Climate scientists are beginning to panic. According to a new report from the government-commissioned Climate Change Committee the UK is even worse prepared for climate change than we were five years ago. The latest and third CCC report was released with some provocative statements “designed to elicit a response” from government. So far no response has been forthcoming.
For decades now scientists have been raising the alarm about the threats of climate change.
For the almost entire time that humans have been on Earth, the planet’s climate has been extremely erratic, with repeated ice ages and warming periods and dramatic changes in sea level. Every time our hunter-gatherer forebears attempted to settle, the climate switched and they were forced to move on. The only period of stability is within the past ten thousand years, a period that geologists call the Holocene. It is only in this stable climate that humanity have been able to develop settled agriculture and the start of civilisation.
We are now leaving the Holocene and entering a new climatic environment. Far from slowing our exit from the Holocene or preparing for the new climate, we are accelerating our exit.
It is in this context that the scientists must be looking for better allies than the bourgeois politicians that have ignored them for so many decades. The TUC or a coalition of unions should approach the CCC and begin talks about developing a workers’ plan for the climate crisis.
Alongside the 142 page CCC report is a 1500 page technical report outlining 61 risks and opportunities that need to be addressed on a short time scale. The trade union movement should study these reports and seek to develop plans working out exactly where we want these new industries, what training is necessary, how the work should be organised and how much it will cost. We should then fight for resources to do enact these plans.
For instance, the report states that buildings need to be adapted and built to higher specification so that they are better insulated and can be kept cool during heat waves. 300,000 new homes are built each year, but most are poorly designed for the new climate and will become death traps in a heatwave. The unions that organise construction workers should develop plans for how we will build high quality climate resilient housing and workplaces following the recommendations in the technical report. We should agitate for the resources to enact our plans and make it central to any future Labour Party manifesto.
Most of the proposals involve extensive regulations to force capitalist firms and landlords to meet new climate resilient standards. The workers movement should campaign for these regulations whilst also agitating for workers taking a DIY approach. We should popularise the example of the Australian Green Bans movement, where Builders Labourers refused to work on socially and ecologically destructive construction projects. Following that example, unions could advocate mass refusal to work on building projects and similar that fail to meet standards of climate resilience.
Trade unionists in the education sector could develop training programs for the new green jobs sector and again campaign for this education and training to be properly resourced. We should be contesting what is built and how it is built, contrasting the direction of travel of capitalist business to the urgent need for action proposed by the government’s own scientists.
Workers’ plans should consider organisational questions: the pandemic has shown that capitalist control of crisis response is a disaster. Un-unionised and poorly organised workplaces have been extremely dangerous. Fragmentation of public services following decades of outsourcing has made it very difficult for big institutions to adapt and for the voices of frontline workers to influence those making the decisions. This work of climate adaptation needs to be organised under workers’ democratic control.
The trade union movement is not in a place at the moment to force the government to act on the CCC report. But we have got the resources to develop workers’ plans for the climate crisis in collaboration with climate scientists and building on the work that has already been done.
Initially such plans will be seen as pie-in-the-sky by the bourgeois mainstream, and it may even be difficult to get scientists to collaborate with us. But as the crisis develops, and the wanton inaction of bourgeois states becomes more obvious, such plans could begin to appear as a credible way for human civilisation to hit the emergency brake and engage the reverse gear to take us back to the Holocene-like safety of climate stability.