“We are already over the cliff”

11 November 2019

Medway engages with climate emergency in XR talk

Citizens from Medway learned about the extent of the climate crisis and the increasing prominence of ecological concerns for voters during a special talk by Dr Rupert Read, national Spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, on Friday night.

The event, organised by the Medway Green Party and held at MidKent College in Gillingham, also welcomed representatives from Medway’s political parties to provide the latest on Medway Council’s climate emergency and other local activist groups to explain initiatives.

Dr Read, who is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, warned more than 120 guests on the extent of the climate emergency, advising that, “We are already over the cliff.”  Continuing the metaphor, he said that humanity needs to act rapidly in order to slow down the descent, hold on and eventually clamber back to the top of the cliff.

“Over half of deadly greenhouse gases ever emitted have been emitted since 1990, when we knew what the problem was,” he said, citing loss of biodiversity, extreme weather, crop failure, melting of the ‘permafrost’ and fires in the Amazon as sobering examples of the impact.

However, he said hope sprang from the “huge change of consciousness” about the climate crisis in recent months, and that concern for the environment was currently ranking alongside the economy as an area of voter importance in opinion polls, something that “was unimaginable a year ago”.

Dr Read said the forthcoming general election is the first since weather chaos became apparent and the first since Extinction Rebellion began to take direct, non-violent action in London and then worldwide. “This has to be the climate election, because we are out of time,” he argued.

Extinction Rebellion is calling for emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025 – significantly earlier than the government’s 2050 commitment – and for a citizen’s assembly on climate and ecological justice.  He said that the movement would be active during the forthcoming election and would be scrutinising the commitment of parliamentary candidates to accept its three-point charter for change.

“We need to move fast and deeply,” he urged. “As long as there is a chance, we have to do something.”

Following the talk by Dr Read, three Medway Councillors - Alan Jarrett (Conservative), Vince Maple (Labour) and Ron Sands (Independent) - gave an update on Medway’s Council’s latest activities since a climate emergency was declared in April.

Cllr Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council, said that the response had been a cross-party endeavour and that they intended to keep it that way. He explained that a five-year action plan is being produced, while the Council itself is installing solar panels at Gun Wharf and is expanding its fleet of electric cars.

Cllr Maple, the Leader of the Labour Party in Medway, said that the motion to declare a climate emergency in Medway wasn’t tokenism, but that regrettably it took time to produce action. “We all agree to tackle the emergency to the best of our abilities,” he said. Cllr Sands, meanwhile, spoke on protecting the Hoo Peninsula’s areas of ecological significance and agricultural land.

Meanwhile, Tim Valentine, a Green Party councillor and Swale Borough Council Cabinet Member for the Environment, gave an update on measures in Swale, which declared its own climate emergency in June. He outlined plans to make Swale Council’s own activities carbon neutral by 2025 and to make the area carbon neutral by 2030, and said that £1 million a year from reserves were being allocated towards such efforts.

Question topics to the panel from the audience included the protection of Capstone Park, affordable homes, food production and integrated public transport services.

Commenting on the event, Cllr Jarrett said, “I think there is a huge upsurge of concern about climate change. Medway Council’s climate emergency is not tokenism, we want to take it seriously. By coming to events like this, we hear people’s concerns and we can act on those concerns.”

The evening concluded with three-minute presentations by a range of local groups taking action against the climate emergency, including the Medway Youth Climate Change Movement, Towards a Plastic Free Medway, the Medway Liberal Democrats, Stop the Pump Lane Development, local branches of Extinction Rebellion and the Workers Trade Union Council.

Alexander Jordan, representing the Medway Youth Climate Change Movement, said in his speech, “Young people’s voices are not being heard, and we want to change that. We are united in one goal: to save the planet.”

Note for Editors:

Rupert Read is an author, philosopher, Spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He has previously been spokesperson, national parliamentary candidate, European parliamentary candidate and councillor for the Green Party of England and Wales. His most recent publication is This Civilisation is Finished: Conversations on the end of Empire - and what lies beyond. See https://rupertread.net/ for more information.

The Medway Green Party is the local chapter of the national Green Party, and campaigns on local as well as national ecological and social issues. See https://medway.greenparty.org.uk/ for more information.