This policy was passed by Left Unity’s national conference on 14-15 November 2014.
1 Our party is both red and green. Our aims and objectives are quite different from the crude imperative to capital accumulation that is currently the sole driver of economic activity in our society. We recognise both the inherent instability and brutality of capitalism and the limits to our ecosystem; that our planet’s resources are finite and that the ecological balance that makes all life possible on it is fragile and under threat.
2 Today, humanity faces the unprecedented threat of an ever worsening series of catastrophes, caused by the interlocked economic and environmental crises brought about by our current economic system. Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive, but in our lifetimes these assaults on the planet have accelerated. Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away. Capitalism is increasingly demonstrating its total incompatibility with the maintenance of our ecosystem through its ruthless exploitation of ever scarcer natural resources, its pollution of the environment, the growing loss of biological and agricultural diversity and increasing climate change.
3 A global temperature rise of 2°C is the threshold which scientists have agreed we must not cross, for fear of triggering climate feedbacks which, once started, will be almost impossible to stop and will drive accelerated warming out of our control. But even 2°C is actually too much for many ecosystems and the effects of climate change are already starting to make themselves felt in the form of increasingly unstable weather patterns that are having dire effects on communities all over the world.
4 As a result of the rise in global temperature, the ice caps are shrinking, sea levels are rising, deserts are expanding, water is become more scarce, agriculture is under threat and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. In Britain, four of the five wettest years ever recorded have occurred since the year 2000. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 and super-typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013. The winter of 2013/14 saw devastating floods, storms and tidal surges battering Britain as the government continued to deny their basic cause: human induced climate change.
5 Possibly the biggest single most damaging effect of the environmental crisis is the impact that it is having on biodiversity – or ‘the sixth extinction’ as it is increasingly known. It is now clear that an increase in global average temperature of several degrees means that 50% or more of all species – plants and animals – will be driven to extinction. A quarter of all mammal species are at risk. The acidification of the oceans means that coral reefs are dying off, as are organisms that rely on calcification for their shell structure.
6 Successive International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have made it clear that climate change will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable, but time is short. Therefore, we must urgently implement policies which reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2030 and by 90% by 2050. This will require dramatic changes in the ways in which we generate the energy we use, the ways we build, heat and cool our homes, the ways in which we travel and the ways in which we produce our food. It will require the restructuring of our energy generation, transport and manufacturing industries, the rebuilding or refurbishment of millions of our homes and workplaces and the re-ordering of our land use.
7 We do not believe that some form of ‘business as usual’ is an option. The increasingly frantic search for more sources of hydrocarbons has created the spectre of ‘extreme energy’, the process whereby energy extraction methods grow more intense as easier to extract resources are depleted, and ever more ambitious proposals for a techno-fix. New and damaging technologies such as shale oil and gas, coal-bed methane and underground coal gasification are now threatening environments and communities around the world, and ever wilder geo-engineering techniques are being promoted. But there is no silver bullet – the climate change crisis we face is being driven by unsustainable energy consumption and finding evermore damaging new ways to extract oil and gas will simply make it worse in the long run.
When the politicians propose using market mechanisms to limit carbon emissions, it is clear that they cannot see a more democratic or sane way out of the climate crisis. International policies like carbon “cap and trade” that allow companies to buy the “rights” to pollute, or an ecotax that end up punishing the poor, are all measures that will not work in the long term to save the planet – instead giving the rich and powerful nations and individuals the right to continue to pollute legally.
Climate change is now inevitable, the question is how much and for how long and how much damage will it do. For us, socialism is the best way to manage the resources of the planet and ensure their democratic distribution in such a way that we are not destroying the environment to make a profit – as the corporations and energy companies are. No more “business as usual” means ending business as the driving force of the economy and instead looking to human – and environmental – need not corporate greed. If we want to save the planet we need socialism and we need it soon.
8 Electricity generation in Britain produces around 420 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO?) every year. We face two linked challenges; first, even though a huge energy conservation programme is (along with a radical overhaul of transport) the quickest and most effective way to drastically reduce demand for energy, over the next few years we will have to increase the amount of electricity generated in order to replace the fossil fuels currently used in space and water heating and transport. Second, we will also face additional demand for electricity as an alternative to current energy sources as we modernise and decarbonise industrial processes such as chemicals and iron and steel production.
9 Because we reject current nuclear technology for electricity generation we will have to undertake a programme of hugely expanding our generation capacity using other, genuinely zero carbon, technologies based on wind, sun and water.
10 Our opposition to current nuclear technology is evidence based rather than an emotional rejection of ‘big’ technology. Nuclear power poses numerous threats to people and the environment. These threats include health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation or sabotage, the unsolved problem of radioactive waste storage and the unforgiving nature of nuclear technology, which is both enormously complex and hugely destructive when it goes wrong, as at Chernobyl or Fukushima.
11 However, other related technologies, such as thorium reactors and fusion power, may prove to be safer and more sustainable at some time in the future and, while sceptical, we would support ongoing research into their practicability, while research into new energy storage technologies is a vital complement to the development of inevitably intermittent sun, wind and wave sourced energy.
12 In order to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels we have to develop an integrated approach, one which the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) calls ‘powering-down’ (reducing energy wastage) and ‘powering-up’ (deploying renewable energy technologies).
13 ‘Powering down’ would require a massive energy conservation programme involving the insulation and renovation of all homes and public and commercial buildings. Such a programme, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, has been proposed in the pamphlet One Million Climate Jobs and we fully endorse its proposals.
14 It is widely accepted that it is possible for us to dramatically reduce our energy demands by through the energy-efficiency retrofitting of homes, offices and industrial premises, and by improving transport systems through changes in technology and use. However, even after such large scale energy conservation measures, electricity generation will have to be roughly double its current capacity in order to largely replace the fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) now used for heating and transport, and by the decarbonisation of many industrial processes. If this is to be carbon neutral the need for the dramatic expansion of electricity generation from a mix of renewable sources is even more urgent.
15 However, fracking is not part of that sustainable mix. Scientists have pointed out that fracking does not offer a lasting solution, with the estimated total potential yield from UK fracking fields being likely to meet only around two months’ worth of Britain’s current oil demand and no more than four years’ worth of current demand for gas. Fracking, with its potential for triggering earth tremors, polluting water supplies and causing massive damage and disruption to local environments and communities, is a chimera which we oppose.
16 Fuel poverty is a major social crisis in the UK. There are over five million households in fuel poverty – needing to spend more than 10% of their income on energy in order to keep warm. Under the current pricing system, the more energy you use, the cheaper it gets. This means that those with the lowest incomes pay the most for their energy, because they use the least, while the luxury consumption of the rich is subsidised by the rest of us. A fair pricing system would reverse this, making the first units of energy used cheap or even free, with prices increasing as usage grows.
17 The current privatised gas and electricity production and distribution systems are models of how not to run essential public services. In order to develop the efficient low carbon energy production and distribution systems that are vital for our future, huge investment over a prolonged period will be necessary. Investment on such a level will require direct public funding and such funding will require levels of democratic public accountability that can only be guaranteed by public ownership.
18 Developments in generation technology have made distributed energy systems increasingly practicable. Distributed energy (the local generation and supply of both electricity and heat) technologies, whether they are local wind turbines owned by a parish council or tenants’ association, municipally owned mini Combined Heat and Power plants based in local schools, hospitals and libraries, or tidal lagoons owned by the people of Swansea or Liverpool, open up possibilities of new forms of community ownership and control.
19 Transport accounts for 24% of our greenhouse gas emissions and while, since 1990, emissions from other sectors have gone down (by modest amounts) those from transport have gone up by11%. Even as other sectors begin, or continue, to decarbonise, transport demand is predicted to continue to grow. But simply providing for anticipated demand is wasteful, damaging and unsustainable. We need a transport policy that manages demand and which provides services that are efficient and necessary within the overarching need to dramatically reduce CO?e emissions. That policy should be based on the following principles:
Transport should be equally available and affordable to all, with local needs having priority.
Transport and transport infrastructure should have the minimum impact on the environment and local communities.
The use of unsustainable modes of transport (in particular private cars and planes) should progressively reduce.
Transport should, where possible, contribute to the health of individuals and communities rather than damage them.
20 There are three ways in which the issue of lowering these emissions can be addressed; first, through better land use planning and redesigning the urban environment, so that people are able to live closer to their work and less transportation is needed. Second, by a progressive move from oil to renewably generated electricity as a major transport fuel. Third, a major shift in the balance between transport modes from private motor vehicles to walking, cycling and public transport.
21 Almost 70% of journeys made in Britain are under 5 miles. 43% of people in Britain own or have access to a bicycle and the experience of other countries show that a major programme of investment in dedicated infrastructure to make cycling safer and more convenient would lead to a huge increase in the numbers of people regularly travelling those short distances by bike.
22 While cars, vans and taxis account for over six times as many passenger miles as public transport they generate thirteen times the emissions. It is therefore clearly essential to undertake a massive development of public transport capacity and quality in order to enable a rapid shift from cars to buses, coaches, trams and trains.
23 Two factors which make public transport unattractive to many people are poor access to services and high prices. Therefore, in addition to improving its quality and quantity we would make public transport much more affordable. However, we believe that low fares must be only be at the first step in a planned programme to make local public transport free for everyone at the point of use.
24 However, we recognise both that many living in rural areas have transport needs difficult to fully meet by conventional public transport and cycling and that in urban areas there will still be times when the people or load carrying capacities of a car or van are genuinely needed. Therefore we advocate the widespread development of local authority and community controlled car pools in every neighbourhood to provide the services currently provided by commercial car clubs, but at a much reduced cost to users.
25 It is inconceivable that the current shambolic and fragmented provision of public transport could be reorganised and dramatically expanded on the basis of the current pattern of ownership. There is widespread public support for the railway system being brought back into full public ownership, but public ownership of bus and coach services, whether on a municipal, regional or national basis – or, most probably, a combination of the three – is also vital.
26 A publicly owned and democratically controlled public transport system would not only be able to integrate its various transport modes into a seamless service but would be able to experiment with new and more environmentally benign transport solutions. It would give high priority to increasing the capacity and quality of existing services, by adding more tracks to existing lines where possible, reintroducing passenger services to lines that at present are used only for freight, major investment in new rail infrastructure, either along disused lines where applicable, or by building new lines where a need is clearly shown.
27 We do not believe that long-distance service provision should concentrate on high speeds where this will adversely affect local service provision. While we support the development of new high speed rail services in order reduce the number of short-haul flights within the UK, we do not support the current proposals for HS2. Nor do we support the never ending growth in the capacity of airports.
28 The design, construction, maintenance, refurbishment and management of our built environment is central to the achievement of a low carbon society.
29 A nation-wide, street by street programme to retrofit all existing homes is needed, not just to minimise energy use by draught proofing and insulating, but also, wherever possible, to install renewable energy sources, such as solar water heating, ground source heat pumps and photovoltaic generators. It has been estimated that such a programme (accompanied by a switchover to renewably generated electricity for heating) would reduce greenhouse emissions generated by heating homes by 70%, while creating tens of thousands of jobs.
30 Although there are, criminally, over one million empty homes in Britain, not all houses are where they are currently needed, demographic changes are increasingly requiring changes in the housing type mix and many existing houses have such low potential to meet increasingly demanding building standards that they need to be replaced. In addition, there are over two million households on council housing waiting lists who urgently need decent homes.
31 In order to undertake the huge building and refurbishment programme that is required to meet this demand it will be necessary for the construction industry to be able to offer proper training and jobs that offer security and a worthwhile career path. It will be necessary to disseminate and put into practice on a national scale those examples of good practice and innovative technology that can be found, both in Britain and (more frequently) elsewhere in Europe and further afield. And it will be necessary to develop, fund and implement a plan of action both nationally and locally that is democratically accountable to the people whose daily lives will be affected by it.
32 None of that will be deliverable by the industry as it currently exists. It will be necessary to radically reorganise the industry and introduce a large measure of social enterprise in a range of forms, from the revival of local authority and housing association DLOs to the establishment of community based environmental refurbishment co-operatives and the development of publicly owned regional and national civil engineering and construction undertakings.
33 Agribusiness, concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, pollutes air, water, and soil, reduces biodiversity, and contributes to global climate change. Nowhere in Britain is power more concentrated than in the countryside. It is estimated that almost 69% of the land is owned by 0.6% of the population. The biggest 174 landowners in England take £120m in agricultural subsidies between them. We advocate a dual policy. Firstly, the imposition of a limit to the area of land any private individual or commercial company can own (which will vary from area to area based on soil type and other factors of production). Secondly, the defence and expansion of public and social land ownership which incorporates public values (sustainable farming, democratic access to land, wildlife and heritage conservation, public access, etc), such as local council ownership (as the County Council Smallholdings Estates still partially model), conservation trusts, sustainable farming trusts, etc. We support the use of the agricultural subsidy system to help small farmers who are animal welfare and nature conservation friendly to stay and return to the land. This should include both means testing and statutory targetting of all agri-environmental subsidies.
34 In the Global South the key issue is food sovereignty. This would give people the rights and means to define their own food systems. It would give control to those who produce, distribute and consume food rather than the corporations and market institutions that dominate the global food system. It would mean an end to land grabs and would require extensive land redistribution to put the land in the hands of those who produce the food.
35 Over the last twenty years, the big agrochemical corporations have bought up most of the world’s seed companies. The largest 10 companies now control 73% of the world’s commercial seed market, with the top 3 controlling over 50%. They are among the most dangerous of the environment’s enemies.
36 In principle, genetic modification of plants (GM), a very powerful though potentially very dangerous technology, could play a useful role in developing more productive plant strains that are resistant to particular pests and diseases, more drought resistant or which require no artificial fertiliser. However, the big agrochemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow are more interested in using the technology to make farmers around the world dependent on their other products – fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides. Therefore, while we support continuing research in genetic engineering, we also support a moratorium on the use of genetically modified organisms in commercial agriculture.
37 The agrochemical industries and agribusiness are heavily dependent on oil and gas – not just as fuel but also as raw materials in the production of nitrogen based fertilisers and the herbicides and pesticides on which agribusiness depends. Agriculture causes 9% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. 55% of this is nitrous oxide, which is produced by the use of synthetic fertilisers and 36% is created through the production and use of manure and slurry.
38 Producing biogas from anaerobic digestion could – in theory – help to solve both problems at once. Farms generate around100 million tonnes of animal manure and slurry, a major cause of water pollution and methane. It could all be processed in digesters and produce up to 30 TWh of electricity, with the residue being used as organic fertiliser. However, biogas producers are increasingly using purpose grown crops, mainly maize, which needs high levels of fertiliser and pesticide to grow well in this country, in order to increase profits. Therefore we advocate a ban on the use of all purpose-grown biomass feedstocks, along with a guaranteed price for electricity generated by anaerobic digestion.
39 In the coming period therefore, we will campaign on the following issues:
For an energy conservation strategy involving a massive infrastructural investment and reconstruction programme to make all existing homes and workplaces energy efficient.
Against any plans for ‘fracking’ or any other unconventional oil, gas or coal extraction methods.
For the public ownership of the public utilities; water, electricity and gas.
For a progressive electricity tariff system that guarantees the free supply of a basic quota to all, balanced by higher charges for heavy users.
Against a new generation of nuclear power stations.
For a massive and planned shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy production. For a huge expansion of wind, wave, tidal and solar based energy generation.
Against the uncontrolled introduction of GM technology by giant multinational agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto and Dow.
For the renationalisation of the railway system and the public ownership of all bus and coach services and the creation of a cheap, efficient and integrated public transport system.
Against all proposals for increasing airport capacity in London and elsewhere.
For a huge expansion of safe dedicated facilities for cyclists in all our towns and cities.
For massive investment in improved rail capacity, but against the current HS2 proposals.
For the socialisation of the petrochemical companies under democratic ownership and control of society.
No more deep sea oil wells.
End all involvement in carbon trading at a national and international level.
40 We resolve to affiliate to the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC) and its Trade Union Group. We support the campaign called by the CACC around the slogan A Time To Act On Climate Change and the demonstration in London on March 7 that will be the climax of the campaign. We will mobilise for the demonstration, support the call for organising committees around the country to organise for it, and be represented on them where we are able. We also support the international mobilisation and counter summit at the UN COP21 climate summit at the end of next year (2015). This is the first such summit since the disastrous failure in Copenhagen in 2009
41 The Arctic as one of the last unspoilt wilderness areas on earth is under threat. Those threats include the intentions of Shell and other energy companies to drill for oil there. This would have a huge and damaging impact on the wildlife and indigenous peoples of the Arctic, as well as seriously affecting global warming. Greenpeace have been leading a major international campaign to save the Arctic. We call upon the UN and other international bodies to declare the Arctic an internationally protected wilderness area and global site of scientific interest. Left Unity will also support the campaign to save the Arctic and do all it can to prevent its plunder by rapacious global capitalism.
Factory Farming and Animal Welfare
We note that factory farming is a major cause of cruelty to animals. It is also the cause of significant harm to human health, to the environment and to communities throughout the world.
We believe that factory farming must be abolished and caring, sustainable farming methods put in its place. Animals should be raised on the land so that they can convert things like pasture (which people can’t eat) into food- rather than being intensively reared on grains and cereals that could otherwise feed many people directly. Factory farms do not produce food; they waste food. For every 100 calories of edible crops fed to livestock we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and milk- a 70% loss! There are also problems with the extensive use of chemicals and pesticides in cereal production which is harmful to human health.
We call on policy makers to take the following immediate steps in order to phase out factory farming and commit ourselves to pursue this objective through active campaigning:
1. Abolish cruel factory farming systems such as cages and crates
2. Stop feeding farm animals human edible crops
3. Stop the routine use of antibiotics on farm animals to prevent diseases that are caused by crowded and stressful conditions
4. Introduce mandatory product labelling
5. Ensure that public-sector bodies buy only humanely produced, sustainable food
6. Government and EU subsidies and tax measures should only be directed towards the production and consumption of humanely produced, sustainable food.
7. Creation of an effective European Union enforcement agency
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Left Unity is a member of the European Left Party.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Sat 21 Mar, 12.00-18.00
March Against Racism
Events in London and Glasgow.
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.