I recently attended a New Economics Foundation (NFE) organised seminar entitled ‘How do we win a green recovery?’ Attendees were from all around the world including Canada, Europe and the UK, and represented politicians; officers, third sector and community interests. All attending seemed to agree “build back better” was the preferred nomenclature, but not necessarily building back to how everything was before.
The first speaker – Chaitanya Kumar NEF – talked about his mood, about how he oscillates between everything is possible optimism to nothing is possible pessimism and I found myself agreeing with that thinking. I have noticed recently walking locally how much traffic has returned to the roads, in fact as everyone is using their own car and avoiding public transport I think roads are busier than before. So perhaps this really is the moment to bite the green bullet. Chaitanya opened with a discussion about UK government funding for the green recovery. He suggested whilst there is money, little of the money is new and compared to the funding flowing to roads and infrastructure the money does not match the rhetoric. He also suggested that the budget and comprehensive spending review are the litmus test for seeing what the UK government priorities are long term to act on decarbonising the economy. I asked about what local government could best focus efforts on. Chaitanya spoke about many local government exemplars, from Kent and Warrington for green energy to community wealth building in North Ayrshire. The three actions he suggested were to get all your citizens and partners talking about and lobbying for green recovery and to lobby central government to give more powers and more money.
That, of course, is true. I know and you know of all the tremendous work on the climate emergency being delivered by councils around the world. However, it reminds me of something I discussed a while ago which is that we are working at a homeopathic dose of change – not at an effective dose. If the climate emergency needs a radical rethink to change what happens now we need urgency, challenge and money to act at the scale needed.
Arienne Buller from Common Wealth then commented on corporate bailouts. Her view is that it is counterproductive to bail out airlines and other big carbon-intensive industries with public money without adding conditions that guarantee jobs, decarbonisation and other green “strings”. She also reiterated the need to have a public stake in those companies that are supported with public money, an approach that Mariana Mazzucato and others have spearheaded around the would when leading economic discussions about inclusive growth.
Gareth Lewis Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Humberside then spoke about people power, working people and people of all ages. He remarked that Yorkshire and Humberside are extremely vulnerable to what he called the three threats: climate change, Covid 19 and recession, noting that this is an area traditionally dependent on carbon-intensive industries both directly and indirectly through supply chain industries. He said “capitalism will eat itself before tackling climate change”. TUC are leading a low carbon taskforce for a community-focused and worker-led agency and action. He said it’s not a question of a new recycling box, what is needed is a fundamental change to the economic model. Asked what action everyone should take he suggested that everyone join a union.
Finally, Danielle Paffard who is a climate change activist spoke about the need for action around communities. Her message was to organise, young people, working people, families, and communities because politicians and business listen to people. If you lobby then people listen, especially when money, marginal seats and elections are involved. She talked about redefining green jobs; not only men in hard hats but also people in care sectors, teaching, park wardens. We have previously written about this approach. She closed with a call to get involved.
I value the opportunity to listen online to these debates but I found my mood sober and pessimistic after the session. In the chat lots of people mentioned the doughnut economy model – you can read more here. The next morning, on reflection, I do feel more positive about what can be done. How do you feel about the challenge ahead? We would love to know.