Guest Blog by William Quick - A Green Trade Unionist
As we all know austerity is a 'social justice' disaster. These policies are forcing ordinary people to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markers. In its most extreme, cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths.
The economic justification for this misery has been discredited, with most leading economist agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth and prolonged the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it). Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but Conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state repackaged. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.
Austerity is also antithetical to the aims of environmental justice and attempts to mitigate climate change. The transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy requires investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy. As well as stopping us from destroying the habitability of our planet; this could provide jobs for millions of people and the fiscal stimulus needed to get the economy going. But austerity takes us in completely the opposite direction. Whilst we have a Conservative government pursing ideological austerity arguments for investment will fall on deaf ears.
In the name of austerity the government is completely unwilling to embark on the investments our communities and planet badly needs, and is actually cutting green initiatives.
Each year in the UK 25,000 people die from the cold, a third of these deaths are due to cold homes. The UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, whilst expensive energy bills put millions in fuel poverty. We're wasting huge amounts of energy and people are literally dying. Under our new Conservative government the home insulation budget has been cut by another £40 million in the first round of departmental cost-cutting and the Green Deal loans completely scrapped (as well as a decade long plan to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016). And it’s the same everywhere.
As well as backtracking on its home energy efficiency program its slashing the subsidies for biomass, aerobic digestion, biogass, solar, onshore wind and even tidal power. The only renewable energy source that isn't being cut is offshore wind and even it’s future seems uncertain.
The Green investment bank which has increasingly played a pivotal role in providing start-up capital to the environmental industry (one of the coalition’s few positive achievements) is being privatised in the largest ever sale of state assets. Green taxes like fuel duty are being cut. The incentives to buy less polluting cars (through differential rates of VED) is being scrapped. The cuts to the Environment Agency and flood defence programs have caused the most headlines after they spectacularly highlighted the long term cost and fallacy of austerity by contributing to the flooding that hit southern England over the winter of 2013-14.
Whilst environmental programs and renewables are everywhere being cut, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continues unabated. As fossil fuel reserves decline the government experiments with riskier unconventional extraction methods, from offshore deep water resources, to the infamous fracking. Everywhere we look the short-termism inherent in austerity is taking us the wrong way in the fight against climate change.
Outside of the arena of state action, by reducing incomes as the cost of living increases, austerity is further encouraging environmentally harmful consumption. Austerity has seen the longest and sharpest decline in living standards in the UK since Victorian times, driving the demand for (among other things) cheaper food – which can currently only be provided through ecologically harmful processes. Food production is a major source of carbon emissions and ecological damage, but when our current system privileges ecologically damaging production norms – making the 'green' choice the more expensive choice – people have no option.
If we want to make sure the UK does its part in ensuring we don't warm the planet by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century austerity has to end. We owe it to the most vulnerable in our society and our communities in general, we also owe it to our planet. Anyone who cares about climate change has a duty to join the movement against austerity and take to the streets to protest these policies that are having such a disastrous effect on both our society and our environment. In early October the Conservatives will be having their party conference in Manchester where they'll propagate more of their disastrous austerity policies. We cannot allow this to pass uncontested.
Book your ticket on the Bristol coach here: https://bristoltoryconfdemo.eventbrite.co.uk/