In support of the right to protest

We write in response to Robert Court’s highly opinionated piece on climate change, published in the Witney Gazette on 23/10/19.  He claims that the recent climate change protests have lost public support and bemoans the disruption caused by ordinary people protesting.

This is wide of the mark. Many surveys show that more and more people are realising the severe impact of climate on themselves, their communities, and others across the world.  People want governments to do more, and faster, to prevent things from becoming worse. 

The government’s own public opinion survey in March 2019 shows that 80% of the public are concerned about climate change, a trend that has been increasing steadily over the 10 years of the survey.  A recent  Ipsos Mori poll found that the concern about climate change has reached record levels.  In September 2019, a survey by Opinium found 70% of people thought tackling the climate emergency requires more urgent action than is currently happening, while 63% of people identified it as the biggest issue facing humankind. 

Robert Courts should take note: the majority of people surveyed felt that politicians are not discussing the issue of climate change enough, and that the Government is doing too little.  Of those surveyed, 54% of people stated that climate change issues will affect how they vote, with the proportion increasing to 74% for people aged 18-24.  According to last week’s poll by YouGov, more than half of the electorate think the government should aim for net-zero emissions by 2030 or earlier – including almost half of Conservative voters.

The people protesting in October came from all over the UK, from different backgrounds and generations; they were healthy, ill, disabled, retired and working. They came together in a respectful, non-violent and democratic way, to ask the government to act. Why did they do this? Why would people willingly get arrested in this way? In 1979 scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference in Geneva and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act.  Subsequent meetings and reports set out the same message again and again and again. Last week, over 11,000 scientists from across 153 countries published an article arguing the climate crisis was both more severe and accelerating faster than expected. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live,” they said, adding. “we need bold and drastic transformations regarding economic and population policies”.

Yet despite decades of global climate negotiations, world governments have generally ignored the warnings and conducted business as usual.  As a result, the terrible impacts of climate change are now felt across the world, from floods to heatwaves, causing massive disruption to our world, ruining lives and causing many deaths every year.  It is of little wonder that people feel the need to take to the streets to protest.

Robert Courts claims the Conservative government is doing enough to reduce the severity, and mitigate the effects, of climate change. This is far from the truth.  The government’s own advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change has been warning that the UK will miss its legally binding future carbon budgets, and calls for the government to implement tangible actions.  It has stated that, over the past year, the UK Government has delivered only 1 of 25 critical policies needed to get emission reductions on track.

It is true the UK has reduced its emissions, and this is a great first step, though some of the reduction is due to manufacturing goods overseas, while important contributors including aviation and shipping are not included in the calculations. While some opportunities have been taken domestically, many more have not. Think how many emissions could have been avoided if the government had actively supported household energy efficiency measures and public transport, did not have an ideological ban on onshore wind power, had not illegally removed support for solar energy, and if it hadn’t rolled out new policy and financial support for fracking. 

Achieving greater reductions to meet Net Zero by 2050 (or earlier like other countries have targeted, and the UK public would support) requires new, strong policy measures and binding action plans covering all sectors of the economy.  Support is needed to help everyone make a transition to a more sustainable way of life: systemic change is required.    

Robert Courts claims that more urgent action to combat climate change threaten to harm human progress and destroy our economy. We disagree and see it as an opportunity to help everyone benefit from a Green New Deal, that supports new sustainable jobs, and to shift our economy that puts people and planet first. Relying on a perfect roll-out of untested technologies to solve the climate crisis is not the answer.  How can they be when parts of the UK still don’t have a mobile phone signal let alone decent broadband!

The UK parliament has stated its ambition to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050 but the Conservative government refuses to end fossil fuel subsidies, both at home and elsewhere.  Showing leadership means looking beyond current regulations to ensure we meet the requirements of tomorrow.  Yet, in its recent spending review, the Conservative government allocated only £30m for Net Zero projects for the next year: just 0.1 per cent of the £20bn-£40bn recommended by its advisor, the Committee on Climate Change, to reach the 2050 target.  This can be compared to the annual £10 billion subsidy provided by the UK government to the fossil fuel industry through tax breaks and budgetary transfers, more than any country in the EU.  Through the UK Export Finance ministerial department, the government has also spent £2.5 billion subsidising UK fossil fuel projects mostly in low and middle-income countries; amounting to 96% of the total UKEF budget over 2013/14 to 2017/18. In contrast it spent £49 million on clean energy and renewable energy projects over the same period.

It is very important to know that many organisations call climate change the greatest public health threat facing humanity.  Further, low carbon lifestyles have the potential to be healthier and happier, with less air pollution and more physical activity.

The editor of The Lancet, one of the most reputable medical journals, has argued healthcare professionals have a responsibility to engage in non-violent social protest to address the Climate Emergency.  This follows the General Medical Council’s ethical guidelines for doctors to follow. These  state that doctors must “take prompt action if you think that patient safety, dignity or comfort is or may be seriously compromised.  If a patient is not receiving basic care to meet their needs, you must immediately tell someone who is in a position to act straight away. If patients are at risk because of inadequate premises, equipment or other resources, policies or systems, you should put the matter right if that is possible. You must raise your concern…” 

It is not just humans that are affected: the natural environment is under immense pressure.  It is heart-breaking to read of the effects of pollution, human activity and climate change on habitats and species: from hedgehogs becoming an endangered species in the UK, to the loss of rainforests putting orangutans on the edge of extinction.

The upcoming election will be the first ever ‘climate election’. How can voters trust the Conservative Party to act with the urgency that the situation requires, based on their record to date, and when their candidate in Reading East, Craig Morley, even questions whether climate change is a danger?

On behalf of West Oxfordshire Green Party: Dr. Angela Wilson General Practitioner MB BS. MRCGP, Helen Gavin, PhD, Oxford University; Dr. Frances Mortimer, MBBS BA MRCP Medical Director, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Oxford; and Andrew Prosser, International Carbon Emissions Advisor, and Witney Town Councillor.




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