We are, in some ways, at an incredible point in history. When I started working in climate 20 years ago, climate denial was incredibly mainstream. People didn’t think about climate as something that impacted their day-to-day lives; it was something far away and it was really hard to join the dots. Now, we have an incredibly energetic youth movement and more direct action, and the idea we should keep the earth’s temperature within 1.5C of warming is not radical anymore.
But every year we are seeing the increasingly evident impacts of climate collapse. Forest fires, floods and extreme weather events are getting more frequent and they’re getting more severe. We know how to solve the problem. Every solution that we need is on the table. What is lacking is what people call ‘political will’. This is evident wherever you look. The decision to max out North Sea oil and gas at a time when the world is facing the worst climate impacts represents a lack of political will. When we know that offshore wind can power this country for days on end and that solar energy is going to become the single largest source of energy in three years, choosing not to take full advantage of that represents a lack of political will.
I do have hope for the future – but my hope is not based on some vapid sentiment, it’s based on very practical solutions that are already available. What they need is deployment at scale. US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said we go out and create hope by our actions. Hope is actively going out there and doing something that’s going to bring about change. All we need to do is put pressure on the decision makers, which are a very very small number of people; we outnumber them by a huge amount.
What we’re trying to do in the run-up to the next election is to empower local activists and other folks to organise themselves with Project Climate Vote. Those who sign up pledge to vote with climate in mind, and hold politicians to account on their climate policies – now, at the election, and in future. Climate has remained consistently, even during the pandemic, a top five issue for voters. We want those who recognise the importance of this issue to get involved, not become jaded and cynical about politics. We want people to feel empowered and to recognise that one vote can make a difference. We need to hold the next government to account and hold their feet to the fire once they’re in.
Such initiatives are powerful and important and can help to create the political will we so desperately need. We have the system we have, and we’ve only got a finite amount of time left, so we have to engage with it and try to make it better. But just changing the government at the top, while deeply necessary to achieve climate justice, won’t be enough. Ultimately, we must also accept that our democracy as it is isn’t fit for purpose. While we have a voting system biassed towards vested interests, unwelcoming to new voices and which doesn’t prize votes equally, the fight for climate justice is always going to be an uphill struggle.
India, where I come from, is one of the world’s largest democracies and, like the UK, has a First Past the Post system. This is just creaking at the edges right now. Those who are experiencing the extreme impacts of climate collapse in their day-to-day lives will likely go to the ballot box with these concerns in mind. But that vote, in countries that use FPTP, is not necessarily making the impact it’s supposed to. There is something incredibly powerful about exploring the idea of what our democracy would look like if everyone’s vote got equal representation. Our MPs would finally represent the 76% of Britons that support net zero, and the 52% of us that want the government to do more to tackle climate change.
That’s why Greenpeace is partnering with Compass, Green New Deal Rising, Friends of the Earth and the Rapid Transition Alliance to call on our politicians to change our voting system for the sake of the climate. We have no time to waste. To save the planet, democracy is now a first order issue.
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