Greening Tomorrow

67 people came to listen and debate:
“Greening Tomorrow – What is the plan when there are no slow options left?” Our speakers were Arnold Simanowitz of “Keep it in the Ground, Lewes” and Alan Simpson, adviser on sustainable economics to the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

Arnold opened the debate by recapping three key figures from a book “The Burning Question” that had inspired him; namely 2 (degrees Celsius) that the world must stay within to ensure life on earth is sustainable for our children and grandchildren, 565 the maximum number of gigatons of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere if a temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees is to be achieved and finally 2075 the amount of gigatons of carbon dioxide that is contained within currently known reserves of fossil fuels. What this told Arnold was that we need to keep almost 80% of current fossil fuel reserves untouched in the ground if we are to have a future. However far from agreeing to this the major fossil fuel companies are still searching out new opportunities e.g. fracking, to increase the reserves. This had led Arnold to create “Keep It In the Ground Lewes”. Amongst other actions they lobby the main local investor in fossil fuels, which is the ESCC Pension Fund, to withdraw its investments in fossil fuel companies, which currently stand at £172 million. They are currently petitioning for a full Council debate and asked people to sign the petition and join the movement (if you would like to add your name and join, please contact Arnold at arnold@simanowitz.co.uk or 01273 480011). Although ESCC is holding out at present, successes been achieved elsewhere with some large pension funds e.g. Barclays, Unison and New York City and the California State Teachers’ Pension Fund was now the biggest investor in Green Technology.

Alan who for many years was a prominent left wing backbench MP has a longstanding interest in environmental policies. He set out his stall by stating that climate change was the biggest challenge facing the country and the world and that if we did not tackle it there would be no future for the planet and the generations to come. He and other over 60’s were the lucky generation and they had a moral duty to be intransigent and stand up for policies that would tackle the problem. Adding to Arnold’s figures he said that we needed to halve carbon emissions in each of the next 3 decades i.e. reducing emissions by almost 90% by 2038.

He then turned to what should be done in the UK and in particular gave examples of what already has been done by other nations particularly in the areas of energy supply and transport. Alan reminded people that in the U.K. 60 years ago 50% of energy was produced by local councils and this funded large amounts of public expenditure. This had now ceased but in Germany and Denmark it was a different story. Wolfhagen, a German Town, just slightly smaller than Lewes, produces all its own power. Germany and Denmark have legislated that communities have a right to local supply. 190 German towns and cities have taken their electricity grids into social ownership. In Denmark it is illegal to sell energy at a profit. One town had not increased its energy prices in 15 years. New technology is enabling the creation of “smart” local grids that are driving change. The energy revolution on the continent is about community action and democratic change. It is extending to clean transport systems e.g. Swedish biofuel public transport, hydrogen powered trains which are improving air quality as well as replacement of petrol / diesel cars by electric ones. China is engaged in a radical shift to electric vehicles because they have calculated that with their current rate of increase of car ownership they would in the near future consume the oil output of the whole world. The U.K. government has set a target of 2040 to phase out fossil fuel cars. Compare this to 2025 by the Netherlands.

Turning to food, Alan pointed out that the U.K. currently imports 40% of its current needs. Food supply is also centralised and based around large scale production and high food miles. Contrast this with Italy where in general the poor eat better than the English middle classes because they buy locally produced food sold in shops and street markets. The Italian “slow food movement” is an example for us. We need to move towards this model in the U.K. and improve our food security and quality.

Trees are the best available way of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh 800,000 volunteers planted 50 million trees in a single day. If a poor state can do that how much more could the U.K. do?

We have to be intransigent advocates of change. We are now in the age of interdependency not Thatcherite individualism, a tango rather than a rave. We need partnerships with local initiatives, smart grids and whole system planning. We should all be part of a wholehearted pursuit of less CO2 and there should be a legal right to the local supply of energy.

In answer to questions and comments the following points were made. Imperfect starting points are better than delays seeking perfection. San Diego has achieved 100% recycling. In design standards – the UK lags behind. Denmark prohibits planning permission for any new buildings that require fossil fuel energy.

Issues with Trades Unions need to be addressed. We need to convince them that future jobs are linked to the development and implementation of green technology. However, Unison is a positive example. There is a need for local solutions and local skills training.

The current economic/ financial set up is unfit for global climate change reconstruction. We need different measures of growth that take into account sustainability and the quality of life.

Big power companies are not capable of changing their business model. Germany now ignores them in its energy planning. However Alan is impressed by the number of companies who want to move in the right direction.

We should all take responsibility for our personal CO2 target including reducing food miles, eating locally sourced food and less meat.

The next Labour manifesto needs to be more radical and embrace the imperatives required to counter global warming. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are committed to decentralisation and sustainability.

Before the meeting closed, Gaby Wiener gave a brief summary of what the Lewes Labour Environmental Forum are campaigning on. If you would like to join in please contact her at gaby.wiener@btinternet.com

Overall this was a very thought provoking and stimulating evening. People were urged to do something individually and collectively. Go to Alan’s blogsite for a copy of his Transformation Moment pamphlet and a variety of articles that may be of interest to eclectic troublemakers (of whom thankfully – there seemed to be quite a few) he added. www.alansimpson.org.uk

Notes by Gill Short