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It’s about time MPs started talking about climate change again, our lives depend on it

Climate breakdown is a global emergency, yet the UK parliament hasn't debated it for two years

Sophie Sleeman
28 February 2019
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Image: Brighton and Hove Young Greens

Today, MPs from across the House of Commons will convene to talk about climate change for the first time in two years. It feels unbelievable to me as I write this, but it really has been two years since those tasked with leading our country have officially talked about climate change in our Parliament. Many will say other issues such as Brexit have been more pressing. Yet, as I look at the world around us, as report after report spells out danger as we enter the age of climate breakdown, I struggle to agree.

Given the lack of attention climate change - or more appropriately, the climate crisis - has received in the House of Commons, I’m naturally led to ask, why now? What has changed that’s led to this? Well, there’s the terrifyingly abnormal heatwave that’s rippled across the UK, seeing temperatures soar to over 20°C in multiple places, ensuring we’re breaking all the wrong records. Hottest February day on record, check. First winter day to reach over 20°C, check.

There’s also the wildfires that have been raging in not one, but three different places in the UK. In February! This is seemingly as a result of the unseasonably hot, and therefore dry conditions. Saddleworth Moor in North Yorkshire, Arthur’s Seat hill by Edinburgh and woodland in West Sussex have all been ablaze, characterized by ‘tinderbox-like conditions’ brought about by the hot weather. Not only is it terrifying that three parts of the UK have literally been on fire in the winter, but this seems to be a continuation of events that transpired last year, perhaps indicating wildfires may become a more common fixture in the UK. Just last year, Saddleworth Moor experienced a devastating blaze that burned for over a week, destroying vast swathes of peat moor. This resulted in the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham declaring a major incident with the UK military on standby. Given the close proximity to large urban areas, wildfires on Saddleworth Moor and similar locations present a very real climate-related threat to human life in the UK.

These manifestations of our changing climate only add further weight to our argument that governments and those in positions of power need to act radically, and urgently to address the climate crisis. That’s why we saw over 15,000 students and young people take to the streets in more than 60 towns and cities on 15th February demanding sweeping environmental reform, calling on the government to declare a climate emergency. We’re seeing our planet and future change before our very eyes, yet those elected to lead don’t appear to understand the severity of our current situation. That’s why we want a change to the voting system to enfranchise younger voices by lowering the voting age to 16. This would allow someone like me - who can’t even vote yet - to have a say in electing someone who best represents my views.

Unbelievably, the climate crisis hasn’t been treated with the respect and fear it deserves while it’s been on someone else's doorstep. Will the UK start waking up to the very real and present dangers of climate change now it’s on our doorstep like never before? I’m not sure.

That today is the first time in two years the House of Commons is talking about climate change is evidence enough to show that our “leaders” don’t seem to care. They don’t care about the environment, they don’t care about bringing about change, and they certainly don’t care about our futures. That’s why I’m striking again on the 15th March as part of a globally coordinated day of action, and I urge you to join me. It’s so important that increasing numbers of us take to the streets on 15th March to show that young people are willing to fight to have a future. We’re joining tens of thousands of students in over 40 countries around the world all crying out for climate justice. We need to show those that have betrayed us that we see a positive vision for how the world can be. We need to keep on marching, demonstrating, and disrupting the status quo. We will change the course of history. Our lives and futures depend on it. See you on the streets on 15th March.

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics of class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this a chance to realign around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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