This commentary originally ran in the July issue of Prospect Magazine.
We may be distracted by milkshakes and the political drama that has engulfed No 10, but while all that goes on, a much bigger issue is unfolding. There is a growing awareness and activism around two intertwined issues: global climate change; and the health impact of air pollution.
The last time I felt this surge of concern was in the early 2000s, when the prospect of building new coal-fired power stations triggered the ire of Greenpeace and the “Blockadia” movement. At Friends of the Earth we were launching our campaign for a world-leading Climate Change Act.
The protesters today are making themselves seen and heard, which is excellent. But they would do well to take a moment to look back at the history of our efforts in the UK to tackle climate change. We may have been too slow but we have not done nothing—in fact we’re making the fastest progress of any industrialised nation.
This has not occurred by chance—it’s a result of decades of policy interventions spanning the political parties. And the activism, think tank work and lobbying which helped to develop and sustain these policies benefited by having specific goals that were both ambitious and achievable. Kids may be boycotting school—more power to them. But there are still some lessons they can learn if they want to help rid the world of fossil fuel pollution.
Image by Albrecht Fietz