On the surface, the film Titanic is a love story between Jack and Rose. He develops other themes: a sentimental look at the emancipation of women; how the security of the poor comes after the luxury of the rich. It’s also a story of pride over nature – the very idea of having an unsinkable ship. And it’s a story of denial.
There’s a scene right after they hit the iceberg. Thomas Andrews, the chief engineer who designed the ship, climbs on deck with Captain Smith and the officers. Andrews puts the plans on the table. “We can stay afloat with the first four compartments pierced. Not five. As it descends through the head, the water will overflow the top of the E deck bulkheads, from one to the other, back and forth. There is no way to stop it. From then on, whatever we do, the Titanic will sink.
“But this ship cannot sink,” says Ismay, owner’s representative. – It’s made of iron, sir. I assure you she can. And she will. It is a mathematical certainty. Despite this inevitability, most people don’t feel the effects at first. They continued to drink in the living rooms, the group was still playing.
The parallels to the climate emergency are troubling. The captain knew that there were icebergs in the area, but he was advancing at 22 knots. Business as usual – security came after profit. The Titanic was designed with enough space for the lifeboats to hold twice as many people on board. But it was decided that they would spoil the view for first class passengers, so they were not fitted.
In both cases, the laws of nature supersede the laws of humans. Britain may now have a net zero target of 2050, but atmospheric carbon dioxide molecules interacting with infrared light are unaware of this fact. Targets count for nothing unless they are delivered. Only a few years ago the goal was to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, now it is net zero by 2050. Once people understand the mathematical certainty of what we are facing , those goals will change.
Once we have passed a tipping point, the natural feedback effects will take over. The more arctic ice melts, the less sunlight is reflected. As the tundra warms, more methane is released. The Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. Just like the water pouring over the partitions of the Titanic.
COP26 will dominate the news. Other images of the destruction of the climate will be projected in our homes. The Greens obtained 2.8% in the 2019 elections. They now poll 5% on a bad day, and up to 10% recently. They are in coalition in Scotland. Labor cannot win without these votes, and in the first-party vote they let the Tories in.
Johnson, in his usual way of making headlines, regardless of the truth, has claimed this territory for the Tories. In the May election he made sure he was seen cycling with Andy Street in the West Midlands. However, he had taken a helicopter there from London. In last year’s budget, Rishi Sunak pledged £ 1 billion for green transport. And in the next sentence he enthusiastically announced “£ 27bn for tarmac!”. The Green Homes grant was such a fiasco that it was dropped after six months. And oil and gas companies still get exploration licenses in exchange for donations to the Conservative Party.
I would bet that even among List of work‘s politically engaged readership, less than one in 100 could correctly list the ten points of Johnson’s climate plan. But it shows two things: they make more noise than us, and they are vulnerable on details. If Labor kicks off a costed Green New Deal plan, with all the benefits – lower fuel bills, warmer homes, faster public transport and hundreds of thousands of jobs – we can choose the terrain on which we we fight. Because defensive skirmishes around a cultural war will see us defeated.
We can back this plan with evidence of what we deliver. In North Tyne my authority has invested £ 25million in our offshore and submarine wind sector. Improve infrastructure, such as stronger cranes to handle larger turbines, and fund high-tech solutions like digital technology with sensors, cable networks and digital twins to reduce installation costs of the offshore wind. We have installed the UK’s first Gigafactory, manufacturing electric batteries to decarbonize the UK vehicle fleet. We are investing in mine water heating, to transform our high carbon past into a low carbon future.
Too many of our brightest and best have innovative ideas, but can’t raise the capital to get them off the ground. That’s why our Green New Deal directly finances investments in solar capacity and energy efficiency. This £ 18million fund creates hundreds more jobs, cuts people’s energy bills and reduces fuel poverty. All of the thousands of jobs we create are backed by our commitment to good work, ensuring real living wages and union conditions. We work every day to provide a zero carbon, zero poverty north Tyne. It is not a political aspiration or objective. It’s real, and it’s happening now.
And it’s not just us. My fellow mayors from the north are all over this program and are delivering it. Steve at Liverpool is making great strides in his Mersey Tidal Power project. Andy is revolutionizing bus travel in Manchester. Tracy opened the UK’s first solar-powered relay park. And Dan is making great strides in active travel to Sheffield. Imagine what Labor could do with all the resources of government.
There is no way to a Labor government without being bold on the Green New Deal. Not gestures, but big enough to deal with the problem. Renovate every house. Zero carbon and low-cost public transport. A grid powered by 100% clean energy and complete replacement of fossil fuels. Hand in hand with radicalism to delegate this to nations, regions and local authorities across the country.
Every year now, every month, we will see more and more fires, floods and climate degradation. Either we demand this agenda, or an increasing number of voters will seek the necessary radicalism elsewhere. Or worse, take hope in the Conservatives’ false promises. It is a mathematical certainty.