I Have A Dream: no more flights!
Patrick Hayes joined a rabble of radical greens in London demanding a 55mph speed limit and an end to stag nights.
Announcing the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, the government strategy for cutting carbon emissions, the climate change secretary Ed Miliband outlined a wide range of measures, including plans to intrude into our homes by introducing ‘smart meters’ which would measure our energy consumption at home and add an estimated £77 to electricity and £172 to gas bills every year (1). However, for a self-confessed ‘ragged pocket’ of individuals standing outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday evening, this was only ‘far too little, far too late’.
This ‘ragged pocket’ was the Campaign against Climate Change’s (CaCC) alternative parliament, a decidedly unelected assembly of people who feel that Miliband’s proposals will not usher in the era of ‘wartime regulation’ they believe necessary to deal with the ‘climate emergency’. As the CaCC website informs us, ‘The gap between what the science demands and what the politicians are offering is vast… the updated science gets more scary day by day’ (2).
The aim of this alternative parliament is to debate suggestions put forward by supporters of CaCC about how best to provide what the science demands. Outside parliament yesterday, a pseudo-government spokesperson spoke in mock-defence of government policy around the issues of climate change; CaCC clearly believes that dressing up in a hideous dark brown suit with a lime green shirt while delivering government policy in the style of an American game-show host amounts to satire.
The CaCC ‘alternative parliament.
The audience was an odd mix of around eighty smartly dressed twentysomethings, two people dressed as jesters, and rather shabby, bearded men with their wives in tow looking like they’d taken time out from a fishing trip. Their banners uniformly declared ‘Climate Emergency! Put people to work to cut carbon now’. Rather oddly for people deeply concerned that an emergency is taking place, everyone seemed remarkably chilled out. With the exception of buck-toothed fellow who shrieked, ‘Climate Change spreads disease! It spreads vermin!’. He was promptly – albeit politely – silenced by the chair.
Once the pretend government spokesman had been dutifully booed off by the audience, those who truly recognise the extent of the climate emergency were given their chance. Somewhat appropriately, after the opening speeches, the climate did actually change and heavy rain started to fall.
‘This should not be an impossible dream!’ declared John Stewart, the chair of Airport Watch, ‘We can get rid of short haul flights!’ As dreams go, it was hardly on a par with Martin Luther King’s. Still, just imagine it: by 2010 even short-haul flights to places as far away as Madrid and Rome could be banned. Ed Milliband’s claim that any capping of flights would affect working-class families failed, according to Stewart, to identify the ‘real equality issue’. After all, we are only depriving them of ‘stag nights and hen nights to Prague four times a year… Aviation is still a rich person’s hobby pursed at the expense of the poorest of the poor world.’
We need to ensure the government starts thinking about ‘things that are unthinkable at the moment’, argued Phil Thornhill, founder and co-ordinator of CaCC and master of the amateur fisherman look. After all, who needs domestic flights? ‘We don’t need them, we can travel by train!’ (3)
As if the dream of a world without short-haul or domestic flights isn’t quite inspiringly inert enough, behold CaCC’s ‘magic bullet’ for solving climate change – we should immediately cut the national speed limit down to 55mph. Daniel Scharf of Green Speed outlined his vision of a world where ‘buses will be able to overtake cars’ and accused the government of ‘running scared of tabloid headlines’. The great strength of this proposal, Scharf told us, is that it’s fair: well, everyone will suffer equally. Even better, no technological fix or expenditure is required. ‘We don’t need to tear around at those high speeds’, Phil Thornhill chirruped, before Scharf, in a moment of teetering on the brink of self-awareness, declared ‘either I’m mad. Or they [he points to parliament] are.’
A contributor from the audience decided now was the chance to speak up against the damage roads do to communities. His point was somewhat secondary to the fact he was speaking through a microphone powered by a man on a bicycle. It seems the CaCC’s utopia would not just involve speed limits and lots of bus lanes; it would be battery-free, too.
The greenhouse effect.
And what of personal choice? Well, people should have their own personal carbon rations said Colin Challen, Labour MP, which will be reduced each year, ‘forcing people to choose a low-carbon path’. Furthermore, other attempts to compensate for fossil fuels which would allow the current level of consumption to continue just won’t cut it: the government’s investment in the ‘biofuel economy’ is simply – as Deepak Rughani from Biofuelwatch put it – going to lead us further into ‘decades and centuries of carbon debt’.
Bringing proceedings to a close was Tamsin Omond from the Climate Rush group, which models itself on the Suffragette movement. She acknowledged that CaCC’s proposals haven’t yet reached the desirable ‘tipping point in public opinion’. But then, without a hint of irony, she called upon the miniscule number of attendees campaigning to restrict everybody else from enjoying a modern standard of life. Just take heart, she told them, from other similar struggles that brought about the emancipation of slaves, women and blacks: ‘Pockets of resistance such as this have always allowed the human race to progress.’
Omond called for the need to put the ‘fear of God’ into politicians before the Copenhagen conference on Climate Change in December, focusing on a demonstration that would see a ‘vanguard’ occupy parliament, put wind turbines on the roof and ‘seed-bomb parliament’s flower beds.’
Meanwhile, Darren Johnson, chair of the London Assembly, bemoaned the fact that the same ‘quality of debate’ taking place at the CaCC parliament wasn’t taking place in the real parliament. He sneered at a comment made by Joan Ruddock, minister for climate change, who said that campaigners such as CaCC were ‘worse than climate change deniers’ in their dogmatism.
However, observing the proceedings at parliament yesterday, it became clear that Ruddock has a point. There was no evidence that CaCC can go beyond gimmicky, pantomime debate. CaCC gives no consideration whatsoever to the positive aspects of the ‘luxuries’ we currently enjoy, such as unlimited energy use, short-haul flights or the ability to drive fast. Indeed, the campaigners seem to be closed to any discussion other than how best to introduce emergency measures to restrict businessmen from speeding in their flash cars and ignorant tabloid readers from condemning the planet to death through their boozy stag weekends in Prague.
‘Next time we’ll do this inside with a bit more time for debate’, founder of CaCC Phil Thornhill announced. ‘This pocket of resistance is where the future is going to be – if there is a future.’ And they wonder why they have so little public support.
Patrick Hayes is a co-founder of the IoI Current Affairs Forum and volunteer co-ordinator for the education charity WORLDwrite.
Previously on spiked
Rob Lyons accused the Kingsnorth Climate Camp of uncritical conformity. Brendan O’Neill argued we should keep science out of politics and showed how climate change scepticism is the new blasphemy. Roger Pielke Jr condemned James Hansen’s scientific authoritarianism. Alex Hochuli stood up for the right to fly. Ben Pile declared that the BBC has presented a one-sided view of climate change. Or read more at spiked issue Environment.
(1) Miliband’s manifesto to make Britain a low-carbon economy, Independent, 16 July 2009
(2) See Climate Emergency Parliament
(3) See video Online Climate Emergency Parliament introduction
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