Climate Emergency


On 8th December I posted on social media about trying to find a point of agency in the face of the wicked problem of climate change – partly re-energised by the Extinction Rebellion actions:

‘I’ve never been a member of a political party, I’ve always been against it on the basis that joining a political party seemed to indicate you supported implicitly everything their representatives ended up saying or doing, no matter how idiotic, and even the barmiest parts of their manifestos. No thanks, I favoured the Groucho Marxist position.

My politics are largely anarchist, but I have always voted – I think we should use all the levers we can to effect change in the world. In general elections I’ve voted Lib-Dem (1992, trying to game a Lab-Lib coalition that would bring in PR so I could vote Green effectively – mistake), Labour (1997 – taking no chances now to kill the Tory beast), Green (2001, not pissing about anymore), 2005 (Plaid Cymru, subsidiarity vote), Green (2010), Green (2015), Green (2017).

Despite all the obstacles of voting outside the Big 2 in a First Past the Post electoral system I decided any vote indicating concern for ecology might help draw attention to the issues of climate change, biodiversity crash, extinction, pollution etc. (and move the Overton Window). Who knows if it made/makes a difference – individual actions are so hard to associate with outcomes – but the other options were very unappealing.

Back in 1992, the first election I could vote in, my politics were already essentially Green, but the ecological crisis seemed containable. There were problems clearly but they seemed amenable to solutions. A quarter of a century on it seems very different, it’s desperate – mass extinction, destruction of wildlands, deforestation, coral reefs dying, sea levels rising, drought, killer heatwaves, ocean acidification and all the appalling rest – general elections every 5 years, manifestos, political parties all seem a bit redundant. Folk are fucking shit up, standing in the way of the machine, rebelling in whichever way they see fit – I support those levers too.

Some folk are getting their local political bodies to call ‘climate emergency’ while the sick central body wont. I thought maybe I should try that round here too, against the odds, in the white-flight happy heartland of Leave, the Tory/Ukip voting world of aggressive don’t-step-on-me-ness. If the UK has a climate change frontline we might live on it – in the driest rainless county, with a lengthy coast offering itself to North Sea flooding via its many rivers as the sea rises – it seems even self-centred concerns might lean towards some recognition of the global problems and actions to abate them. It’s a small chance, but Hell – it might be worth it.

But pondering this: design strategies to effect change, leverage points – I realised I’m going to need more local allies and maybe folk are working on this already anyway. So an hour ago I suddenly decided to join the Green Party, Gaia knows whether this is going to have been a useful or worthwhile thing to do at this point – but I’m pulling this lever too. The ship is sinking and it’s all hands on deck.’

As well as joining the Green Party I figured I needed to find out what the local government’s (Maldon District Council [MDC]) existing policies regarding climate change were – and work from the revealed pattern to find effective intervention points. This proved quite difficult, after a period of searching I found old web references to an Environment and Climate Change Strategy, such as this, but nothing that clearly laid out the strategy and nothing published since 2009. I decided to contact MDC through their on-line query form with the following enquiry:

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 12.14.50

On 18th December I received a reply from Chris Shipham, the Environmental Protection Team Leader for MDC:

Unfortunately, Maldon DC’s Environment and Climate Change Strategy is out of date and an updated version has not been produced. Consequently, the plans and other policies upon which it related and that it fed in to are no longer current and do not contain the same priorities. It is for this reason that our website does not contain the document.

I found this response a bit disappointing and on 19th December, I returned to this issue on social media with a post on my own Facebook timeline and shared with several local FB groups:

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 12.18.11

The response on Facebook has been largely positive with ‘Likes’ and other emoji responses reflecting the seriousness of the issue, but it only received 2 real comments – a supportive response from Vanessa Bell one of our valued independent town councillors, and a comment from someone who used it to comment on sea walls. Nobody asked to be added as a signatory – which perhaps reflects the limits of action that can be achieved through social media – it’s too easy to click and move on – loop of concern closed.

So I have continued with my letter alone. In my ward of Burnham I am represented by two district councillors: Peter G L Elliott and Ron Pratt, so I am contacting them in the first instance with a letter through the post, which I hope will convey a greater seriousness than an email. Doing this has brought to my attention how little I know about the workings of local government – what should my ask of them be? what can they actually do/influence? should I be asking them to table a motion? direct council staff towards an action? something else? I get the feeling that going straight for calling a climate emergency is not going to be the most effective route. So I’ve just decided to be action orientated and written the best thing I can (good enough for now) and hope to learn from the feedback I get from this intervention to better guide future actions. I tried to keep it to one page, applying a bit of self-regulation and working with (human) nature – I reckon attention in the readers would wane after that.

So here it is at it stands (I’ll probably wait to post it until after the distraction of Xmas – so any constructive feedback in the next few days appreciated!):

RE: Maldon District Council’s Environment and Climate Change Strategy

Dear Councillor Elliott and Councillor Pratt,

As you will be aware the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report warning that there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. This year has seen extreme weather across much of the globe, and the fourth highest global average temperatures on record reinforcing the need for action to reduce carbon emissions.

Achieving the necessary reductions by 2030 will require action at all levels from the individual to the international. I have taken a range of actions to reduce my environmental impact. I was keen therefore to learn about MDC’s strategy for our district, and the policies and plans by which it intends to achieve both being carbon neutral (or carbon negative) by 2030 and to support individuals and businesses in the region to achieve the same ends.

However, I could not find up to date documentation regarding MDC’s plans. I contacted the council and received a reply from Chris Shipham, Environmental Protection Team Leader:

Unfortunately, Maldon DC’s Environment and Climate Change Strategy is out of date and an updated version has not been produced.  Consequently, the plans and other policies upon which it related and that it fed in to are no longer current and do not contain the same priorities.  It is for this reason that our website does not contain the document.

I was shocked and alarmed by the discrepancy between the crucial need for prompt action to address climate change and the lack of urgency suggested by MDC having no strategic plan. This is not just a remote issue for others: the Essex Community Risk Register published this year lists ‘Major coastal and tidal flooding’ as the number one risk in this area with a maximum rating. As the driest region in the country, we are also particularly sensitive to warming temperatures and disruption of weather patterns.

Please could I ask you on my behalf, and in service of local residents, to raise the issue at Council, ensure an appropriate Environment and Climate Change Strategy is published without delay and that action is taken to implement that strategy though policies and plans to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Thank you for your time and attention on this matter. I look forward to receiving your response with an update on progress.


3 thoughts on “Climate Emergency”

  1. Very Good James. Do you know of Polly Higgins and Conscientious protectors? She also has interest in Pacific low lying islands with regard to rising sea level and flooding loss of land. You might find that you have legal support and solidarity to threaten NVDA if you don’t get a sensible result.12 years can pass very quickly so there is urgency. I think. I have noticed that you among others are good at critically evaluating the science, there are many who struggle with that and are easily persuaded otherwise by use of deceitful arguments. Social media needs critical evaluators so badly and good communicators! Our population is already badly educated and it could get worse.


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