Rising Antarctic temperatures show how desperately we need a Green New Deal

Hannah Martin
Getty

On Friday, temperatures on an island in Antarctica peaked, hitting over 20C. This followed a record week in which temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula reached over 18C, the highest since a similar peak in March 2015. As the World Meteorological Organisation spokeswoman Clare Nullis told the press, it “is not a figure you would normally associate with Antarctica, even in the summertime.”

As glaciers in the region continue to retreat and the temperature increases, scientists are again warning about the impact on rising sea levels. Earlier this month, the BBC reported on the melting of the “doomsday Thwaites glacier” in Antarctica. This glacier is the size of Britain and already accounts for 4 per cent of world sea rise each year. This glacier is so large that the water it contains alone could ensure a global sea level rise of half a metre.

As these huge systems, like the Antarctic, respond to a warming planet, the scientific community have condemned governments who are guilty of inaction and the companies who continue to make money from a global economy reliant on fossil fuels. Last year, organisers of the Edinburgh Science Festival imposed a blanket ban on sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies, explaining the decision by asserting that “the oil and gas sector is not moving fast enough” to meet climate change targets”.

As condemnation increases, so too will the green-washed cries from those responsible. This week the new BP CEO joined Instagram and announced to the world that the company was listening and would respond by committing to shrinking their carbon footprint to “net zero by 2050”. But as Alice Bell’s forensic look at BP’s plan to do this says, we should all “beware oil execs in environmentalists’ clothing. They may simply wish to seize the growing energy for change and steer it towards their own ends: the continued burning of fossil fuels.”

Our changing climate is warming due to heat caused by excessive carbon dioxide transmitted into the air by the burning of fossil fuels. The very same fossil fuels which governments keep subsidising and companies keep extracting. However, things are coming to a head. Climate change is now in the news like never before as temperature records continue to be broken, storms batter the UK and flooding, heat waves and the resulting disruption become the new normal.

We know that the British public is increasingly concerned about climate change. A poll by Green New Deal UK last year showed that a majority of the UK public and almost half of Conservative voters support a radical plan to transform the economy and tackle the climate crisis. For the UK government, this comes at a time when many communities that will be impacted by climate change are still suffering under the weight of a decade of austerity and an economy that isn’t working for them. We are one of the richest countries in the world, yet 14 million of us live in poverty.

Environmental action doesn’t need to be at the expense of human flourishing; we can live in a world where there is economic security and protection of the natural world. A programme like the Green New Deal, a ten-year ambitious national action plan to transform our economy and secure a liveable climate while building a fair society, is the answer.

With several candidates committing to the Green New Deal in the Democratic primaries, as well as commitment from campaigns that are springing up across the world, such a plan would mean that we are able to improve basic human rights like energy, housing, and transport while creating well-paid jobs, lower bills and giving people more control over their lives.

It would mean a homebuilding and retrofitting programme to make our houses more sustainable and energy efficient. Our bills will be lower and nobody will have to live in cold, draughty and damp conditions. We would see a massive rollout of cheaper, faster and improved public transport to provide a safe, clean and easy way of getting around that doesn't cost the earth.

History shows that we can’t sit back and rely on politicians to deliver the transformation we need. Public pressure and social movements have always been instrumental to changing our society for the better, from the fight for the rights of women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, to the fall of oppressive regimes across the world, and from the minimum wage and the right to a weekend to key environmental protections.

It is up to us to build that movement which can absorb the truth of our changing planet, and then shift the balance of power to force political action at every level on climate change.

Hannah Martin is the co-executive director of Green New Deal UK / @GreenNewDealUK

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