Climate change is a class issue.

Author:Billington, Polly
Position:Essay

Climate change will only break out of its eco bubble if we understand not only the impacts, but also the opportunities that tackling it effectively can open up for greater economic and social justice.

On the Left there are few people who dispute that we should do something about climate change and the environment. But unfortunately the discussion usually stops there. This is partly due to the usual reasons that politicians (and voters) find climate change difficult to deal with: there is an assumption that it is happening a long way away in space and time and the things we have been asked to do seem to be tiny in comparison to the scale of the challenge. 'What real difference will it make if I switch off the hall light when you tell me the glaciers are melting?' is a very reasonable position to take. Or there is a now a fatalistic belief that it is irreversible so we may as well burn.

In reality, we are now at a moment where climate action is not only urgent, but feasible. Clean technology is deployable and economic. We can decouple global economic growth from dependence on fossil fuels. The Solutions Project at Stanford University estimates there could be more than 250,000 construction jobs and nearly 500,0o0 maintenance jobs in 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 in the UK alone. They estimate that we could reduce our energy demand by 44 per cent, cut health costs and reduce deaths from pollution by 20,000 a year.

We are at the beginning of an extraordinary industrial revolution. The Left, or at least the Labour Party, must be the voice of the labour interest in ensuring that this one drives social and economic justice more effectively than the last one. This is a time for making the case for investment in the infrastructure we will need for the next hundred years, not just patching up the clapped-out infrastructure we have relied on for the last century.

In a domestic context, climate change needs to be understood as an issue of class, of health and of the economy. Without understanding it in this way, the Left will always give it a nod while failing to integrate it into the wider causes of social justice.

Climate change threatens the basic needs of many communities. No one can watch the television footage of families emptying their front rooms of water and waterlogged furniture in Cumbria, Yorkshire, the West Country or Lancashire and remain unmoved by the reality of more extreme weather. These people are not wealthy and often they...

To continue reading

Request your trial