25 June 2005

UNISON and Climate Change

For the past week (last Saturday to today, inlcuding travelling) ) I'm been at UNISON conference (2 days at Local Governement Service group then 4 days at National). Whilst I was there I drafted an article on climate change for the West Midlands region news letter, an article calling for a motion on climate change to be prioritised and passed. The article didn't get published (largely because it's crap and the fact that a much better one on the same subject was also submitted). I'm planning on rewriting it, to improve it and to take account of the fact that the motion was prioritised and passed, but for now it's below:

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW - will you be going to work on a snowplough?
(Stephen Booth, Birmingham Branch)

Climate change, we've all heard about it. Some of us first heard about it on Blue Peter back in the 1970s and 80s, others more recently on the news or in the publicity relating to films such as "The day after tomorrow", some even heard about it in 1954 when an observatory in Hawaii first started to collect world temperature on a regular basis. Whilst many of us will also recall being told that global warming was a myth, all authorities not funded by the multinational oil companies now agree that it is happening, anyone who has looked out of a window in the last decade can see for them selves that the climate has changed. Even the US National Academy of Science, a body currently funded by the Bush government, are talking about it.

Whilst estimates on how much the global average temperature will rise by 2100 (a year that some of the younger delegates could realistically expect to see, a year that many of the children currently sitting in the SECC crèche could certainly expect to see), it is agreed that it will rise by between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius. To put that in context, the last time the worldwide average temperature rose by 6 degrees 95% of the species on the globe went extinct.

Researchers drilling cores from the Greenland and Antarctic have found conclusive proof that rises in global temperature always go hand in hand with rises in atmospheric carbon, not just once or twice but dozens of times in samples they have so far extracted. The evidence points to the fact that whilst we're looking at a change over a very long period it is very probable that most of the change will occur over a much shorter period, a few years at most. It could start in 50 years times, it could start in 20 years time, it could have started yesterday, we don't know. Suddenly an issue that we thought our children and grandchildren might have to face becomes one that we ourselves will probably have to face!

So, what can we do? Many politicians would have you turning turning off your TV over night rather than leave it on standby and switch to low energy light bulbs. Undoubtedly that will help, I reduced my electricity bill by a bout 25% through such measures, but that would just remove a pebble or two from the landslide of climate change. Massive changes are needed to solve this problem, massive changes but ones that will have little effect on our standard of living although they will result in many more public sector jobs. Hmmmm, more public sector jobs. Well, we're UNISON, we like that.

About a third of carbon being put into the atmosphere is from transport, largely private cars and airplanes. Improvements in public transport, both road and rail, are necessary so that where ever you are and where ever you need to go there is a clean, safe, coordinated and integrated system to get you there whether you're traveling at 8am on Monday to work, 3am on Sunday to get home from a club or half way around the world to a conference or demo. Public transport means public jobs to build and maintain the infrastructure, build and maintain the vehicles, staff the stations and drive the vehicles.

Much of the rest of the carbon released is due to wasted heat from homes and businesses. The solution here is a widespread and comprehensive public works scheme to insulate not just new build houses but also to refit older houses to insulate them and reduce drafts (something which my landlord resolutely refuses to do, how about yours?).

Where can you go from here? Raise this issue at your branch, get it on the agenda and get them to inform the membership. Prioritise Motion 92, if you don't, and Bournemouth and Brighton disappear under the sea, we might have to meet in Scotland every year. And I'm talking Ben Nevis, not Glasgow.

PostScript: It would appear that John Hemming, MP (Yardley, LibDem), has had some direct experience of climate change. we can but hope that he and his fellows in the chamber can take positive action to halt the changes and reduce carbon emmissions.

PostPostScript: One very worrying thing I've heard is that a number of multinational companies have been meeting recently to discuss climate change, not to discuss how to stop or at least slow the changes but rather to work out how to survive and even profit from the changes. For example insurance companies have, apparently, been co-ordinating efforts to remove flood and extreme weather cover from their policies as such events are becoming common and resulting in payouts.

It seems that what we may be looking at is much of northern Europe, Asia and America being frigid beneath an ice sheet (similarly for similar lattitudes in the southern hemisphere) whilst equatorial regions are parched. The fertile zone is due to be reduced to a narrow band bordered by fire and ice.

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