We must adapt to climate decline

In the aftermath of the Conservatives’ historic majority at the 2019 general election, Rupert Read, Professor at the University of East Anglia, reflects on the implications for the struggle to respond the climate emergency adequately, calling for the focus of the Green movement to move from climate change mitigation to adaptation to the impacts of climate decline, and to move beyond electoral politics to non-violent direct action.

This article was first published in Green World.

There is no use in hiding from the bitter truth. As I’ll explain, the decisive Conservative victory means the Green Party must reassess its demands and aspirations, and make significant changes in the face of our new, darker post-election reality.

Greens moved forward powerfully at this election, more by some measures than any other party did, especially in our target seats, and also elsewhere. Well done us, well done everyone for their hard work and devotion. And yet we made no gains. And we are still quite far from an actual second MP.

Looking more widely, the bottom line is, of course, that we will in overwhelming likelihood have to contend, at the very least, with several more years of Conservative leadership.

Let’s then be honest about the awful policy implications for us and for the world. The Green Party policy platform as it stands cannot be implemented. This clear Conservative victory and the wrong path that it sets us on and threatens to lock us into means that 2030 becomes unrealistic as a carbon net-zero and biodiversity loss-zero date. In fact we have to be thinking more about the way in which society is likely to decline or even collapse, because of the direction that, tragically, we appear as a nation to have chosen.

We need to be truthful with voters. Blunt, even. We need to face the very sad fact that the parliamentary road to ecologism appears to be blocked. We have had some influence through the astounding Caroline Lucas and our fine pair of peers in Jenny Jones and Natalie Bennett. We have had some influence of course through hitting the other parties where it hurts (...in the ballots). We also have influence, of course, through our growing representation in local government. But let’s be honest, authentic, let’s call it: it is simply clear that there is not going to be a Green government nor even a Green-influenced government in time to head off the very bad things, ecologically-speaking, now coming down the pike at us. 

Things are now definitely going to keep getting worse for the next five years, and that probably makes it too late to stop this civilisation from ending during the next generation (or two) at most. The only way that it can end without collapsing with megadeaths is if it gets transformed, rapidly. But the very slim hope that that can happen is clearly premised now largely on a mass consciousness-transformation and/or mass extra-parliamentary action. It is not going to happen primarily through us winning through the electoral system. This ‘climate election’ was the very last chance for it to do so.

Remember what Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN has said: if the UN’s climate goals – which are much less ambitious than the Green Party’s 2030 target! – for having even a chance at keeping the climate within 1.5ºC of overheat by 2030 are to be achieved, then serious unprecedented action has to begin during 2020.

Well, under the Conservatives, there’s absolutely no way that’s happening.

The really crucial policy implication is this: we need to be thinking more about ‘adaptation’, and not just mitigation/prevention. We have to face the brutal truth that things are now almost entirely certain to get a lot worse for a very long time to come. Policy focus needs to shift to emphasise things like restoring wetlands, making nuclear waste and nuclear power plants safe against the unprecedented storms (literal and metaphorical) facing our children, reducing food waste, eating lower down the food chain, learning and sharing food growing and other skills. We need to be talking about these things, to make real our narrative of climate and ecological decline that the Conservatives will now lock in. And we need to start thinking about how to do these things, with or without the backing of central government.

That is why, while it is imperative to keep as much pressure as possible on national governments to reduce greenhouse emissions and to stop tearing up ecosystems, we must now for the first time start to take seriously the role of transformative adaptation and, yes, even deep adaptation (adaptation that seeks to cushion a likely coming collapse), within our movement and our party, and make their implementation a – and perhaps the – central aspect of our demands going forward. 

We must start to face the bitter reality that it is unlikely even that those demands (for taking serious adaptation seriously) – basic common sense for protecting ourselves together against the escalating vulnerabilities that are to come – will be adequately implemented. Which means it is time not only for Greens to embrace more thoroughly the kind of non-violent direct action that we, uniquely (and splendidly) among political parties, sanction in our very constitution and our philosophical basis – the kind of NVDA which XR has of course employed to such brilliant effect this year – but also to look more seriously at alliances with the Transition Towns movement, with permaculture, and more.

In other words: we, the electoral and political arm of the green movement, must start to admit plainly that electoral and political solutions alone are not going to be adequate respond to the crisis we as a people (and a species) have now landed ourselves in. We need as a political party to start to spend some of our time looking beyond party politics.

Other parties are very unlikely to reflect as deeply as this result merits, let alone to be willing to understand that ‘this changes everything’: that we all can no longer go on pretending that we are going to be changing society for the better in a green dream future, but need instead to get real about a last ditch effort to prevent an uncontrolled collapse, and a series of measures at every level to cope with the ecological horror stories that will define the virtually permanent emergency that is just beginning. 

We can – and must – show intellectual, moral and political leadership here. We can reassess our trajectory, and get ahead of the (ghastly) game.

We need to remain ready for the possibility that a #greenwave bigger than that which occurred this May may yet come, as more citizens in the coming years inevitably wake up to the terrifying reality that humanity in general and the UK in particular is on clear track to destroy itself. We need to be poised for that possibility, that a sudden big turn to us may yet come. 

But even if it does, it will be too late to forestall the ecological and climatic degradation that is now coming. It will be better late than never, but meanwhile, it makes no sense to continue to pretend that everything might yet be fine. Everything is very much not going to be fine. This civilisation is in its end-game. Under the Conservatives, that process is very likely to accelerate. 

We need to start being much more truthful and direct about this, and we need to make that directness real by starting to call for and to seek to enact transformative and deep adaptations.

After these dire election results, that is now, surely, our calling.

 

[Thanks to Frank Scavelli for big help researching this piece.]

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