If you're under 45, you'll see climate change's effects in person

We're still caught up in a 1980s mindset.

BusinessGreen's James Murray writes about "Clinging to a climate of optimism" when it comes to fighting climate change:

My point is this: if you are over 45, then you are on track to bequeath the rest of us a pretty scary inheritance. But if you are under 45, then you have a good chance of experiencing some of the more devastating results of our failure to leave fossil fuels in the ground for yourself. You will see first-hand whether we are capable of building a genuinely sustainable global economy by mid-century or not. You will find out if it is possible to support nine billion people in a warmer world. You have a direct stake in this game.

In a way, it comes back to the argument I made last week about the risks of imprecision: climate change has been mentally filed away in the "legacy to our grandchildren" box for the last forty years. But while it's painfully obvious that something happening "in 2080" is getting closer every year, it's not quite so easy to continually readjust your perceptions for something which you've estimated as "a long way in the future".

And so we end up in the trap Murray addresses, where even people who were born after climate change first hit the agenda have it wrongly pegged as something they won't be alive to see. There's a level of urgency which people understand on an intellectual level, but not on a practical one. That is, someone perfectly happy to talk about "two degrees warming by 2050" still blanches when discussing the Thames Barrier being breached in their lifetime.

What effects could that practical understanding have on our approach to the issue? Murray writes:

Too many environmental debates are akin to arguing in 1940 about whether the allies should build tanks or planes.

We are past the point where we have the luxury of working out what the "best" sort of investment is to fight climate change – and really, we should never have been having that argument in the first place. A carbon-free energy infrastructure would always have a mix of inputs, from wind and solar to nuclear and CCS-equipped gas generation, and while some mixes might work better than others, all of them are better than the status quo.

But you don't even need to decide which energy mix you want, because with an appropriate policy background you could leave providers to make their own choices. That could be a cap-and-trade system which actually caps, as opposed to just trading, or it could be a carbon tax levied at a high enough level to make a difference, but whatever it is, it needs to be passed sooner rather than later.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.