The Day the World Stood Up to Climate Change

Last Friday, from Portsmouth to Wakiso, Uganda, to Hobart, Tasmania to New York and Washington, DC, and in 159 other countries on all 7 continents, 4 million people protested against the catastrophe of climate change. These people understand that time is of the essence: according to the United Nations, we have less than 12 years to stop a doomsday scenario of droughts, floods, fires and mass-impoverishment. Alan Burgess tells us more.

We are currently watching the Amazon burn on our TVs and the same thing is happening in the Congo, Angola, Indonesia, Siberia and Alaska. Such devastation has the double impact of removing an important ‘carbon sink’ because trees absorb oxygen while the burning of them releases vast quantities of carbon.

Atmospheric heating triggers intense storms, heavy rainfall and heatwaves. Hurricane Dorian wrecked the Bahamas. Hard precipitation almost caused a dam to burst here in the UK. Pleasant though the current Indian summer is, 24C is a troubling temperature for late September in Britain.

As I write this, I’m reading a newsflash about intense rain expected in Wales. Such extreme weather conditions can threaten our food supply and therefore our very means of survival. In 2017, there was an acute shortage of vegetables imported to the UK from Spain due to major flooding in the Mediterranean. We can expect many more similar disasters and on a much larger scale if we do not unite and confront the challenge of climate change fast.

The protest at Guildhall Square was a fantastic example of such solidarity. 1,000 people gathered there, from school pupils (who have been leading the response) to university students to workers called out onto the streets by their unions. It is encouraging that the UCU (University and College Union) put forward a motion at the TUC conference calling on workers to support the Global Climate Strike. Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, made an impassioned speech in support.

This matters as organised labour is a vital part of the struggle. It will be at the forefront of a proper long-term response to climate change encapsulated by the Green New Deal, which involves creating a new eco-friendly energy sector and high-wage, high-skilled jobs in offshore wind power, solar panel installation, retrofit home insulation and much more.

Under lobby pressure from Extinction Rebellion, Portsmouth City Council declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ in May and pledged to bring city-wide carbon emissions down to zero by 2030. To achieve this they have set up a Climate Change Board in which ten leading climate emitters from round the city and some green organisations will negotiate how to reach the 2030 target. This is a process we have to watch closely and be prepared to exert pressure on if necessary.

An important step towards zero emissions and indeed better air quality would be to make all buses free in Portsmouth as an alternative to car transport. Since starting to collect signatures for my petition (you can sign it here), I have been struck by how often people say it is usually cheaper to get a taxi than a bus especially if their journey requires more than one bus. Not only do we want free buses, but we want a much more extensive, frequent and convenient 24-hour service.

Photo by Alan Burgess.