In the prosperous, dignified spa town of Harrogate the Green Party held its spring conference, and launched its campaign to keep Britain in Europe. Natalie Bennett said in her opening speech that we must not let Cameron use the referendum as cover for leaving the UK in the hands of the financial sector and oil and gas corporations, nor must we let him repeal the Human Rights Act. No one could accuse her of communicating powerlessness!
I think it’s right to be hopeful, but for me, Natalie was too upbeat. She hailed the Paris agreement as a huge success. She said we must build for a future in which no one need fear, and we all live well. That was clearly a reference to the Greens’ admirable Citizens’ Basic Income policy. But she also talked about wanting to be a truly national party. I think we need also to be an international party, however difficult that may seem in electoral terms. I felt uneasy to see slogans like ‘Prosperity, not austerity’ on the wall of the dining area. Living well is good and achievable globally, in my opinion, but prosperity will always be at someone else’s expense. I understand the dilemma Natalie faces, that we all face, but I think we have to tell the truth.
The Welsh leader Alice Hooker Stroud pointed out that in Wales greenhouse gas emissions have been rising over the last few years, and coastal cities are left unprotected. To great applause, she called for policies ‘for people, planet and for Wales’. But my question is: would a social democracy style anti-austerity redistribution in the UK actually help people and environment in the rest of the world?
Full of such grudging doubts, I went to the ‘Post Paris’ panel. It was excellent. Jean Lambert, the chair, pointed out that one of the achievements of Paris was that it has brought in nearly every country, with a principle of equity in different national circumstances instead of the previous split between developed and developing countries. On Skype we had Saleemul Huq from Bangladesh, a climate change scientist who is currently director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, who has been to every one of the COPs (the international meetings about climate change). He said the vulnerable countries had themselves pushed for a universal agreement, with no exemptions. It was their pressure, he said, that had resulted in the acceptance of the aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees of global warming. If 2 degrees had been accepted as the goal, he said, it would mean world leaders were publicly declaring their willingness to write off the poor. 1.5 is difficult but not impossible. How can we make it a real goal? To do so means refusing to accept ‘business as usual’. It means hard campaigning to make the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’, which currently add up to nearly 3 degrees, a hell of a lot more ambitious. The other speakers were also excellent.
My soulmates at the conference were those who gathered around the Climate Change campaign, who want the Green Party to put more emphasis on the climate change emergency. One man advocated changing the law to make it a criminal offence to kill people through actions that exacerbate climate change, comparable to corporate manslaughter legislation.
- Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. World Health Organisation factsheet
This map is out of date, but it probably accurately reflects the regional distribution of deaths. I suspect the true figure is higher. What about wars (eg in the Sudan, and currently in Syria) in which climate change is a factor? What about deaths due to migration, in which climate change is a factor as well as political repression (eg Zimbabwe)? Some sources suggest much higher numbers.
I don’t believe that British people, or any people, can’t accept a change of course. I don’t want the Green Party to tail after the ‘business as usual’ parties. I would like us to talk about emergency, about the sheer wickedness of continuing our unsustainable ways of life. I no longer accept the argument that ‘we mustn’t alarm people’. Actually, I think people are alarmed already. The problem is not so much fear as despair and hopelessness. We numb ourselves off, don’t we. I should know, I’ve done enough of it.
OK, now I’m going out for a meal.