Greta Thunberg speaks at the UN Climate Change COP24 Conference. File/ AFP
Nimo Omer, The Independent
We have pondered, pontificated, umm’d and ah’d about what Brexit will do to our country’s economy, political infrastructure and our social cohesion. The topic has dominated headlines, conversations and the national consciousness for three years. But the truth is that none of this matters if we allow our world to burn.
The planet is on fire, and we are the pyromaniacs holding the flamethrower. It is choking and suffocating on our waste whilst we refuse to do anything about it.
By “we” I don’t mean Joe who doesn’t recycle as much as he should, or Sally who uses plastic straws. I mean the 100 companies who have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases since 1988. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the CEOs of these corporations who suffer the consequences of climate change. It is poor people, black and brown people, and marginalised communities who are bearing the burden. From the North East to the Midlands, it is the very communities that Brexiteers claimed to represent.
Inequality is perhaps the defining feature of our society, and environmental issues are inflected by the same issue. Just as a no-deal Brexit poses the biggest threat to the economic and social well-being of the poorest in society, crashing out of the EU means there will be no environmental protection framework rendering many vulnerable to even more hazardous living conditions.
And so, the almost comically apocalyptic environmental future that awaits us has been overshadowed by the unrelenting presence of Brexit in our political discourse. But in truth, the two issues are intimately linked. Both crises are symbols of the very wealthy wreaking havoc and then insulating themselves while everyone else pays the price through life threatening health implications, uncertainty, and plummeting standards of living.
The Conservative government has already done everything in its power to circumvent EU regulations. Whether that means failing to adequately deal with nitrous oxide levels or quietly eroding important environmental and human health protections. It’s clear they have no interest in environmental protection. With the gung-ho attitude championed by Boris Johnson encouraging a no-deal Brexit at every turn, the glaringly obvious contradiction of this whole farce shines through.
Johnson and Nigel Farage can afford not to live in an area that has hazardous levels of nitrous oxide. Their wealth, at least temporarily, shields them from the harmful policies that they force upon everyone else. This lack of foresight and obsession with the now, is a defining feature of a culture that wants what it wants and wants it now, at any cost.
It’s clear that this isn’t even about the EU, it’s about our own government. Do we trust them to protect our environment? Do we trust them to robustly tackle the climate crisis that looms over our future? Do we trust them to put the needs of the most marginalised members of society first? I don’t. A no-deal Brexit not only threatens our political and economic institutions – it threatens everything. Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, protests and climate strikes – there is an existential angst in public consciousness about the future of our country and planet. Mary Creagh, the chair of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has said: “if we want to be a world leader in environmental protection, we need a world-leading body to protect it.” The solution is clear. We must rule out no deal, and put any deal – one that protects the environment and battles climate change – back to the people, with an option to remain in the world-leading body of the EU.
It is the only legitimate way forward, one that unites people and starts a future where a unified environmental policy is as commonsensical as having mutual labour laws and health and safety regulations. Frankly, it’s time to put the flamethrower down.
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