Friday, May 22, 2009

New Labour architect attacks government for failing to convince public on climate change urgency

Anthony Giddens criticises Heathrow and Kingsnorth decisions and calls for 'revolution in attitudes to politics'

One of the most important thinkers behind New Labour has attacked the government for failing to convince people that radical action on climate change is needed.

Lord Anthony Giddens, the former director of the London School of Economics and a key architect of the New Labour project, said that global warming was such vital issue that a political "revolution" is needed to get to grips with it.

He acknowledged that New Labour had been slow to develop serious climate change policies and he criticised the government's current policies on the expansion of Heathrow airport and new coal-fired power stations.

"There's a long way to go really," he told the Guardian, at the Hay festival in Wales today . "I think we need a sort of revolution in our attitude to the politics of climate change."

"I don't think we are going to get far by the existing strategy which is essentially based on scaring people…We need much more vision of the sort of society we are trying to bring about . We need more of a utopia, less of a dystopia."

Giddens contrasted the approach of the UK government with that of US President Barack Obama, who he said had put forward a much more effective and positive approach to the climate change issue by emphasising energy security and green job creation.

He also criticised government plans to expand Heathrow and allow the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station to go ahead even with carbon capture and storage technology. "I think we should have a more effective integrated, multi-transport scheme rather than simply thinking in terms of airport expansion."

The economist Lord Nicholas Stern, also speaking to the Guardian at the Hay festival, joined Giddens in condemning the government's decision to expand Heathrow.

He said the decision had not been taken in the right way, as it failed take account of the wider context of its own carbon budgets and transport policy.

"My guess is, had it been well-taken, it would have gone the other way," said Stern. "We can't tell whether such a runway is justified [in the face of] the problems of greenhouse gas emissions unless it's in the context of programmes for trains, roads and other airports."

Despite being scathing about Gordon Brown's performance he praised the climate change secretary Ed Miliband for fighting battles in cabinet on the issue and "doing his very best in bringing the rest of government into line".

He said that politicians had totally failed to come to terms with how to deal with the climate issue because it was unlike any other major issue. "We've never had to cope with a problem like that before, mainly because it's based on abstract future risk, filtered through the findings of science," he said. "So no matter how many times you read that a catastrophe awaits , it's hard I think for many people to put flesh on that." It is this remoteness from people's everyday lives, he said, that makes it difficult to convince many people to take it seriously.

He also said that those on the left of the political spectrum should not try to claim climate change as their own. "We must stop saying things like, 'green is the new red'," he said, "Climate change has nothing at all to do with left or right issues."

He said that the mainstream citizen support that would be necessary to a make a real difference was only possible through what he called a "radical political consensus" on the issue.

Anthony Giddens's new book,
The Politics of Climate Change, is published by Polity Press.

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