The following sets the case for a radical approach to tackling the climate crisis in Wales and invites contributions from Undod members to explore related topics in further detail.
The real crisis looms…
Viewed from the midst of a global pandemic, it might be tempting to forget that we are also in the grip of a much larger crisis. Climate chaos and ecological breakdown present existential threats to every aspect of life on earth, that will dwarf disruption we are currently experiencing.
As with much about the Covid19 crisis, perspective is everything – the daily impacts of our unfolding ecological breakdown are still obvious for communities in the south of Wales for instance. Lockdown arrived hot on the heels of catastrophic flooding that had rendered many people homeless, just at a time when we were all being exhorted to ‘stay at home’, and of course these same communities have recently been flooded yet again.
Likewise across the world, climate related disasters and their inequitably distributed impacts are layering over the challenges of Covid19 – such as cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal, reminding us that climate justice is social justice. At the same time, the wealth of the world’s billionaires has increased by £434bn so far during lockdown, showing that we most definitely are not in this together.
The links between the current pandemic and the underlying causes of our global environmental crisis are not hard to see – with a globally superheated economy powered by runaway neo-liberal capitalism, Covid19 is just the latest in a string of highly communicable diseases of which we can but expect more.
We must also pause to consider that tackling climate change and the ecological crisis go hand in hand with need to tackle systemic racism in our society, the urgency of which has rightfully exploded into the mainstream since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Climate change is a product of white supremacy – of a social and economic system that treats some communities and people as sacrificable or disposable. We must expose this link in our tackling of climate change and nature loss – the discourse and policy in Wales needs to make clear the connection between tackling exploitation in all its forms.
Whilst Covid19 has to a certain extent put the brakes on the rampant consumerism and hypermobility that underpin our racist, capitalist system (whilst transferring profit into the awaiting arms of Jeff Bezos), it is urgently necessary that we continue to disrupt the course of what comes next to prevent a double-down version of business as usual, as shops reopen and we are encouraged to shop with confidence. The Government in Wales have borrowed the phrase ‘Build Back Better’ for their consultation on next steps. Before we build back, we need to question the rotten assumptions our economy is based on, including the inherent racism and sexism that props up the capitalist society, because without questioning the underlying economic paradigm, ‘better’ always implies ‘more’, and at someone else’s expense in addition to the planet’s.
No return to ‘normal’
Among calls for a green recovery, we need to keep the pressure on for a genuinely radical approach, or else useful action on climate change will be lost in the lip service of ‘green capitalism’. With very little time left to avert complete catastrophe, and huge pressure amounting to ‘get the economy moving’, there is a danger that the language of the status quo will pit the need for climate action against the need for growth rather than speaking the language of a green, just recovery. With the global elite scrambling to shore up exploitative capitalism and ensure that the invoice for Covid19 state expenditure lands on the poorest in society, it will also be necessary to fight for a just system of taxation – there is enough money to fund climate friendly policies as well as public services but only if those currently getting rich off our profit-led economic system pay their way.
There is no shortage of evidence to highlight how the status quo is failing both the planet and the people of Wales – for example Oxfam’s Welsh Doughnut (based on the Doughnut Economics model devised by Kate Raworth), shows how on our current trajectory in Wales we are breaking through at least six of nine planetary boundaries (such as climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean health) and failing on all thirteen of the elements that make up the ‘social floor’ of the model for the Welsh population (such as housing, income, governance and education). The status quo clearly doesn’t work for the planet or for people.
Crises bring opportunities for a progressive re-think but they also bring huge risks that in the chaos, advantage will be taken for global capital and vested interests to capture and misuse even more of our shared resources – be in no doubt, this is happening right now. Just recently, Westminster passed the agriculture bill through to the House of Lords, failing to accept amendments that would have protected food and farming standards in a future trade deal with the US. This brings us a step closer to the future of chlorinated chicken and directly threatens our own farming industry – brilliantly argued by Siwan Clark – one of so many reasons to strike out for radical Welsh independence. You can sign a petition calling for amendments to the bill.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has created an inbox via which we can send ideas.
We should push for more meaningful engagement – for a full citizens assembly, representative of all our communities (a central demand from the climate movement Extinction Rebellion as per the socially distanced demonstration of the steps of the Senedd this week) in order to hold them to account on their climate emergency declaration. A citizen’s assembly was held in Wales last year but this process now urgently needs to progress to a genuine involvement model, rather than regressing to consultation by webform and social media as currently proposed, in order to make sure that radical solutions are implemented rather than simply talked about.
It is worth remembering that it took a global pandemic for solutions to street homelessness in Cardiff to be implemented – measures that could have been taken at any time with the necessary political will – the same is true for tackling climate change. In 2015 the Deep Place report set out a regeneration strategy for Tredegar based on the principles of the foundational economy, including a locally based food supply chain. The aim of the proposals were to ‘tackle the high levels of poverty experienced in our post-industrial communities… recognising the low carbon imperative’. The report’s recommendations were never implemented and Tredegar was recently described by the Centre for Towns as the second most deprived town in Wales or England.
A change of direction
So what could we be doing?
It is well documented that the impacts of climate change will be most severe for those, mostly living in the global south, who have contributed least to causing the problem. At the same time, the gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived in Wales has widened since 2010 and increases in overall life expectancy seen over the preceding decades has slowed to stagnancy. The place to start is certainly where climate friendly policies that will reduce the impact our lifestyles have on the health and wellbeing of those in other countries, whilst also tackling entrenched socio-economic problems and inequality in Wales. No ‘recovery’ is worth the name if it doesn’t reduce some of the glaring injustices of the pre-lockdown economy. The following policies are just examples of what could be funded by a just taxation system that taxes capital rather than income, and that recognises the depletion of natural resources in the generation of profit
Air pollution and its associated devastating impacts on health correlates with deprivation, meaning that the poorest communities in Wales are worst affected. Transport poverty is also a widespread problem in Wales particularly in rural communities. In order to lock in the reduction in carbon emissions from transport we have seen during the Covid crisis, whilst improving transport justice, we should transfer space in all our towns and cities from cars to people to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle. Our rural communities need to be better served by safe, regular, accessible public transport. Transform Cymru, a coalition of sustainability organisations, has created a vision for sustainable transport in Wales.
Over 10% of all households in Wales live in fuel poverty. We need to take energy production into community ownership, speeding up the development of small-scale renewable energy generation, cooperatively owned and managed by the communities that use it. This should be accompanied by a large-scale programme to retrofit houses across Wales for energy efficiency which would also help to reduce fuel poverty. We should ensure that all houses built in the future adhere to the highest efficiency standards (we could have done this years ago but Welsh Labour caved into the construction lobby).
Pre-Covid levels of hunger and food insecurity in Wales were already shocking, with upwards of 14% of people in Wales running out of food before they could afford to buy more. Much of this is due to the effects of austerity and the destruction of our welfare system, but how and where we produce food should be an urgent focus of our recovery to ensure that everyone has access to fresh, affordable food grown as locally as possible.
Protecting much larger areas of natural habitat, reducing soil erosion and re-thinking land-use planning are essential in order to reverse the trend of devastating ecological damage committed in the name of capitalism. There is also much evidence of the value of biodiversity and access to nature and green space in improving health and reducing the impacts of deprivation – we must ensure that all people in Wales have access to nature and receive a sound education in ecology, economics and politics so that we can grow a future where we understand how to live in and with nature rather than battle against it, as well as how to participate in decision making.
Undod will be approaching a number of contributors over the coming weeks to explore these issues further but if you would like to contribute a blog on what a radical independent Wales should look to be doing around renewable energy, sustainable transport, agriculture or another topic related to tackling climate justice, please get in touch.
In the words of writer and ecologist Fred Magdoff; ‘Another economy is not only possible, it is essential’.
Image: Cyclone Amphan on 18 May 2020, by Colorado State University