Our Final Warning

Phew what a scorcher! Global temperatures are rising. We know that. What most people don’t realise is the urgency.

The United Nations IPCC says that to avoid severe climate breakdown, we must limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.

Mark Lynas details the effects in his new book: Our Final Warning.

We’re already at 1 degree. 2 degrees will see massive reductions in crop yields. It will see flooding and storms of Biblical proportions. The economic damage will dwarf the 2007 crash and the Covid-19 pandemic.

If we pass 3 degrees, we’ll see Southern Asia, the Mediterranean, and much of the US start to turn into a desert. We’ll see billions of people in Africa, Southern Asia, the Middle East and Central America displaced. A collapse in global trade. Worldwide food shortages. The whole world engulfed in a refugee crisis.

The UN published that current climate agreements will result in global temperature increases of 3.2 degrees.

Business as usual is not an option.

The North of Tyne has already committed £24 million to a Green New Deal, creating jobs in offshore wind and low-carbon materials. We’re looking to set up a local carbon offset programme. We’ve allocated £2 million to retrain workers from polluting industries into the green economy. We’re working cross-regionally to develop a net-zero transport system. We’ll be net-zero organisation soon within years, not decades.

What does a Citizens Assembly add?

I saw a comment from someone committed to tackling climate change, who asked, “isn’t this an engineering problem?”

In March, the Chancellor announced £1bn for green transport. In the very next breath, he announced £27bn “for tarmac”. If he understood the climate reality, he’d have put £27bn into public transport.

A trade union tried to lobby me to support opening a new coal mine. I’ve heard MPs say “if we all just do a little bit” – use a bit less energy, eat a bit less meat – we can solve the problem. I’m not sure how “we all just do a little bit” of installing an offshore wind farm.

Life has a nasty habit of throwing up issues that don’t have a neat, self-contained solution. What if you’re a low-wage worker who has to drop the kids off to school on a rainy morning, before driving half an hour to work. Is it realistic to say, “cut down your emissions, buy a push-bike?”

So no, it’s not just an engineering problem. It’s a political problem, a social problem, and an economic problem.

Our original plan for an in-person Citizens Assembly was scuppered by lockdown. We’re now tendering for a company to run the Assembly for us, with an online component. Details are on our website. Closing date is 18th August.

We’ll recruit a random sample of fifty people. Different ages, jobs, educational background, gender, ethnicity, the works. In a normal consultation, people with strong views are always over-represented. That’s why people selected will get paid for their time – so they’re motivated to participate even if they don’t have strong views. Also so those without much money can afford the time to participate.

They spend perhaps thirty hours together. First, getting up to speed on the issues. The climate science, and the local options. Then deliberating on how it would affect their lives. The tradeoffs they would be willing to make. Might I consider changing the way I shop? Would I be up for participating in a community energy scheme? What are the barriers to me walking or cycling more? Is there a hybrid way to travel, perhaps with an e-scooter on the bus? If so, how much better would the bus service need to be?

The questions will be guided by an advisory panel. They’ll be local authority officers, academic experts, and stakeholders.

Once the Assembly is concluded, the North of Tyne cabinet will evaluate the results. The wisdom of crowds will show us what else we could do, beyond our Green New Deal. Here’s another way to look at a Citizens’ Assembly. It’s democracy. Our lives have got to change. Do we just tell people what to do, or involve them in decision making? I prefer talking to people. I usually learn something.

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 10.8.20