaining ground in elections in Luxembourg, Belgium and Bavaria, and during most of November and December most of my blogs have been about the growth of this climate activism, especially with the emergence of the Sunrise movement, the Justice Democrats and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez since the American Midterm elections in November. In Britain, where our politics in general seems so totally dysfunctional Caroline Lucas seems to be the most popular politician, and the only member of Parliament backed up by policies that might yet avert the worst. If I have to pick one person to represent this global wave of climate activism it would undoubtedly be Greta Thunberg. Do please watch this two minute video of her addressing COP 24 in Katowice, and check-out her Twitter for more news and videos.
MEPs on Question Time, over a 5 year period, 35 MEPs appeared, all anti EU fanatics (33 UKIP 2 Tory). Where were the knowledgeable pro EU MEPs?
The UK is in a political mess. It is more deeply divided, more confused and more misinformed than at any time in my life. I lay the blame for this in large part at the poor quality of our media. The decline in how the BBC covers news and current affairs is of particular concern. I’ve given up with their TV and radio reporting of serious issues, and only scan their website to see what issues they are prioritizing, rather than with the expectation of really learning anything.
How our relations with the rest of Europe have been covered has been dreadful for decades. The above graphic shows the number of MEP’s on the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme over a five year period. All thirty-five times MEP’s appeared on the programme they were anti EU fanatics, thirty-three from UKIP and two anti EU Tories. Most of these anti EU MEPs don’t even turn up to debates and are staggeringly ill-informed and prejudiced. For decades the voices of people who have a deep understanding of the complexities, strengths and weaknesses of the institutions of the EU have been systematically silenced. I’d love to see Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party MEP for the SW England, given as much TV exposure as Farage, then the public would have much better understanding of the real issues. It’s not just the Greens who have some good MEPs who actually have a lot of knowledge of and respect for the EU. All parties, bar UKIP, have such people; it’s just that the BBC and much of the rest of our media ignore them.
George Monbiot wrote an interesting article in the Guardian about how the media like to portray politics as an individual psychodrama. This focus on a ‘cult of personality’ prism through which to view politics obscures the real issues and the impact they will have on ordinary people. In terms of the Brexit debate all the media focus is on will Theresa May survive, will Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg or Jeremy Corbyn be the next prime minister. If Brexit does indeed go ahead it will affect the lives of all of us in the UK in deep and profound ways, which quite frankly are more important than who happens to be in number 10 Downing Street.
One error that the BBC has made is to think that having two opposing views represented is necessary to reflect balance. Over the years every time climate change was discussed they would invite a so called climate sceptic to counter the position of a climate scientist. This distorts reality. Equating someone from an oil industry spin machine dressed up as a ‘think-tank’ and giving it equal weight to someone expressing a factually well informed view of scientific reality is ludicrous. Again, with Brexit, the BBC seems to think it is OK to have someone spout things that are simply factually wrong, as long as at some other point in their programme they have someone else putting a different point of view, even if that too is factually wrong. The job of journalism is to speak truth to power, and this is something the BBC and much of the rest of our media seem to have lost sight of. Whether it is the breaking down of the biosphere, the self inflicted calamity of Brexit or any other serious issue, public understanding of the issues if often woefully poor, and for that the BBC and the media must take some of the blame.
Sunrise Movement Lobby Congress for Action on Climate Change
There is an utter disjunction between what science informs us is the predicament humanity finds itself in and what politicians are prepared to do. The science is clear: we need to get to net zero carbon emissions as fast as humanly possible. In the 1970’s we had the opportunity to reduce emissions in a gradual and orderly manner. That window of opportunity is now closed. Now our only hope for continued existence of our species is an almost unimaginably fast reduction in emissions, yet this year emissions increased. If they continue to increase for just a few more years it is simply ‘game-over’ for our species, and countless others. National governments everywhere are failing us. They range from the actively destructive, like USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to the well intentioned but hopelessly under ambitious such as most of Europe.
As Greta Thunberg has said, our leaders are behaving like children. The thing that gives me most hope is the extraordinary explosion of citizen activism for climate action. The school strikes for Climate that Greta started in August has now spread globally and a whole new generation of activists are taking on leadership roles, many of whom are only children. Linked to this is the growth of the Extinction Rebellion movement, the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats in USA, Green Parties across Europe and many other grassroots movements.
One of the key things these groups are doing is trying to get politicians to declare a Climate Emergency. Many councils in the UK and elsewhere have now done this, and this public acknowledgment of the problem is an important first step. Some of the declarations call for net zero emissions by 2025 or 2030, which is a scientifically necessary goal. Given the best organised and most dedicated local council in the world would probably struggle to achieve this the question then arises, how do we achieve it for the entire global economy, including in those places where governments are most actively hostile to such action. That bigger goal can seem hopeless, but hope is only born through action. Once people see dramatic and positive action in one place it can spread globally at lightning speed.
On Twitter I retweeted someone called Sydney Azari’s Tweet ‘We are on the event horizon of revolutionary change.’ This is an interesting concept. For humanity to survive in any kind of civilized state we need change on a scale and speed never envisaged before, the outcome of which is not knowable in advance, and for which there is no manifesto or political theory. It has to be powerful enough to sweep away dozens of governments, technologies, industries and the whole of global consumer society. What will replace our current systems has to fit within the biological and physical laws of nature.
The COP climate talks in Katowice, Poland, are drawing to a close. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said failing to agree climate action would ‘not only be immoral’ but ‘suicidal’. The path governments are committed to is suicidal. Hope lies out on the streets, with the youth, and with the millions of people trying to build that radically more sustainable future.
Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.
Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.
The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.
As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.
Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.
We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.