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A Green Voice for Southwark

Eleanor Margolies is standing up for Camberwell and Peckham in 2018

Month

March 2019

This emergency is not a metaphor

child in air pollution mask

Lifeboats

Emergency food supplies

Emergency exits in theatres…

No one would think it was acceptable for these to be supplied only ‘if feasible’. But that is what Southwark Labour is saying in the motion proposed by the Cabinet member for Environment to Southwark Council assembly this evening.

I am delighted that a motion to declare a climate emergency is being put to the councillors. Acknowledging the climate emergency is the first step that will allow councils to take radical action to transform housing, transport and waste. It’s something that members of the Green Party and activists involved with Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free and other groups have been asking for at council meetings around the country.

Bristol was first to agree a motion. A Green Party motion in our neighbouring borough, Lambeth, was passed in January. Soon after, the London Assembly declared a climate emergency. However, the Mayor failed to give any concrete budget commitments for a zero carbon plan. As Caroline Russell, Green Assembly Member, has written:

“We are facing 1.5 degrees of warming by 2030. The Mayor’s plans are working to 2050 and are out of date. Unless he updates his plan, he cannot tell government what London needs to tackle the climate crisis.

“This is no time for complacency. We don’t have 30 years. We have just over a decade to cut the risks that extreme heat, drought and flooding pose to the wellbeing of Londoners.”

Like the London Assembly declaration, Southwark’s declaration of a Climate Emergency will be empty words without a plan of action. The motion calls on the councillors who are members of the cabinet to:

‘Develop a strategy, working with local stakeholders, to ensure that the council becomes carbon neutral at a much more rapid pace than currently envisaged. This Carbon Reduction Strategy should aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 if feasible.’ [my emphasis]

I hope this motion is passed tonight. I’m glad to see that the council wants to work with local stakeholders. We have so much expertise in the borough already – from urban gardeners to beekeepers, cooks keeping food out of the waste stream, shopkeepers helping consumers avoid plastic, people delivering passengers and cargo by bike and helping others to cycle… A recent Peckham and Nunhead Community Council meeting brought together some of this expertise.

But in the motion as it stands there is no date for Carbon Reduction Strategy to be ready, let alone implemented, and no detail of how stakeholders will be involved. I would like to see the council use methods of citizens’ assembly or open space – ways of organising discussion that bring out the best from everyone rather than following an agenda prepared in advance.

The climate emergency is not a metaphor. And it is not a problem for the future. It is happening now. We have seen devastating floods this year: cyclone Idai affecting 2.5 million in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with the loss of hundreds of lives, and potentially another 2 million hit by flooding in the central states of the US. In Southwark, the heatwave last summer caused a spike in deaths, asthma and lung disease is increasing and life expectancy is falling as we choke ourselves with exhaust fumes.

Where is the emergency plan?

Where is the information for citizens explaining the nature of the emergency and the steps we must take?

We already know how to reduce carbon consumption. We don’t have to wait for ‘new carbon reduction technologies as they develop’, as the motion suggests. While being open to technological developments, we mustn’t fool ourselves that commercial solar airplanes or carbon sequestration will be ready in the next five or ten years.

Among the changes councils could make very quickly, they could:

  • apply zero carbon standards to all new building applications in the borough
  • install more secure cycle parking so people who want to cycle can do so
  • increase recycling and composting by simplifying systems and informing people

Within a few months, they could change policies to:

  • install solar panels and insulation on all council properties
  • build many more cycle paths
  • plant more trees and pollution-filtering hedges
  • close school streets to through traffic

The reason for making these essential changes can  be communicated clearly to residents under the umbrella of the Climate Emergency. Cutting carbon emissions is not a ‘nice thing to do, if feasible’. It’s essential, life-saving action.

Last week I was backstage just before the doors were opened at a London theatre. I watched as a Front of House manager rehearsed the ushers on emergency procedure. He said something like: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety we need to stop the show at this point. Please leave the auditorium by the exits indicated.’ All the ushers then said aloud, in their own manner, ‘This way please’, pointing to the doorway they stood by. They practice this procedure before every performance. It means that if there is an emergency, the ushers won’t stumble over what to say or where to point. And they transmit their calm, purposeful manner to the public.

Please be brave, Southwark councillors. Refuse to say ‘if feasible’. Think of yourself as fire marshals, or theatre ushers if you prefer, calmly announcing what must be done for the sake of public safety.

 

 

 

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Put down the plastic

 

Ahead of the Southwark Green Party discussion about plastic with Plastic Free Peckham, I have been thinking about my own use of plastic. My main weekly veg shop comes thanks to Local Greens – a not-for-profit veg bag scheme. I pick it up on Thursday evenings on the way home from work, from a shed in the beer garden of my local pub (other collection points are available!). I like that the fruit and veg is sourced from farms as close to London as possible, and the system of collection points means fewer delivery van trips are required. Local Greens use reusable bags; some of the herbs and salad greens inside are packed in paper bags, but some are in plastic.

Two nylon shopping bags, one green one brown, printed with the words 'Local Greens'

I do pick up other fresh fruit that can’t be grown near London – citrus fruits, bananas – from supermarkets, but the vegetables usually cover my main meals for the week. This week, the bag included pak choi, purple sprouting broccoli and rocket, as well as carrots, parsnips and onions.

In the bathroom, I’ve got toothpaste in a jar and silk dental floss from Anything But Plastic – the floss is a revelation, being softer and more effective than the plastic version. There’s a bar of soap and a shampoo bar from Lush instead of shampoo in a plastic bottle. Refills of detergent, washing up liquid and surface cleaner come from Karavan Eco on Lordship Lane.

Bartley Shaw, a Nunhead resident, set up a hyper-local refill scheme with his neighbours that also had the benefit of bringing people together as a community: ‘Already, neighbours are positive about what else we can do and acknowledge the real benefits of such a simple shift in how we behave’.

And I’ve got a waterbottle, a reusable coffee cup and a spork for the work bag.

I haven’t tried to go plastic-free all at once, as Amelia Womack did (as she discusses with Jenny Jones in this great podcast about fast fashion and plastic). I’ve just tried to swap things over little by little – and once you’ve found an alternative that works, it’s easy to stick with it.

But I still end up with a bin full of this sort of flimsy food packaging that can’t even go into the recycling.

Photo of plastic food wrappers

I’m doing away with some of this by doing a monthly shop for staples with the Naked Larder in Herne Hill. You put in an order in advance and the stocks are ordered in bulk for people to weigh out themselves. The quality is really good and it’s just a ten-minute cycle from home.  Other local plastic-free shops include Bring Your Own in Nunhead who will be at the Southwark Greens social on Thursday.

But I’m still collecting ideas for low-stress alternatives to plastic-wrapped SNACKS (i.e. falling upon a packet of crisps when too hungry to think straight). On days when I’m organised, I manage to bring some almonds and dried apricots in a plastic pot. And yesterday my colleague produced these amazing home-made date and fruit snacks in reusable pot….

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London Green Party hustings

I wasn’t able to attend the full hustings on Saturday 16 March because I had a long-standing work commitment – but Caroline Russell, the chair, kindly read out statements from candidates who couldn’t attend. Below is my statement (with some added links) and there’s a windswept video here.

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I’m really sorry that I can’t be with you this afternoon. I’m just down the road at the Globe Theatre, where I’ll be describing costumes, sets, rude gestures and sword fights – for blind and partially-sighted people. Normally I’d be able to swap with a colleague, but Saturday 16 March is ‘Disabled Access Day’. There are inclusive events in practically every London theatre and museum – which is great! – but it means everyone I know is working today, so I couldn’t get away.

I’m also sorry because I enjoy taking part in hustings – well, most of the time! I like hearing unfamilar views and experiences, thinking on my feet, and having an opportunity to put across Green Party policies to non-members who might be hearing about the four-day week or basic income for the first time. Last April, as co-chair of Southwark Green Party, I spoke alongside other party leaders at a hustings in Southwark Cathedral – a beautiful, if rather intimidating, location.

So, why do I think I will make a good MEP? The current Green MEPs have an amazing reputation for hard work, detailed scrutiny of legislation and researching and writing reports that lead to action. For example, Sian Berry has said that a report called ‘Hothouses’ produced by Green MEPs fed directly into current London Assembly policy to insulate homes properly. My background in research and writing means I have the skills and the tenacity to make technical information understandable and to show how it relates to everyday life.

I’m writing this on Friday 15 March as images of school strikers are flooding in – not just in capital cities but in more than 2000 places across the world. It’s the duty of elected politicians to respond to the call from the students for rapid and genuine action on climate change. I’m looking to the European Parliament to do that. To avert catastrophic climate breakdown and tackle the power of the planet-eating monster corporations, we need to work together.

We know what we need to do. Ban fracking and coal mining – invest in solar and wind instead. No new runways – affordable long-distance trains instead. Ban toxic diesel and replace it with electric buses, cargo bikes, cycle networks and walkable, tree-lined streets. For London, this investment would mean creating thousands of new green jobs: insulating draughty homes and installing solar panels on every block of council flats, for starters. As a campaigner on air pollution, cycling and social housing, I’ve been inspired by seeing good ideas in action in cities across Europe and have brought them into the conversation in the UK. I promise to work hard in the coming months to tell the story of the EU’s successes and to show why we need Greens in the room! Please make me your first choice for the list.

 

 

Whose Business? #AOB

 

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I have a proposal for anyone who ever goes to a meeting. A meeting for work, for the parent-teacher association, the allotment association, the tenants and residents association. The friends of the local park or the local library, the conservation society, the local history society. A union, a professional association, a charity. Any meeting that has a formal agenda with ‘AOB’ or Any Other Business as the last item.

When you get to that last item, raise the topic of the climate emergency. (If you’re the person who writes the agenda, it’s even easier. Just put down the words ‘Climate Emergency’ after the number 1.)

Sometimes people have run out of energy by the time a meeting gets to AOB. But sometimes those last five minutes are the most creative, since all the ‘serious’ work has been done already. Sometimes an issue raised as an ‘AOB’ is too big to discuss in detail and has to be put on the agenda for the next meeting. That’s fine too.

What would a five-minute AOB on the climate emergency sound like? It might produce a proposal to turn down the office thermostat by a degree. It might mean talking about the students’ strike for climate and how parents and teachers should respond. It might mean a conversation about how you got to the meeting and working out how to share transport or change the location. A question about whether the organisation’s funds are invested in fossil fuels, and if so, why. A suggestion about planting the empty flowerbed in front of the building. An invitation to a free film screening about plastic.

This modest proposal to make good use of the #AOB could be a way of harnessing the energy of people who have good ideas about cutting emissions but don’t get invited to the facilities management meeting. A way of linking people who want to do more to tackle climate change but hesitate to raise it at work. A way of making this conversation daily and normal.

For too long the subjects that should be at the top of the agenda have not even made it onto the page. But anyone can put them there, using #AOB. Whose business is it? It’s All Our Business.

 

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