“We have to tell Gordon Brown we are watching – it’s time to act,” author Mark Lynas told the opening session of the Campaign against Climate Change conference last weekend.
Over 400 activists from many different backgrounds met for two days in central London to discuss how to tackle climate change.
Opening the conference, Mark Lynas argued, “The government’s policy over climate change is contradictory.
“There has been much fanfare to the £12 million set aside in subsidies for people to install solar panels and individual renewable energy solutions.
“There are 24 million houses in Britain – so that’s 50p each. So far there have been 313 solar instillations and 100 odd wind turbines – so by my estimation in 76,000 years all houses will have their own.
“At the same time the government is spending £5.1 billion on expanding the M1 – that’s £21 million per mile.
“This is an insane reversal of priorities. All the science says that we have eight years to act.”
Tower Hamlets Respect councillor Rania Khan spoke about seeing the effects of flooding in Bangladesh first hand.
She said, “With Hurricane Katrina we saw that even in the most developed countries, the rich get out while the poor drown.
“We need solutions that do not further perpetrate inequalities. As long as things are run for profit the problem will get worse. We need a mass movement that can force the governments to act.”
Isa Fremuaux is from the Camp for Climate Action. Last year it organised a camp of over 600 protesters outside the Drax power station in North Yorkshire to highlight the government’s backing of the fossil fuel industry.
She told the conference, “Climate change is a problem so vast that we need action that is immediate and wide-ranging.
“We’ve known about climate change for over 20 years. I think that it is too late to be polite. We need action.
“Governments and corporations do not act without pressure that cannot be ignored. We have to be that pressure.”
One of the major debates throughout the conference was whether we needed to change the system that we live under in order to deal with the issue of climate change.
At a meeting on Sunday afternoon entitled “Can we avoid climate change and maintain growth?” the discussion very much centred around this issue.
Dr Shahrar Ali, the Green Party’s London policy coordinator, said that politicians could only go so far.
“We need to fight climate change in the way that consumers influenced policy over genetically modified food in the late 1990s,” he said.
The idea that climate change could be solved through consumer choice angered a number of people in the room.
Kate, an activist from London, said, “It’s all very well to say that people should insulate their homes and buy green energy – but it’s only for those who can afford it.
“The big changes that need to be made are not things that people can change individually. It’s about transport, big business and where the government puts its money.”
Some thought that the market could hold the solution. A pensioner called Mark told the meeting, “We have to start from where we are now. That means working within capitalism and using the market to deal with the problem.”
Many people disagreed with this. Economics student John said that he wondered if capitalism could continue in a society that wasn’t all about growth.
He said, “Surely if society moves away from continuous growth, a move that has to happen if we are actually going to deal with climate change, then capitalism will break down.”
International perspectives on global warming
A growing number of campaigns internationally are planning to coordinate action over climate change – with 8 December planned as the next day of action.
Twelve speakers from across Europe, the US, Taiwan, Kenya, India and Lebanon addressed the conference.
Amit Srivistava from the India Resource Centre said, “India and southern Asia are some of the most vulnerable areas.
“The climate has changed and this is already having an effect. The people hardest hit are those who are least responsible.
“The neoliberal model translates into increasing greenhouse gas emissions. In India they have doubled over the last ten years.
“But historically India and China have not created this problem – they have not spent the last 200 years polluting the world.
“There is talk about India and China producing more emissions than the West. But if you use the principle of equity – per capita rather than per country – people in these countries are responsible for much lower emissions, even after recent increases.
“So any solution must provide equality. And the West must take the lead on this.
“There are attempts to ‘catch-up’ with the West. Attempts that have been helped – or forced through – by the corporations, the World Bank and the IMF.
“It is absolutely right to welcome growth and development that provides food, housing and the like for all. But instead this ‘catch-up’ means that the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider.”
German Green MP Hans Josef Fell told the conference, “The most important strategy is renewable energy – 80 percent of global emissions come from gas, coal and oil. So clean energy combined with lower energy use is the way to deal with climate change.
“We must stop subsidising fossil fuels and nuclear power.”
Ichin Chang from Taiwan spoke about the need for strong government regulations to force corporations to cut emissions.
She said, “If the sea levels rise as they are expected to, then two thirds of Taiwan will end up under water. This is not a problem created by Taiwan – but we must be part of the solution.”
Tom Stokes from the Climate Crisis Coalition in the US said, “I’m here because we have to join forces internationally – the US has to join the rest of the world over climate change.”
For information on the campaign against climate change go to www.campaigncc.org