Ed vs Franny Round 3 - Hay Festival

Date 25th May 2009

Islands in the stream

Team Stupid's favourite politician*, the UK's Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, stepped into the ring with Franny for a third time on Saturday morning, at the Hay Festival. Ed's cheerful fortitude in the face of some fairly harsh dressing downs from Franny and Pete Postlethwaite first at the People's Premiere, and again at the Tricycle Theatre, has earned him a lot of brownie points with Team Stupid, even if we do think he's barking up totally the wrong tree with some of his policies (see for instance the plans for new coal power stations in the UK, with accompanying unconvincing promises to capture the emissions from them).

And true to form, here he was again on Saturday, back to tackle more difficult questions from Franny and an audience who know that his government is still not doing nearly enough to prevent the terrifying future depicted in Stupid from coming to pass. You can listen to some of the discussion by clicking on the mp3 link at the bottom of this page.

Ed has the unenviable dual responsibility to both ensure the security of Britain's energy supply, and also lead international efforts to forge a global deal to drive massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. He knows that democracy and populism have an intimate relationship, and that however well politicians might personally understand the scale and urgency of the policy challenge posed by climate change, political progress and public feeling are diffficult to separate. That's why Ed has called for a popular mobilisation to give him and his counterparts around the world a democratic mandate for progressive climate policy.

As Franny put it, "Certain politicians do understand the situation, do want to get the right deal in Copenhagen. But they need the public now to move forward to make a political space." Or in Ed's words, "There does need in the second half of this year a real sense of people saying now's the time to get the most ambitious deal in Copenhagen."

Hay good lookin

Franny is perfectly clear that it's obvious that the threat of catastrophic climate change is a product of global consumer culture, and that it is unrealistic to imagine that we can tackle one without addressing the other. Ed's view however is that India and China won't buy into an end to consumerism before they've even got started with it:

"If you say to them look, we've had this growth model for 50 years or whatever it is but now we've discovered it's a real problem and you can't carry on growing, there's no way to can persuade them to be part of a global agreement. If you look over the next 20 years about 50% of the growth in emissions is going to come in China. So you have got to get China on board with this."

Wagging finger

Ed liked Franny's observations about the climate impact of flying even less. Britons currently fly way more than the people of any other nation - twice as much as Americans - yet the government is still pursuing plans to double or even treble the number of passengers using our airports. If these plans go ahead, aviation alone could consume 100% of the UK's entire allowable carbon budget by the mid 2030s. But if the levels of overall emissions cuts dictated by the science are applied to air travel, then flying would have to drop back to 1960s levels. Clearly there's a policy clash going on here. Ed?

"People have had opportunities to travel that their parents' generation would not have dreamed of. I can't honestly say that taking those opportunities away is necessarily the right thing to do."

Pained expression

Franny had an answer to this, of course: "We have to look at the level of sacrifice. You think the British people wouldn't agree to sacrifice their right to go on holidays and fly as many times as they want to. But in order for them to do that we are therefore going to ask other people in other countries to sacrifice their lives."

"Maybe I'm just less of a preacher than you are on this," Ed replied.

Team Stupid believe it is plain to see that corporate special interests have been and are at least as much of an obstacle to progress on climate change as any kind of real or imagined resistance from the public at large. Political power in a capitalist democracy doesn't just come from the people, but from the people + capital; and unfortunately capital has very different needs to the people. Hence the plans for new runways almost nobody wants...

*That's not saying much. But we do like Ed.

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