Extinction Rebellion Protest London 2020 from Wikimedia Commons

In this edition of the Sunday Socialist there is a focus in the News Digest on the climate catastrophe. Recently the world experienced the hottest week on record. This beats the 2022 temperatures which were higher than previous years and killed more than 61,000 in Europe alone. A 2021 study reported that climate change was responsible for 5 million deaths a year worldwide.

Government outrage as Just Stop Oil stops ball games

At the end of last month Just Stop Oil protesters held up the second test match against Australia. They ran onto the pitch and threw orange powder. The Met arrested three people on suspicion of aggravated trespass and public nuisance. JSO commented: “Cricket is the pitch sport most vulnerable to the climate crisis, and yet Lord’s principal partner is JP Morgan – the bank that contributed $317 billion to finance fossil fuels between 2016 and 2020. Until the government commits to ending new oil, gas and coal, and until institutions in the UK publicly join this fight for survival, we will not stop the disruption.”

JSO’s actions gain a great deal of publicity and, although our MSM reports on them unfavourably, members of the public frequently comment that they understand why JSO is protesting. One of Sunak’s spokespersons said they were employing “selfish guerilla tactics” and tried to justify the new laws being introduced to curtail our freedoms, stating that this is “why the government brought in new powers so the police can take swift action“. Really? These draconian measures are needed to deal with peaceful protesters who briefly disrupt ball games, traffic and flower shows? Grant Shapps referred to JSO’s actions as “anarchist stunts”. Do Shapps and his cronies have any idea of the level of anarchy that will engulf the world if climate change continues at its present pace?

The Global South is hardest hit by climate change but shows rich nations how to act responsibly

The rich nations of the world have fallen behind when it comes to fulfilling climate pledges. Eight years after the Paris climate agreement no country is meeting their target to cut emissions in order to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°c. Although it is hard to envisage the UK as any kind of world leader, apparently we were once considered a leader when it came to meeting climate change targets. No longer!

Meanwhile some enlightened countries are harnessing the power of the sun and introducing innovations that demonstrate the way forward. Gambia, Costa Rica, Morocco and Mali are all taking bold steps, but rich western nations need to follow their lead to bring us back from the edge of disaster. 

Gambia has a central strategy known as agroforestry. Forests and agriculture have always competed for land, and deforestation has increased as the demand for food has risen. But with agroforestry, practices are introduced which allow for coexistence.

To the east of Gambia is the landlocked state of Mali. Here 83% of the population has no access to electricity. Mali was relying on decentralised small electricity generators, or mini-grids, powered by diesel to supply rural ares. These are now being converted into small solar grids. Not only do they store electricity to be used locally in batteries, but they save thousands of women hours of labour, as they previously had to travel considerable distances to collect water which can now be pumped for the communities’ use.

Morocco is spearheading a North African solar revolution. This can supply energy not only to the immediate region but also to some European countries across the Mediterranean.

After serious deforestation in the second half of the twentieth century, Costa Rica has become something of a beacon in terms of its environmental progress. Forests now flourish again on the island, and Costa Rica has been named in the Climate Action Tracker as one of only nine countries where the measures taken to mitigate climate change are “almost sufficient”. (Morocco and Gambia are also on the list). Taxes are collected on fossil fuels, and the money raised is used to pay landowners and communities that work to preserve the environment, tree cover, biodiversity and clean water. The country has relied almost totally on renewable energy since 2014.

But nations that are introducing measures to combat climate change and meet their responsibilities are let down by the west. It is almost impossible for poorer countries to continue to tackle climate change as their domestic resources are often so limited. Despite agreements, commitments and promises, international financial support is negligible. And the west should never forget that the countries of the Global South are suffering from and trying to deal with climate change, yet have had little responsibility for creating it.

Starmer’s u-turns on ULEZ : Political expediency v breathable air

London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has for long been a subject of controversy. It is relatively easy to see both sides of the dispute. Many people who are dependent on cars for work or for other reasons, especially those living on the outskirts of London where public transport is often infrequent, may well have huge financial burdens placed on them when the ULEZ is expanded next month. They will either need huge loans to purchase a vehicle which meets the ULEZ emissions standards or they will have to pay £12.50 every day they enter the zone. With the expansion, more people will be hit financially, often the less well off who genuinely depend on running a car. The situation is further complicated by the list of exempted vehicles (which includes the military!) and the list of groups and individuals with a grace period.

Meanwhile, London has been ranked as the 18th most polluted city on the planet. Toxic city air disproportionately affects minority ethnic people and those from low-income backgrounds. In 2013, nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived in Lewisham, died and in 2020 became the first person in the UK to have her death listed as caused by air pollution. 54% of households in London have at least one car. This means that almost half of us do not have one. The average monthly cost of car ownership is just under £300 a month, a sum which many people cannot afford and therefore they see a car as a luxury item. In many parts of London the public transport system is excellent and a car is not a necessity for most of us.

Meanwhile Sir Keir Starmer has waded into the ULEZ debate – or not. Although he originally backed Sadiq Khan’s plan to extend the ULEZ, he refused six times recently to state whether he backs calls to postpone its introduction. Yet he denies he is sitting on the fence. Then on 6th July he supported Labour’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election candidate, Danny Beales, who said the introduction should be delayed and that he would fight Sadiq Khan on the issue. Sir Keir expressed his support for the candidate, saying he was standing up for his constituents. Yet on 7th July Sir Keir backtracked and said that Sadiq Khan had no choice but to extend the ULEZ because he has a legal obligation to improve air quality. The Leader of the Opposition and such a ditherer!

Sir Keir should use his energy to press the government to put more funds into the ULEZ transition to help those whose cars are not ULEZ-compliant and to improve the transport service for those living in Outer London so that they no longer believe that cars are necessities. The government of course would prefer to spend our money wastefully and immorally pursuing proxy wars rather than behave in a decent manner and assist in the Mayor’s attempts to make London air breathable again.

The environmental costs of war

Some graphic and distressing images come to mind, especially the horrors of the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Japan. Then there are depleted uranium rounds, Agent Orange, the deforestation around the trenches after the slaughter of World War I.

Quite apart from the disastrous impact of the fighting, the bombardments of war and their attendant destruction, there are the environmental effects of the commodity chain, from the the manufacture of weapons, the sourcing of raw materials, the polluting processes involved in manufacture to the abandoned vehicles and equipment left in the aftermath.

The US Defence Department is the US Government’s largest fossil fuel consumer and one of the top greenhouse gas emitters in the world. It is not easy to obtain exact current figures from the Pentagon but, according to an article in The Conversation, “war-related emissions between 2001 and 2017, including ‘overseas contingency operations’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, generated over 400 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent – roughly equivalent to the greenhouse emissions of almost 85 million cars in one year”.

War will always affect natural environments. Large quantities of petroleum-based fuels are used by military vehicles and produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sulphur dioxide as well as carbon dioxide. Increased air pollution has had a serious effect on the health of anyone in a war zone. In some parts of the world war leads to a considerable increase in the level of toxin-laden dust in the air. Water supplies can be contaminated from depleted uranium in ammunition and from oil from military vehicles. And of course forests are regularly destroyed with the inevitable adverse effect on the populations of birds and other animals.

The environmental impact from the conflict in Ukraine is devastating, and the war will leave a toxic legacy. The continued bombardment and the attempts by Ukraine to retake territory both contribute to the effects of the war. Factories have been destroyed and have released quantities of polluting materials, nuclear plants are at risk and forests have been set alight and destroyed by fire. “Some 30% of the country’s protected areas, covering 3 million acres, have been ­­bombed, polluted, burned, or hit by military manoeuvres.”

In some countries the military is attempting to reduce its impact on the environment, but surely a serious commitment to working towards the ending of armed conflict and the resultant plundering of the earth’s resources and environmental impact is the only approach that makes any sense?

A book to bring hope: Five Times Faster by Simon Sharpe

Here’s a book to bring encouragement, an insider’s viewpoint which helps us to understand how change happens, why it doesn’t, and how we can beat inertia. The author has worked at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, at the Foreign Office, as director on the COP26 team and as a diplomat, with postings in India and China.

There are three sections, one dealing with climate science, then one with economics and finally one with climate diplomacy. Sharpe makes it clear we need to speed things up dramatically, but he is encouraging and provides examples of cooperation, countries working together on projects which we may not otherwise have heard of.

A reminder of the fragility of the earth and the possibility of new beginnings

We are always at the beginning of things,
In the fragile moment that holds the power of life.
We are always at the morning of the world.
By François Cheng

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *