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As the Tories dither the trade unions take the initiative to avert the impending environmental catastrophe through new specialised employment. PETER FROST reports.

One of new Prime Minister Theresa May’s first policy changes was to scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change. To add insult to injury for environmentalists, Andrea Leadsom has been named the new Environment Secretary.

May

Leadsom had to ask civil servants whether climate change was real when she first started as an energy minister last year — she also backs fox hunting, supports badger culling, voted in favour of selling of the country’s forests and has generally voted against measures aiming to halt climate change.

andrea-leadsom

The abolition of the climate change department comes just days after the government’s own advisers warned that Britain needs to take urgent action to prepare for freak weather caused by that very climate change. We are at serious risk of floods, droughts, heatwaves and major food shortages, the report said.

As if that wasn’t enough, just this week Nasa has reported that the first half of 2016 has already registered as the hottest year since records began continuing a trend of higher and higher average global temperatures over the last decade.

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So if we can’t look to May and Leadsom for some leadership and clear thinking on climate change where can we turn? As so often we need to look to the organised labour movement and the trade unions.

Eight key unions — The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), Communication Workers Union (CWU), Fire Brigades Union (FBU), National Union of Students (NUS), Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), Unite and the University and College Union (UCU) — have got together to establish the One Million Climate Jobs campaign.

These unions know that unless decisive action is taken in the next few years, climate change will become irreversible and catastrophic.

Already world headlines report droughts and more intense hurricanes and typhoons affecting communities all across the globe. These pose the prospect of agricultural disasters and failed harvests and the resultant rising food prices.

Here in Britain we see reports of more and more floods. From the Somerset Levels to Cumbria we have seen the loss of lives and millions of pounds worth of flood damage, not to mention the misery and suffering in the many months of drying out and the huge monetary cost of replacing bridges and roads washed away in the worst of the floods.

Floods

Politicians, not least our British Tories pre and post the Cameron-May changeover, however, dither and consistently refuse to reach any binding international agreement on reducing emissions.

Here in Britain various bodies such as the Environment Agency, charged with protecting us from rising water levels, face swingeng Tory cuts to their budgets and staffing levels — cuts so large that they have trouble keeping their heads above water.

At the same time working people are paying the price for an economic crisis they did not cause by suffering job insecurity and reduced income levels.

Cameron and Osborne’s austerity policies, with full support from May, have hit our standard of living and hit it hardest in the least-affluent parts of the country.

cameron-and-osborne

Just under two million people in Britain are unemployed — a million of them young people. Currently, only one in 40 new jobs are on secure full-time contracts. Zero-hours contracts and dishonest bosses swindling their employees out of the living wage make the situation even worse.

Low pay, unemployment and benefit cuts mean that a million families in Britain have to choose between heating their homes adequately in winter or having regular meals. That is the reality of living in Britain today.

That is why climate change offers a real challenge to our society. There is much to be done developing new sustainable energy sources, insulating homes and other buildings, developing our rivers systems and coastal defences.

The trade union One Million Climate Jobs campaign leads the new thinking. It is part of the wider campaign against climate change that has organised many public demonstrations and much political lobbying.

The campaign is demanding the government hires a million people to do new climate jobs in an integrated National Climate Service. These would deal with the problem at its root — cutting CO2 emissions.

Workers in those new jobs could cut Britain’s CO2 emissions by 86 per cent in 20 years and would also create another 500,000 jobs in the supply chain. Anyone who loses their job because of these changes will be guaranteed a new job.

Climate jobs are not the same as green jobs. Some green jobs help the climate, but green jobs can mean anything — park rangers, bird wardens, pollution control or refuse workers. All these jobs are necessary but they do not stop climate change.

Climate jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers — in public transport — reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars.

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The trade unions within the campaign are demanding we create a million secure government-financed jobs in renewable energy, in increasing energy efficiency by insulating homes and public buildings free of charge.

We also need to hugely expand cheap public transport to get people and freight onto cleaner forms of transit and to develop the green skills that we need through education and training.

Those million decently paid government jobs and the spin-off of half a million additional jobs in the private sector that they would create, could offer a huge kick-start to the economy. Those new technologies and green products will also open up export possibilities. A win-win situation.

The plan is an exciting and feasible alternative both to austerity and to government inaction as the world slides inexorably towards climate catastrophe.

One last point, if you are planning to apply for one of these million green jobs and your CV isn’t really up to muster, don’t worry, the new minister at Defra is running masterclasses on how a bit of imagination can make all the difference.

Just ask for Andrea.

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  • Why not get your trade union branch, or region or your local trades council to affiliate to the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group? For more information, check out its website www.climate-change-jobs.org. Or contact Martin Empson on 07958 535-231 or email climatretadeunion@googlemail.com.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star22 July 2016.

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