The COP 26 UN global climate summit, begins in Glasgow this weekend.
In recent weeks there has been a deluge of news coverage of climate issues and grand statements and promises from world leaders, alongside adverts from companies claiming to be green and articles telling us the best things to buy to ‘save the planet’, timed to coincide with the flurry of aircraft full of suited dignitaries landing in Scotland.
You would be mistaken for thinking that the solutions to the biggest crisis that will likely ever affect humanity can be solved by doing a bit more recycling, buying one of Boris’ subsidised heat pumps and making ‘ better choices’ in the supermarket. This of course is nonsense, we are far beyond the issue being one of personal responsibility, if indeed it ever was.
As trade unionists and socialists we understand that it is the same rotten capitalist system that exploits workers in its continuous drive for profit that is also destroying the planet as it exploits the land we live on and the air that we breathe. We don’t just need to change the lightbulbs to ones that use less energy, we need to change the entire system.
As far back as the 1840’s during the rise of industrialisation, socialists were drawing links between the exploitation of both workers and the land. Friedrich Engels wrote in the Condition of the Working Class in England, not just about the appalling conditions that workers were subjected to in the factories they worked in but also the unhealthy and unsanitary environments in which they lived and the effect that this pollution had upon nature.
Addressing Climate Change means addressing head on the imbalances of power and inequalities in our economic and political systems across the globe, it is an issue of social justice and for that reason it is incumbent on trade unions to play a major role in shaping the world into one that respects, protects and gives rights to both workers and the planet.
PCS under it’s socialist Left Unity leadership have been at the forefront of shaping the policy of the British trade union movement on climate change, pushing for serious solutions such as Just Transition that address not just environmental concerns but also redesign our economy into one that is fairer for all.
Just Transition however cannot simply be a slogan, in needs to be backed up with real strategies for change; it must be a strategy that transforms. This means that we need to campaign to bring large swathes of our economy back into public ownership so that sectors such as transport, housing, energy, water, health and education are run sustainably for the benefit of those that use them rather than for profit.
Solutions are already there, such as those set out by PCS in our pamphlet Aviation Democracy, which recognises that the aviation industry must ensure a reduction in reliance on aviation but also that any reduction in flying must not lead to a loss of jobs but rather a planned transition of workers to the jobs required in a greener aviation industry that is part of a much wider integrated transport system owned by and run for the public that also meets climate commitments.
We need investment to be transferred from the arms and nuclear industry and similar into addressing the housing crisis; building new affordable social housing that is carbon neutral and retrofitting and bringing up to healthy living standards the damp, cold, Victorian terraces that many of us live in, and that must be funded by the state.
These solutions are not likely to be ones readily accepted by those that run our governments who are part of the capitalist neo-liberal system that is also responsible for attacking our pay and pensions and driving down living conditions. If we are to force these changes we will need to campaign, lobby and demonstrate alongside other trade unions, environmentalists, faith and community groups like we never have before. By transforming economic systems to ones that are environmentally sustainable we will also be transforming them into systems that that are socially just and sustainable for workers too.
COP 26 itself is unlikely to lead to any of the real changes that we need but by involving ourselves in the movement that has built up around it we can begin to make a difference by raising our solutions and increasing the public consciousness that there are different ways of doing things that would benefit not just nature but also us as workers. Another world is possible.
That is why it is so important that PCS members get involved in the local actions and demonstrations that are taking place over the coming weeks. COP 26 will not be the answer but it may well be the start of a movement that can engender that real change that we so badly need.
‘Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature- but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in it’s midst, and that all our mastery of it consists of the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn it’s laws and apply them correctly’ Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature 1878.