The climate election?: The real meaning of this week’s vote, beyond Brexitmania

This article was first published on Medium.

A short article on why this week’s European Elections must be and are a near-last-chance for serious political action and momentum on the real defining issue of our time.

The past month has witnessed an unprecedented turnaround of public opinion on the climate and ecological emergencies. When the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ broke out in mid-April, the media turned its gaze with almost unremitting hostility onto the inconvenience that it was bringing to motorised traffic in London. A fortnight later, everything had changed. Now opinion polls show, astonishingly, a massive majority of the electorate agreeing that there is a climate emergency – and 76% saying they would vote differently to protect the planet and climate.

In that context, the European Elections, which are held of course under a proportional representation voting system, could hardly be better timed. For here is a golden opportunity to cast a vote symbolising not only a desire to stay in the EU but a desire too for a continuation of the human race. The climate crisis is an incomparably weightier issue than Brexit. (Though the two are linked: UKIP and the Brexit Party are stuffed full of climate-change-deniers, whereas the EU has been a locale for some degree of climate-leadership, at least relative to other large power-blocs in the world.)

Moreover, such a vote is far more than symbolic. The European Parliament can take real action in all sorts of relevant ways. Green Group MEPs have done so much more than any others; for instance, by being the driving force behind the EU ban on plastic straws, plastic plates and cutlery and plastic cups. By having achieved an almost complete ban on bee-killing pesticides (neonicotinoids). And by having succeeded in pushing the Parliament as a whole – whose consent is needed for EU Trade Agreements – to negotiate for compulsory criteria on environmental standards (and also on labour standards).

The EU’s record in relation to climate is hardly unblemished. For instance, it has direly failed to see the danger of large-scale biofuels in ripping up ecosystems. And more fundamentally still, it has pursued a neoliberal agenda of economic growthism more incompatible by the day with ecologic sanity.

However, as a fundamentally democratic institution, with a fully elected parliament, we have the power to change the European Union’s course by electing parliamentarians prepared to act radically on climate and ecology. Indeed, with laws that apply across the whole of the European Union, the European Parliament is in a strong position to facilitate the drastic change of course that we desperately need if we are to preserve a habitable climate and ecology for our children, nephews and nieces, and for future generations.

The answer here is: let’s send more MEPs to Brussels determined to safeguard our remaining biodiversity. MEPs willing to will the means to climate-safety.

In short: let’s make this the climate election.

There won’t, after all, be many more chances. If we are to keep global overheat below 1.5 degrees, then we need to reduce our emission to net zero imminently. The safest course would be to do this by 2025, which is the date set by the Extinction Rebellion, in accordance with the Precautionary Principle. The challenge is to make this politically possible.

This election is one of our last opportunities to do just that. After all, by the time the next European Elections come around, 2025 will be almost upon us.

The time is now, to act for the sake of unborn future generations and of our children, nephews and nieces. The climate school strikers led by Greta Thunberg have shamed us all with their poignant call to ‘Save our world!’ There is very, very little time left in which to do so. To put the point with the blunt clarity that is now required: our children are begging for their lives. They are begging for the right to have a life.

If we are to heed them, we surely must start with this most unexpected of elections. We surely have a responsibility that will echo down the ages to vote the right way now, finally, before it is categorically too late.

This country has woken up quite suddenly to the reality and imminence of the ecological emergency and of the existential threat it poses. Not ‘only’ even to our children; I’m frankly scared of what my own old age will be like, and whether I’ll get to see it out peacefully and with food in my stomach. Because make no mistake; as we saw last summer, climate breakdown is coming for our crops, coming to bake them (or drown them).

There is no time left to get obsessed with other issues that will be mere footnotes to the long emergency that is upon us. The recent Australian elections were a huge and deadly disappointment (except for the consolation of unseating Tony Abbott). The human race literally cannot bear many more such disappointments – because the planet can’t.

And that is why, across Europe, more and more people are talking about this as the climate election. The last chance, pretty much, to vote for radical change, voluntary change. The last change to avid something more drastic being imposed upon us by an enraged Nature.

One world; one chance.

And if this really is, at last, the climate election, then it really isn’t that hard to work out which party you need to be voting for.


Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and #2 MEP-candidate for the East of England for the Green Party.