The climate emergency – Speech to Lambeth council

As citizens, we can take the opportunity to raise an issue by speaking for 5 minutes at a Council meeting. This is called a deputation.
On Wednesday 17th of July, Steve Tooze, a member of Extinction Rebellion Lambeth gave a 5 minutes talk to the council on the climate emergency. That speech was written by another Lambeth rebel, Bess Herbert, also founder of Lambeth For a Cool Planet.

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making. Telling the truth is essential and Lambeth councillors have to know and acknowledge the real situation in every decision they make.

This is the speech that was given to the council. It was well received by the councillors. Now we ask them to act with the emergency required by the crisis we are in.

Hello everyone.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Steve Tooze, I am a local parent, a resident of Herne Hill ward, and a member of Extinction Rebellion Lambeth.

This isn’t an easy subject. I am here to speak to you about an environmental emergency. As Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school striker has accurately said our house is on fire. All the alarm bells are ringing.

We are in the final few years of being able to avert environmental catastrophe on a truly huge scale, potentially causing the death of billions of people. Of course, we’re already seeing the effects of climate change across the world. A recent UN report said there is now one environmental disaster every week, disproportionately affecting the global south.

I’ve circulated a graph to each of you that I think most clearly explains the dire situation we are in. It shows greenhouse gas emissions trajectories and their long term impact in temperature.

The top line on the graph – the path we are currently on – is business-as-usual; emissions continue to increase every year, leading to a temperature of around 4.2 degrees or probably more above the pre-Industrial Revolution average.

The next line down is if countries implement the commitments made to reduce emissions at the Paris 2015 climate conference, leading to a temperature rise of around 3.3 degrees.

The two green lines at the bottom are the trajectories required if we are to have any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees.

So what do these temperatures mean? After all, a rise of a 2, 3, 4 degrees doesn’t sound all that dangerous, does it?

Let’s start in the middle. A 3 degree rise in global temperature is described by scientists as catastrophic by 2050. My 12-year-old son will be 43, perhaps trying to raise his own children in the face of that catastrophe.

At that the point the Amazon rainforest – the lungs of the earth – will dry and burn, and instead of absorbing carbon, release huge extra amounts of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, driving up temperatures further and faster.

At 3 degrees scientists fear an irreversible cascade of tipping points may be triggered, leading to runaway global warming.

Look back at the top line of the graph. At 4 degrees of warming, the best science suggests three-quarters of the earth would be too hot for human habitation. Suddenly, the wide-spread crop failures, storms, droughts and wildfires, flooding and increases in disease, would only be part of the problem – and not even the worst part.

5 degrees of warming puts us on a different planet. One with extreme temperatures & weather patterns that the human race has never experienced before. Even the cautious Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change warns that this scenario is an existential threat for all humans everywhere.

It is hard to see how human civilisation could continue to exist at any of these temperatures.

Even a 2 degree temperature rise would see at least tens of millions of deaths, huge water shortages, and an ocean so acidic that sea creatures could no longer form their shells. So, 1.5 degrees is the only target that offers a world in any way recognisable to the one we have now.

To keep to that will require a global & immediate war-style mobilisation of unprecedented levels with deep emissions cuts and reprioritisation across every area, from transport, to agriculture, construction, manufacturing, services, of course energy, and our economic system.

We are way beyond being able to ‘tweak’ or adjust our way out of this.

As UN Sec General Antonio Guterres said recently, climate change is moving more quickly than we are, we are losing the race.

The situation couldn’t be more serious.

But all is not lost.

We do have the answers we need to turn this around. We know what to do. Reaching zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is far from easy, but as we did it we would have the opportunity to recreate our system prioritising people and the planet.

What we have lacked so far is political will. We need our elected representatives to be making very bold and brave decisions at this point – this has to be the end of business as usual.

Local politicians like you have a historic opportunity to act, where national government has plainly failed. If you cut the path, others will follow.

This is the only thing that will save us and our children and grandchildren from a horrific future.

I’m sorry it wasn’t a more cheerful presentation! But if anyone would still like a full presentation of the science, I’d be really happy to arrange that.

Thank you very much for listening. And please, please, be bold, honest and clear-sighted in your decisions here tonight. Let generations to come remember you as the people who took the first steps on a path to a better future.

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