Declaring a climate emergency: My speech to council

Here is my speech to council supporting the following:

To ask Stroud District Council to endorse the ‘Climate Emergency’ announced by the administration on 16 November 2018 and pledge to do everything within the Council’s power to make Stroud District carbon neutral by 2030.

In 1976 aged nine years old I sailed across the Atlantic with my family on a small yacht. My brother and I had the schoolwork task of measuring the wind speed and sea temperature daily, which was consistently in the low twenties Celsius, as records have shown for the past five hundred years since Europeans started to take advantage of regular trade winds and cross the oceans. Last year transatlantic sailors crossing the mid-ocean where tropical storms are born, measured 30 degrees. The ocean takes up most of this planet’s surface and regulates its climate and we can only guess what this super rapid heating will do. Early signs that a warmer Atlantic is weakening ocean currents could see a dramatic switch where our green and pleasant land is no longer bathed by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream.

The ocean soaks up the excess carbon as well as heat and is becoming ever more acidic, impacting on the tiniest of sea creatures that use carbon to build their bodies, like phytoplankton, whose photosynthesis produces 50% of the world’s oxygen. Every other breath you take tonight will have come from the ocean and excessive carbon production may put that most basic element of life at risk.

In the summer of 2014 I sailed with my father and daughter into the Arctic to attempt the transit of the Northwest Passage. I saw for myself the ice-free summer seas where two hundred years ago the best talent of the British navy battled with the floes. In 2015 I sailed into the remotest parts of the Pacific Ocean with my teenage son to revisit a place I hadn’t seen for nearly forty years; the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, where I met childhood friends whose country will almost inevitably be wiped out soon by sea level rises. These places are the canaries in the mine and it may be we are already too late to save them.

So I am supporting this declaration. I think this council, and the people of this district, have the values, the passion and the expertise to make a local difference, when nationally and internationally too little is being done too late. 

But as leader of this council, I am also going to be honest with you. I can guarantee disappointment. We are only a small council and we cannot do this on our own. Becoming carbon neutral depends on individuals, on industry, and on central government and local government has been starved of funding for years.

If this is an emergency what does it need? I am reminded of my own father, when we had to turn back in the Arctic and beat our way out of the Passage in a fierce gale. Our engine packed up and we were drifting backwards. He sat on his bunk in the raging gale, and let himself calmly think through the best course of action. This is what we need to do now. Define what is in our power.

We may not have resources but we do have the power to bring people and organisations together. This is what we need to do now – use what resources we can spare, and think deeply about what will be most effective, and who is best able to help this district reduce its carbon emissions. Each pound we spend comes from someone’s pocket and we owe it to them to use it wisely. And my fellow councillors, think what you can do right now. I gave up my diesel car a few years ago, and three generations of my family have now given up eating meat. We are one of the first councils to take this step and let us encourage many more to follow: one small council alone cannot do much, but if every council in the country and across the world did, then it would really start to make a difference. We can’t stop climate change but we can slow it, it is not too late.