In this month’s Environment Journal Podcast, I chat to Cllr Tom Hayes, the deputy leader of Oxford City Council about his views on climate change and sustainability and the work going on in the City he represents.
In the March podcast, we spoke to Rebecca Willis about politics and democracy and she described the need for politicians to engage positively with the public about climate change and, by doing so, to local strengthen democracy.
Cllr Hayes offers an excellent working example to members everywhere of the level of understanding of – and empathy with – the challenges being faced by this crucial transition.
He approaches the climate change transition as a positive (describing himself as a ‘glass half full’ man) rather than a negative. We should hear less about what we have to give up, to sacrifice, to suffer inconvenience to move this forward and more about what we – as inhabitants of the UK – will get from it: cleaner air, better climate, protection from extremes of temperature, less pollution, better health, warmer homes, better cars and so on.
Framed in this way, the debate can be positively promoted as not only necessary but desirable. And that is leaving aside the fact that it will in fact be cheaper to take the necessary action. Very little is said about the costs that will occur if action is not taken: more river flooding, more pressures on the NHS, more fuel poverty, more sea defences. The list is endless.
However, even where people have taken no action Cllr Hayes believes that the ‘blame game’ gets us nowhere. We do not want to make people feel bad about the fact they have taken no action yet, merely to recognise that they do need to change their behaviour moving forwards. Engagement ‘with respect’ delivers better results in his experience.
Persuasion in his view comes from leadership, using a positive future vision allowing people to respond to hope rather than despair. Local authority areas have such good examples of how this is already happening on the ground.
Oxford is a good case in point. As reported in Air Quality News, the city is just about to introduce a zero emissions zone and set itself – voluntarily – much higher standards of air quality. He emphases that the city council came to this conclusion that radical action was necessary as there is no safe level of pollution in our communities.
Let’s hope that this sort of grass roots public engagement has already taken hold in local authorities across the country, in which case the future might just be a little brighter in an important year for the UK, when it hosts the Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow in November.