Dear Cllr Anketell-Jones and Cllr Clarke,
Our Response to the Emergency Situation
As I promised to Cllr Anketell-Jones lately, I am writing to you both as one of your constituents, and as a fellow citizen, and human being.
That last sentence is not the sort of line I habitually use in my correspondence, and, indeed, I am not, in any case, in the habit of writing to my councillors, as both of you can testify.
My purpose is twofold : to demand, first of all, that you take a specific, concrete action next week; and, secondly, that you reconsider your moral and intellectual frameworks, commitments, and behaviour, going forward, given the context – the terrible predicament – in which we all find ourselves.
I have set things out in three, short, parts. First, I give you some information about myself. Second, I describe the nature of my demands as regards next week. Third – and most importantly – I explain briefly how I see the task that faces you – and all of us – over the next 12 or 24 months in particular, and indeed the rest of our lives.
Please note I am publishing a copy of this letter online, so it should be regarded as an open letter. I am not seeking a reply, as such, though I would appreciate an acknowledgement.
1. It is probably helpful for you to know one or two things about me. I am a writer, researcher, and teacher. I am a long term resident of the city of Bath, which I first encountered as an undergraduate student at the University of Bath between 1993 and 1996. I have continued to study political economy since reading Economics and Politics at university, and more recently returned to higher education to complete a Masters degree in International Public Policy Analysis at my alma mater, as a mature student, in 2011-2012. My current work specifically addresses the matters discussed below; I would highlight to you the resources detailed on the Resources tab of my website (www.jonathanoates.net) as these are amongst the sources I have consulted in coming to the conclusions I have, and they are also my selection, as an educator, of some of the most useful sources in book and electronic form for people wishing to make sense of our situation. I have been politically active inside and outside of electoral politics for most of my adult life, was one of the directors of Democratic Accountability Bath, and am presently a member of the Bath Green Party. As it happens, I am standing as the Councillor for Lansdown in the forthcoming local elections. I am writing to you though, I reiterate, in my personal capacity as your constituent and a fellow citizen and human being.
2. Next week, as you both know, the full council of Bath and North East Somerset Council will consider a motion to declare a climate emergency. It is important to recognise that this is an extraordinary state of affairs : as is happening around the world – as is the case, for example, in the United States as well as the UK – regional, municipal and local authorities are leading the response of public authorities to the climate emergency, usually in the face of inertial if not reactionary national governments/states. Like many others, I will be in attendance next week, and I am one of the small number of speakers down to speak for three minutes during the session. My demand here is that you vote in favour of the motion, declare a climate emergency, set a date of 2030 for carbon neutrality, and commit the authority to a robust reporting structure, all provisions which have been laid out in a well drafted instrument, the Climate Emergency Petition to Bath and North East Somerset Council, by the Bath Climate Emergency Action Group, which will be laid before the Council next week. (See https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/climate-emergency-petition-to-bath-and-north-east-somerset-council.html ) I was not involved in drafting that instrument, though I know, I believe, at least one of the group. I have played a small part in promoting it locally on my own initiative. Further, next week, I would like to see you vote in favour of any amendments which make this first step by BANES to address the emergency situation, as strong as it can be. I have not been involved in drafting any amendments, though I am aware of at least one which would do so.
3. It is not easy to quickly describe the nature of the current human predicament. For brevity, here, I characterise the present state of affairs, a more ‘climate-safe’ state of affairs, and the effort to get us there in the time available.
The Human System can be thought of as the sum of human institutions and physical structures. It is unstable (growing). The Earth System as it is, is the sum of natural structures, including the global climate system. It is finite. The present Human System may be described, institutionally speaking, as state sponsored, global/globalised, neoliberal, monopoly capitalism. It is a historically specific form of class system. Physically speaking, it may be described as geographically-extensive, materially-intensive, and carbon-intensive. This system is damaging to human life – with moral poverty and excess material consumption for the ultra high net worth and high net worth, and morbidity and premature death for the middle, low, and ultra low net worth. It is also damaging to the Earth System, causing mass extinction, climate breakdown, and environmental breakdown, and now, on account both of these matters, and the existence of nuclear arsenals, posing an existential threat to humanity itself. The Human System, as it is, is not therefore compatible with our professed morality.
A Human System more compatible with our professed morality might be described institutionally as state sponsored, deglobalised, democratic socialism. This would not be a class system. Physically speaking, it could be described as somewhat less geographically-extensive, much less materially-intensive, and carbon-neutral or net negative. The system would not be damaging to human life, with the elimination of moral poverty, excess consumption, and systemic morbidity and premature death. Such a system would, given the starting point, minimise mass extinction, climate breakdown, environmental breakdown, and be adapted to locked-in changes. The threat from environmental breakdown and nuclear annihilation would likewise be, given the starting point, minimised. Such a system would be compatible with our professed morality.
The Emergency Transition, to the new Human System, has begun. To effect the changes required in the time available is going to require an extraordinary level of mobilisation by all institutions and households. A number of writers uses the example of the Second World War, just about in living memory, as a guide to its order of magnitude. It is though a peculiar moment : the main task of the next 12 to 24 months is to secure the participation of our major national governments and states, which have been criminally negligent at best. I believe this will be achieved once sufficient of the public, in all classes, comes to understand the ‘extreme danger’ we are all in, to use the phrase of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a few years ago. Whilst the Head of State, Downing Street, and the national government, and major public and private media institutions – the BBC, and the press, above all – continue to fail in their responsibility in this regard, new civil society institutions like Extinction Rebellion, the Youth Strike 4 Climate, Fridays For Future, and Birth Strike movements, and myriad new coalitions will soon achieve the same end. A sea change is upon us. It is truly extraordinary to see our children leading us to safety. Citizens are, in turn, about to discover how extraordinary they are, and what they are capable of. I suggest you respond in kind. Let’s discover what an extraordinary effort by a local authority, a Council, and councillors looks like, and can achieve. Nothing less will do; nor will it be accepted.