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Local MP discusses tricky truths of climate crisis

Norwich South’s MP Clive Lewis paid a visit to campus for an evening of discussion on ‘Environmentalism and the Left’ on March 3 in a joint event hosted by UEALabour and UEAGreens. 

Lewis initiated his talk by explaining how “almost all elements of all parties now consider this [the climate crisis] a serious issue that needs to be tackled, compared to just five years ago when they were only concerned as to whether it would be a vote winner or not”. He stressed that when he raised the idea of a net zero climate target in a shadow cabinet meeting in 2016, a colleague exclaimed “Well that’s all very well and good Clive, but will it win us votes?”. This appeared to be the moment when many student’s ears in the room pricked up in realisation that this was not a politician afraid of speaking openly and honestly about the faults within his own party.  

Pursuing this approach, the ex-Army reservist officer (who served in Afghanistan) went on to explain, “We are not even spending a fraction of what we should be on the climate crisis- yet we know that global military activities and exercises are responsible for a huge amount of climate damage and it’s one of the biggest emitting industries on the planet too.” He asked: “how do we square fighting the climate crisis and then seeing a 2 to 3 percent increase in GDP spent on military capabilities, unless we’re talking about a far more humanitarian component to our militaries? We have to begin by acknowledging the climate crisis is going to be one of the main drivers of increasing political and economic destabilisation”.  

Audience reaction to this rigorous questioning suggested an appreciation of the more ‘grass-roots’ approach taken on such an issue from a mainstream politician. Indeed, in the Q&A that followed, an International Development student asked if “the next Labour government would be strong willed enough to allow those studying such new and extreme phenomenons to advise and suggest both technological and humanitarian solutions direct to government” to which Clive responded: “Citizens assembly models have indeed proved to work well with climate issues and we should remain open to it as a result- absolutely”. 

The highly experienced, yet modest parliamentarian also discussed eco-anxiety, shifting industrial power dynamics, and how we must consider alternative democratic models such as a federal system in the UK if we are to anticipate managing local resources effectively and efficiently.  

As the event drew to a close, another student asked simply “What hope do we have for the huge systemic need to tackle the climate crisis?” Clive replied, summing up the atmosphere appropriately, “I think back to my ancestors, just five generations ago. They, as traded slaves, only had slavery ahead of them- almost no hope. But I’m still here now talking to you as a British MP. So it is possible, but they call it they don’t call it the hard fight for nothing”. 

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Jamie Bryson

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June 2022
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