In the speech accompanying the latest report from the UN top climate experts, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, compared the text to a bomb disposal manual. That the climate crisis is a ticking time bomb may not be an original analogy, but it’s only grown ever more poignant over time. By now, the faint ticking sound is haunting us all.
The latest IPCC was another reminder that we’re winning all the arguments on climate change but losing the battle on the ground. Politicians, the public, institutions and corporations are all deeply concerned, but carbon emissions keep rising, and the timer keeps ticking down. For everyone on the bomb disposal team – Greenpeace UK included – this is a time to take a breath and check our wire cutters.
Amidst the stark warnings from the world’s top climate experts about the rate of global heating and its impact, there was a chink of good news. We don’t need to hope for a miraculous technological breakthrough – most of the tools we need to cut emissions are ready for use. We already have affordable, ready-to-roll wind and solar power, home insulation to fix our energy-wasting homes, electricity-powered transport and plant-based diets. Technological advancements can certainly help, but sitting around to wait for them won’t.
And it’s not as if the solutions we already have were a bitter pill to swallow either. The spoonful of sugar includes healthier, cleaner air and food, safer, quieter, more convenient cities, warmer homes and better access to nature, but the key sweetener is economic. Not only do the solutions cost far less than the consequences of sticking with dirty technologies, they actually cost less than those dirty technologies straight off the shelf. It should be a no-brainer.
The government is failing us
Then why is it that we’re making so little progress in curbing the gases that are turning up the planet’s thermostat? What’s holding us back? When you look at the sheer scale and speed of the transformation we need to avert climate breakdown, it becomes pretty obvious that we can’t do it without the resources, coordination and expertise that only a government can muster. And yet it’s pretty clear that our ministers haven’t got the memo from the UN chief.
In fact, the latest IPCC report was a mirror held up to the UK government’s failure to step up to the plate on the climate crisis. The Secretary General urged the leaders of wealthier countries to bring forward emission reduction targets, and the UK government has no plans to do so. He called for an end to fossil fuel exploration, and ministers here are busy handing out more licences to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. He even pointed to renewable energy as a key solution to the problem, and the Sunak administration is still blocking onshore wind – our cheapest energy source – because of the ideological foibles of a few backbenchers.
The fossil fuel industry is blocking progress
It’s clear that the political will to get serious on the climate crisis is not there. But how can there be a lack of political will to save everything that people value? Because while people want change, money is not so sure. And there is a huge concentration of money and power in the fossil fuel sector.
Twenty seven years after the Kyoto Protocol was signed, three of the six largest companies in the world by revenue are oil and gas giants. According to the IMF, around 7% of the entire world’s GDP is spent just on subsidising fossil fuels. That kind of power isn’t toppled by a good idea or a thorough bit of research. We need to impose enough pressure to do the right thing onto our political leaders to overwhelm the harmful influence of the world’s most powerful industry, and that pressure can only come from a truly mass movement for change.
We need a powerful protest movement
But while the UK government is failing to get to grips with the climate crisis, it’s getting busy preventing the public from expressing their anger at this inaction. Not content with the draconian measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – already criticised by the UN – ministers are now tightening their crackdown on the right to protest with the Public Order Bill, which could become law over the next few days. This dystopian legislation will allow police to stop protests before they even happen while widening stop-and-search powers that are already unfairly targeted at overpoliced groups.
A large protest movement, filled with unlikely alliances, is what our government fears, but it’s what our country needs. The change we need can’t be achieved just by asking people to shop sustainably, watch their air miles and sign petitions. A truly mass movement is the only tool within our reach with the power to deliver the change we need, and supporting and building that movement is a crucial task for all of our campaign work. We either succeed together as a united movement, or we fail apart.
Time to connect and mobilise
At Greenpeace we’ll still use our ships, climbers, investigations and the other tools and tactics we’re famous for, when they’re effective, but a lot more of our focus will be on mobilising large numbers of people around key moments. We’ll be listening, connecting and linking up with other organisations. We’ll look at where environmental issues overlap with broader societal problems like fuel poverty, wealth inequality and racism – and we’ll join forces with the people bearing the brunt of these injustices.
We’ve already begun shifting our approach in this direction, working with fuel poverty groups on energy efficiency, with fishing communities on ocean protection and with wastepickers on plastic pollution. But it’s time to take it onto the streets. We’re busy preparing to join Extinction Rebellion, and many others, outside Parliament in April for the biggest climate demo in British history.
Ministers are busy preparing new laws to defend fossil fuel revenues from public anger. They seem happy to let the carbon bomb tick as long as some money can be made from it. It’s time to choose a side.