Build back better

Photo by Markus Spiske at Pexels

Do you remember last summer? It was hot all around the world. So hot that alarms were sounding everywhere about the need to act now on climate change. Prince Charles joined scientists in warning of the urgency, suggesting that we had an 18-month window to change our current trajectory.

Informatic from Met Office

Of course, it’s not just about global warming. In Lyme Regis, a small coastal town in Dorset, we’ve made a start. There is much to do, but by working together now and learning from the global shock caused by the pandemic, we can help to address:

  • the climate crisis;
  • biodiversity loss and the threat of ecosystem collapse; and
  • social inequality.

Build Back Better evolved from the Green New Deal campaign, begun in 2008 but gaining traction last year, to create an economy-wide plan to halt climate change and restore nature by investing in an economic future that combats inequality and the climate crisis. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is working with allies and partners on a recovery plan to provide us all with access to things we need to live a good life – such as quality housing, healthcare and social care – and which responds to the long-term crisis of climate change.

The NEF notes that whilst the pandemic created much anxiety, it has also proved to be a time for solidarity and mutual aid. Against this backdrop, the campaign to ‘Build Back Better’ is gathering pace. Recent polling shows only 6 per cent of the public want to return to ‘business as usual’ as we ease out of lockdown. Trade unions, business groups, and religious and civic leaders are calling for a ‘fairer and greener’ recovery, saying there is no going back to the past. A YouGov poll shows that 31 per cent of people want to see big changes in the way the economy is run coming out of the crisis, with a further 28 per cent wanting to see moderate changes. It also showed 44 per cent of people were pessimistic when they thought about the future of the economy, while only 27 per cent were optimistic. Significantly, 49 per cent thought the crisis had made inequality worse.

The scientific community recognises that our current trajectory is hurtling us towards three or four degrees of global warming. Increasing numbers of commentators are linking the imperatives of adjusting our economy to this threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, with the need to reverse the increasing and unjust levels of social inequality.

Demand for Change.

Greta Thunberg led the school strikers into a global movement and became Time’s Person of the Year in 2019. Extinction Rebellion galvanised worldwide support for more political action.

Many business leaders are recognising the need for carbon management plans and sustainability performance to show how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take corporate social responsibility (CSR) seriously and make climate-related financial disclosures (TCFD) on their long-term future risks.

Councils throughout the UK declared climate emergencies following Carla Denya’s lead in Bristol City Council in 2018, committing to target dates to reduce carbon emissions to net zero. In May 2019, the UK government became the first in the world to declare the intention to be carbon neutral by 2050.

However, what attention is being paid to the need to reduce our carbon emissions, reduce biodiversity loss and address widening social inequalities, brought into stark focus during the Covid-19 crisis, in the Prime Minister’s recent ‘Build, Build, Build’ announcements?

Independent analysis by Bloomberg NEF shows the UK is currently not on track to reach our target or to keep up with our European neighbours. Head of Global Policy Victoria Cuming said “It is a step in the right direction … but £3bn does not a recovery make”. Denmark is spending eight times as much per person on carbon reducing measures, with France three times and Germany four times.

Build Back Better aims to ensure sustainability forms the basis of our recovery and that people are at its very heart. Community-led transformation is already underway and projects up and down the country are enabling community energy schemes; locally sourced, healthy food production; pedestrian-friendly repurposing of our streets; and circular economy, zero-waste production processes.

However, we need more. We need gradual change to become exponential. We need to dream of a safe, sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. We need to create networks, share best practice, and be bold, resilient and creative.

Regenerate Devon recently held an online summit linking social enterprises, councils and community projects, inspiring them to collaborate to bring about the change we need.

Build Back Better Dorset is being set up to connect individuals and groups involved in environmental and social community projects who wish to share ideas and best practice, support each other and campaign to influence our local councils and government.

In Lyme Regis, an early Build Back Better idea is linking the new Garden Growers group with the community support volunteer initiative to continue the energy, goodwill, resilience and care for the community shown during lockdown. There are now over five hundred active Lyme Garden Growers growing fruit, vegetables and herbs from seeds, seedlings and cuttings through sharing and supporting each other with tips and guidance on the Facebook page. Community planters have been created in town for everyone to enjoy and fresh produce is being shared and donated to the food bank.

Best of all, hundreds of people, children included, are experiencing the joy of nurturing plants into growth and the delight of eating and sharing freshly grown produce.

Kate Humble visits Lyme Garden Growers

Like many coastal and rural towns, Lyme is a town of great contrasts, with a varied population – employed and retired, local and in-comer, wealthy and not-so. It has Dorset’s highest proportion of over 65-year-olds and of people living alone. Social isolation and problems with alcohol and depression affect too many people. There is hidden deprivation alongside enormous community activity and energy.

Developing and promoting the Garden Growers and community support initiatives, with the help of our local health and social care services, have the potential to improve community well-being; increase resilience to future threats; develop a circular economy; reduce food waste; and reduce the ecological footprint of the food production system – an ideal vision to emerge from this dreadful pandemic.

Grassroots community action improves lives but we can also work together to hold parish, town and county councils, and government to account. We should all ask them for evidence of action towards declared carbon reduction and biodiversity improvement targets.

Our world needs a Green New Deal – creating sustainable jobs; achieving our carbon neutral targets; supporting the environment on which our lives depend; and reducing social inequality. We need to ensure future investment is ‘green’ – improving energy efficiency; replacing fossil fuels with renewables; providing cleaner transport alternatives; and promoting active travel, which puts the needs of people above the demands of cars.

Individuals can urge their MPs to make sure the government prioritises the environment and social justice in their New Deal investment. Your MP’s email address is on the UK Parliament site or They Work for You, which keeps reports on MPs’ activities, and records whether they reply to enquiries.

The Reset cross-party group of MPs aims to bring people and politicians together to “seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us to listen, plan and act – together – to bring about real and lasting change”.

As the New Economics Foundation sums up:

“The immediate situation is serious and dangerous, but we can still build a better future. We have no other choice: Covid-19 will fundamentally reshape the economy. This means there is no going back. Nor should we go back: the policy mistakes of the past, above all austerity and privatisation, have left us more vulnerable to shocks like coronavirus. This time we must ‘Build Back Better’.”

Our lockdown experience has given us a glimpse of a different future – clear, quiet skies and streets, birdsong and nature recovering. The Covid-19 crisis has shown sudden and drastic behaviour change is possible. People have cared for their neighbours, and communities have bonded in very new ways. But do we all understand that we can and must ‘Build Back Better’?