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It’s War but not as we know it!

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“I want to be 14 again, when sex was number 10 and I was only up to 7 and half!” Victoria Wood.

This month my son is 14 years old. This landmark made me think back to when I was stage manager on Victoria Wood’s “Lucky Bag” at the Kingshead Theatre in Islington in 1983. Now a staggering 38 years ago.

Vinyl was still king, but cassettes and the Sony Walkman were changing how we listened to music. Ronald Reagan was President of the USA, Margaret Thatcher had won the Falklands War, saved her premiership, and won a landslide election. The TV series “the Bill” started and the Space Shuttle Challenger made its maiden flight. I earned £77 per week and drove a Mini Clubman. I had no idea what life would be like in 2021 and, to be honest, I didn’t care! Innovation, ambition, and personal stories of success headlined our media, where TV was still limited to four channels!

So let’s just look forward to 2050, a mere 29 years away. Do we care what life will be like then? We should and I feel it’s time to say we must care.

The climate has gone from never being discussed in everyday conversations, to becoming a meaningful concern for our children. Slowly, we are all realising the problems are massive and are coming faster than we expected.

Ozone depletion was first documented in 1985 in a paper by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists Joseph C. Farman, Brian G. Gardiner, and Jonathan D. Shanklin. Since the mid-1980’s, the concern about our climate has been growing. The loss of the rainforests, the melting of the polar ice cap, the damage to the Great Barrier Reef – these have all been well documented and shared, particularly on television. However, we have still largely continued as before, without any dramatic changes in our way of life.

Although recycling has been widespread from the early 1990s, with doorstep services in most parts of England (coinciding with the formation of the Green Party in England), we still haven’t made that many changes to our domestic waste habits.

In the new millennium, climate change started to become a commonplace phrase, and David Cameron arguably became the first British political leader who realised he needed to reconcile the growing concerns with his party’s political narrative.

Gordon Brown created a Ministerial role covering climate change in 2008, and the Conservative-led coalition also recognised climate change by retaining this Cabinet Post. Sadly, Amber Rudd was the last Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, as Theresa May’s government dissolved the Department in 2016.

It seems reasonable to think that if we do not make dramatic changes to our lifestyles, by 2050 we will not be able to thrive as a human race, and the climate will begin to limit us. Regardless of how resourceful and innovative we are, we will be only able to do our best until the battle – because that’s what it is – is finally resolved.

I know that might sound over-dramatic but, just looking at the news on a daily basis, how can anybody tell me it’s not looking grim. Some will of course, but most of them will be long dead before our worst fears become a reality.

As mentioned previously, I will be 86 in 2050; my son will be 43; and that is my point. His generation will be in the prime of their lives, and we will be creating an environment that stops them from thriving and enjoying life, as we did in our time. How incredibly selfish of us, myself included.

The more my focus is drawn to the climate emergency, the more I feel that we need to redesign our government to bring to bear its full force and scale to tackle the enormity of the task, and give us the best chances of salvaging our children’s future.

A Ministry of Climate Change needs to be re-established. The Secretary of State (and it needs to be a ‘big-hitter’) should have influence and oversight over the entire machinery of Government to ensure that every action and decision is driven by tackling the climate emergency.

Looking at the different policy areas, it all starts with the Department of Education. The Department of Health will always need to prepare for new threats, and the Department for Business must be allowed to play its part delivering innovation whilst reducing its negative impact. DEFRA, meanwhile, needs to focus on protecting natural habitats and seek to build a new resilience, as well as enhancing sustainable methods of carbon reduction, and protecting our water supplies.

Ultimately, decarbonisation needs to be rapid. But we will need the biggest investment in history to achieve it in time. And the clock continues to tick.

During the national crisis of Covid-19, the government shared its scientific experts with the Local Government family. It needs to bring the two together again, share the research and advice and make local authorities their local delivery partner to speed up our fight against climate damage. We witnessed, during the initial months of Covid, how fast local authorities can adapt when needed!

Let’s make this really clear for our political leaders. We are at war. Since 1985 we have been in the phase before hostilities; we have seen it evolve, scientists have studied the changes, and it’s now escalating and will continue to do so.

We cannot ‘dither’, as the Prime Minister likes to say. We need new forms of energy, not just to replace the carbon-based sources of today, but enough to power cars, heat our homes and help power the cooling systems that we will inevitably need in the future to continue to thrive. It takes a decade to deliver a nuclear power station: we cannot delay any longer.

There are plenty of exhausted campaigners who are still fighting to make us listen. And while the actions of Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain might be annoying, their desperation to be heard is becoming more understandable as the reality becomes clearer. It is easy for commentators to dismiss Greta Thunberg as a precocious child who should be at school, but what do we say to the 95 year old Sir David Attenborough? A silly old man?

I am attending COP 26 with my colleague Vikki Slade. I have no idea what to expect, but the issues being discussed do now matter to me. I hope, through Cratus, we can do our bit for the task ahead. Bill Gates, in his book “How to avoid a Climate Emergency”, encourages us to do what we can; one of his suggestions is to write to our political leaders – which sounds right up the Cratus street.

Cratus will be advocating that Local Government should become one of the main drivers for change and the front-line troops against the climate emergency. To do this, they need the scientific information; they need the skills and expertise; they need access to investment; and they need the powers to help bring about dramatic paradigm shifts in how we live our lives, in order to win this war against climate change.

A war that humanity has brought upon itself and one it now needs to win with the same innovation, focus, and energy that created the harm in the first place. The Prime Minister, we are assured, wants to be remembered in the same vein as Winston Churchill. Well, Boris, here and now: this is your War. Do you really have the ambition and the vision to win and, in theory, be immortalised in the same way as the man you claim is your political hero?

As a friend of mine rightly reminds me, the UK is a genuine world leader in dealing with climate change. So here is another idea: let’s use this to rebuild our position on the world stage. Let’s use COP 26 as the beginning of a new era of global influence. We brought the industrial revolution to the world; let’s make it our business to pioneer a true climate revolution with green solutions. We can rebuild not only our own economy, but provide an alternative opportunity to the emerging nations, that will avoid their having to use fossil fuels to drive the wealth creation they rightly seek for their people, whilst fighting the war against the global Climate Emergency with us at the same time!

I want my son, soon to be 14, to enjoy being 43: the age I was when he was born. As a 16 year old in 1977, William Hague famously told the Conservative Party: “it’s alright for some of you, half of you won’t be here in 30 to 40 years’ time”. Well, that’s true for the climate crisis deniers today.

So, as Victoria Wood would say: “Let’s do it, Let’s do it Now!”

This is the original text of an article that was first published on the MJ website on 1st November 2021

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