Climate change has featured prominently during this general election – in the year of Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Strikes for Climate, this isn’t surprising. Those movements, following on from the IPCC’s report that we have around a decade to limit climate catastrophe, have propelled the climate emergency up the agenda and towards the top of many voters’ priority lists. Recent polling shows that a majority of voters will consider climate change when deciding who to support.
But too often the ways in which climate breakdown is discussed, and the solutions proffered, are depoliticised, based on abstract ideas of ‘nature’ and an implicit belief that the sole problem at stake is one of individual overconsumption, rather than an unjust and exploitative economic system built on a relentless thirst for profit. The talk is of a meat tax here, a ban on plastic straws there, but rarely of a wider economic transformation. A kind of eco-austerity is pursued rather than a vision of (sustainable) public luxury.
This was encapsulated neatly by last week’s leaders’ climate debate, infamously boycotted by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The event was characterised by incomprehensible numbers and obscure policy debates, from how many billion trees to electric heat pumps. It should have centred on fuel poverty, fatal standards of air pollution amongst working-class communities, or the profits of large fossil fuel corporations bought at the expense of people and planet. Instead of opening with images of devastating flooding in Yorkshire, the footage was of a koala on the other side of the world: undoubtedly tragic, but not immediately relatable. The final question – asking leaders what their personal climate pledge was – provides a perfect summary for why so many people are turned off by environmentalism.
Labour’s green industrial revolution, put forward persuasively by Jeremy Corbyn, is a positive antidote to this tired framing. Labour is clear that climate change is a class issue. Until now, polluting billionaires have profited and expected the working class to pay. In government Labour will tackle the climate emergency by breathing new life into towns, communities and cities abandoned by the economic system devastating them and the planet. Labour will provide investment in every community and regulate those truly responsible, not just go on a spree of banning and taxation.
The green industrial revolution is a comprehensive plan for economic transformation that can be communicated as a series of simple offers to immediately improve peoples’ lives while rapidly decarbonising. Labour will retrofit every house in the country: to guarantee warm homes, cut fuel poverty and emissions, and bring bills down by an average of £418 for every household. Labour will introduce a right to food: to ensure nobody goes hungry, ending the need for food banks within the first Parliamentary term, and protecting against the threat of food insecurity from climate change. Labour will bring public transport into public ownership: to redress the Tories’ savaging of rural public transport,to help people stay connected, bring down transport emissions and end spiralling costs for the public by making fares cheaper. Investing in projects like Crossrail for the North will connect millions in northern cities.
Crucial to the green industrial revolution is the pledge of one million new green jobs. Labour have dispelled the misconception that good jobs and action on climate change are in conflict. The climate crisis requires huge investment to upgrade the economy, and that will involve lots of people to do the work. Labour will guarantee that those jobs are well-paid, secure and unionised. Anybody whose job changes during the green industrial revolution will retain the same terms, conditions and pay. Honda is chasing profits and abandoning workers at their Swindon factory. Labour will introduce a battery factory for electric vehicles saving 3,000 jobs and many more in the supply chain. As well as further battery factories in South Wales and Stoke, Labour will introduce three new steel recycling plants in Redcar, Workington and Corby. These aren’t the vague promise of green jobs at some point in the future, they are concrete plans for specific communities now.
This new reality is made tangible by Labour’s series of regional manifestos. Yorkshire alone will see 100,000 of Labour’s new green jobs. Regional energy networks will literally put the power back into local hands. Local councils will be empowered to move beyond operating as arbiters of austerity, stewarding local strategies of green industrialisation. Labour will make ‘living green’ the easiest and cheapest option for working class people. We don’t deserve to be made to feel guilty for simply living our lives in a system stacked against us.
Opponents may ask how Labour will pay for all this. With in-work poverty booming, conditions at work deteriorating and a climate crisis already devastating communities and infrastructure, consider it an investment in our shared future. Interest rates are at a historic low so borrowing to invest almost guarantees returns. Funding will come, too, from modestly taxing the top 5% of earners and levying a windfall tax on the oil companies that profit from the ecological crisis while funding climate denial – the Big Polluters should pay for the costs of a just transition, not working people.
Climate breakdown is no business opportunity for the wealthy that have got us into this mess. Instead, it’s an opportunity to end the rigged economic system exploiting people and planet, and create a bright new green future of jobs, freedom and security. When it comes to December the 12th, the choices will be climate catastrophe under the Tories, or a Green New Deal with Labour.