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Only Connect: Environmental Justice | The Nation

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Only Connect: Environmental Justice

Melissa's post on Van Jones made me sit straight up; I hit the links and discovered a whole network I didn't know. In Britain we don't hear much talk of environmental justice; it tends to be a term buried in policy papers, not a rallying point for action. The government is officially committed to green jobs, cutting emissions, the UN's green "New Deal"; climate change is a cross-party issue here. But that doesn't mean there's agreement about what to do--or the political will to do it.

The economist Nicholas Stern, Gordon Brown's man on the impact of climate change, issued his most desperate warning yet this week from an emergency meeting in Copenhagen, where 2,500 scientists had yet more terrifying news to report. Politicians, he said, aren't getting it. Unless we do something now, climate shift could be "abrupt or irreversible." A temperature rise of 4 degrees centigrade--which seems increasingly likely--could see southern Europe reduced to a desert and 85% of the Amazon forest lost. I won't go on--the scenarios make me numb.

Of course, that's part of the problem. The predictions are so dire they don't bear thinking about. So we go on driving the kids to school, leaving the laptop on, eating raspberries in winter. We've got no narrative, no handle on this thing. If China keeps building coal plants, how much difference can my low energy light bulb make? It's a commonplace now that the recession is a golden opportunity to green our economies. There are vital conversations to be had, about international equity, about jobs, about energy choices, about fair carbon trading. But we're not having them publicly or urgently enough.

Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown's conscientious climate secretary (and a former Nation intern), said in December that halting climate change will take an international mass movement. Here in the UK, those bitten by the recession and the new wave of green activists have yet to make common cause. In the last few weeks, for instance, we've seen demonstrations by power station workers against the use of foreign labour, and protests by Plane Stupid, anti-aviation activists who've shut down airports and, last week, threw a cup of green custard at Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's fixer recalled from political exile when the polls and the markets crashed. (Mandelson met the custard en route to a low-carbon summit; in the end the mess got more media than the message.) On the one hand, workers trying to save their bacon, trapped inside the politics of competing interests. On the other, the committed young with the courage and energy to risk creative actions, caught in the one dimensional rhetoric of protest. The gap between them is the distance we have to cross if we're going to save the planet.

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