So another Green Party conference ends as another glorious sunset of this glorious Indian summer reddens the sky over the sands of Bournemouth. Being at a conference by the sea is always very meaningful for me as such close contact with the untameable wildness of the sea and the vast expanses stretching to the horizon helps to keep me grounded and connected to a nature that defies all human projections and constructions, especially those that are tossed around with abandon in the hurley-burley of conference debates. Walking two miles from my B&B each morning along the promenade to the conference centre in the radiant sunshine, and walking back two miles in the evening under a brilliant moon, helped put all the intense events of the day in perspective as well as keeping me healthy and free from cobwebs!
But what was poignant about this conference was the acute awareness felt by pretty much all present about the urgency of the existential crisis posed by the imminence of catastrophic climate change, of a natural world so polluted by human endeavours that it is about to inflict damaging impacts upon us all that may well undermine the very ability of humanity to cope effectively with such dramatic environmental change. Time and again all policy discussions had to be placed in the context of ever-worsening climate impacts across the globe. The UN Paris climate talks in December is the next opportunity for the world to take decisive action and again civil society has to step in to help pressurise governments to go further that just protecting their own national interests and to genuinely act together to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
It was so strange to relax in between conference sessions in the pleasantly warm sunshine, looking out upon the calm seas and the crowds enjoying the beach life yet knowing deep down how damaged our natural world is in so many ways and how out of equilibrium it is as a result of humanity’s collective actions during the industrial age of fossil fuel powered growth. It takes a certain inner mental strength acquired over years of personal struggle and maturation to be able to hold the paradox of both enjoying the pleasant conditions experienced right now and the existential pain of knowing what the future holds for those vulnerable to climate change now and for those future generations who will be even more vulnerable to climate change. That inner work is ongoing for me, and perhaps never-ending, just as supporting others in that same inner work is also never-ending as well as being such an important part of compassionately helping others to cope constructively with the climate change issue.
The struggle to tame the dragon of climate change is the greatest struggle of our times because, as was noted several times at this conference amidst much impassioned debate, it is central to all other struggles to gain social, economic, and environmental justice too. It also challenges us to deepen our own personal development, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, so as to generate, and maintain, the strength, courage, and creativity needed to stay engaged with the climate change issue and constructively work with others to both mitigate climate change and adapt to its inevitable impacts.
It was an immense privilege to listen to so many inspirational and well-informed speakers at this Green Party conference, and it makes me so proud to belong to a political party and social movement that not only takes climate change more seriously than any other UK political party but also sees clearly how everything needs to change in order to not only deal with climate change effectively but also to ensure such change creates opportunities to build a fairer, greener, healthier, more democratic society that is better than the present one, addicted as it is to an outdated model of unsustainable economic growth that ignores the limits imposed by nature.
Last night I wombled along with a few friends to a public meeting in the People’s Republic of Brighton & Hove, where refugees from the surrounding area are welcome if they want to escape from the terrifying wilderness that is the sea of Tory blue throughout South-East England. The meeting was a rally against austerity, with a star-studded line of speakers that included Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP, and Yanis Varoufakis, the ex-Finance Minister of Greece, ‘rock star’ of the economics world, and himself a refugee from the terrrifying autocracy that is the Troika devastating Greece with an excruciating programme of austerity by fiat.
The meeting was the best political rally I’ve ever attended, with Caroline Lucas explaining that there is already a Green New Deal ready to go to provide the investment in green infrastructure that would create well-paid jobs and increase tax receipts to the extent that public services could easily be paid for and welfare benefits could be reduced, whilst ensuring we all still have a safe, livable climate too. She also expressed her horror of the Trade Union Bill about to be unleashed by the Tories, which would destroy so many valuable workers rights and seriously undermine their ability to secure fair pay and working conditions. Caroline pledged to even take direct action if necessary to defend the rights of trade unionists. And when Caroline says ‘direct action’, she means it, as her record in opposing fracking at Balcombe demonstrates! Now that’s my kind of opposition MP!
Yanis stepped up the plate and demolished austerity in one fell swoop: “austerity doesn’t work, so an alternative to austerity is not needed because austerity itself is not an option”. Yanis went on to say that Quantitative Easing (QE) could easily be adjusted so that instead of the Bank of England buying bonds from financial institutions and just creating asset bubbles with minimal stimulus of the real economy, a new publicly-owned investment bank could be created that would issue bonds for public investment projects (especially projects as identified in the green economy within the Green New Deal) and these bonds could be sold to financial institutions in the City of London and elsewhere. This would enable investment in jobs and services that benefit everybody whilst still giving opportunities for financial markets to make safe, valuable investments in a non-inflationary way. QE under democratic control is not printing money, but using money for what it should be used for, supporting the real economy and creating the infrastructure that both public and private sectors need. Instead, as Yanis explained, we are increasingly stifled by austerity cuts that in effect turn us all into refugees, desperately searching for ways out of the austerity that makes our lives increasingly insecure and unsafe.
Then up stepped John McDonnell MP, campaign manager for Jeremy Corbyn in his successful Labour leadership campaign (and speaking just hours away from being appointed as shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in Corbyn’s new Shadow Cabinet), explained how the budget deficit could be eliminated, and public services paid for, with plenty of money to spare on top of all that, if enough tax inspectors were employed by HMRC in order to claw back the £120 billion of tax avoided, evaded, or simply uncollected from big corporations and rich individuals. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS Union weighed in with a clarion call not only to fight austerity but also to transform our failed electoral system by bringing in proportional representation so that never again do we get a majority government like this present Tory one that was voted in by only 24% of the electorate entitled to vote.
All the speakers got standing ovations in a hall packed to the rafters by a crowd given fresh determination, courage and inspiration to fight austerity and win, not only in the UK but across the world in solidarity with anti-austerity activists everywhere, creating a fairer, kinder, more compassionate society in the process. For me, this rally was the perfect preparation and curtain-raiser for the public launch of the Eastbourne People’s Assembly that will take place on Saturday 19th September, a launch which I’ve been privileged to play a part in setting up. I now look forward to it eagerly, knowing that we who will be attending the launch are not alone but are part of a rapidly growing grass-roots mass movement against austerity that so helped the Green Party and the SNP in the general election and which has now helped sweep Jeremy Corbyn to victory in the Labour leadership election, and which has led to People’s Assemblies mushrooming across the UK. We may all be refugees now in one way or another, but there’s enough of us now to start turning our country back into a place of safety, a true refuge!
We all know that climate scientists are saying that global warming is causing significant climate change and that this will have severe impacts upon the UK. We also know that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense, and this was dramatically illustrated by the ‘wettest winter ever’ that we had in 2013/14. We also know that the melting of the ice caps is leading to a rise in sea level which threatens the viability of coastal town and cities around the world, including the UK. But up until now the predictions for sea level rise have been worrying but apparently safely beyond the time horizon of most of us living today; the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a sea level rise of about 1 metre by 2100. Difficult, but not impossible to cope with, given enough money and political will for adaptation measures like improved sea defences.
But that has probably all changed now: a new paper by a group of climate scientists, the most famous of which is James Hansen, was published last week which predicted that sea level rise may become exponential and increase by as much as 3 metres within the next 50 years. If true, that is a game-changer, a potential death-knell for many towns and cities around the world, including Eastbourne. A large part of Eastbourne and its surrounding countryside is at, or just above sea-level, and was always going to face a challenge adapting to a 1 metre sea-level rise, but now it is facing the truly enormous, possibly insurmountable, challenge of a 3 metre sea-level rise within the next 50 years! That is a real existential challenge for Eastbourne, a real call to arms for the urgent action that is needed not only to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible but also to implement the adaptation measures that will be needed to protect the lives, homes, and businesses of Eastbourne residents. Adaptation planning has to start now and proceed in all seriousness, not only at local government level but across the whole local community. There is no time to waste, as 50 years is not long at all when it comes to defending an entire town from the power of nature unleashed on this scale! And bear in mind that long before the 50 years is up Eastbourne will be feeling the effects of the rapid sea level rise through more frequent and more intense storm surges that will be much bigger than 3 metres! The Pevensey Bay sea defences very nearly got over-topped in the storms of last winter!
- an Eastbourne Flood Forum should be established urgently, along the lines of the successful Coastal Futures Group set up in the Ouse Valley, bringing together all community and business representatives and statutory bodies, to look at adaptation options and flood protection measures.
- there should be an immediate ban on all new building projects in Eastbourne anywhere below 1 metre above sea level, and building anywhere up to the 3 metre mark should only be allowed if the very best flood protection measures can be demonstrated.
- there should be urgent discussions undertaken with the Environment Agency and other relevant government departments to look at what help can be provided to Eastbourne in developing the most robust flood protection measures possible, and how vital transport infrastructure, like the south coast railway, can be better protected. That help must include a significant increase in the funding available for improving flood defences and whatever additional flood protection measures may be needed.
- Eastbourne should form alliances with other coastal towns in the UK and around the world to share information and advice on how sea level rise and its impacts can be adapted to.
- Eastbourne should start thinking the unthinkable and start looking at which areas of the town are just too difficult to defend in the long term, planning now for the gradual evacuation/reconfiguration of those areas.
These are just some initial ideas and no doubt the above list can be extended or altered as discussion about the urgency of flood protection for Eastbourne gets underway. But a meaningful conversation that leads to meaningful action we must have, and we must have it now!
Of course, the paper by Hansen et al has only just come out, and the peer-review process on it has only just begun, with the predictions of the paper possibly turning out to be not quite as valid as the paper’s authors claim. But the paper is based on the latest real world observations and data, much of it available only after the IPCC published its latest report. Most of that data indicates a speed of ice melt that is far larger and far more rapid than even the most pessimistic predictions of the IPCC indicated. Already the first peer-review of the paper praises its thoroughness and the depths of its insights. So the probability is that the climate science will be more on the side of Hansen and his colleagues than it will be against. And anyway, the 3 metre sea levels rise prediction is a serious prediction by serious climate scientists based upon a thorough review of all the available evidence. So it should be taken as a serous possibility and acted upon seriously by all those concerned about the future of Eastbourne. We knew we were all in a climate emergency, but now we know that Eastbourne is about to go into the intensive care unit of the climate A&E!
One of the few positive aspects of the Coalition government between 2010 and 2015 was its apparent commitment to community energy, and its first ever official community energy strategy promised a future in which there would be genuine government support for a community energy revolution that would radically change the energy market in this country. This helped to galvanise people across the country, myself included, to volunteer many hours of their spare time to develop community energy projects in their local community in the idealistic hope that those communities would start to get a fair share of the financial and economic benefits of the burgeoning renewable energy sector. I and my colleagues poured our energies and enthusiasm into setting up a new co-operative, Eastbourne Community Energy, and we trained ourselves up assiduously through the peer-mentoring course run by Community Energy South, a course financed by a grant from the Cabinet Office. We even got as far as developing plans for a solar PV project with a local sports club.
Then the shutters started to come down. The local council, Eastbourne Borough Council, who we had to negotiate with, became not just unhelpful but downright obstructionist. Then the government started moving the goalposts several times, redefining the legal frameworks and tax regimes within which community energy co-ops could operate, making life a lot harder as far as developing renewable generation projects was concerned. Now, with the latest savage roll-back of support by government for renewable energies of all types, community energy co-ops now face the virtual extinguishing of any hope for many of their renewable energy generation projects, as George Monbiot points out. I despair, for now, of any progress in getting community renewable energy projects off the ground in the Eastbourne area, which saddens me enormously as I firmly believe that Eastbourne could benefit enormously from the stimulus to the local economy and the boost to energy security that community energy could bring.
This is the not the end for Eastbourne Community Energy, though, as I and my colleagues will regroup and pursue a different community energy strategy, one that will deliver new services to our local communities despite, not because of, the lack of support from both local and central government. Community energy is too important to be sacrificed to the ideological whims of politicians who are ignorant about renewable energies and their potential for supporting a sustainable energy future and a more prosperous local economy. But, in my opinion, community energy will have to develop, in the Eastbourne area at least, by casting a very sceptical eye on what politicians say, both locally and nationally, as their fine words are often not to be trusted, and projects will have to be developed very much on the basis primarily of grass-roots support and using forms of finance that bypass the normal channels of grant funding or loans from traditional banking sources, channels which have been compromised too often by political interference and institutional indifference to community concerns.
Being a social entrepreneur has always been a tough path to tread, but I feel I’ve had a harsh lesson in how tough it can be. But now that I know a bit more about who can be trusted and who can’t, that path is at least a little bit clearer, and it’ll involve developing a really close relationship with local communities and relying on the traditional co-operative virtues of self-reliance and self-help. The clean energy revolution can’t be stopped anyway, and the struggle to make the benefits of it shared more equitably with everybody, not just the privileged few who can afford to invest in it, goes on.
I’m very happy to have my good friend, Helen Burton, as my guest blogger today, reporting on her fascinating first year attempting to live more ethically. I think you’ll find her report fascinating. Her report has already appeared in the Eastbourne Herald, where she is a regular columnist, but it is re-posted here with her kind permission.
Over a year ago I decided to try to live more ethically and began to research what that meant and what changes I would need to make to my lifestyle in order to live as ethically as possible. What a year it’s been!
I took a break from writing my column on leading an ethical lifestyle in order to stand as a Wealden District councillor. As I learnt more about ethical issues I became more interested in politics as the two subjects are so intertwined. I went from believing that all the parties were the same to joining my party of choice and standing in the election! I am now much more aware of the big issues of our time and have become quite a campaigner on many subjects close to my heart. I have also become a Pevensey parish councillor to try to help my local community.
I founded Incredible Edible Pevensey and Westham and I am working on setting up a ‘Real Junk Food Project’ in Eastbourne too. I have met some wonderful people over the last year who care about people and the planet as much as I do and I have learnt a lot from them. After ten years as a committed singleton I have even started dating again having met someone who shares my interest in community and social justice. It’s amazing what can happen when you start to get involved in your locality!
In trying to eat more ethically I have made changes to my diet which mean I am also healthier than before. I now drive an electric car and have saved a lot of money in doing so. I swapped my bank account to an ethical bank and gained a £100 ‘reward’ in the process as well as £25 going to my choice of charity. Soon I’ll be changing my electricity supplier to one that supplies ‘green’ energy sourced from renewables. Insurance policies have been switched to more ethical companies and whenever I purchase anything now I look for the most ethical choice. I put a lot more thought into how I spend my money and where it goes. I try to remember “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want”. (Anna Lappe)
Things aren’t perfect, it’s a work in progress and I’m no paragon of virtue, but I am doing my best to make the right choices and whatever I do I am more mindful of the effect each of us as individuals can have on the world.
Every week in my column I will be addressing another ethical issue and sharing my own efforts to live an ethical lifestyle. From ethical purchases to adventures with chickens and beekeeping, as I explore what it means to live ethically I will share my dilemmas with you and give you something to think about as you make your own choices.
I’m very pleased to welcome Carol Mills as a guest to this blog with this piece of hers below about the London Anti-Austerity March that took place on 20th June 2015. I was enormously proud to be on the march myself, alongside Carol and quite a few other people from Eastbourne. As a result of that march moves have begun to start an Eastbourne branch of The People’s Assembly, and Carol has been instrumental in those moves, showing great initiative and determination to get such a worthy enterprise off the ground. So here’s Carol to explain things more:
Eastbourne presence at the London Anti-Austerity March 20th June 2015
by Carol Mills
Last Saturday local Eastbourne groups united together in order to have a presence at the London Anti-Austerity March. Local groups included members from: Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth, 38 degrees Eastbourne, Transition Town Eastbourne, The Eastbourne Labour Party, Eastbourne Green Party and Eastbourne Community Energy. The march was organised by The People’s Assembly which was formed in 2013. The People’s Assembly is a non-party political, broad united national campaign against austerity, cuts and privatisation in our workplaces, community and welfare services. It provides a national forum for anti-austerity views.
The march started with a rally in the City of London, the financial capital of the world, outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange. The march snaked its way through the centre of London setting off from the City on to Fleet Street, passed the Royal Courts of Justice and onward passed Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall, passed Downing Street and finishing up in Parliament Square. The organisers estimated over 250,000 people attended. There was a full programme of speakers including Natalie Bennett (Green Party Leader), Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Party Leadership Candidate), Journalist Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP), Martin McGuiness (Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland); Len McCluskey (General Secretary of Unite) and celebrities Charlotte Church, Russell Brand, Juliet Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper off Coronation Street) and many more.
This was a peaceful march with the police stating there were no arrests. The day saw a collaboration of people from across the nation, travelling from all parts of the country and from Scotland, Ireland and wales. They represented a broad array of diverse groups including:- Housing activists E15 mums; NHS campaigners; the CND; Stop the War Coalition; Unionist and public sector workers eg Unite, Unison, CWU, PCS & the NUT; various political parties; disabled groups eg Disabled Peoples Against the Cuts; youth groups eg Youth Fight For Jobs; lawyers and many more. There were young people, families, older people, Black, White and Asian and people from many religions.
The people spoke with one voice. The marchers called out vibrantly with drumming, whistles, saxophones and chants voicing their rejection of the cuts and austerity measures. Owen Jones spoke out against corporate tax avoiders; Caroline Lucus said ‘austerity isn’t working, it is dividing our country, it is punishing the poor’. Charlotte Church branded austerity as ‘unethical, unfair and unnecessary’. Jeremy Corbyn gave a rousing speech, ‘it’s possible to have a different world’ ‘1 million people in Britain use food banks regularly and we are the 4th richest country in the world. Is that necessary? Is that right?’ The social media was buzzing with messages and images from the march.
One of the organisers, John Rees from the People’s Assembly against the Cuts, urged people to start local action groups and join in with future national actions. ‘It’s only a beginning; we can’t win with only one demonstration’. Owen Jones said the march was a ‘launch pad’ for people to organise in their communities and stand for a ‘politics of hope’. Meanwhile, back home, there are many people affected by austerity living here in Eastbourne. There are people relying on food banks. There are homeless people. There are people affected by the bedroom tax. There are people affected by cuts to the services they rely on. There are people needing to choose between either eating or being cold in the winter. There are unemployed people. There are people working on zero contract hours or working fulltime on a minimum wage who need to claim benefits in order to make ends meet. There are young adults still living with their parents as they cannot afford the rents. So, are there people in Eastbourne who would like to see an end to austerity? Are there people in Eastbourne who would like to see a local People’s Assembly?
We will shortly be sending out formal invitations to all interested organisations and individuals.
What a week! The mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 17th June by the Climate Change Coalition saw more than 9,000 people engaged in conversations with their MPs about what’s urgently needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Several members of Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth were there to lobby Eastbourne MP, Caroline Ansell, which is fantastic testimony to the strength and vitality of the environmental movement in the Eastbourne area.
The very next day we had the public launch of the encyclical Laudato Si by Pope Francis, a very well researched, comprehensive, and inspiring call for the whole world to act upon human-induced climate change and the poverty that is deepened by the impacts climate change brings in its wake. In his encyclical, Pope Francis used the life of St Francis of Assisi to highlight the interdependency of caring for nature and caring for others.
Which is why today’s End Austerity Now march organised by the People’s Assembly followed on so naturally from all the climate campaigning going on this week. For policies based on austerity not only hurt the poor hardest, but also weaken efforts to deal effectively with climate change, again affecting the poorest hardest. For example, the spending cuts introduced in 2010 immediately reduced the budgets for maintaining and improving the UK flood defences, leading to the present situation where such budgets are now £500 million less per year than what is needed to keep up with the pace of climate change and prevent flooding risks from increasing. That should concern everybody in Eastbourne, which is very much in the front line of climate change given that sea level is rising fast as the world’s ice sheets melt, and most of the town is at, or very near, sea level. Indeed, some of the most vulnerable parts of the town happen to be where the poorest live!
I was proud to be part of the London anti-austerity march today, and it felt very empowering to be amongst such a large crowd that understands just how damaging austerity economics is for both people and planet. My feet hurt right now after so much walking and standing, but my spirit is reinvigorated for the struggle ahead to restore both nature and the common good of our public realm.