I wonder if the name Janet Barker means anything to you. It should – because she’s the Greenpeace protester who was manhandled and ejected from a London banquet last week by the now-suspended Foreign Officer minister Mark Field. (If you haven’t yet seen the video of the incident, click here.)
She and her fellow-protesters had intended to disrupt a speech being given by the chancellor Philip Hammond by making a speech of their own, calling for greater government investment and leadership in tackling the global climate emergency.
Emergency? Perhaps you missed the story the other day reporting that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased over the past year by the second highest amount of the past sixty years. Thirty years ago, the annual growth rate was around 1.5 parts per million; it’s now above 2.2 ppm and CO2 levels are at 414.8 ppm. If they reach 450 ppm, scientists say the earth’s climate will reach a tipping point beyond which the impact will be catastrophic and irreversible.
By my calculations, if current growth levels are maintained, we’ll be there in just fifteen years’ time. Words like ‘emergency’ and ‘crisis’ somehow seem inadequate.
So instead of fulminating against the latest idiocies emanating from both our main political parties – Boris Johnson’s new-found love of making model buses out of wine boxes, or Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that there’s still plenty of time to make up his mind about Brexit – I’ve decided to pass on some extracts from what the Greenpeace protesters would have said at that Mansion House banquet if Mark Field hadn’t grabbed Janet Barker round her neck and marched her off the premises. (The full text of the speech they had prepared is here.)
‘The climate crisis cannot be fixed by stepping back and just leaving it to the free market. Nor will it be solved through simply fiddling around the edges with a few regulations. These things are too slow and ineffective for the speed of transformation required. Left alone, the market is not designed to bring us a green and prosperous future. It is time to step forward. It’s time to intervene.
‘The last five years were the hottest ever recorded. There are a growing number and intensity of extreme weather events. Millions of people are already losing their homes and livelihoods. Coral reefs are set to disappear. Crops are set to fail. People and animals are set to go hungry. But look at this banquet. Look at each other. You are dining out while the planet burns.
‘Sometimes we have to take action and spend more money now, simply because it is the only option. To stand a chance of saving the lives of millions of people here and all around the world, we must limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 1.5 degrees of warming gives us a chance of avoiding catastrophic droughts, crop failures, food crises, heat-waves, forest fires and flooding. Just a chance.
‘Yet just two weeks ago, Mr Hammond, you pretty much said “Please let us off the hook, otherwise it will cost too much.” What price would you pay to secure your children’s future on a liveable planet? What price to protect you and your families’ homes from irreparable flooding? What price to prevent millions of people worldwide from homelessness, statelessness and poverty? It’s time to change how the Treasury thinks. It’s time to redefine what it values.
‘If you want to know whether a policy is good, include the benefits as well as the costs. Here, the benefits include an economy fit for the 21st Century. Cleaner air. Warmer homes. Increasing the survival chances of civilisation itself. The Chancellor got his sums wrong. It’s time to change the Treasury’s models to fit with reality.
‘Policy decisions must no longer be hampered by the short-sighted logic of “decarbonisation at least-cost.” Having a comparative advantage in the technologies that every country in the world will have to adopt is an economic opportunity, not a hindrance. Now is the time for a new approach. It must be about “maximising every decarbonisation opportunity.
‘The UK has been the birthplace of some of the greatest innovations, feats of engineering and cutting edge entrepreneurship in the world. We are now one of the leading creators and makers of the new technologies that can massively cut our carbon footprint, power our homes, factories and offices, and protect, harness and utilise the land, wind, waters and sun that are abundant on these isles. Talent, creativity and optimism are needed now more than ever before to avert the very worst impacts of climate breakdown.’
I think it’s a shame the protesters never got a chance to make their speech. If you agree, do feel free to share this with your friends and others. If nothing else, it makes a change from the latest antics of the mop-haired blond bombshell from Camberwell.