So often as politicians we talk about what is politically possible, but with the climate crisis we need to move from the art of the politically possible to the science of what is necessary. When you are drowning, you do not ask yourself, “Ooh, what is politically possible?”; you do whatever it takes to survive. When the banks crashed in 2008, the political consensus in this place was to save them by any means necessary. According to the National Audit Office, the cost was £1.2 trillion, which meant 10 years of austerity, public service cuts and vast human suffering. But now, instead of a banking collapse, we face a climate and ecological collapse. We face catastrophes of biblical proportions: droughts, pestilence, famine, floods, wildfires, mass migration, political instability, war and terrorism. Global civilisation as we know it will be gone by the end of the century unless we act.
What has been the response from the Conservatives? I will try not to be too partisan. We have seen the green light for fracking, fossil fuel subsidies boosted by billions, onshore wind scrapped, solar support axed, the green homes scheme eviscerated, zero-carbon homes abandoned, the green bank sold off, the Swansea tidal lagoon stuffed, and Heathrow approved. If Tory environmental policy in 2010 could be summed-up as “hug a husky”, the 2019 policy looks more like “Shoot it, skin it, and boil it down to its bones.”
It was against that background—with the science of the climate crisis over here and Government policy over there—that Greta Thunberg, the youth strikers and Extinction Rebellion appeared. They arrived at the climate crisis debate like gatecrashers at a premature funeral, smashing through the window in a shower of glass to announce to a hushed congregation that the patient was still alive. Their message to this place is simple: “The time for incrementalism has passed. Act now, change now, or be swept away by those who will.”
This motion offers us a chance to fundamentally restructure our economy to deliver good, secure, well-paid jobs as we mobilise to decarbonise our economy on a grand scale. It offers us a chance to reinvigorate and strengthen our democracy, to massively reduce social and economic inequalities, and to protect and restore vital threatened habitats and carbon sinks. We must onshore the global financial system, bringing it back under democratic control.
That brings me to my final point. Navigating global society through the perils of the 21st century will require two key things: global co-operation, and human ingenuity and passion on a scale hitherto unseen in our entire history. President Kennedy summed it up in his moon-shot speech of 1962. He did not ask what it would cost; he asked instead what it would take to succeed. He said:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”.