Welcome to Decade Zero. The next ten years are our last chance to keep the global temperature rise under 2C°. Beyond that, the climate models start to break down and all bets are off.
On 17 December, one week after pledging to ambitious new goals at the Paris conference on climate change, the UK government announced sweeping cuts to renewable energy subsidies. Confused? Close your eyes. Picture this.
You’re on United Airlines 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We took off less than an hour ago. Armed men have taken control of the plane. The PA announces there is a bomb on board; we’re returning to the airport.
You turn on your phone, call someone in your family. They’re hysterical. Two planes have hit the World Trade Center. It’s 11 September 2001.
What do you do next?
What the passengers on Flight 93 did – 14 years ago – was break onto the flight deck. The pilot jerked the plane around but the passengers kept coming. They only failed get the plane back when they broke in because the hijackers, seeing the game was up, rolled the plane and crashed it in a field.
The unarmed passengers overwhelmed the hijackers. They were many. The hijackers were few. In under thirty minutes they changed from docile passengers into a militia defending their country.
Truly, we do not know ourselves until we are called on.
9/11 is part of our mental landscape now, but it wasn’t part of theirs. They had to overcome their unwillingness to believe they were in the hands of men who had no interest in their survival. That no help was coming. Imagine the word spreading through the cabin after your phone call. Each of your neighbours working his or her way to the same stark conclusion. We get onto the flight deck. Or it’s game over.
Imagine now how easily the hijackers could have avoided this. They were bearded and abusive. They wore red bandannas. Suppose they had been clean-shaven, polite. Announced they were federal agents foiling a plot involving crew members. Remain calm while we land the plane. Be vigilant: there might be other conspirators on board.
Messages like these over the PA would have been just enough to persuade passengers to – as usual – trust the men on the flight deck. Instead of breaking into the cockpit they would be watching each other for unusual behaviour. Right up to the end.
Today that is exactly where you and I find ourselves. The world economy is on a collision course with reality, ruining our health, our societies and the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The plane is being jerked around as austerity programmes preoccupy us with our individual welfare. The men at the controls have no interest in our well-being, no matter what you hear on the PA. They have another agenda entirely.
The people on the world flight deck put wealth first. Their first concern is the economy that enriches them. They are wealth fundamentalists. They are dangerous extremists.
The media – our eyes and ears on the world – are in their pockets. It’s their PA. It tells us just enough to frighten us. It says the men on the flight deck are working on the problem. Watch each other for secret enemies.
We watch the climate conferences and hope for good news. Good people among us, like Jeremy Corbyn, call for better meals in economy. The worried sign petitions, knock on the cockpit door. Stay focused! Land the plane safely!
This is not set to end well.
What to do?
The first thing we have to do is the same thing first thing the passengers on Flight 93 had to do. We must abandon hope. Completely. Banging on the cockpit door gets us nothing. Hope is what you have left when you have no control. Thirty years of conferences and international inaction should have taught us that. Conferences like Paris are essential. But until the governments work for us and not the donors from the tax havens, the conferences will emit primarily hot air.
The second urgent thing we must do is wake up our neighbours. The extremists are few and we are many but most of us are still dozing, earplugs and eyemasks on. Yes, our neighbours mumble, bomb on the plane, yes, heard that. Very worrying. Returning to the airport. Keep your seatbelt on. Listen for more announcements.
Here we have help. There are great films around. You know them. The vanishing of the bees, the influence of lobbyists, the capture and corruption of the media. Find screenings. Take your family and friends to see them. Buy or borrow the DVDs and show the films at home; invite your friends and neighbours around. Again and again. Waking up takes time. Help people wake up.
Finally, we have to get onto the flight deck. In London our next chance to get people into the cockpit is in May. We’ll elect a Mayor and a new London Assembly. The voting system is unfamiliar. But it’s not too difficult. You have to understand it and teach it to the others. You have five months. Make sure everyone you know understands it and can explain it back to you. Here we go.
How to vote in London
There are three ballots: one for the Mayor, one for your constituency, and a London-wide vote. The London-wide vote is most likely to elect Greens. Focus on that.
In the London-wide ballot you vote for a party not a person. Green votes across London all add up. That’s how we have two Green members in the present Assembly and might get three, four or five in the next. If you remember only one thing, vote Green in the London-wide ballot.
For Mayor you pick your first and your second choice. If one candidate gets over half the vote in Round 1, he or she becomes Mayor. That has never happened. In Round 2 only the top two candidates remain. Now any second-choice votes for them get added to what they have. Whoever has more becomes the next Mayor.
What does that mean for you? You vote your heart first and your fear second. If you want a Green mayor and you fear a Tory one, pick Siân Berry as your first choice and Sadiq Kahn as your second. If Siân isn’t in Round 2, your vote goes to Khan. Simples.
The constituency ballot is easy to understand. It’s the old first-past-the-post Westminster system. You vote for one candidate; the one with most votes gets elected. I’m the Green Party candidate to represent Barnet & Camden. You’re welcome.
Will we get control of the plane in time? I don’t know. The PA is telling comforting lies. Dinner is being served, drinks. Movies are on. No one wants to wake up.
But like the passengers on September 11, we are many. We are called on now, and are about to know ourselves. Wake the neighbours.