The Twenty First Century Zeitgeist; how climate change became our greatest priority

The destructive forces of climate change are becoming more and more terrifyingly apparent with each passing month.  Communities around the world are demanding that their governments put an end to years of inaction to take bold ambitious strides towards decarbonisation.

Students in over 2000 cities have been striking and marching in the streets. Radicals from Extinction Rebellion are stripping off in parliament and covering the streets of Whitehall in blood. And some economists and politicians are calling for a Green New Deal.

climate emergency protest school students
Youth For Climate Strike, Brighton, 2019. Image: Callum Shaw - UnSplash

The idea was first suggested over 10 years ago in a paper published by the New Economics Foundation and has recently achieved newfound popularity since being championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a firebrand Congresswoman from New York.

The Green New Deal seeks to address the challenges posed by climate change through the implementation of an infrastructure development programme on a scale not seen since the Second World War.

Using billions of pounds of state funding, the Green New Deal aims to completely decarbonise society by 2030. This would include and is not limited to:

  • Building millions of zero carbon affordable and social housing properties,
  • Investing in energy efficiency upgrades to improve the performance of the UK’s aging housing stock,
  • Reviving neglected industrial centres by developing a world leading manufacturing base rooted in the production of electric vehicles/ solar panels/ wind turbines/ heat pumps,
  • Adapting the UK’s rail network to run on track side solar power,
  • Replacing every car, truck and van on our roads with Electric Vehicles.

As well as reducing the environmental impact of our economic activities, these measures would also address a variety of other social-illnesses that plague our communities, such as unemployment, de-industrialisation, and inadequate/ unaffordable housing.

A New Deal for a new kind of capitalism

In addition to enacting a far-reaching programme of green infrastructure projects, the Green New Deal also calls for a fundamental reshaping of the our capitalist economy.

Since the Industrial Revolution, cheap fossil fuels have powered a lifestyle of convenience, impacting everything from travel to food distribution to the energy in our homes.

Image: frederic-paulussen - UnSplash

This has created unprecedented wealth for a small minority of industrialists and corporations but has brought about a phenomenal divide between privilege and poverty across the world, as well as destroying the very planet on which all life depends.

Simple physics tells us that it is impossible to sustain an economic system based on infinite growth when you are bound by finite resources.

A Green New Deal reimagines a circular economy, rooted in zero-carbon and zero-waste principles.

The cost of (in)action - why failure to invest now will bankrupt our future

At first glance, such a task certainly appears formidable, but it is no more or less of an ask than what was achieved during the war years or the Great Depression – and climate change is unquestionably a far greater threat to our future.

Some creative suggestions for raising the capital finance include dramatically increasing the tax on any fossil fuel related activities, introducing a financial transaction tax, and creating an international framework to clamp down on industrial scale offshore tax evasion.

The Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London
Image: Kai Pilger - UnSplash

However, a key pillar of funding for such a programme will have to come from Government borrowing, which no doubt will empower critics to say that the country can’t afford it.

The sums being suggested are high – £50 billion per year according to the NEF – but let’s remember that only 10 years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, UK Government support for the banks peaked at an astonishing £1.16 trillion.

That is not a typo.

£1.16 trillion.

At the height of the financial crisis, UK Government support for the banks peaked at an astonishing £1.16 trillion.
Photo: Ed Robertson - UnSplash

The cost of a comprehensive Green New Deal will be extensive and the transition away from the convenience that fossil fuels provide (to which we have become so accustomed) requires a paradigm shift in thinking.

We must consider that the potential costs of inaction will be incomparably higher; mass famines, species losses, unprecedented migration, increased likelihood of pandemics, conflicts over resources and all the associated financial costs that accompany such tragedies (£460 trillion by some estimates).

The resources to decarbonise our world are available if our elected public officials care enough to consider the solutions. It is simply a matter of political will to change from business as usual to clean technologies.

Delivering real gains - how a Green New Deal will bring instant benefits

The benefits of a Green New Deal would be immediately obvious and abundant for all to see.

Unlike Government quantitative easing during the financial crisis, which seemed to disappear down a Canary Wharf-sized sink hole, we would quickly find our everyday lives transformed for the better: less air pollution from vehicles, more equity energy supply and no more large power stations spewing harmful emissions, no drilling wells on sea or land and fewer wars over resources.

A Green New Deal would not only result in the rapid and widespread decarbonisation of the UK economy, it would revitalise neglected areas of the Midlands and the North generating thousands of highly skilled, well-paid jobs in an age of increasing mechanisation of labour.

It has been suggested that this would more effectively stimulate the economy than cutting VAT, reducing fuel duty or investing in projects such as HS2 and Crossrail.

The economic value of energy efficiency in particular has long been well known. A report from Cambridge Econometrics, “Building the Future”, concluded that an ambitious energy efficiency investment programme would boost the UK economy by delivering £8.6 billion in savings per year and increasing GDP by £13.9 billion per year by 2030.

Investing in energy efficiency improvements will also drive down levels of fuel poverty in the UK, which has been estimated to cost the NHS £1.2 billion pounds a year.

What can you do in Brighton and Hove and beyond?

The successful implementation of a Green News Deal is reliant on Government action, and there are several ways that you can put pressure on those in charge to be bold and ambitious on climate change:

  • Write to your MP, explaining that they will lose you support in the next election unless they support a Green New Deal
  • Vote for MPs who support a Green New Deal
  • Vote for local Councillors who support a Green New Deal
  • Join the Extinction Rebellion
  • Support the Youth For Climate Strikes
  • Encourage your friends and family to do all of the above

We also believe that the role of private investment will be crucial for the success of a Green Industrial Revolution, demonstratig leadership and reinforcing the actions of government, while bridging the gaps that public finance can’t reach.

We will be exploring this concept further in our next blog.