As we raise a glass to 2016 and look forward to the year ahead, there’s a lot of material for the makers of the New Year countdown shows to choose from. That said, I’m not sure I will be watching the maniacal grins of Trump & Farage, it’s enough to make me put the cork back in the bottle.
For me, the positive of 2016 was Standing Rock, when first nations people, US war veterans and environmental activists joined forces to put a stop to an oil pipeline across northern America. The fight is far from over, but coupled with news elsewhere of solar & wind capacity overtaking coal, it offered a moment of real hope.
Of course, we can’t all get involved in direct action, but if you want to make a positive difference you can choose a renewable energy provider, support local farmers and independent shops, commute by bus or train, eat less meat, walk & cycle more, and as with Standing Rock, make sure your savings aren’t being invested in oil. Or if you want to support others who are protecting the environment join a Wildlife Trust, WWF or Greenpeace. A few New Year’s resolutions perhaps?
Yet whilst these steps are important and useful, they aren’t enough. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and international agreement, the UK government is failing to take the environmental agenda seriously. Post-Brexit they are pursuing economic growth at all costs and even those politicians who accept climate change as a real and present danger show little appetite for making the tough decisions that will deliver positive change in the timescales necessary. Indeed, many see leaving the EU as an opportunity to reduce or remove so called environmental red-tape. Even if you don’t like politics, which I don’t, I’m glad we live in a democracy where freedom of speech, an independent judiciary and regular elections are a given.
In recent months, Caroline Lucas has been criticised in the Green Party for her support of the progressive alliance in the Richmond by-election. Following the press coverage of comments I made in the run up to the Bristol Mayoral election in 2015 I found myself in a similar position. Being seen to undermine a Green Party candidate, (especially one as good as Tony Dyer), is a big thing, and not to be done lightly. However, I believe my reasoning was sound, and on occasion it can be appropriate to support candidates who share our agenda, who can win.
In financially constrained times social and environmental actions are often seen as choices to be balanced against each other, something that many in the Labour Party were saying in 2015 and are still claiming now; it is easy to see planting trees as a luxury when trying to protect social care. In the long term, however, it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the foundations of a sustainable society and ultimately only serves to increase costs to society. Poor air quality and access to green space are as much social inequality & health issue as they are environmental, not least of all that it affects those living in city centre areas the most.
In the Green Party, we know that social & environmental justice is one and the same thing. The best policies are those based upon an understanding we are wholly reliant on the natural world to provide us with the fundamentals of life; air, water and materials. The best policies are those that are most cost effective in the long term, that provide the most resilient jobs, that offer the greatest increases in well-being, and that bring greatest chance for peace and stability. The leaders we need now are the ones that understand we are part of the natural world, not masters over it.
I have applied to be selected as the Green Party candidate for Metro-Mayor of the Bristol & Bath city region in order to help persuade voters that we have the opportunity to be global leaders in creating a sustainable world in which everyone prospers. A world that puts people and planet on an equal footing, secure in the knowledge that environmentally sound policies are in the best long term interests of everyone.
Sustainability isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.