Last week a small campaign group in the staunchly conservative town of Shrewsbury called a public meeting about climate change. The organisers were delighted when 150 people turned up. Even they were surprised, though, when people unanimously said they were prepared to give up flying, change their boilers and cars, eat less meat and even overthrow capitalism to get a grip on climate change.
But this was just a straw in the political wind whipping through middle England. Shrewsbury joins more than 100 other councils across the country in declaring a climate emergency, and has pledged that it will be carbon-neutral within 11 years, with more following every week.
The stakes get higher every day. In the past week, not only have the world’s leading scientists dropped a bomb into the debate by stating, across 1,800 pages of detailed evidence, that our wholesale destruction of the biosphere threatens humanity just as much as climate change, but carbon levels in the atmosphere have reached their highest level in 800,000 years.
So, could this be the moment when politicians recognise they have both strong intellectual reason to act urgently on the environment as well as, finally, the public backing to do so? When, instead of trying to score marginal partisan points, they believe they have the legitimacy to be non-partisan, politically bold, and to together back transformative economic and social change in pursuit of the public good? Could politics indeed be changing with the climate?
The last few months have seen the debate shift. Put it down to David Attenborough’s documentary, 1.5 million children on school strike, the charisma of Greta Thunberg, or sheer frustration with the political system, but increasing numbers of people now seem to recognise that nature’s wellbeing is a national priority. [Continue reading…]