The last couple of weeks feels like a watershed – excuse the pun if you are reading this in a drought-declared area. As we come out of the second period of hot temperatures this summer and hear that the rest of August is likely to stay hot and dry, our gardens have turned to autumn while our cars go unwashed and hosepipe bans, introduced in a growing number of areas, will likely extend through 2023.
These things are mundane inconveniences in our lives, but it is usually only when something affects us directly that we wake up, we finally realise that the scientists were right. Yet still we hear comparisons with 1976 – how can it be worse, back then as a small child I went out into the street with my bucket and collected water from the standpipe, using it in the paddling pool for a shared bath with my brother.
But the scientists tell us this time it’s different. The temperatures seen in July would not have been possible without climate change. Wildfires consuming homes in London is something that we would think could not happen HERE … but it did. So, will we listen this time? Where will the leadership come from?
Last week a Republican Senator from West Virginia with interests in Fossil Fuels dropped his opposition to President Joe Biden’s Climate and Health Bill. This allowed it to be narrowly passed into law and gives the country an opportunity to reduce its carbon emissions by half over the next eight years.
Importantly the bill included significant investment in renewable energy, and tax incentives to help people reduce their energy costs. This change of pace across the Atlantic brings hope but will we see real change here?
With the two Prime Ministerial leadership contenders vying for votes with tax cuts and deregulation of North Sea gas it looks unlikely that the key in the UK is political.
Households are under massive pressure with inflation, interest rates and real concern about meeting the cost of living and businesses do not even have the cushion of an energy cap to protect them from rising costs of supply, staff, distribution, and power.
This gives local authorities an opportunity to come to the fore. Whilst they also face pressures in running services reliant on energy, they can use their purchasing power to support households come together to add renewable energy or improve insulation; by using their communications department to reach every home with energy saving tips, routes to funding or sustainability maps.
Most councils have the ability to borrow to invest in their communities and could be kickstarting the local economies by futureproofing their estate – this not only creates a pipeline of work for local businesses, routes to training and employment in green jobs that can then be used by the private sector but also reduces the costs of running the council. This helps every council tax and business rate payer into the future.
It is heartening to see more councils create a Cabinet Member for Climate Change and recruiting Director-level officers to ensure that issues of carbon reduction, nature and sustainability are at the heart of decision-making. Through Cratus 2050 we are keen to support councils to invest in this area, we have mapped the climate strategies of over 350 councils to see where their priorities lie. Without this senior leadership and a genuine drive for change there is a risk that climate plans become tick-box exercises resented by some residents and benefitting few.
Local authorities need to lead from the front and show that it is common sense to be efficient with resources, it is good for wellbeing to invest in nature, and it is good for business to invest in renewables, EV charging, cycle lanes and retrofitting.
As with other divisive issues of our generation, telling is far less effective than showing, those people who are just waking up to the new reality need time to accept that climate change is real.
We must show them that there is much to be positive about, there is so much innovative technology that can make our lives better and protect the planet.
The planet is calling, we must not ignore that ringing in our ears.