Back in 2010, before the last election, Tories courting the environmentally conscious vote claimed that you could ‘vote blue and get green’ and that theirs would be the greenest government ever. Last year, the run up to the next election, they capped their term of inaction on climate change with a demonstration of how far they are really committed to environmental sustainability: they persuaded the EU to include in their definition of renewable energy nuclear power and fracking.
That it was not, in fact, possible to ‘vote blue and get green’ may not be much of a surprise. What should also be unsurprising is that this dismal record on climate change comes from the same government imposing austerity on us. Climate change and austerity are two sides of the same coin.
The logic behind the austerity agenda is that the state should be shrunk as far as possible. We shouldn’t have public services; health, education, social care and so on should be provided by the private sector for us to buy, if we can afford it. In the same way, the right’s response to climate change is to look to private companies to provide environmentally friendly options for power generation, transport and all the other activities which generate carbon emissions.
The problem is that slashing our carbon emissions requires a green infrastructure, which private investment is not going to create. We need to be putting solar panels on every suitable roof, creating wind farms in the places where they won’t disturb people or the landscape, but will generate electricity, building wave power installations wherever there are the right conditions. Some of this is happening on a smaller scale already – takeup of domestic solar power was up in 2014, for example. However, a major, immediate shift to renewable power generation needs planning. Recent studies have shown that it would be possible for us to get all of our electricity from renewable sources (including enough to switch much of our use of gas to electricity), but this large scale change in how the national grid works could only happen through coordinated, government action, and that means public sector spending, not austerity.
The Campaign against Climate Change One Million Green Jobs report estimates that creating the jobs needed to build and run green energy and transport would cost £66bn. This sounds like a considerable sum, but put it in context: closing loopholes to end tax evasion could net the government £74bn. In addition, creating jobs can stimulate the economy, creating a positive feedback loop where people who are employed and have money to spend therefore create more employment when they spend it. They also of course pay tax on their earnings to the government, rather than costing the state money in even the current dismal level of unemployment benefits.
The advantages of creating a green energy infrastructure, for the climate and for the economy, are so obvious that it is only the logic of austerity, with its commitment to the interests of private corporations and investors over everyone else, which makes the million green jobs proposal seem at all outlandish. The fight against austerity is a fight against the neoliberal agenda which places profits before people. The struggle to deal with climate change before it is finally too late is similarly a fight against the ideology that says that nothing can be done to lower emissions unless someone can also make money from it.
Climate change is not a technological problem. We have the technology now to generate all the power we need without creating carbon emissions. What stands in the way of the urgent action we need to preserve life on this planet as we know, is the political will to spend public money on the solutions which we already know exist. The Campaign against Climate Change’s Time to Act demonstration on 7 March 2015 is a call for that political will and a demand for a fossil free future. Anyone and everyone who is fighting austerity should be on it.
More details on the demo can be found on the event facebook here
- Elaine Graham Leigh is a long standing campaigner on climate change and chairs North London People’s Assembly. Her book "A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change" will be published by Zero Books in April.
Demonstrate 7 March 2015, Lincoln’s Inn Field, London, assemble 12.30