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 The Mayor’s plans are working to 2050 and are out of date.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.