Green general election campaign 2015

I was privileged to fight the 2015 General Election in the Wantage constituency on behalf of the Green Party. 

FaringdonThe campaign was dominated by issues of new housing, protecting the green belt, climate change (including flooding and drought) and proper funding for the public sector.

My focus in the campaign was on Green Party headline manifesto pledges, including pledges to create a million climate jobs to transition to a low carbon economy, the abolition of student tuition fees and the building of 500,000 new social housing units on brownfield sites during the course of the next Parliament.

Many people are very keen to engage with these ideas, in the context of the 'Green Surge' which has seen party members grow rapidly in 2014 and 15. 

 Coverage of the campaign

Wantage constituency debate from Didcot - BBC Radio Oxford

ROAR protest in Wantage  

Of course, the fight goes on after the election to ensure such pledges are picked up and implemented by the other parties in one of the most interesting elections for a generation....


Chance to keep global warming to 'safe' levels is slipping away

IMG_1188 The latest report from the IEA is not good news: despite the economic downturn, carbon emissions rose so sharply in 2010, on this trajectory it will be impossible to keep temperature rises to "safe" levels of 2 degrees C.

There are two major reasons for this. The first is that we have not transitioned sufficiently to renewables and nuclear for electricity generation, meaning fossil fuel power stations are locked in to the productive grid for the forseeable future. The second is we have not capped developing countries' emissions while buying ever more of their exports.

Unless these issues are addressed very quickly and effectively, there is a 50% chance of temperatures rising by 4 degrees C by 2100 - and that will mark the start of mass extinction events, including of the human species.

Is it now time to begin seriously asking the question, is this the playing out of a collective death wish?


Past Actions: Present Woes, Future Potential: Rethinking History in the Light of Anthropogenic Climate Change



Co_levene_pastactions_20100731A model university syllabus for historians and other students of the past to engage with issues of anthropogenic climate change through the medium of history and related disciplines.

Developed for the Higher Education Academy by a small team associated with the Rescue!History network.

My contribution is Unit 2: Climate change and the emergence of human history: the development of agriculture in the Old World.

The ending of the last glacial period (The Pleistocene) and the onset and stabilisation of the current inter-glacial period (The Holocene) was a major factor in precipitating profound changes in humanity’s subsistence practices. This climatic change fundamentally influenced the transition from hunting and gathering to domesticated cereal production and animal husbandry in the Near East, the Nile valley and Mesopotamia, from where it eventually spread across Europe and elsewhere.

A focus on the ways in which agriculture was both an innovative response to a changing climate and the basis for irrevocable changes in human exploitation strategies may provide a historical basis for and a key comparator to our responses to climate change – enabling students to frame key questions about optimal responses to the sustainability crisis that we currently face.


History at the End of the World?

Book_cover History, Climate Change and the Possibility of Closure

This collection of essays proposes that climate change means serious peril. Our argument, however, is not about the science per se. It is about us, our deep and more recent history, and how we arrived at this calamitous impasse. With contributions from academic activists and independent researchers, History at the End of the World challenges advocates of “˜business as usual” to think again. But in its wide-ranging assessment of how we transcend the current crisis, it also proposes that the human past could be our most powerful resource in the struggle for survival. Our approaches begin from archaeology, literature, religion, psychology, sociology, philosophy of science, engineering and sustainable development, as well as “˜straight” history.

My contribution focuses on the evidence from prehistory, and particular the transition from glacial to post-glacial conditions and the kick-start of Old World agriculture around 10,000BC.

The book is an attempt to understand how other human societies have responded to climatic changes - and how we might use those responses to help us in the massive effort that still faces us to successfully transition to a low-carbon and sustainable future.


"Climategate" - and its discontents

The recent hysteria in the UK media over "climategate" has resulted in giving air time to a range of highly distasteful views about the role of science. Just as disturbing is the tendency to mis-report the facts. The  RealClimate network has analysed what really happened at UEA, and finds the picture painted across much of the UK media to be a less than accurate version of reality.

For an extraordinary resource that reveals just how long these battles over the truth of climate change science have been fought, see the website of Spencer Weart (Director of the Centre for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics) on the Discovery of Global Warming.

Weart's materials are particularly revealing because they demonstrate just hSnowow politically biased the reaction to climate science is. Scientists discovered anthropogenic global warming by the 1960s, and yet forty years later, their findings are still being vociferously opposed by a minority who simply cannot believe that they are true. This runs in almost total opposition to the acceptance of most broad scientific consensus. Opposition to the evidence for the combined destructive effects of the burning of fossil fuels and degradation of habitats is not based on any form of scientific analysis at all, and therefore cannot be seen as a serious attempt to challenge a paradigm. It is simply denial about the order of the changes the world faces - whether we attempt to mitigate or simply adapt to the profound changes underway in the world's eco-system. (photo: Huhu Uet)

Chris Keene has argued that sceptics would like us to believe nobody has done anything at all to mitigate. Yet "Not only has the global renewables industry expanded enormously but many countries have adopted laws, rules and regulations for increased energy efficiency or cleaner less polluting vehicles. For school children in a country like the UK climate change has become a topic that crops up throughout their curriculum, the IT, ICT and automotive industries, even the chemicals, aviation and shipping industry are investing huge amounts of time, money and effort in moving towards ‘zero carbon’."

It's as if we're still being dictated to by a lobby that "doesn't want to believe" in order to hold on to projected values about particular, materially-based lifestyle choices that favour the rich and repeatedly rob the poor. This is a wilful abandonment of the precautionary principle and exposes a contempt for science when it does not deliver political "goodies" like clean water or cheap pharmaceuticals.

In Keene's words: "Sceptics do not use science to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change, mainly because there really isn’t any but use framing, spin and media debate, often pegged to polls."

But climate change is with us on a permanent basis. Reducing carbon emissions as far and as fast as possible, and creating a low and renewable-energy future, is still the only thing that matters.


The sunnier side of the street

Satellite The impact of climate change on forced migration

A recent conference in London organized by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) highlighted in stark terms how many people across the world may be forced to migrate if climate change is allowed to continue unchecked. It also drew attention to what actions are needed to prevent such wide-scale humanitarian disasters taking place.

There was near-unanimity among the speakers that runaway climate change is likely to have a devastating effect on the numbers of people forced to abandon their homes, often for an uncertain and dispossessed future. A range of exciting solutions were also discussed, all of which hinge on the political will to implement them. Read more on OnIslam (Formerly Islam Online).


Can history help halt the runaway train?

Stonehenge Dec 12 043Is it possible to use the lessons of the past to combat the acceleration of global warming asks BBC History magazine? Dr Mark Levene, historian and climate change activist, Kate Prendergast and other historians and archaeologists give their views to Gail Dixon

Dr Spencer Weart says:

Some people think the climate change problem is so overwhelming that nothing effective can be done. Exposing them to the history of how people have responded to difficult problems should inspire them to a more hopeful view. It’s not so much responses to scarcity and adversity that we should be looking at but responses to the very greatest ‘security’ threats and moral failings. Holding climate change to a minimum, and adapting to the changes that it triggers, will be a challenge comparable to vanquishing fascism, communism and slavery... although in fact it can be done with a lot less expense and loss of life. Perhaps it’s more comparable to the victories over smallpox and prevention of nuclear war, which have relied on limited funds and international cooperation. Historians can show how all these problems originally seemed horribly insurmountable, but were solved, or at least held at bay, once people got to work.

Dr Spencer Weart is director of the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics, Maryland, US


The Last Big Meltdown - History Today

256px-Saddle_Quern_and_Rubbing_StoneOur prehistoric ancestors survived rapid climate change and rising temperatures as extreme as those we face today. What can they tell us about global warming?

Most obvious is the degree to which they prove how adaptive we are as a species. Large climatic and environmental changes did not make them ‘give up and go home’; instead they adapted, survived – and lived to tell the tale. We might draw some comfort from this, and hope that, unless present-day global warming precipitates a mass extinction event, our descendants will be able to adapt to almost anything, even if the effects of our current actions are hugely destructive.

If we want to see our connection to our ancestors, the first agriculturalists, then our industrialized world lies at the tail end of a millennia-long process in which we have tamed and exploited the Earth and its resources. Indeed, it is these very processes that have caused global warming. But we can’t invoke such continuity without acknowledging the differences. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers and early farmers lived simply in the landscape and adapted to it by respecting and worshipping it. If we want to bequeath a stable environment to our descendants, we need to respect the values our ancestors bequeathed to us. It may be time for us to come full circle and return to more localized agriculture, to the veneration of nature and its fertility and to the interplay between the tamed and the wild, so powerfully expressed in Neolithic ritual, and upon which our lives, like theirs, still depend.

Read more in History Today.

Image from wikicommons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saddle_Quern_and_Rubbing_Stone.jpg


Katrina: The Deadly Weapon of Global Warming

Cyclone_Catarina_from_the_ISS_on_March_26_2004Hurricane Katrina, with its devastating consequences for the south of the USA, is but the latest in a long line of hurricanes to hit the area. What makes its impact even more horrific is the sheer ferocity of the storm, the degree to which the region was unprepared for the event, and the extraordinary slowness of the Bush administration to respond quickly and effectively to its effects.

The effects of Katrina were exacerbated by the impact of global warming on the hurricane cycles of the Atlantic. In other words, across the world, we are not only failing to adequately prepare for natural disasters, we are actively contributing to their severity and impact.

The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina have shown that the rich cannot protect themselves from natural disaster, including those caused or exacerbated by global warming. While the poor suffer from the Asian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina because they have been denied autonomy over their own environments and are given no support to protect themselves, in the US, in reality the entire region is a scene of colossal devastation. Clean up costs are estimated at $150 billion, and some are saying the city of New Orleans will have to be abandoned. This is an extraordinarily high price to pay for failing to heed the power of our effects on nature, and one that the rich as well as the poor will be unable to avoid.

Read the full article on OnIslam (formerly Islam Online)

Photo: NASA, on wikicommons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Cyclone_Catarina_from_the_ISS_on_March_26_2004.JPG

See the latest views from the insurance industry (June 2013):

The rise in extreme weather events driven by warming of the oceans has led analysts in the global insurance industry to issue a warning that the sector risks being hit by waves of costly claims unless it starts pressurising governments to take action on greenhouse gas emissions


A Warming Planet with Closed Eyes

Most scientists now agree that the rise in the world’s temperature will continue dramatically throughout the next hundred years. Top end predictions indicate the temperature could heat up by as much as 7-10 degrees C by the end of the twenty-first century. If this worst-case scenario does indeed come about, the consequences will be catastrophic. In the words of environmental campaigner, George Monbiot, we will be looking at the possibility of “the end of the circumstances which permit most human beings to remain on earth.”

ReaWalesbeach2002d this article at OnIslam (Formerly Islam Online)