Birmingham’s Youth Climate Strikers and education

As part of the international youth mobilisations, Birmingham’s youth climate strikers made a welcome return to the city yesterday, with a rally and march around its centre. Before Covid, the hundreds and thousands that gathered every month, alongside the work of Extinction Rebellion, helped raise the climate crisis up the political agenda and into public consciousness. They also propelled the City Council to unanimously declare a climate emergency in June of 2019.

Then along came the virus, and the regular monthly strikes ceased. The upward momentum of XR was also halted.The number of youth strikers that gathered yesterday was not back to pre-Covid levels, but the old energy and militancy were very much in evidence at the rally and in the streets along the march. As we approach COP26 in November, the numbers can be expected to grow again.

The rally was addressed by two Labour Party councillors (Olly Armstrong and Lisa Trickett), but oddly, not the Green Party. Almost needless to say, there were no messages of solidarity from local MPs, but there were several solidarity speeches, including from the Birmingham Trades Union Council, the divest West Midlands pension funds from fossil fuels campaign and Stop the War.

EDUCATION

The Climate Action Network West Midlands Charter has as its point ten “Embed environmental issues throughout the education system for all ages”. In that spirit, during the Great Big Green Week, it is highly appropriate that the National Education Union’s monthly magazine “Educate” contains a feature on pupils’ message to COP26: “If not now, when?”

Also, at the Birmingham NEU meeting on Thursday, a speaker from CANWM explained its “Climate Champions” program, in which school pupils have been educated on how to be more effective climate advocates. She explained that it was not a case of lecturing young people but helping them explore their own chosen aspect of the topic and to grow educationally during the course.

She was followed by a speaker from the YS4C Birmingham who gave a typically impressive speech on what they were planning for the day after and their general aims.

Later in the meeting, a resolution on climate change was debated, and at the rally the following day, the NEU was represented. So far then, so very good in terms of linking school students with their educators and acting in the spirit of the tenth point in the CANWM Climate Charter.

MISEDUCATION

However, there was a downside to yesterday’s YS4C event. Outside organisations do have the democratic right to bring along their own placards and invite people to take them (and attendees have the democratic right to refuse and hold their home-made ones instead!).

Yesterday it was the turn of the “Stop War – Stop Climate Chaos” placards that were foisted onto many people, the message of which was reinforced during a speech by a BTUC delegate from the NEU.

Now, it is true that the UK has a bloated military budget and a consequent very large carbon footprint; according to Scientists for Global Responsibility it is equivalent to over six million cars, eleven times greater than the MOD claims, and this must be opposed. (https://sgrd8.gn.apc.org/…/uk-military-carbon-footprint… )

Nevertheless, this misses the point. The main sources of emissions in the UK are from transport, the energy supply, residential and business, not from the military. (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/…/2020… )

Compared to large-scale commercial aviation and shipping, how many RAF planes are in the sky at any one time? How many Royal Navy vessels are at sea? Surely, a lot less. And as for land forces, the carbon footprint declined following the withdrawal from Iraq. It will decline further with the withdrawal from Afghanistan (although this might be countered by the “Global Britain” military build-up.)

The large and unnecessary carbon emissions from the military must not be underplayed, but it is important to get things in proportion. The main culprits lie elsewhere.

RADICAL CHANGES NEEDED

There needs to be a massive diversion of resources into insulating homes and buildings, with the provision of assistance with the installation of heat pumps. Similarly, huge investments are required into a public transport system that is based on sharing, to replace the private car (except for specialist use). This system would be free at the point of use at a local and regional level, with electric or green-hydrogen propulsion systems on buses, trains, minibuses, taxis, and other vehicles.

The renewable energy sector needs to be greatly expanded, with storage systems that can be used when the wind, sun or waves are less available. The business sector needs to be converted to producing only socially necessary and sustainable goods, with big curbs on cement (HS2, road building and airport expansion planners please note), fast fashion and waste. Freight needs to be moved by rail wherever possible in an expanded network.

Agriculture should shift away from meat production.

Short haul aviation needs to be ended, as well as frequent flying. Research is needed into whether electric or hydrogen-powered planes are viable. Serious investment such as the above would create green jobs that replace those being lost in sunset industries.

A QUESTION OF TIME

These big changes need to be introduced quickly; the years are running out. Together, they would represent an economic revolution, but that is what is needed and that is what we should be focusing on. Just focusing on the military sector emissions diverts us from these main tasks. The ten demands of the Climate Charter offer a much more rounded and comprehensive prescription of the changes required. Therefore, educators, whenever they can, should enable young people to study the climate crisis without lecturing; let them find out for themselves. Cajoling them down a diversion is not the approach to be advocated.

by Bob Whitehead, Birmingham Left Unity

This article was first published on Birmingham Left Unity Facebook on 25 September: https://www.facebook.com/456415421100960/posts/4406552946087168/

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