10 December 2015

Arnie has a point on climate change ...

Ahead of a screening of Naomi Klein's new film, 'This Changes Everything', Vassall Cllr Paul Gadsby spoke to members last night of Lambeth for a Cool Planet about the battle against climate change.

His speech about the impact of climate change on the local environment in Vassall is below...

I don’t think anyone in this room would disagree that climate change represents the biggest threat to the future of our planet. The science is 100% clear that our climate is changing more rapidly than it has done before and that it will have a profound impact on the next generation growing up in Lambeth – but it is also have a direct impact on the here and now, on everyone in this room. For me, climate change is an open and shut case.

However, I am still not 100% convinced that as an issue climate change is punching its weight when it comes to breaking into the public consciousness. As a local councillor, this issue and wider environmental problems are barely ever raised with me on the doorstep, by email or in conversation with residents. This is not because the public does not care or does not know about climate change: if we were to go out now into Brixton I bet that everyone could tell you what climate change is about and what it threatens. The real problem I suspect is that a lot of people have a lot on their plate: kids to take to school, jobs to work flat out in, relatives to care for, families to manage and a thousand other things that need to be done before we get to the next day.

This is not selfishness, its simple the fact that people have busy lives with a multitude of problems and challenges to deal with - and climate change at the moment, in my view, is still not pushing its way to the top of issues that people think of as a priority. There is a common, almost unspoken feeling, that climate change is something that will become an issue in 2050, 2060 or further off into the distant future.

A perfect example of this I think is demonstrated recently when the government scrapped its subsidy for the solar energy industry. I was not only dismayed by the decision, but also dismayed by the fact that no one really noticed it happening.

So how do we address that? Well, I think that great political philosopher of our age Arnold Schwarzenegger put it well this week. He said:

“It drives me crazy when people talk about 30 years from now, rising sea levels and so on. What about right now? Thousands of people are dying from pollution. People are living with cancer [because of air pollution].”

Now I think Arnie has a point here: I think we need to be a lot more direct, upfront and most importantly noisy about the impact of climate change on the here and now, not just what is going to happen in fifty years. And when I say we that means the council, other politicians and also residents: especially people in this room.

A good example of what can be done when we get noisy about this issues was a campaign I was involved in last year. Some of you may have seen that a leading charity did some research on the levels of pollution on Streatham High Street and Brixton Road. They found that TfL buses, with diesel engines, were contributing to horrendous levels of pollution: my ward, Vassall, for example, a deprived ward that sits around Brixton Road, got through a year’s worth of air pollutants by 2nd of January 2015.

I am going to repeat that because it is staggering: a highly built up residential area with schools, community centres, sheltered accommodation and parks had pumped into its air 365 days’ worth of dangerous pollution in 48 hours. That’s dangerous pollution that causes asthma in kids, lung disease in adults and a host of other conditions.

So we got a campaign going to try and address this problem with residents. I’ll be honest some people said it wasn’t worth doing at the time because the public wouldn’t be interested: one resident described it to me as “Guardian whinging”. But when we started shouting about it we had 500 signatures in a month, many from my estates, and Tfl has now agreed to change the engines in the buses in South London to make them cleaner and greener. The council has just set up a strategic transport study and one of its key aims is to reduce transport based emissions, and we will be inviting groups like Lambeth for a Cool Planet to feed into these plans so we keep up the pressure. I have no doubt at all this would not have happened without this local campaign and local pressure from residents who became engaged with the issue.

There is more that Lambeth as a council is doing and shouting about, along with its residents. Last week, Lambeth joined with other councils to redouble efforts to make Lambeth a clean energy borough by using cleaner energy supplies, greener transport systems and insulating homes. It is estimated that such moves will cut the UK's carbon footprint by more than 10%. And we’ve supported co-operatives like Brixton Energy that allow residents to generate their own energy and reduce carbon emissions. We are also backing other forms of clean transport and cycling initiatives, such as listening to resident feedback about the desire for Santander bikes to be brought further south in the borough, hence a recent campaign to get them into Brixton.

So what I would say to everyone is that Lambeth is pushing hard to do its bit on climate change, but we do need your support in this room and in the wider community to push it up the agenda for the public and those in government who have the most power.

I would tell you to keep coming to events like this, talk about it in your communities, with your neighbours, friends and families, work with groups like Lambeth for a Cool Planet and keep hassling people like me and my colleagues so we can collectively get this up people’s agenda.

Climate change can seem like an immense problem, it can seem overwhelming. But starting off in our communities with one on one conversations and local campaigns of the sort Lambeth for a Cool Planet are looking to run are the fundamental first steps to helping to protect our planet.