This week I attended the Under Her Eye summit, a two-day festival of Women and Climate change at the British Library, curated by Invisible Dust.
Unusually, for a summit, all the speakers were women. The title Under Her Eye reverses the ‘under his eye’ big brother approach of The Republic of Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s Climate change dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale.
It was impossible not to be alarmed by the urgent message on climate breakdown and mass extinction in the natural world from the key speakers.
Christiana Figueres (who helped deliver the ground-breaking Paris climate change deal in 2015) said ‘We have exceeded planetary boundaries… ( on climate) … we must swallow an alarm clock…We all now either win or lose together’
Caroline Lucas, Leader of the Green party said ‘we have a 2 second window to address climate change’
Meanwhile Margaret Atwood conjured a desperate image of a citizen burying tins of baked beans and sardines in their back garden and then trying to defend that position.
In the world of a rapidly warming climate, caused by human activity, this image conjures up the desperation that might come if we fail to step it up to the next level. Scarcity of food and water would inevitably lead to resource wars. With the poorest or most vulnerable at the bottom of the food chain.
Darkest of all, was Lisa Autogena’s art work, Untitled (superorganism) which creates a planetary version of the phenomenon of ants commiting suicide by going into a slow ‘spiral of death’.
’There’s a price for blindly following those in front of you. Army ants have a dangerous tendency to commit mass suicide because they are following the leader’.
Christiana Figueres says giving up is ‘irresponsible’. And Caroline Lucas commented that ‘if things don’t change we will go down in history as the species working on its own extinction’.
Lisa Autogena – Untitled (superorganism)
The speakers at the summit were from a broad range of backgrounds, including scientists, leaders, activists, artists, writers and economists, some offering incredibly inspiring and positive framing of a very dire situation,
However sometimes I felt frustrated with lazy thinking or an almost fairytale belief in technological redemption. Facing a cliff edge IS edgy but we must keep our feet on the ground.
As Margaret Atwood commented ‘Every techno solution has a good side, a bad side and a stupid side we haven’t tbought about yet’.
Declaring a state of emergency
There are rumours that the International Policy Programme on Climate Change (IPCC) will announce in October that we have a decade less to achieve net zero carbon. This means a sharp readjustment of the current trajectory from 2050 down to 2040.
Christiana Figueres’ Mission 2020 has already set a tight peak emission by 2020. However China has seen an unexpected sharp rise in its carbon emissions of 4% in the first 3 months of 2018, compared to 2017. Scaling up renewables is not a panacea if you don’t conserve energy use.
Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a historic high of 32.5 gigatons last year, after three years of being flat, due to higher energy demand and the slowing of energy efficiency improvements – International Energy Agency (IEA)
The evidence is clear, global warming is speeding up…and we are in overshoot. If this further announcement is made by the IPCC, the UK Climate Change Act will need to be reviewed and updated accordingly. We are already not on the right track to meet the 4th climate budget for 2023-27. So stepping up to the next level is inevitable.
I asked Jane Rumble, head of the Polar Regions Department, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, if there was a ready-to-go State of Emergency contingency for runaway Climate Change? We both agreed that there have already been serious climate related floods, droughts and hurricanes. so I wanted to know was what is the tipping point for emergency measures to come into play? She answered cautiously, that it is a political decision.
A state of emergency is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions that it would normally not be permitted. A government can declare such state during a disaster, civil unrest, or armed conflict.
States of emergency can also be used as a rationale or pretext for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under a country’s constitution or basic law. The procedure for and legality of doing so vary by country. So bearing that in mind we need to look carefully and cautiously at what a state of emergency might look like, for the common good?
In World war 2 The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 was emergency legislation passed just prior to the outbreak of World War II by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to enable the British Government to take up emergency powers to prosecute the war effectively
1. (1) Subject to the provisions of this section, His Majesty may by Order in Council make such Regulations (in this Act referred to as “Defence Regulations”) as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of any war His Majesty may be engaged, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the powers conferred by the preceding subsection, Defence Regulations may, so far as appears to His Majesty in Council to be necessary or expedient for any of the purposes mentioned in that subsection:-
(a) Make provision for the apprehension, trial, and punishment of persons offending against the Regulations and for the detention of persons whose detention appears to the Secretary of State to be expedient in the interests of the public safety or the defence of the realm;
(b) authorize –
- (i) the taking of possession or control, on behalf of His Majesty, of any property or undertaking;
- (ii) the acquisition, on behalf of His Majesty, or any property other than land;
(c) authorize the entering and searching of any premises; and
(d) provide for amending any enactment, for suspending the operation of any enactment, and for apply any enactment with or without modification.
I want to make it clear at this point that I do not believe World War 2 is a template for the Environmental disaster we are facing today. This is an unprecedented global disaster and we cannot easily categorise it historically.
However securing public safety and maintaining supplies and services, essential to the life of the community, is an important starting point.
And especially since it was emphasised again and again at the summit that women, children, people on lower incomes and other vulnerable citizens would be most affected by Climate Change.
So I will dig a bit deeper into what a state of emergency might look like, for the common good?
Clean Energy for the common good
There are two sides of the equation when it comes to de-carbonising energy quickly. We need to scale up renewables whilst at the same time rapidly reducing energy use.
We must address both sides of the equation, otherwise its just giving unscrupulous tech corporations like and a licence to burn ‘green’ energy which jeopardises progress on reducing overall greenhouse emissions. Blockchain alone is currently on track to use up all the energy supplied by global solar by 2019.
‘That’s a troubling trajectory, especially for a world that should be working overtime to root out energy waste and fight climate change. By late next year, bitcoin could be consuming more electricity than all the world’s solar panels currently produce—about 1.8 percent of global electricity, according to a simple extrapolation of the study’s predictions. That would effectively erase decades of progress on renewable energy.’
Automation is a high energy user too, when we need to rapidly cut energy use, This waste of precious energy is undermining the ability to de-carbonise essentials like heating, lighting and cooking. This is why we would need a clear hierarchy of desirable uses for renewables, safeguarding clean energy for the common good.
When we are prioritising energy usage for the common good, it is important to work from the base upwards. Here are my suggestions, (this is the beginning of a conversation rather than a definitive hierarchy) :
- Pumping drinking water to citizens
- Transportation of food
- Emergency services
Investment priorities For the common good
So 2.5 metres is the standard width of a parking place. And a minimum cycle track of 2.3 metres will move 5.900 people per hour. Where drivers see public space as somewhere to dump their car, when not used for an average 95% of the time, I see a 24/7 cycle track people mover
- Are roads conduits for safe travel for the many or storage of private property for the few?
- A tight financial and carbon budget should focus on cycling and walking infrastructure ditching expensive and high carbon road building, HS2, expansion of airports and other high carbon high financial cost projects.
- Using public space for the benefit of the whole community.
- Ban petrol and diesel cars, starting with cities and only invest Electric Vehicles for essential vehicles and public transport.
- Will we see the end of the private car in cities? Yes
- Will high energy automated electric vehicles replace private cars. No
- Bicycles, cycles, cargo bikes for everyone
- Safe and accessible walking and cycling infrastructure
- Electric buses and essential vehicles (blue badge, delivery of heavy goods, emergency services)
- We have a Limited carbon budget. Don’t lock us in to dead-end transport strategy
- Insulation of all homes and buildings
- Scale up renewables and ensure public localised renewable security for the common good for lighting, heating and cooking
- Solar lights for everyone
- Solar cookers for everyone or slow cookers which can run on the energy of a light bulb.
- Requisition of empty homes
- Addressing under-occupation of private dwellings (‘hobby rooms’) The current UK population could be entirely rehoused in empty bedrooms
Jobs transition for the common good
We see Poland struggling to ditch coal, Germany to address dieselgate car manufacturers And even more shockingly the supposedly ‘progressive’ Justin Trudeau has just become the leader of an oil company in Canada
‘Justin Trudeau’s government announced on Tuesday that it would nationalize the Kinder Morgan pipeline running from the tar sands of Alberta to the tidewater of British Columbia. It will fork over at least $4.5bn in Canadian taxpayers’ money for the right to own a 60-year-old pipe that springs leaks regularly, and for the right to push through a second pipeline on the same route – a proposal that has provoked strong opposition’
Some of this may be pure greed but for some politicians the job losses that go with the de-carbonising of the economy need to be tied up with green job transition, retraining and/ or in some cases Basic Income or what I prefer to call Sustainable Income.
Clean water and air for the common good
- Plastic ban.
- 62% of our oxygen is from life in the sea. Kill sea life with and we will not be able to breathe
Food growing for the common good
Requisition of private land for food growing and food security.
Create parklet permits for urban food growing on public land in cities as well as some urban growing on public green spaces
Rationing of consumer goods, services, data, flights etc
Requisitioning private land and using public land for reforestation