Politicians talk about net zero – but not about the sacrifices we have to make to get there | John harris

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To be mischievous, they only have 12 days to save the Earth. As politicians and officials from 197 countries begin just under a fortnight of work atop the Cop26 in Glasgow, you may experience a strange mix of feelings: expectation, cynicism, fatalism, anger and fragile hope.

It will be easy to lose sight of what’s at stake and who is who – although anyone who feels confused should remember the report released in August by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its exhilarating conclusion: that the huge environmental changes triggered by global warming are now everywhere, and averting a totally catastrophic future requires “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in carbon emissions. The point is quite simple. But a familiar factor may well weaken the resolve of key people at Cop26: the fact that too few politicians will arrive in Scotland with a mandate for serious climate action, as hardly any of them have tried to get one. a.

Two crucial political issues define the contrast between what is required and what those in power have so far chosen to deliver. One centers on populism and power cults that actively hamper climate action – something evident in both cases of strongmen like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and the Turk. Recep Erdoğan, and where our ecological urgency lies in the cultural and generational conflicts that are now simmering around the world.

In the UK, the latest manifestation of belligerent skepticism from the populist right is the suggestion that we might relaunch the referendum on Brexit in the form of a vote on whether or not to pursue the goal of net zero carbon emissions. You also see it in these seemingly daily video clips of some or other sub Alan Partridge TV or radio host arguing with someone from Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain, a ritual that feels like a new national sport.

The other obstacle to action is more insidious. Both center-left and center-right there is a superficial recognition of the hard yards required to do something about the climate emergency but, so far, an aversion to thinking about the huge changes in daily life that are taking place. will be needed. “We can rebuild more ecologically without even a hair shirt in sight,” says Boris Johnson.

Keir Starmer may not have said anything so rude, but he too seems to believe in a modest utopia of a new green economy, isolated houses, increased funding for science and the day saved by the British. . “Climate change is about jobs” He insists, which is partly true. But, like Johnson, he doesn’t mention revolutionizing what we eat and why and how we travel, or – God forbid – the continued fetishization of economic growth.

Could this be an inevitable feature of democracy? May be. But in the UK, the primary focus of blame should be the two-party Westminster political model held in place by our stupid electoral system, and the way it supports political philosophies that should have been left behind in the 20th century.

On the right, despite Johnson’s drift into the politics of big spending and economic interventionism, Toryism remains indebted to the market, and dead against the idea of ​​the common good that shapes the lifestyles of anyone who is half-well off ( the poor, of course, are fair game). Its distorted priorities are illustrated by the fact that the current leaders of government have succeeded in pulling us out of the European Union at enormous cost to national income and the economic future of the country. But they can’t muster something like the same enthusiasm to risk some stability and prosperity for the sake of saving the planet.

And the work ? Here’s a radical thought: given its beleaguered position and the urgency of the crisis, Starmer could conceivably go bankrupt and base its leadership on the climate emergency, finally bringing its scale and urgency somewhere close to the heart of politics. . The thought, unfortunately, wouldn’t even happen, because of what Labor is. Its origins lie in a world of coal mines and chimneys. Like his sister social democratic parties in Europe, whatever reinventions work has since undergone, he has a deep and sentimental attachment to an idea of ​​the good life centered on work and the factory, and the elevation of the people’s standard of living so that they can consume with the same enthusiasm as everyone else. At the most basic level, he shares the conservative idea that growth is the sine qua non of economic policy.

During the Corbyn years some of these things were undoubtedly shaken up, although there were also signs of a conservatism that still crosses all wings of the party. In 2015, while running for management, Jeremy Corbyn approved the reopening south wales mines. Four years later, as Labor decisively passed a so-called Green New Deal ahead of the 2019 election, some of the major unions – which represent gas, oil and aviation workers – insisted on that 2030 be a “significant progress” target rather than a non-negotiable net zero deadline.

It is worth recalling the point of view of Tim Roache, then leader of the GMB union: the latter position, he said, would mean that “within a decade, people’s gasoline cars would be confiscated. This means that families will only be able to take one flight every five years. Net zero carbon emissions by 2030 are utterly unachievable. “

So, what exit? To at least try to reorient our politics, a lot more people are going to have to vote for the Green Party – and, to maintain the ultimate sense of urgency that Extinction Rebellion has brought to things, the case for which some people are calling the activity. extra-parliamentary an indisputable feeling. Without sounding too pessimistic, the most likely outcome of all negotiations and the diplomatic theater in Glasgow will push even more people in this direction, and their protests will spark the usual chuckles and arrogance, especially from politicians in Westminster. . But as always, those involved will have a simple answer: that if politics continually fail, the streets may be all you have left.


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