The Climate Change Crisis – is Everyone’s Crisis
We are in the midst of a climate change crisis. In the late 1970s, when I first joined the Ecology Party, those of us who wore the distinctive yellow sunflower badge were called cranks. It is sobering to reflect that since then the climate crisis has significantly worsened.
Scientists are calling climate change a “catastrophic threat”, see Ripple et al. (2020) who say that “the climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected (figure 2, IPCC 2018). The climate and ecological crisis has continued unabated throughout the Covid19 pandemic. Globally we are close to reaching the 1.5 C rise in temperatures that will have a devastating impact on millions of lives, as reported recently in the Guardian.
Over the past few years, we have seen the growth of new movements for climate justice, including the global school student strikes which brought millions of young people onto the streets in September last year and protests by Extinction Rebellion that shut down Oxford Street. It is time to take campaigners against climate change seriously. We cannot deny the urgency of this crisis. I am proud to be a member of a union that is affiliated to the Campaign Against Climate Change and is at the forefront of its campaigns for climate jobs.
The climate and ecological crisis and the pandemic have the same roots, in a system that has prioritised profit over the needs of people and the planet. Just like the Covid19 pandemic – the climate crisis does not impact equally – people in the Global South, whose contribution to the current environmental crisis has been negligible, are suffering the worst impacts the most quickly. In the richest parts of the world, with the same unequal responsibility, the greatest impacts are felt on the poorest communities least able to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather.
As Mustafa Santiago Ali writes, environmental racism is killing Americans of colour. Climate change will make matters so very much worse.
The pandemic has shown that things can change quickly: when there is political will. People change their behaviour for the collective good when there is a clear explanation of the reasons for this.
Industries and factories can transition quickly from producing the things we do not need, luxury and cheap ‘disposable’ clothing, to the things we do need, such as Personal Protective Equipment. The pandemic has shown us there is a magic money tree and who the real key workers are.
We also saw – all too briefly – a cleaner, greener society – clearer skies, a huge drop in the dangerous pollution which is leading to death in poorer communities (and increases the likelihood of death from Covid19) and a briefreduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
In the wake of the pandemic, we face a climate crisis and a jobs crisis. There has never been a more urgent need for a Just Transition and Transformation of society to an economy based on the needs of people and the planet, and in which there is real societal investment in the jobs and education needed for a safe, secure and equitable society. A million climate jobs, a Green New Deal… there is so much more to be done, which we can do.
But. We need more than weasel words.
Boris Johnson has spoken about a Green New Deal, referencing Roosevelt’s 1930s deal. However, he has paid little attention to the environmental crisis, dashing campaigners hopes for a real plan to build back greener. At the same time the government is pressing ahead with plans to spend £27 billion on new roads.
Next year will see COP26 come to Glasgow – the UN talks which are supposed to ensure the world is on track to meet the Paris agreement. It is not on track and there again will be little genuine appetite for agreeing the emissions reductions that are needed. Johnson will present himself as a world leader in addressing climate change – he is plainly not.
UCU has played a leading role in supporting the climate movement. UCU Left supporters initiated a motion calling for a 30-minute stoppage on 20 September last year in solidarity with the school students, while a slightly watered-down version was supported unanimously by the TUC. This led to the biggest trade union workday stoppage over climate change in UK history.
Many of us attended rallies and events across the nations in solidarity with school students. They spoke with passion and fury about the damage done to their futures because of the climate crisis.
In Bournemouth, where I work, we increased our environmental campaigning in earnest two years ago, recruiting 3 environmental reps with facilities time to do this important work. Together with those reps I was part of organising our branch thirty-minute stoppage and worked with Unison colleagues and Bournemouth citizens to stand in solidarity with school pupils, Extinction Rebellion and other protesters joining UCU’s climate crisis campaign in Bournemouth town square (20 September 2019).
A nationwide campaign has seen half of UK universities pledge to disinvest from fossil fuels. Activists from Fossil Free are also calling on the USS pension scheme to withdraw its investment in these industries.
Last autumn (2019) at Imperial College, – one of the world’s top STEM universities – UCU Activists from the branch – worked with academic staff and students to try and effect policy change on the University. In December 2019 over 50 staff and students attended the first Climate Assembly. They heard speakers from the Divest Imperial student group, the Grantham Institute, Imperial’s UCU branch and from CACC. Workshops discussed “What could a Green New Deal look like?” and “Is it possible to have a fossil-free economy?”, and what changes to campaign for around the Climate at Imperial. The event, held in the Royal School of Mines (!), was organised by Imperial Against Climate Change (IACC), a new staff and student coalition set up around the 20 September Climate Strike.
The assembly was sponsored by Imperial’s UCU branch and also by the student union. Climate activism has helped pressurise the College to announce last week the setting up of a Responsible Investment Working Group. IACC has now signed up almost 400 supporters. A petition calling on the College to declare a Climate Emergency has so far been signed by nearly 500 (494!) Imperial staff and students.
In 2020 in the wake these events the College set up a new ‘Sustainability Strategy Advisory Group’ with inputs from the entire college community. Those activists involved in IACC believe without organising and pressurising the college, that the college would not have moved quickly to attempt to address the climate emergency. During the USS strikes the UCU organised Teach-Outs on climate change. In one teach-out they held a debate on carbon capture with expert speakers from within and outside the college to discuss capture as a tool in slowing down the impact of climate change by storing excess carbon in geological voids within the earths’ crust.
In FE UCU lobbied the Association of Colleges (AoC), to agree to a joint statement that both organisations would support staff in the sector joining a planned 30-minute climate crisis stoppage. UCU activists in FE wrote to Roy O’Shaughnessy, CEO of Capital City College Group (City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London), as a result he encouraged students to take part in the 15 February 2020 global climate change strike. FE activists joined Extinction Rebellion in supporting Climate Learning Week, 10th – 14th February 2020.
We must build on all of this work in the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference
Some things you can think about doing locally and regionally
- Elect environmental reps in your branch and organise around them, offer them support in the work that they do within your branch.
- Ensure facilities time for your environmental reps so that they can do this important work.
- Join local campaigns as we did in Bournemouth, amongst the groups we support is Save our Shores . One of our environmental reps is heavily involved in the group.
- Lobby your local MP. Greenpeace currently has a campaign and you can find your MP here.
- Affiliate your branch to Campaign against Climate Change and organise for COP 26.
- Link up with student unions and support their divestment campaigns.
- Share initiatives and campaigns on social media in the UCU activists list.
- Organise teach outs…
Most importantly, ACT NOW.
With thanks to Suzanne Jeffrey and the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group with whom UCU is affiliated.