How can London and us as individuals go green? (Theo Richards, Tiffin School)

Never before have we faced a crisis that requires as much attention and action as the concerning climate emergency.

Experts warn that we will see a rapid increase in the risk and severity of floods, droughts, extreme heat and other extreme weather conditions by the 2030’s. This would have grave consequences for all of us here on earth, and the ONS now reports that 75% of adults in Great Britain are worried about the impact of climate change.

There is a great need to increase the speed in which we transition to a greener, more sustainable way of living. Many across the country have been struggling with a cost of living crisis fuelled by the rapid price of energy, specifically oil, which brings into question whether we need to rethink the way we heat and power our homes.

I spoke to Baroness Jenny Jones, one of the 2 Green Party Peers that sit in the House of Lords, who was also a member of the London Assembly from 2000-2016 and Deputy Mayor of London to Ken Livingstone from 2003-2004. I asked her about how big a threat global warming poses, the strategies that can be adopted to actively combat it, and the policy areas our energy strategy should focus on. The transcript of my interview with her can be found below:


1. How big a threat does climate change pose to us both locally in London and also on a global scale?

A huge threat! Our Parliament building sits on a concrete base 6m above sea level, but if the Greenland ice sheet melts it will add 7m to sea levels. 

We are on track for a 2 degree rise in global temperatures in the coming decades as humanity fails to reduce CO2 emissions. The rise around the polar regions is actually four times the average due to the feedback mechanisms of reduced sea ice (reflecting heat back into space) and the melting of the permafrost releasing methane. London, like other major cities around the globe, will suffer the consequences of this sea level rise.

Climate change is an extinction event for humanity, but as its more immediate impacts become apparent, there is a chance we can turn things around. 

Punishing heat in tropical regions is impacting on billions of people across the globe, as well as making cities like London uncomfortable due to the heat island effect. Rain and flash floods are becoming heavier due to the increased moisture in the air. Agriculture will become disrupted as weather patterns shift and food shortages will inevitably hit London hard. That alone, will spark social unrest.


2. Many people across the country are struggling with the cost of living crisis and soaring energy bills. How can investing in renewables help fix our energy crisis and bring down people’s energy costs?

David Cameron’s decision to cut the ‘green crap’ has cost each household an estimated £150. This is mostly due to the lack of home insulation, which would predominantly have helped the poorest people, as well as dealing with issues like damp in social housing and low rent accommodation. The government’s recent energy strategy completely ignores insulation, despite it being the cheapest and quickest way of reducing energy use and reducing energy bills.

Renewables were cheaper than gas even before the prices started rising last month. The problem is that electricity prices are set according to the most expensive fuel in the mix, which is gas. We need to separate gas and electricity prices, as Portugal has done. Given how much of our energy comes from renewables during the summer months, why are we paying gas level prices for it?


3. What more needs to be done to speed up the process of transitioning to net zero?

We need to stop relying on technological solutions and accept that we need to just use less. Less packaging. Less commuting. Less energy to heat our homes. There is no reason why we are still building thousands of new homes that are not only net zero, but actually net producers of energy.


4. How can we change our attitudes to the way we travel, in order to become more sustainable?

Working from home, when you can, is a good start. The Covid crisis made clear that huge numbers of people didn’t have to go into work every day for businesses and organisations to function. Cutting the daily commute down to a twice weekly commute is a major saving in CO2. Around a fifth of journeys that are less than a mile are made by car, so why not switch a few of those to healthier options like walking, or cycling? 

International flights also need to be scaled back with a frequent flyer levy that jumps in price if you take more than one flight a year. Airport expansion, including Heathrow, should be frozen until the aviation industry starts to deliver on the low carbon planes that they are constantly promising. 


5. What can we as individuals do to play our part in protecting the environment? 

Use less, recycle more and use things in a smart way, are key parts of countries reducing their emissions, but we need governments to help us do it. People in one borough will be better at recycling than the neighbouring council, but that has nothing to do with the people who live there and everything to do with whether the council has a contract to incinerate its rubbish. Building a replacement for the Edmonton Incinerator will ensure than millions of people living in six north east London councils will recycle far less than elsewhere in the country.

Eating less meat is a key way individuals can reduce global emissions and governments can encourage this with its subsidy system for agriculture, as well as councils running campaigns to promote meat free days. The other big switch is to electric vehicles, but why don’t we use this as an opportunity to set up mass membership, car clubs that provide vehicles for hire on every street corner and enable people to do without the expense of their own?

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