I was born (in the early 90s) in Leeds, in Yorkshire, in England, in the United Kingdom, in the European Union, in the Northern Hemisphere, on the marginal dry bit of ground, on the Earth, in the Milky Way. In Carl Sagan’s dulcet tones this is my cosmic address. Yet in all that vastness, all the trouble tends to be caused in the middle of that address. Nationhood. The British Isles is a land of conflict. Some of those fights done and dusted, while others linger under the stories we’ve told ourselves. Our varnished history is one of winners and losers, where the winners have conveniently forgotten there even was a fight.
When I’m nervous or meeting a new group of people, I tend to adapt a broader Yorkshire accent, a shield, nay a battering ram that I can use to protect myself or assault others with no nonsense talk. These tropes of God’s Own County have saved my skin many times when I’ve not known what to do with myself. The nation of Yorkshire is a well defined land and the “Northern Man” holds cultural gravitas. A Sean Bean or Ian Mckellen or Ian Botham caricature of what a person should be, a border around the idea of what I should be. I can just throw up the walls whenever I feel like it, to hold onto something I think is under attack. I may be bold in saying this but I think we all have a version of ourselves that is designed for defence. It’s a simpler cardboard cut out than the expected version of ourselves, than what we think (probably wrongly) the world expects from us. And my is it cosy. This cardboard persona doesn’t have to answer you directly, it doesn’t care for your objections and doesn’t have an opinion on article 15 of the human rights directive as that’s for people who flap and spend too much time waffling and not enough time getting on with it. My god it’s easy and it’s righteous. A one man border wall has been the grand yet surreptitious power of the nation state for a surprisingly short amount of time, barely 200 years.
The problems of 70 million people cannot be solved by a single parliament, even if every Brit became an off-the-grid vegan, solar-powered beet farmer sewing our their clothes. We’d put only a small dent in our climate catastrophe. However, there is a pervading idea that it’s the individual that can help save the world from itself. This is merely a trick of the light. We could ban all the single use plastics we want, gallivanting towards the holy land of paper straws and tote bags from favourite craft beer producers. It’s not enough. Now don’t get me wrong, Canada’s move towards banning those plastics is a good step, an honourable one at that, but it really doesn’t get the crux of the problem. We can no longer walk through life thinking that our own actions do not affect the rest of the world. We are no islands – we’re continents of people all surging towards a cliff edge. It will take economic change the world hasn’t seen since World War 2, or even the industrial revolution to turn the earth away from irreversible climate breakdown. It’s going to take cooperation on an earthly scale so that the people who will most be affected by this upheaval don’t end up being the losers if we stop this or not. It’s not about ourselves, it’s about us.
The nationalism that is gripping the western world at the moment, with the far right nationalists now making up the 3rd largest bloc in the EU parliament, stems from a place of near sightedness. The conditions that drove people to flee for their lives from the Middle East and sub-saharan Africa and become refugees whether political or economic were created by our own foreign policies, our mineral and wealth extraction of these nations and, to be blunt, bombing the shit out of them. Add increased average temperatures to the mix creating ever more abundant crop failures, famines and droughts, more and more people are going to be on the move. So where are the Right’s answers to this? Build walls, hide behind simplistic ideas of what it means to be French, Italian, Hungarian, British, Dutch. Deem that the people fleeing for their lives are the black holes destroying the good ol’ version of our respected nations, even if that version was under a dictator, behind the iron curtain or it never existed. If we keep reacting in fear to our problems, we will find ourselves backed into a corner playing who’s-got-the-biggest-gun and we know where that goes. In the words of one great Ian, “courage is our best defense now” but Blind patriotism has never been courageous.
So what do we do? Firstly, we need to realise that no one nation in the entire world can solve this existential problem. Sure there are bigger players like the U.S and China who can have more of an affect, but we are all responsible. We all must demand the world changes or it dies. We need to create bonds of international cooperation that demand more from us, that demand we rise to the challenge and quickly. The Paris accords were hard fought but they just don’t have the vision we need nor the timeline. According to the most recent estimates by the IPCC we have 12 years to stop irreversible climate breakdown. Actually, at the time of writing, it’s more like 11 years and 6 months. We’re a ticking time bomb.
Secondly, we need to rebuild the economy that deals with the frustrations building on the working class that drives nationalism and xenophobia. This means progressive tax policies; the eradication of tax havens; properly funding our public services; the retraining of workers in industries that have been broken down by globalisation. I’m sorry, but that ship building job in Glasgow has sailed, it’s time to retool British workers into other highly skilled labour with high wages to make work mean something to people. This can be done with huge investment into green jobs whether it be retrofitting existing infrastructure or creating new low carbon and zero emission work. The economic transformation needed would create hundreds of thousands of jobs to make it happen. The technologies are out there to go net zero emissions already, the 2050 target set this week by Theresa May is not bold enough. I’m glad of it but falls 20 years too short.
If this is pie in the sky thinking, then good. It’s been a damn long time since we had some vision for the world which wasn’t just ”gently gently” and look where that’s taken us. We need A meaningful Green New Deal that tackles the injustices of the world economy, while stopping us tipping over the edge of a climate catastrophe.
Pride in our nations doesn’t have to be built on the scorn of others. We don’t have time for bickering about which side of a fence you were born on. We must act now to stop irreversible climate breakdown and save our cosmic address from our worst tendencies. All this is possible, we’ve done it before and we can do it again.
Manchester DSC co-ordinator Diem25