1 million climate jobs.
I was asked to speak at the Oxford launch of the campaign for a million climate jobs. This is roughly what I said.
It’s Burns night. But instead of quoting that great Scots writer, another came to mind. On a wall of the Holyrood Parliament is inscribed the words of Alasdair Gray: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”.
For many of my friends, they wish that they could. They dream of jobs working hard to build a better nation. But 1 in 5 young people are unemployed. And that’s before the cuts have hit. 1 in 5 members of my generation have been thrown on the scrapheap by the credit crunch. Many more lives will be lost to unemployment once the government’s cuts work their way through. Like most problems, joblessness isn’t natural. Between 1945 and 1975, the UK unemployment rate was never above 500,000. Since then it has never been below 500,000. That’s a fact that the Government don’t want us to remember.
But let’s take the Tories at their word for a moment. We know that they are using the deficit as a smokescreen to push through an ideological agenda. But let’s pretend for a moment that we believe them when they tell us their plan for our economy.
They tell us that they must cut the public sector because it is ‘crowding out’ businesses, and this will deliver private sector growth. This won’t work. In the short term, there are two reasons it won’t work.
The first is inflation. Food and fuel prices are going through the roof. In Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, and Chile, we’ve already seen massive riots. Food prices are going up for lots of reasons. Two significant factors, though, are that serious weather events – storms, floods and fires in Australia, Russia, and around the world have destroyed crops, and bankers who were gambling on the price of our homes are now speculating on these food prices, pushing them up still higher. I don’t think I need to join the dots for you. This rise in commodity prices would threaten any economic recovery, even without the cuts.
But the second reason Tory strategy will fail is that, at its core, it is wrong. In the UK, USA and Germany, we tried to deal with the debts of World War 1 through massive cuts to public spending. This triggered the Great Depression. You can’t cut your way out of debt.
And there’s a third, long term reason this plan won’t help us: Unregulated private sector led growth means massive carbon emissions. Since the great deregulations and privisations of the 70s and 80s, growth across the world has been private sector led. It has been slower than it was in the previous 25 years, but it has been much more carbon intensive. A de-regulated privitised economy will destroy our climate just as it has destroyed jobs and destroyed lives already. Corporations aren’t built to plan for a low carbon society.
So the Tory plan is disastrous. And fortunately, we have an alternative. After WW2, we learnt the lessons of the Great Depression. Rather than cutting, we built our way out of debt. People often tell us that we managed to build the welfare state in the 40s and 50s despite much bigger debts than we have today. But the truth is that we built our way out of debt by building the welfare state. We must learn that lesson again. And we must invest in solving the great blight of unemployment that my generation faces today, by creating jobs solving the great challenge we must face for tomorrow – climate change. Just as our grandparents built the welfare state from the ashes of WW2, we must build a low carbon economy from the ashes of the credit crunch. Because we must start to rapidly cut emissions in the next 5 years. If we don’t, we face lives languishing in unemployment, then retirement into a world of climate catastrophe. There is work to be done. There are people desperate to do it. The cost of failing to make this investment is unimaginable.
And so, we have a choice. We can choose the Tory route – unemployment then climate change: a bonfire of talent then a bonfire of the planet. Or we can choose our route. We can choose to work as though we live in the early days of a better nation.