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The Power Of Doing Stuff

Members of Parliament approved a motion yesterday to declare an environment and climate emergency. MPs debated climate change in the House of Commons last month too, for the first time in two years. The biggest crisis humanity has ever faced, and just forty MPs showed up. Has so much changed in the last month, or is this climate emergency declaration just rhetoric?

The U.K. has legislated to reduce the country’s carbon emissions to eighty percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and has set out “carbon budgets” on the decreasing levels of carbon we can emit over consecutive five-year periods. Ambitious proposals have yet to be turned into firm policies and cost-effective opportunities to further reduce emissions are simply not being realised. Two-thirds of the potential emissions reductions from existing policies are deemed at risk of “under-delivery”. Unfortunately not enough action here, where it really counts.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Wherever our nominal leaders abdicate leadership and responsibility, others step into the gap. In the USA, for example, where the Trump administration has its head firmly buried in the tar sand, a groundswell of action has developed. More than 3,600 leaders, from city halls to company boardrooms to college campuses – who represent over 155 million Americans – have signed the “We Are Still In” declaration. It is the largest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action, demonstrating people’s commitment to delivering on the promise of the Paris Agreement, no matter what.

At the same time, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is championing the idea of a ‘Green New Deal’, taking her inspiration from Roosevelt’s New Deal that used massive investment in jobs and infrastructure to pull the USA out of the Great Depression. The Green New Deal is also based on creating new jobs and transforming infrastructure, with a rapid shift to clean energy and the aim of eliminating virtually all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution within a decade. Such talk used to be politically toxic. Increasingly, it’s toxic for those politicians who do not walk such talk.

Closer to home, we see similar signs of action at the grassroots level that are filling the void, as local politicians and citizens step up. At least twenty-seven local authorities around the U.K. so far have declared a climate emergency and stated their intention of becoming zero carbon by 2030. Not only the action but the sense of urgency is in contrast to the national government, whose target of 2050 some experts say will be too little, too late. These local authority leaders are playing as full a role as possible with communities leading by example, collectively building pressure for a binding nationwide climate emergency motion that would unlock the necessary funding to rapidly decarbonise the U.K. economy.

Across many towns and cities, local residents are also leading grassroots community initiatives known as “transition towns”, aiming to increase self-sufficiency and reduce the potential effects of climate destruction and economic instability. A number of these groups are registered with the Transition Network that serves to propagate best practices and to amplify local impact. These transition initiatives are not just a British phenomenon: there are more than one thousand transition towns in more than forty countries that have adopted a new way of thinking and doing.

We need binding decisions nationally. We need engagement locally. In an emergency, the power to make bold changes belongs not to the person who debates but to the person who acts.

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