Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is now Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, inheriting a nation of widespread poverty, indefinite detention, a looming recession, and a polluted environment. What are the prospects with Johnson and his cabinet for the UK’s environment? (They’re not good)
In parliament Johnson almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change. According to DeSmog UK he has frequently “rejected climate science” and maintains ties to climate denial groups. The former chief scientist of the UK has said that Johnson has previously misled the public and oversaw cuts in a team of climate experts as foreign secretary. The Prime Minister’s focus is squarely on protecting Britain’s economy during Brexit, despite the fact that 71% of Britons believe climate change is more important. In typical neoliberal fashion he has said he will put the private sector “in the driving seat” of efforts to address climate change.
His cabinet, dubbed the “most anti-climate action” ever, is a rogues gallery of climate deniers, fossil fuel investors, fracking advocates, and anti-renewable bureaucrats.
The UK government itself cheated on its emission figures by excluding figures from flights and shipping, and the Net Zero by 2050 legislation that Johnson has inherited from May is not as impressive as it sounds. The government is currently hopelessly unprepared for the impacts climate change will have on its citizens. Although the carbon intensity of electricity generation is consistently getting lower the UK will soon miss its carbon emissions targets regardless.
In the UK we’ve seen a 19% percent increase in food bank use, and there are an estimated 2.2 million people in the UK that are severely food insecure. This occurs at the same time as almost a third of UK vegetable crops are not harvested due to superficial supermarket standards and a spiralling crisis in health caused by a blinkered focus on producing cheap food regardless of the consequences.
Our soils are leaking carbon and will soon lose their ability to produce food. The UK agricultural system is still reliant on fossil fuels – machinery requires petroleum, fertilisers need natural gas, and our distribution system is based on motor trucks, and figures from 2008 claim that “95% of our food is oil dependent“. A fifth of all agricultural land “must shift to alternative uses that support emissions reduction” in order to reach Net Zero by 2050.
Our food system must undergo a revolution in order to be fit-for-purpose and future-proofed – all Boris can do is promise that UK farmers will “have the support they need“.
More and more people across the world will be forced from their homes and communities by extreme weather and will make their way across borders in search of sanctuary as climate refugees. The EU’s border externalisation is no solution to this, and neither is the UK’s hostile environment.
The wealthy nations are strengthening and militarising their borders to prepare for the predicted influx of climate refugees. Johnson’s promise to introduce an Australian-style points system will likely not change this – as Jamie Bartlett writes, “the lesson of history – real, long-lens human history – is that people move, and when they do, it’s hard to stop.”
A better world is possible!
A carbon-neutral society is easily achievable as outlined by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). A program like Labour’s Alternative Models of Ownership that emphasises cooperatives and municipal ownership would help to restore local control of energy and services. Over three-quarters of the UK population believe our electricity networks, as well as the UK’s railways and water infrastructure, should be in public ownership. Decentralised systems of offshore wind, solar power, and wave energy, alongside energy efficiency improvements will allow the UK to phase out fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy.
Converting large areas of inefficient animal farmland to forest would help sequester carbon whilst maintaining food production. The principle of subsidiarity – favouring local production for local consumption over long-distance production and transport of goods – will help the UK increase food self-sufficiency while minimising irrational trade. Our farms are more than capable of phasing out pesticides and maintaining yields through agroecology. The breaking-up of huge monocultures into a greater number of smaller farms organised on agroecological principles scattered across the countryside will help boost food production and reduce their environmental impact. Reforestation projects with mass public participation have huge potential to sequester carbon across the UK (the CCC calls for at least 30,000 hectares per year) alongside coastal ecosystem and peat restoration.
The stakes have never been higher. Limiting global warming to less than 2 °C warming by 2100 is becoming increasingly unlikely. Carbon markets, renewable subsidies, and hand-wringing over intervening in the market are absolutely meaningless. We need a Green New Deal for the UK to tackle climate change while guaranteeing a just transition for fossil fuel workers and ensuring energy democracy for the UK’s citizens. John Bellamy Foster outlines an appropriate ecosocialist platform that could be adopted for the UK, emphasising (among other things) accessible public transportation, the phasing out of fossil fuel infrastructure, and the prohibition of privatisation. A redistributive, democratic system is necessary for us to survive. We can degrow the economy whilst ensuring a good life for all within planetary boundaries.
We must reject lifeboat authoritarianism and let the refugees in. “This is not a refugee crisis,” as Omar Robert Hamilton writes, but “a public demonstration of an ideology.” We must reject the völkisch environmentalism of the right-wing and embrace ecosocialism, recognising that climate change is a class problem. Capitalism has ushered us into this planetary mess, a world-state we may call the capitalocene. Now we need to find a way to escape together.