Observer column: 30 November 2018
A recent report by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change said that we have 12 years to stop climate change. If we don't, we risk creating conditions on earth that will no longer support human life. We're not destroying the planet, nor even life on earth, that will go on for another billion years, whether humans are still here or not. What we're destroying is the environmental conditions that sustain us.
So what can we do about it? Saving our species begins at home. Eat less (or no) meat, cycle or walk short journeys, buy locally-grown produce, compost your garden and food waste at home, don't travel by plane, recycle and re-use, don't buy 'disposable' clothing made from fossil carbon, don't chuck away electrical gadgets, domestic equipment, vehicles and so on until they really are beyond repair. There's more of course, but those are the ones I've done.
Then there are the things local authorities can do. For Hastings Council, we're investing in energy generation, installing solar arrays on roofs and open spaces. We also want to install wind turbines, but there's a government ban on onshore wind generation, so we have to re-write our local plan to enable it, which takes two years. We can improve waste recycling, although that in itself requires government to build better plastics recycling facilities here in the UK, rather than exporting recyclates to India, Poland, and Vietnam, where they end up being burned or dumped in landfill. In our local plan review, we can introduce planning requirements for the highest possible energy efficiency standards in new homes - as far as the government planning inspectors will allow that; they won't if they believe standards are too strict and will stop developers building new homes. We can state our aim to make Hastings 'carbon neutral' too, meaning that the borough puts no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it absorbs through plant photosynthesis. The council can take the lead on that, but it's a goal that all businesses, governmental bodies and households in the borough would need to be committed to if we were to achieve it. We'll be putting a policy proposal to the council meeting in February to endorse these approaches.
But it will take government action to make a real difference. Nationally, there's much more scope for action. We should phase out fossil fuels for energy generation (and nuclear, which is unsustainable), as quickly as possible, and install sustainable energy generation much more quickly, through solar panels and wind turbines, as well as developing efficient ways to capture wave and tidal power, and geothermal energy. We need to ban single use plastics and develop alternatives, focusing on re-use rather than recycling. We need a comprehensive, nationalised, simple-to-use network of electric vehicle charging points. And we should set targets for the UK to become the world's first carbon-neutral economy. There's more, of course. But it's at a government level that real change can be achieved. It's the route to a genuine global transformation.
The extinction of the human species is, in the end, inevitable. But we can delay that for a long time, if we take action now, to make sure we have a planet that's fit for our children and grandchildren. We need to leave them a home where they can live in a sustainable way, not destroy the very conditions that allow us to thrive.
Council Leader's column