A Challenge to Prospective Councillors

To all candidates standing in the forthcoming elections to Stratford District Council, on May 2nd, 2019.

An increasing number of UK councils—51 at time of writing—have declared a climate emergency, and committed to drastically cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, most often to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Stratford Climate Action challenges prospective councillors to tell us a) whether they would support such a declaration of climate emergency, and b) what they would like to see in an emergency plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Stratford district.

Climate scientists are clear that we are living in a state of climate emergency. The early symptoms of this emergency include the increasing numbers of hurricanes, heatwaves, gales, floods, droughts, and wildfires killing thousands and unhoming millions around the world, and damaging agricultural production. But the situation is going to get worse.

Carbon released into the atmosphere does not immediately translate into global warming: it only heats the planet over time. So even if we cut our greenhouse gas emissions to zero tomorrow, average temperatures would still keep rising for some time. We are thought to be already committed to at least 1.5°c, even given the most strenuous response scientists consider feasible. As it stands, we are estimated to be on track for 3.5° to 4° of warming.

Moreover, this heating is itself triggering feedback mechanisms which accelerate the process: reduction in the earth’s ‘albedo’ (it’s ability to reflect solar radiation) due to diminished ice coverage; destruction of forest and coastal environments which absorb carbon, and release it as they die; and the release of frozen methane deposits under the permafrost and the ocean floor. At some point, irreversible tipping points will be reached, which will lead to runaway global warming. An ice-free arctic is said to be likely in the next decade. The Amazon rainforest, the ‘lungs of the planet’, is likely to die by 3° of warming. The thawing, already underway, of 1.8 trillion tons of carbon frozen in the permafrost—almost twice as much as currently present in the atmosphere—would lead to an earth largely beyond or at the limits of human survivability.

Scientific study of these tipping points is not yet at the point where they can be included in climate science models—meaning that the projections of the IPCC, scary as they are, likely understate the problem. As a general picture, though, it seems accurate to say that humanity stands on a knife edge, where the choice is not between increments of warming, but between the most strenuous effort to limit and reduce warming as much and as quickly as possible, and a total environmental—and therefore societal—catastrophe.

The emergency is real, and requires a coordinated response on a scale unprecedented in peacetime. It is clear that this will not be possible unless those in positions of leadership are willing to sound the alarm and set an example. Stratford Climate Action is therefore issuing a challenge to prospective councillors to tell us a) whether they would support a declaration of climate emergency, and b) what they would like to see put into an emergency plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Stratford.

Responses should be sent to stratfordclimate@tutanota.com, ideally together with a campaign photograph. Responses will be published online here, for the consideration of voters. We will not comment on responses, except in case of serious misrepresentation of the climate science. Our campaign is not party political, and we will not be telling people how to vote. Only individual responses from candidates will be published—collective party responses will not be shared.

Where links are not provided, scientific information has been taken from Joseph Romm, 2018, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, and Tim Flannery, Atmosphere of Hope: Solutions to the Climate Crisis, 2015, Penguin.