‘Our children are now angry’ - tensions (and temperatures) are rising: Should Swindon declare a climate emergency?

By Claire Dukes - 26 February 2019

CommunityHealthPoliticsEducationFamilyHome and Garden

Councils across the UK are banding together, with cross-party support, to declare a climate emergency in an effort for each local authority to alleviate the impending worldwide effects of climate change. The question is: will Swindon?

In the surrounding areas councils declaring a climate emergency include Wiltshire Council, Oxford City Council and Bristol City Council. Swindon Borough Council, however, is yet to answer the call.

By declaring a climate emergency, councils are pledging to make their towns and cities carbon neutral by as early as 2025. This state of emergency was primarily raised after leading scientists within the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released a report back in 2018 showing how temperatures could rise by 1.5°C, due to human activity, by 2030.

The report reveals the disastrous effects that could be caused by global warming from vanishing ecosystems, rising sea levels leading to flooding, draughts caused by extreme heat and poverty, - an outcome from natural disasters destroying homes, and "changes to natural systems" effecting food sources - which could impact hundreds of millions of people.

The Green Party have openly been urging Swindon Borough Council to take more action on climate change, warning that the town needs to do more in order to prevent a global "climate catastrophe".

In a letter to the council, Andy Bentley, the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for North Swindon, wrote: “This is not a party-political issue; climate change will affect us all. In Bristol earlier this month, councillors from across the political spectrum joined together to unanimously support a similar motion. Will you help Swindon to do the same?”

Last month Swindon Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues answered the call to put forward a joint motion, - built on the original - to amend the town's current detailed action plan to reduce carbon emissions. Conservative Party members agreed that both individuals and the government needed to do more but are said to have ultimately ruled that no further action was necessary by the council. The motion was consequently not passed.

Bentley described the move as “toothless” and “worse than useless”. He said: “Our main objective here is to get the council to recognise that this is an emergency, and to start to take action accordingly. We’ve waited too long already, we can’t afford to wait any longer. Swindon needs to put itself on course to become carbon neutral by 2030. 

“If the council continues to fail to recognise the scale of the impending disaster, and act quickly, it will be a betrayal of everyone living in Swindon today, and for generations to come.”

Climate change has become an increasingly hot topic across the globe and thanks to the efforts of environmental activist groups, such as Extinction Rebellion, some local councils are beginning to take more action.

Extinction Rebellion is a nationwide organisation which has seen residents from Swindon join the cause. The group partakes in non-violent protests to raise awareness of global warming. Extinction Rebellion Swindon rallied in support of the Green Party in an effort to encourage Swindon Borough Council to pass the climate change motion. The group believe that the council are failing to recognise the warning signs of climate change and want to see “better behaviour” from their town’s decision-makers.

Speaking about the outcome of the council's meeting a founding member of Extinction Rebellion Swindon, John Ranford, said: "The council's refusal to treat climate breakdown as an emergency shows how little regard they have for the future of the people of Swindon. Already 5.8% of deaths in Swindon are related to air quality – equating to 973 life-years lost, each year.

"We at Extinction Rebellion Swindon will be back, next time calling for zero carbon emissions by 2025 - because that's the only way to stop uncontrollable climate chaos."

The environmental group have since been stepping into action in recent demonstrations. This month, in an attempt to raise awareness of the "illegal levels" of pollution on Kingshill, Extinction Rebellion formed a blockade with 'Climate Crisis' banners at the bottom of Kingshill Road. The response to the demonstration was met with both support and aggression.

One campaigner was stripped of their banner when a driver got out of their car and pushed the Extinction Rebellion member to the side of the road. The group were aware that they could be met with hostility as they blocked the road during seven-minute intervals but were quite upset by some people’s aggressive reactions.

Speaking at the march, Tristan Strange, 36, said: “This is my first Extinction Rebellion march. I think stopping traffic is really going to upset some people in Swindon, because I don’t think climate change is considered a particularly big issue by people in Swindon – I’ve actually got friends that are quite happy to believe it’s a conspiracy theory. So, yeah, we’re going to piss people off but at least it will make people pay attention to the issue.

“I think we’ve got the backing of the people up and down the road [Kingshill] – they know the pollution’s an issue. So, we’re just going to upset some people who don’t understand how big a problem it is. At least they’ll be thinking about it today – maybe they’ll want to beat up some environmentalists, sadly, or something ridiculous like that, but we’ve got to spread awareness of the issue above all.

“This is the most polluted road in Swindon – the No2 levels are 30% over the legal limit, and Swindon Council have agreed that all they’re going to do about it is put a sign up saying that ‘pollution is bad’. As citizens we’re expected to behave well and create less pollution, but it’s not going to make a difference – we need traffic calming along here; we need decent bus services so that people can actually get in and out of town without causing all this pollution; and we’re just generally asking for better behaviour from our council and government on all climate issues.”

The group believe that many Swindonians are failing to act because the climate crisis is currently not so visible to them, and ultimately does not affect them. John Ranford strongly disagrees with this. He said: “Some people are angry about our protest, but lots of people are quietly angry in their living rooms that the climate is beginning to break down. And children are getting angry because it affects them more – us adults who run the world seem to be letting it happen in spite of all the evidence from scientists and the warnings that they’ve given over decades that this is going to happen – the ice is melting, the coral reefs are dying and people are beginning to migrate. Where I was brought up, in the South Pacific, the island I was on is actually going under water and people are migrating.

“The destruction of our environment affects us all – we love having birds in the garden, and we love having animals and trees, and this climate breakdown is going to affect all of that. On the Kingshill Road it’s not just the things that we love it’s the air we breathe, – that’s vital for life – and children are having to go down this road and the council doesn’t care. Our children are now angry.

“If we’re to tackle climate change, we have to make change ourselves and it’s going to affect us – we’re going to have to give up some things that we enjoy so that we can enjoy nature itself. 

“Climate change is happening because all sorts of actions happening around the world, or lack of action, and in particular the Kingshill Road it’s the most polluted road in the town, and the council is still not reducing it to legal levels of pollution. So, this is just one example of the many things that are happening – that the council are letting happen – which is contributing to a global ecological crisis.

“We want to rebel, because we’ve written letters, we’ve stood with placards, but they’re not taking any notice. So, we’ve just got to do something.

“We’re really disappointed with the ruling council because they scuppered an all-party attempt to come to a motion to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030 – that’s the only thing that’s going to stop complete climate breakdown and, with that, societal breakdown. 

“Extinction Rebellion is now growing around the world – there are now 40 countries, last time I looked, that are involved in Extinction Rebellion – and there are other groups too. It’s no wonder that the children are rebelling now - their voices have been suppressed and they’re now demanding that they get taught about climate change in school because they need to be educated for the future that they’re going to have to live in.”

For further informaiton, and to read the full IPCC report, visit www.ipcc.ch/sr15/

Cllr Keith Williams, Swindon Borough Council's Cabinet Member for Corporate and Customer Services, has been in contact with Swindon Link and said he will be sending a statement regarding the council's environmental position on green matters in due course.

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