Is there really a Climate Emergency?

The science seems clear – the answer is yes. The reason for the question mark is that there is so little evidence of emergency action.

Our Parish Council, like many others, has declared a climate emergency, and we are doing what we can, but it isn’t much. In the UK the big decisions rest with Boris Johnson.

Johnson’s trade deals mean that we are importing more and more food and consumer goods from countries that do not respect the environment. We are building new houses on green fields. Our roads get busier and our government is building more. The Tories will do a few green things to win votes but have no proper plan for zero carbon.

Turning to the other parties, Labour, the LibDems and the Greens compete to provide the most compelling environmental narrative. Many environmentally concerned voters recognise that Climate Change is the biggest issue facing mankind, but don’t know who to vote for. Their votes are split between the opposition parties.

The disastrous consequences of splitting the environmental vote are best illustrated by the pivotal US Presidential election of 2000. Al Gore, who was a committed environmental campaigner and subsequently won the Nobel prize for his efforts, was standing for the Democrats against George W Bush. Sadly, the Green Party also stood a candidate.

The election was the closest in US history. Everything hung on the result in Florida, where the Greens attracted 97,000 environmentally concerned voters. This swung the result to Bush, who beat Gore by a margin of only 537 votes (.009%) and thus became President.

Once in power Bush abandoned the Kyoto protocols and promoted the interests of oil companies. He served 2 terms and the delay made the fight against climate change hugely more difficult.

The lessons can be read across to UK elections. Is the pro-environment vote going to be split here?

Serious climate change is now inevitable and seems likely to become catastrophic without action. We need massive investment, big lifestyle changes, and geo-engineering to mitigate the effects of the mess we have made so far and preserve what we can of our planet. The longer we delay action, the fewer options for our children.

Effective action will need a properly agreed international plan, with lots of money and shared power to enforce it if necessary.

The nationalist government of Johnson seems ill-suited to international action. Their voters put the short term interests of the UK first. They hate sharing power. They have soured relations with our democratic neighbours. Their rich backers can dodge climate change by moving to other parts of the world, and don’t want to pay taxes to solve the problems of ordinary families.

The UK is a key battlefield in a globally important war of ideas. If we can defeat Johnson’s nationalists here and replace it with a government that supports international collaboration, the future will look a lot brighter.

So, how can we do that? Not, for sure, by splitting the environmental vote three ways in each constituency. Please can we stop fighting Labour and the Greens, who are equally concerned about this terrible emergency. We need to organise to sink Johnson at the next General Election, take power and play our part in effective international action.

* Cllr John Shoesmith has been a party member for five years. He was elected onto Duffield Parish Council in 2019, when the Liberal Democrats went from zero to six members, displacing the Conservatives.

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32 Comments

  • George Lund 6th Aug '21 - 7:10pm

    Spot on, bravo

  • Brad Barrows 6th Aug '21 - 9:52pm

    ‘Big lifestyle changes’ – this is the crux of the dilemma all democracies face: how to persuade voters to support policies that will mean they lose things they currently enjoy, have to do things they don’t want to and will make them poorer. So, for example, millions of families who wish to be able to fly to Spain or Portugal for their holidays will be unlikely to be impressed by massive tax increases on flying that prices they out of that important part of their lives.

  • nigel hunter 6th Aug '21 - 11:06pm

    We are a selfish species that demands everything but do not want to pay for it That has to be sorted out. In the meantime an added problem is water supply.Without it we cannot live long.Our rivers need cleaning up and water companies need reorganising. Also as the ice melts less fresh water will be available internationally.It is not only nationally that parties have to get their acts together but equally internationally.

  • Jenny barnes 7th Aug '21 - 7:36am

    The planet will be just fine. Humanity, maybe, not so much.
    Big, difficult lifestyle changes? Fly very much less, but you can still holiday, just not so far away. Buy an electric car if you can afford to. Eat less meat. Insulate your house. Vote for whoever is most likely to beat the tory.
    Or die in floods, wildfires, unendurable heat.

  • John Marriott 7th Aug '21 - 7:47am

    @Jennie Barnes
    Or, as Private Frazer famously said; “WE’RE ALL DOOOOOOOMED!”
    Let’s do it, hey?

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Aug '21 - 8:32am

    @John Shoesmith
    “Please can we stop fighting Labour and the Greens, who are equally concerned about this terrible emergency.”
    Are you also asking Labour and Greens to stop fighting LibDems where we are better placed to defeat those who make empty promises about action to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions? Or are they to be allowed to continue their tribal warfare?

  • Matt Wardman 7th Aug '21 - 8:35am

    I disagree with the piece quite fundamentally.

    I think the Greens have rendered themselves largely irrelevant by taking idiosyncratic positions, combined with a belief in inefficient big-government programmes, whilst the mainstream has already eaten most of the lunch they think belongs to them and the ‘environmental vote’.

    I would characterise “Climate Crisis” end-of-the-world type rhetoric alongside David Bookbinder’s “Derbyshire Nuclear Free Zone” posturing of the 1980s. It adds almost nothing. And decarbonisation is not a fruitful place for doomster rhetoric, because the UK has done significantly well compared to our peers. For example afaics we are on track to have hit the EU’s 55%-by-2030 target by roughly 2023. Much is owed to Ed Davey’s important foundational work as part of the Coalition Government.

    It’s now about the hard nitty-gritty of decarbonising everything, rather than scary speeches. And there are two sectors where we have to start making major progress – transport and owner-occupied housing.

    What is happening? Transport is coming along – for one HS2 will cut a swathe through Domestic Air Travel – especially if it reaches Scotland – as the West Coast Main Line did before it, and create capacity for more Freight to move off the roads (perhaps the most backward aspect of our rail system).

    On OO housing everyone seems to be scared to ask wealthier voters to invest their own money in their own property, despite the sector getting huge tax breaks every year in the form of CGT relief. Old stock is a far bigger issue than newbuild (Scotland has better energy-efficiency policies here than England). We need some Pigou nudge taxes – I would argue for slanting current energy price rises against gas and for electric slight, for example, and adding a Council Tax band to inefficient houses.

    For me the international trade in food is a bit of a red herring – we can do the environmental economics to minimise emissions, just as the financial economics can minimise overall cost, adjusted by politics if necessary.

    @Nigel Hunter
    Very much agree on water usage. The last data I saw was that the UK is around 30% behind the best in Northern Europe in terms of water usage per pop (Scotland 165l per day per pop, England 143l, Wales 143l, NI 145l, Denmark 105l, Netherlands 120l), which suggests that improvement is possible. We have much of the answer in our hands: universal water meters; it is happening in some places already.

  • Nigel Hunter 7th Aug '21 - 9:30am

    Mat Wardman –Yes I have a water meter. Keeping a record of what I use helps me control my budget and conserve. As a country we assume we have a limitless supply of the stuff but fresh water able to be used is a limited supply. figures state we only use approx 1% of all Earths water.However aquafers that are used need replenishing,we use water faster than it can be replenished.Result sinking ground with wrecked buildings on top.If we are to only use that 1% the water companies have to up their game.That will cost somebody money.Equally whilst we can extract fresh water from the sea that will also cost.With climate change water supply should be more of a concern for without it humans cannot live long.

  • David Evans 7th Aug '21 - 10:27am

    The real question has to be Is it now a Climate Catastrophe? Or even worse, Is it a Human Population Catastrophe?

    My concern is the same as it was 20 years ago – how will we (as a party) find a way to reconcile our liberal, humanitarian instincts with the horrendous green issues that have to be faced and overcome in order to survive? The easy words of playing it both ways in all cases is simply not an option.

  • Jenny Barnes 7th Aug '21 - 10:47am

    “decarbonisation is not a fruitful place for doomster rhetoric, because the UK has done significantly well compared to our peers.”

    We’ve taken a big chunk out of our electricity CO2 production by replacing coal fired plants with wind and CCGT. However, most of those coal plants would have had to close anyway under the EUs Large Carbon Plant Directive because they were high sulphur emitters. Methane delivers nearly 3 times the energy of coal for the same CO2 output, so most of the savings in the UK so far come from that. Which hasn’t made much difference to most people.
    We’ve had more than 30 years to do something about it, but the something most people have done is acquire a feeling of entitlement to holiday thousands of miles away. Mexico, for example.

  • Most of the foregoing sidles away from the original point, surely, in relatively trivial points of detail.

    The truly important, the vital plea, is John Shoesmith’s (quickly taken up by the early responders): How are all respectable parties to unite with the prime purpose to get rid of the Conservatives’ FPTP and institute PR ?

  • John Roffey 7th Aug '21 - 11:52am

    @ Jenny Barnes

    “The planet will be just fine. Humanity, maybe, not so much.
    Big, difficult lifestyle changes? Fly very much less, but you can still holiday, just not so far away. Buy an electric car if you can afford to. Eat less meat. Insulate your house. Vote for whoever is most likely to beat the tory.
    Or die in floods, wildfires, unendurable heat.”

    I like brevity and your post summarises this extremely complex issue very well – although you have omitted starvation and thirst – which seem to be the most likely early threats to life in the UK [along with the resulting civil unrest].

    That said, the greatest immediate threat for UK citizens is the continuance of this government under Boris Johnson. It seems unlikely that he will be in a position to call an early GE much before 2024 – which would leave just 6 years to implement the measures required to reduce net emissions etc. in time – if he is replaced!

    Perhaps the question for LDV contributors is – ‘What can be done by the Party in the meantime – to pressurise him into taking the necessary action?’

  • Barry Lofty 7th Aug '21 - 12:10pm

    As one who is rather closer to the unendurable heat than is comfortable, it is the consequences of this governments actions to our lives at this moment in time that I find intolerable and the seeming ability to survive any controversy that comes their way.

  • @David, I don’t think there is any meaningful conflict. We don’t worry about reconciling our liberal values with murder and assault being illegal. If we don’t modify our behaviour, climate change will result in misery and death for hundreds of thousands of people.

    The challenge is persuading more people of the connection between our current behaviour and the inevitable consequences. Even if people can get their heads around the scale of future devastation, it’s hard to connect that to what we do as individuals now. Most people don’t need to be told that firing a gun in a crowded space is likely to lead to someone getting hurt.

    There was a lot of resistance to the various stages of the smoking ban, but these days most people instinctively understand that no-one has the right to inflict the harm of their smoke on colleagues or fellow cinema goers. The damage of climate change is more remote than the harm from passive smoking, but ultimately more devastating, so is there anything we can learn from the arguments about smoking in public places that we can use to accelerate the process?

    One problem is that a lot of the devastation has happened and will happen in the poorest countries, and it’s too easy to let ourselves think that’s what has always happened there. The flooding in Germany and other parts of Europe should grab more attention, but we’re very good at forgetting about these events when it suits us, or convincing ourselves that it’s not our actions that are the problem, or that getting double glazing and switching to LEDs is enough.

  • Matt Wardman 7th Aug '21 - 12:36pm

    @Jenny Barnes – thank for the reply.

    >Methane delivers nearly 3 times the energy of coal for the same CO2 output, so most of the savings in the UK so far come from that.

    I think that is perhaps a little too pessimistic. According to the analysis below from Carbon Brief based on 2019 data, up to that point changes in power mix including renewables amounted to ~36% of total savings.

    “Almost all of the fall in emissions between 1990 and 2019 had been due to major changes in just three areas, which together account for roughly 90% of the decline:

    Electricity supplies that no longer rely on coal (in round numbers, about 40%);
    Cleaner industry (40%), including manufacturing and waste industry emissions controls on landfill methane, halocarbons and nitrous oxide (25%), as well as more efficient industrial processes and a structural shift away from carbon-intensive manufacturing (15%);
    A smaller and cleaner fossil fuel supply industry, with lower methane emissions from coal mines and leaky gas distribution pipes (10%).”
    https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-uk-is-now-halfway-to-meeting-its-net-zero-emissions-target

    We have now (unlike Germany, say) had in these numbers most of the low-hanging fruit of eliminating coal from our energy mix. So it gets harder 🙂 . Which brings it back imo to transport and domestic, and a long grind.

  • John Shoesmith,

    “Their rich backers can dodge climate change by moving to other parts of the world, and don’t want to pay taxes to solve the problems of ordinary families.”
    Where would they move to, John? Tax havens like Monaco are no more immune to climate change than any other part of the world. A billionaires mansion on Malibu beach can slide into the sea just as easy as a trailer home. Climate change impacts every part of society just as Pandemics do.
    You are right to point out “The longer we delay action, the fewer options for our children.” The OBR recently issued a report stressing the same need to act quickly https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/06/uks-climate-targets-will-cost-less-than-battling-covid-says-obr
    “..the spending watchdog said that delaying climate action until the start of the next decade, which is considered crucial in averting dangerous levels of global heating, would end up adding twice as much to the national debt as acting fast. Failing to take action could have a catastrophic impact on the public finances, the OBR warned.”
    Hence, there is both a societal and global economic imperative for early decisive action to tackle carbon emissions that could halve the overall fiscal cost of getting to net zero. The UN COP26 conference in November may be the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement. Let’s hope it will meet your call for “Effective action will need a properly agreed international plan, with lots of money and shared power to enforce it if necessary.”
    The UK declared 2020 a “Year of Climate Action”. As well as the targets for changing to electric cars, the government has pledged to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to “net zero” – which means releasing virtually no carbon – by 2050.
    This means emissions from areas like transport, farming and industry will have to be avoided completely or offset by sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. The LibDems will need a concrete plan of action and timetable for meeting these targets as early as possible.

  • There is considerable controversy over the question of a new oil field off the coast of Shetland (held by Lib Dems at both Holyrood and Westminster).

    Yet, having searched, I can find no trace anywhere of the Lib Dem stance on this. Where does the party and its parliamentary representatives stand on this ?

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Aug '21 - 5:07pm

    @Joe Bourke
    “Where would they move to, John? Tax havens like Monaco are no more immune to climate change than any other part of the world. A billionaires mansion on Malibu beach can slide into the sea just as easy as a trailer home.”
    Different parts of the planet are likely to be subject to differences in climate change – be it temperature, rainfall or whatever.

    But some parts are likely to be a good deal more inhabitable than others. And guess who will be snapping up the best places? The seriously wealthy, leaving the poor to fend for themselves.

  • David Raw,
    Labour have come out against, we cannot duck this.

  • I thought our existing policy was ‘no new oil’, which goes with us being anti-fracking and against a new coal mine because they are all carbon sinks that should be left in place. It wouldn’t hurt to reiterate it.

    Some people will worry about the financial hit of leaving it in the ground, but for me the more serious risk is to our energy security, so it is important that our message isn’t clipped to be simply ‘leave it in the ground’, but comes with a plan to address that.

  • Jenny Barnes 8th Aug '21 - 10:59am

    The last para of the OP is effectively a plea for a “progressive alliance”. Sir Starmer has ruled out any such pact, and probably for good reason. The Tory attack lines write themselves: ” A load of woke lefties trying to deny you your right to choose who you want to govern the country ” ” Starmer would be on Sturgeon’s apron strings ” ” An end to the union & nuclear deterrent” etc etc etc.
    Not campaigning hard in seats where other parties stand a better chance is probably the way to go.

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Aug '21 - 11:42am

    “it is important that our message isn’t clipped to be simply ‘leave it in the ground’, but comes with a plan to address that.”
    Agree. And a significant part of the plan is going to have to deal with the poor quality of much of the country’s housing stock – so as to use a lot less energy keeping warm in winter than many of us use at present. And very many householders will have difficulty funding it.

  • @Nonconformistradical this is true.

    There’s been a lot of talk on the news about the increases in fuel costs, and while it’s right this is discussed, it’s depressing how many people think/claim the solution to fuel poverty is to keep energy prices low for everyone, not thinking about whether or not wages are enough to cover the costs of living, or that we need schemes to improve housing and reduce demand.

    In reality, we’ve all been under-paying in relation to the true cost of fuel for decades. Keeping prices artificially low to justify keeping wages low is just another ploy by the wealthy to avoid responsibility and to stay wealthy.

  • Matt Wardman 9th Aug '21 - 8:54am

    @Nonconformistradical @Fiona

    Tend to agree on nearly all of that. The issue with raising energy prices is difficult because it is consumer (ie populist) politics to resist it.

    I think it is very important so that we get a higher market value on energy reduction. But did not Ken Clarke try to put VAT on energy prices when he was Chancellor under John Major, and found himself slapped down for political reasons? As you say the way to reduce bills is by reducing necessary demand.

    I don’t really agree that green improvements are so widely unaffordable – there have been and continue to be means tested and non means tested things available. and DIY is not difficult. It’s perhaps true that people don’t *want* to invest in their own homes, but that brings it back to a need for a different balance in the market.

  • Why is it that so very many of the contributions above ignore the essay by John Shoesmith? “Climate Emergency” was in the title, true. But it is unfair of us all, to collar this to our individual hobby-horses, and ignore his true theme — one greater even than Climate Change, surely? — . . .his theme of how to turn the UK into an authentically democratic community.

  • Is there really a Climate Emergency?

    Of course there is! Even Mrs. Thatcher saw it coming 40 years ago..

    The problem with unilaterally increasing energy prices is that it hits the poorest hardest; after all, they are the ones living in poorly insulated homes..What is needed is a completely integrated policy to improve existing housing, ensure all new builds are energy efficient (e.g. solar roof tiles, heat pumps), etc..

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Aug '21 - 10:56am

    @Katerina Porter
    “Insulation Insulation Insulation”

    Safe insulation.

    With the job done properly in the first place. Apart from safety issues it’ll cost less. But hey – what does that matter when the business is set on making the maximum short-term profit…?

    Not this kind of ‘work’ https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/home/shockingly-poor-workmanship-went-unchecked-in-grenfell-cladding-system-inquiry-hears-67269

  • Jenny Barnes 9th Aug '21 - 12:04pm

    Roger Lake “his true theme — one greater even than Climate Change, surely? — . . .his theme of how to turn the UK into an authentically democratic community.”

    I was one of the few who did. However, I disagree. There’s no issue more important than the planet continuing to be habitable for humans. As it is, wet bulb temperature in large parts of the tropics will exceed 37 C under even the most optimistic scenarios – aka fatal heat.

  • Peter Martin 9th Aug '21 - 12:37pm

    There is really no rational argument against doing what we can to protect the environment. We can’t think we know enough about the Physics of GH gas concentrations in the atmosphere to suggest that the scientific community has it all wrong. There is no University climate study department in the world, with the possible exception of the religiously funded quasi-unis of the USA, which promotes what might be termed a contrarian view. Putting ever more CO2 and other GH gases into the atmosphere and hoping for the best is simply too risky an option for us all to take.

    We only need to look at how hot Venus is to know that increased CO2 levels do make a significant difference.

  • Matt Wardman 9th Aug '21 - 9:09pm

    @Expats

    >The problem with unilaterally increasing energy prices is that it hits the poorest hardest; after all, they are the ones living in poorly insulated homes..What is needed is a completely integrated policy to improve existing housing, ensure all new builds are energy efficient (e.g. solar roof tiles, heat pumps), etc..

    I’m not convinced that that is true. So I went looking for some data, from the English Housing Survey 2019-2020.

    The easiest, most energy efficient and least expensive houses an to heat are in the Social Sector Tenure. Followed by the Private Rental sector, followed by Owner Occupied. PRS only overtook OO in 2018, so that one is marginal and tentative.

    Mean EPC numbers in 2019 were 69, 64 and 64 respectively – all improved by about 20 points over the years. And have presumably improved further since, as it has been year on year improvement for all sectors since 2003 or before.

    If you are after bottom-up community politics, then signposting to resources for people with inefficient houses is a good place to start.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Aug '21 - 1:45pm

    The important aspect is meat eaters.

    Become vegetarian and do more than many others.

    Much of the waste on land and of, is because of meat as an impact , in its farming and production.

    Liberal Democrat vegetarians are not great in number any more than in other parties. even green party leaders such as Caroline lucas, eat meat.

    Stop and think!

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